Suzannah Showler

Suzannah Showler's picture
b. 1986

Suzannah Showler's first book of poetry, Failure to Thrive (ECW 2014), was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award and named one of the best books of the year by The National Post. Her second, Thing Is (McClelland & Stewart 2017), was longlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Her poetry explores phenomenological questions in the idiom of everyday life. Showler is also the author of Most Dramatic Ever (ECW 2018): a book of cultural criticism about the reality TV show The Bachelor. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Buzzfeed Reader, The Walrus, Hazlitt, and elsewhere. 

Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?: 

My high school English teacher had a thing for cats, so we studied like a dozen cat poems. I remember none of them. 

I saw Ken Babstock read at the Ottawa International Writers Fest when I was in grade nine, and that had a huge impact on me. He read the poem "Bear 10" from Days into Flatspin, and it was a total revelation to me — just the idea that a poem could be playful and strange, that it could capture the way the human mind moves. Years later, I took a class with Ken and he became a mentor figure to me. He even blurbed my first book. Wild! 

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?: 

I recently found the first poem I ever wrote in a box of papers at my parents' house: I was about five when I wrote it, and it was about Harriet Tubman. It didn't rhyme, but I wrote "POEM" in enormous letters at the top of the page so there was no mistaking my intentions. 

I remember saying "I'm a poet" out loud to a friend when I was eighteen, and I was incredibly embarassed and full of regret before it was even all the way out of my mouth. I knew exactly how pretentious it sounded. I totally flipped sometime after that: for a long time, I was willing to say "I write," as a verb, but I didn't want to call myself "a writer." I would own the activity but not the identity. Even after I'd published my first book, it was still a while before I felt I could pin it down like that. It was some combination of insecurity and superstitiousness, I think. 

These days, I don't really think of myself as a poet, per se, but I definitely think of myself as a writer.

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?: 

The beautiful thing about poetry is that it's totally unnecessary. Superfluous in the best way. It exists outside the systems we use to structure our lives. So I think maybe a poet's job is just to experience that freedom and use it for good. 

If you have a poem in our anthology what inspired you to write it?: 

"Too Negative" appears in Thing Is, which is a book structured in the form of a thought experiment. It's divided into four voices, each of which has a set of "concerns" rather than character traits, and lines and words and images repeat throughout the book and across the different sections. As a result, any given poem in the book is so directly linked to the overall structural conceit that it's hard to think of it as being inspired by anything else. 

That said, I did get called "too negative" by the parents of my friends more than once when I was a kid, so I guess you could say it's autobiographically inspired, too.  

If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?: 

I would have to choose very carefully because I tend to get things stuck in my head very badly, and once I memorize something there's a risk that it will play endlessly and unbidden through my brain for the rest of my life. Maybe "Dream Jobs" by Suzanne Buffam. It's always good to have alternatives on hand. 

Thing Is
McClelland & Stewart
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Failure to Thrive
ECW Press
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Poem title(s): 
Four Poems
Canadian Notes and Queries
Winter 2017
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