Nancy Jo Cullen
Nancy Jo Cullen is the author of three collections of poetry published with Frontenac House and her fourth collection, Nothing Will Save Your Life, is forthcoming from Wolsak and Wynn in spring 2022. Her poems have been published in such journals as Grain, The Puritan, Room, Arc Magazine and Best Canadian Poetry. As a young person she discovered her love of poetry through the work of such writers as Frank O'Hara, Bronwen Wallace and Michael Ondjaatje and she was delighted to be short-listed for the very first Bronwen Wallace Award for emerging writers in 1994. She continues to be inspired by work that is at once deeply personal and political.
When I was a little girl my sister (it was the 1970s!) made a decoupage wooden wall hanging of The Desiderata. She even burned the edges and I think that's the first poem I spent any time trying to understand. I didn't really read poetry in high school and I had one teacher who taught us song lyrics (Stairway to Heaven) as examples of poetry. Just after high school, I was reading ee Cummings but the first poem I remember really just being gobsmacked by was Auden's Musee des Beaux Arts. It gave me so many feelings; it blew my mind.
I started writing poetry when I was around age 22. Yes! It was a broken heart that got my pen to the page. When I was 24 I was invited to my first reading in Calgary, AB. A poet named Murdoch Burnett was starting a reading series and I applied. He called me and said that I was the real thing and I can't even begin to say how much that meant to me. And then I started performing poetry with my absolutely adorable friend Joni Brent-Clarke. She played bass and I read poetry and we were awfully cute young things, but also maybe that allowed me to get away with a lot of poems that could have been better written.
I think a poet's job is to write poetry. I don't mean to be facetious, but there are so many different types of poems out there, so I think writing and working to make your poem the best it can be is the poet's job. Working and reworking. Personally, I am reaching for an emotion in my work that I would like the reader to feel, but I think lots of poetry tangles with ideas and language, and I think that's great too.
There are so many good poems to choose from but I think I would start with Walt Whitman's, "A Noiseless Patient Spider".