Donna Kane’s poems, short fiction, reviews and essays have been published widely in journals such as The Walrus, The Fiddlehead, and The Malahat Review, as well as in several anthologies, most recently, Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013, and I Found it at the Movies: an Anthology of Film Poems (2014). She has published two books of poetry, Somewhere, a Fire, and Erratic, and her poetry has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. In 2014, she completed an MFA at the University of British Columbia for which she received a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Graduate Research Grant.
Geosi Gyasi: Could we start from how you became a writer?
Donna Kane: I have been writing for as long as I have known how to write words. But I grew up believing that my writing was a childhood pursuit. When I was a kid I sent poems and stories into the Western Producer, a Saskatchewan farming newspaper that had a few pages dedicated to young creative writers. It wasn’t until I returned to college as a mature student and took a creative writing class that I began to take my writing seriously.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the single most important thing to consider if one aspires to be a writer?
Donna Kane: For me, I think it is knowing that we are not alone. We may write in isolation, but we are writing out of a long tradition. Writing came before me and will continue after I am gone.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that writers have a defined way of life?
Donna Kane: I certainly don’t have a defined way of life. My life is always changing. Sometimes (many times) I wish I could create a world more conducive to writing, something that would, I suppose, be a more defined way of life, but I haven’t achieved it, and given the other responsibilities I have, I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen.
Geosi Gyasi: You live in Rolla, BC, a few miles northeast of Dawson Creek. Could you share with us anything about the place you live?
Donna Kane: Rolla is in rural northern BC. Because of its relative isolation, there aren’t a lot of writers, certainly not enough to form their own social group. Instead, artists of all disciplines hang out together, and I think it creates a really rich experience. Together we’ve developed events that are multi-disciplinary in nature. The Sweetwater905 Arts Festival, for example, began with the vision of holding an event where visual art and literary readings were given the same amount of importance and stage time as the musicians.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you introduce us to some of the writers living in Rolla, BC?
Donna Kane: We have quite a few writers in the area, though not nearly as many writers as we have musicians and visual artists. But those writers who have published their work include Marilyn Belak, Shannon McKinnon, G.P. Lainsbury, and Rebekah Chorney-Rempel.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most important thing to you as a writer?
Donna Kane: To write, and to have ideas arise from that writing that feel meaningful to me, and, hopefully, to others as well.
Geosi Gyasi: Your first book of poems, “Somewhere, A Fire” was published in 2004 by Hagios Press. How did you come to write it?
Donna Kane: My first book of poems included a lot of poems related to where I live, poems that resonated with the north and its particular climate and weather, its ecosystem, its animals, both human and non-human. There wasn’t a specific theme, it was more of a compilation of poems deemed publishable.
Geosi Gyasi: What sort of relationship do you have with Hagios Press?
Donna Kane: I had a very interesting experience with my first manuscript. It had been accepted by another press, but then I went to the Sage Hill Writing Experience in Lumsden, Saskatchewan to put the finishing touches on it, and my mentor at that time said, “You can publish this book, but if you do, it will be just be one of 150 other mediocre books published in Canada each year.” I took those words deeply to heart, and withdrew my manuscript. After working some more on the poems, I lost my spot with the other publisher, but Hagios Press heard about the manuscript and took it. My second book was also published with Hagios Press.
Geosi Gyasi: What have you learnt as a writer since your first book?
Donna Kane: I have learned that I have to believe in myself as a writer. There will always be those who like your work and those who aren’t so stoked. I’ve learned for myself that I can read the same poem by another writer, and, depending on my mood and mindset, it is a different experience each time. What matters to me is that I continue to write, because otherwise I am unhappy, and that I work hard to be the best I can be. I take editorial critiques seriously; I love how a harsh critique can push me to do better, but I’ve learned that I also have to value the compliments I’ve received.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us something about your second book of poetry, “Erratic”?
