Amy LeBlanc, poet, writer, and editor talks monstrosity, fairy tales, and poetry with Invisiblog guest editor, Shazia Hafiz Ramji.
Shazia Hafiz Ramji: How does it feel to have your poetry published in chapbook form?
Amy LeBlanc: I’m always ecstatic when I see my work in print or online, but there’s something so nice about having a book that is printed and bound. I hosted a small launch in Calgary back in September and I have never enjoyed a reading more. Having a chapbook launch gave me an excuse to bring my family and friends together to celebrate poetry with the phenomenal local poets that read with me, Kyle Flemmer and Katie O’Brien. Ladybird, Ladybird is now in its fourth printing, there is a review of it forthcoming in Canthius and I’m still floored and amazed that people are reading it.
SHR: How did you arrive at Ladybird, Ladybird?
AL: The first piece I wrote for my chapbook was the title poem and it was based off a classic English nursery rhyme:
Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.
I think this title poem was the one that held everything else together. It set a tone that was both dark and whimsical. I’ve always loved nursery rhymes and fairy tales because they are deceivingly simple and subversive. They are full of the monstrous feminine and a sense of unruliness that I try to translate into poetry. I rewrote the nursery rhyme with a similar structure and meaning, but I wanted to play with the idea of monstrosity and motherhood even more.
SHR: How long did it take you to write the poems in this chapbook?
AL: In June of 2018, I began putting together a chapbook of dark, fairy-tale like poems that became Ladybird, Ladybird. The poems in this chapbook were written within the last two years, but the majority of the pieces were written over the summer of 2018. I was feeling stuck with writing and I started listening to a podcast called Lore when it occurred to me that I could write a poem for each of the one hundred and one episodes. Every episode is about folklore, strange history or supernatural happenings. As of now, I have written a poem for about fifty of the episodes.
For example, Tonic is about a group of villagers in rural Rhode Island that exhumed a girl named Mercy Brown because they thought she was a vampire infecting her family with tuberculosis from beyond the grave. Powder is about the construction of the Hoosak tunnel in Massachusetts and the explosion that occurred, costing the lives of 13 miners. My poem Clamour is about early werewolf lore and lycanthropy. One of my favourite pieces Pick is about the first lobotomies and the horrors that women endured at the hands of male doctors. I find stories of hauntings, disasters, and spectral occurrences fascinating and the way I reflect on them is by writing about them. I thought about and read about hauntings often while writing this collection— in my opinion, a haunting is just the way that someone or something leaves an imprint, and for me, those imprints result in poetry.
SHR: What has been the most life-changing experience for you as a writer?
AL: One of the most life changing experiences for me as a writer was my residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity. I attended the weeklong Emerging Writers Intensive in October 2018 where I worked on my poetry with Elizabeth Philips and seven other emerging poets. Other writers were working on short fiction, novels, or non-fiction, and we all bonded over our love of creating. While I was there, I met so many incredible emerging writers at varying stages in their careers and I am happy to call many of them my friends.
On the first day, we did a tour of the Centre and it was the first real opportunity to talk with the other writers beyond awkwardly staring at one another in line to get our ID cards. I felt so intimidated when I realized how many people had already published books, had agents, or had won giant literary prizes, but everyone turned out to be so supportive and excited to be there. When I was there, I began putting together my first full-length collection of poetry entitled I know something you don’t know which is going to be released from Gordon Hill Press in spring 2020.
SHR: Who and what are your influences?
AL: I’ve been trying to read more poetry lately and I’ve been discovering a ton of new poets. I have always loved poets like Sylvia Plath, Audre Lorde, and Haryette Mullen, but I’ve also discovered Catherine Graham, Mallory Tater, Erin Knight, Kimiko Hahn, and so many others in the last few years. One of my favourite anthologies at the moment is The Next Wave: An Anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry edited by Jim Johnstone. All forty poets that are included are phenomenal and I want to go buy all of their books as soon as I can.
I’ve also had the privilege of learning from incredible writers. Aritha van Herk and Larissa Lai have both been huge mentors of mine and I’ve had the opportunity to meet writers that inspire me and motivate me through my work with NōD Magazine and filling Station.
SHR: What are you currently working on?
AL: I’m currently working on a novella about a woman named Lou who owns a hardware store in small town Alberta. She is separating from her husband and recovering from the deaths of her parents the year before. To help her cope, she keeps a copy of every key that she cuts until she has over two hundred of them. Her secret comes out to the wrong person and eventually she is blackmailed into breaking into people’s homes. The novella has a lot to do with grief, female friendship, and recovery. I wrote the first draft about three years ago, but it has changed dramatically and I think I am finally starting to find my voice.
SHR: Whose work do you want to read, but haven’t yet read? Why do you want to read their work?
AL: I am so excited for Arielle Twist’s collection Disintegrate/Disassociate to be released. I also want to read Voodoo Hypothesis by Canisia Lubrin and My Heart is a Rose Manhattan by Nikki Reimer. I’ve read and loved her work before, but I can’t wait to read her latest book.
SHR: What advice would you give to emerging writers who are hoping to put out a chapbook?
AL: If you want to put a chapbook together, I would try to find a thread that connects your poems. Some of my favourite chapbooks from this past year have all had some kind of cohesive theme or thread that binds them together. Some of my favourite chapbooks from the past year are The Landscape we Left on Each Other by Lauren DeGaine (The Blasted Tree), Matthew Stepanic’s Relying on that Body (Glass Buffalo Press) and Paper Doll by Manahil Bandukwala (Anstruther Press).
If you’re submitting to chapbook presses, make sure that you like what they publish and that you can envision your work fitting with their mandate. If you have friends that have published chapbooks, ask them what their press was like. Working with Anstruther Press and Jim Johnstone for my chapbook has been a dream.
Amy LeBlanc is a writer and editor from Calgary, Alberta. She is currently non-fiction editor at filling Station magazine and is the author of two chapbooks, most recently “Ladybird, Ladybird” published with Anstruther Press (August 2018). Amy’s debut poetry collection, I know something you don’t know, is forthcoming with Gordon Hill Press (Spring 2020). She will begin her MA in English Literature and creative writing at the University of Calgary in fall 2019.