Lynn Crosbie was born in Montreal and is a cultural critic. A PhD in English literature with a background in visual studies, she teaches at the University of Toronto and the Art Gallery of Ontario. She wrote a novel called Where Did You Sleep Last Night, which tells the story of a teenage girl who has a relationship with grunge rocker Kurt Cobain. She is a contributing editor at Fashion, and a National Magazine Award–winner who has written about sports, style, art, and music.
Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager that you remember well?
I read a bit of poetry in high school, usually if it showed up in a novel: I remember finding William Carlos Williams’s “Danse Russe” that way. I took out Sylvia Plath’s Ariel from the library in grade 6: I still remember my awe and revulsion, reading “Cut.” Mostly I wrote poems about how sad and ugly I felt: one is in my yearbook. It is about severing my eye.
When did you first start writing poetry?
I always wrote in my diaries. As a teenager, the poet David McGimpsey and I started writing pop poems. We lost one of the first, about Batman, on a metro. It was written on a black paper bat. When I got my first typewriter, I dragged it to the floor and began writing dramatic monologues based on the TV shows and movies I liked. One was Friday the Thirteenth and I called it “Beautiful Death.”
What do you think a poet’s “job” is?
Poets are largely unemployable: it is our jobs to be, as Charlie Sheen yelled at his wife, “sad, jobless pigs.” With regard to the work, we don’t have to do anything, but it is a good idea to read and revise a lot, and to avoid excessive sentimentality or to cite D.H. Lawrence, “the working off on yourself of feelings you haven’t really got.
What inspired you to write “Modestine”?
The poem is part of a collection about my father, who is very ill. This poem was inspired by my brother reading Robert Louis Stevenson to my father, and to me, in the hospital. He read it so well, and my dad and I were transfixed. Essentially, it is a poem about a poem (my brother reading, my father listening).
If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be? [and why?]
“Piling Blood” by Al Purdy. I have lectured on this poem many times, and am always taken by its rough, tender voice (the blood, the glass) and by its weird evocation of Beethoven, that opens up the poem — at the end! — with a blow.