Lisa Richter is a Toronto-based poet, educator, and storyteller. Her first collection of poetry, Closer to Where We Began, was published by Tightrope Books in 2017. Her poetry has previously appeared in such places as The Malahat Review, The Puritan, Minola Review, and Literary Review of Canada, was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2015, and won first place in CV2 Magazine’s annual 2-Day Poem Contest in 2017. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Adult Education, and has almost two decades' experience teaching youth and adults as an English as a Second Language teacher.
As a poet, her work tends toward the confessional, and explores themes of human connection, memory, imagination, and identity. Influences incude Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, Frank O'Hara, Pablo Neruda, Marge Piercy, Ada Limón, Kim Addonizio, and Mark Doty. She is happiest when riding her bicycle, wandering around markets, teaching, or writing (usually with coffee nearby).
Poetry was my life in high school. I was obsessed with it. I started reading e.e. cummings as a child, and as an adolescent, continued with Jim Morrison (I was a big Doors fan), Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, and Sylvia Plath. I was very fortunate to have an incredible English teacher who introduced us to T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, among others, and who taught me to approach a new poem with curiosity and excitement. I wrote incessantly, and was very serious about it. The poem that I was most in love with was "somewhere i have never travelled" by cummings. I first encountered it in the Woody Allen movie Hannah and her Sisters, but for years could only recall the last line. It took me a lot of searching to find it, and I still have it memorized to this day.
Probably in high school, though looking back, I think I wrote my first poem in my journal at age eight. I was incredibly lucky to grow up in an artistic household: my mother is a writer and visual artist. As a child, I was most passionate about drawing and painting, but during my teen years, which were often turbulent, fraught with financial hardship and emotional turmoil for my family, writing overtook visual art as my primary form of creative expression. I wrote and edited my poems relentlessly, and even compiled a 50-page manuscript of a collection when I was seventeen or eighteen (which thankfully, I never published).
To write poems. And keep writing them, even if the world conspires to distract you and rob you of your creative impulses. Also, to be vigilant, and pay close attention, which the poet Mary Oliver considered akin to devotion. I've often thought that to be a poet, you need a thin skin to let the world in, and a thick skin to deal with rejection, failure, and the test of one's will, endurance (and sometimes sanity) that goes with putting one's work out into the world. There's a quote I like from the Talmud (paraphrasing) that you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. That's how I see poetry. Not as a job, but as a path, a rocky one at times, a risky one, but far riskier, in my mind, not to follow, once you've discovered it.
That's a hard one - there are so many good ones, it's an embarrassment of riches! There are so many old and new favourites of mine, from Allen Ginsberg's "Supermarket in California" to Frank O'Hara's iconic "The Day Lady Died" to more recent now-iconic poets Ocean Vuoung and Liz Howard. But if I had to choose one, I would choose Alice Oswald's "A Short Story of Falling," inspired by her Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist reading in 2017. She recited her poems from memory, and it was spellbinding. I'd love to take on the challenge of memorizing one of her gorgeous poems.