Bren Simmers is the author of one previous book of poetry, Night Gears (Wolsak and Wynn, 2010). She is the winner of an Arc Poetry Magazine Poem of the Year Award, was a finalist for The Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize and has been twice longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. Her work has been anthologized in Alive at the Center: Contemporary Poems from the Pacific Northwest (Ooligan, 2013). She currently lives in Squamish, BC.
You can learn more about Bren at BrenSimmers.com
We asked Bren 10 questions about her writing process, her inspiration, her nominated book and her advice for aspiring writers. If you know folks who live in Calgary or Edmonton, be sure to tell them about her upcoming readings this November.
Bren Simmers answers our 10 questions!
- When did you first know that you would become a writer?
I have been writing since I was a teenager. I’m lucky that my father is also a writer and has been a great source of encouragement all my life. A lot of the books in my library have been “loans” from him. I didn’t really think of myself as a writer until my mid-to-late twenties, when I spent six weeks in residence at the Wallace Stegner House and then took on an MFA in Creative Writing at UBC.
- How did it feel the first time you had a book contract with a publisher—when you were still working on the manuscript and before your book was released?
“Are you published” is one of the first questions anyone asks me after telling them I’m a writer. And by published, they mean, do you have a book? When Wolsak and Wynn accepted my first book in 2008, I was thrilled. Finally, I felt legitimate. Of course, I had two wait two more years after my acceptance until the book came out, but it was worth the wait!
- Who inspires you? Why?
Creative people of all kinds: musicians, dancers, writers, chefs, and visual artists. I feel very lucky to have these people in my life, and the cross-discipline conversations we have at dinner parties or while hiking a nearby trail nourishes my writing. My husband is a musician and we often talk about similarities between writing and composition. Poetry and music both think in gestures, there’s a shared language.
- What book(s) are you reading right now?
If I were to sample from the many stacks around my house: Rita Wong’s poetic treatise about water called undercurrent, Bruce Rice’s Life in the Canopy, and I’m re-reading Harold Rhenisch’s Tom Thomson’s Shack. And evening out loud reading in our house these days includes Robert MacFarlane’s essays about footpaths The Old Ways, which my husband and I first started reading to each other on a canoe trip down the Yukon River and will hopefully finish before our next trip.
- Where and when do you write? Was this different for Hastings-Sunrise? It has the feeling of being written in-situ.
Hastings-Sunrise was written from a one bedroom apartment overlooking Pandora Park that I shared with my husband and his dozen instruments. I had a desk in one corner which was separated from his desk by a screen. I also wrote quite a few poems during and after neighbourhood walks. I often set a timer to write or revise for half an hour or so, because that’s all the time I had. It’s incredible what you can accomplish in short, intensive bursts—it just takes a bit of focus and willpower. I’ve got a picture of a tortoise taped over my desk to remind me to go slow and steady and to take the time the work needs.
- How did you begin writing about a neighbourhood?
I was working as a naturalist at the time and part of my job was to record natural events such as the first salmonberry or the first hummingbird into our phenology calendar. I wondered what would happen if I paid the same kind of close attention to a urban environment. Could I create a phenology calendar of East Vancouver? Once I started observing my surroundings more closely, the book quickly became more than a catalogue of seasons and focused on the neighbourhood as a whole. Halfway through the book, I realized that I needed to situate myself in the book as well, as part of the accelerated social, cultural and economic changes that have impacted the neighbourhood in the last five or so years.
- Is the map of neighbourhood swings real? Where should someone start if they wanted to plot the same course?
Yes! The maps were made by walking the streets and recording the data (neighbourhood swings, Christmas lights, etc) onto an actual map of streets. I then transcribed this data into a visual poem keeping faithful to the actual locations before removing the street names, leaving only the pattern. The data was collected in 2010-2012, so the swing locations have likely changed. But if you were to retrace the map, the southern most xxs are where Semlin and Lakewood intersect with Charles Street. The northernmost swing was located near the intersection of Trinity and Lakewood Streets.
- Can you share any advice with emerging and aspiring writers?
Someone once told me that successful writers have a mix of talent, learned skill and persistence. For me, the most important attribute in that equation has been persistence. Even while working full-time, I still try to carve out time for writing. In the face of rejections, I keep writing. That stubbornness allowed me to throw out 25 pages of the book and to restructure it half a dozen times before it felt right.
- What unexpected person has contacted you about your book?
What has been unexpected about this book is the reaction people have after hearing the poems. At readings, people have said that the book transported them to the streets of East Vancouver, and now they have a sense of what that area is like. Or even better, they live on one of the streets named in the book and they are surprised and delighted to recognize their daily lives in poetry.
- Do you have any public events (festivals, readings, podcasts, etc.) taking place in 2015 that we can help to promote? Where and when are they?
Yes, I’ll be reading at the Whistler Writers Festival on October 17, the Flywheel Reading Series in Calgary on November 12, and at Audreys Books in Edmonton on November 15.
The 27th annual City of Vancouver Book Award will be presented at the Mayor’s Arts Awards ceremony at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre on November 12, 2015. The books on this year’s shortlist cover a range of genres: non-fiction, short stories, poetry, and a children’s book. The short-listed books create a street-level walk through our city to amplify our pride and understanding of the flawed and beautiful, young but wise city we inhabit.