Donna Kane: My second book was written during a tumultuous time in my life, a period in which my marriage was falling apart, and I would say that it resulted in a more confessional tone than Somewhere, a Fire. I don’t regret it, but the writing I’m doing now has returned to, I think, a truer tenor of my poetic sensibilities and preferences. Sue Sinclair wrote a review of Somewhere, a Fire titled “In Praise of Coldness” where she said, “Kane’s poetic voice is controlled–the fire’s there all right, but it’s never allowed to burn entirely freely” – I took that as a huge compliment at the time, and I still do. I love writers like Elizabeth Bishop and Wislawa Symborska, poets who have a plain poetic diction together with a slight distancing from their readers. It feels to me that they are attempting to report as plainly and authentically as possible without getting too invested in their own emotions and subjectivities. I realize that it is not possible to avoid these things altogether, but to make our perspectives as objective as possible is something I’m really interested in.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a special place where you often sit to write?
Donna Kane: I’ve had to change my office space many times in the past few years, and I have to say that it has been disruptive to my writing. I am currently sharing my office space and it’s not ideal, but I am finding that I am learning to be a bit more flexible than I thought I was.
Geosi Gyasi: This may sound odd, but what is poetry?
Donna Kane: For me, metaphor is the engine, the workhorse of poetry. There are lots of other elements too, but I love how metaphor helps me recognize things I know but didn’t know I knew. In this way, poetry exists in all kinds of writing.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you gain any special thing from writing?
Donna Kane: A whiff of the ineffable.
Geosi Gyasi: You run the “Writing on the Ridge Reading Series”. Do you mind telling us anything about it?
Donna Kane: I started the WOTR Reading Series in 1997 as an attempt to learn what was going on, literary-wise, beyond my small space in northern BC. Reading Lorna Crozier’s Inventing the Hawk was a revelation to me – that you could write about such familiar things and win the Governor General’s Award. Lorna was the first person I contacted to be a reader, and, being the generous and open person she is, she graciously accepted! Since then I’ve had nearly 100 readings and the writers have ranged from Lorna to Ken Babstock, David O’Meara, Ken Howe, Jan Zwicky, Don Mckay and many, many more.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced as a writer?
Donna Kane: I think I’m facing my greatest challenge now. It’s not writer’s block, exactly, but due to the changes in my life, I do seem to have slipped off of the rails of poetry. In the past few years I’ve changed my home, my relationship, I went back to school and completed my undergraduate degree and then my Master’s degree, and now I am working full-time and sharing an office space. I have learned so much; I’m chock full of ideas, but short on the space required for me to sort them out.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers have inspired you as a writer?
Donna Kane: Don McKay, Wislawa Symborska, Lorna Crozier, Ken Babstock, Louise Gluck, Tony Hoagland, Karen Solie, the list is actually quite endless.
Geosi Gyasi: You teach creative writing at Northern Lights College. What sorts of things go into teaching creative writing?
Donna Kane: I try to provide a balance of inspiration and humility. I want the students to know they can improve as writers, and I also want them to know that it takes time and patience, that it’s not about getting published. It’s about the process.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you read reviews of your books?
Donna Kane: Yes, I do. But I suspect the harshest reviews come to those who have become well known, and since I haven’t become that well known, all of my reviews so far have been pretty positive. I hear a lot of comments from writers who say they don’t read reviews. But they are writers who get attention. Some reviewers seem to be nice so long as you’re not so famous or haven’t won any major prizes. Once you have won a prize or two, things get harsher. I don’t have a degree in psychology, but it does seem that there’s something to this. The literary world pumps you up, encourages you, and then, once they think you might have become too big for your britches, they start focusing on your flaws.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you currently working on anything new?
Donna Kane: Yes! I am working on a manuscript of poems about Pioneer 10, the space probe that NASA launched into space in 1972.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you a fan of prose poetry?
Donna Kane: I love prose poetry. There isn’t a kind of poetry that I don’t like. I myself am more of a lyric poet, but I read all kinds.
Geosi Gyasi: Which single poem of yours do you feel so dear to your heart?
Donna Kane: I don’t have a poem of mine that feels dear to my heart, but Jack Gilbert has a poem I wish I’d written, “A Brief for the Defense,” especially the first few lines, “Sorrow everywhere. … If babies / are not starving someplace, they are starving / somewhere else.” I have a poem called “What Attends Us” – I’ve always wished the poem could have started with Gilbert’s line.