Interview with Paulette Turcotte


When did you begin writing poetry and why?  Have your reasons for writing poetry changed over the years, how? 

When I was five, I filled a small, lined scribbler full of loops (after studying my mother’s handwriting) and convinced my friends I had written a book. When they asked me what it said, I told them. I guess I poured out a stream of words that sounded convincing.

The question is, is there a beginning to writing poetry or is it something you suddenly realize you are doing. I don’t remember a beginning. In my late teens during a religious crisis, I began some kind of outpouring that was without effort, in perfect rhyme. I produced reams of this writing as if it were channeled. I also produced “stream of consciousness portraits” in pencil, during that time. It seemed to me then, that it was all a channeling of God and connected to a religious experience. I wrote in secret.

Some years later, I showed some of my work to a sculptor friend who suggested other line options. I stopped writing rhyming work at that time and began exploring.

I write out of necessity. It’s a part of my reason for being here. Poetry is an expression of something not yet tangible that I am trying to reveal. Poetry is born of a love affair with words.

How do you think poetry differs from prose?

I think the boundaries between genres were blurred a long time ago. But there is a sense, I think, that poetry has the possibility of containing the “cosmic mystery” in a more pure form. The spontaneous link to the unconscious allows more freedom to express the numinous. For some of us it is a necessity rather than a choice. Usually, prose tends to follow a storyline in a more concrete way. I think poetry is able to stand with its many layered, multi-faceted meanings and we are not bound to interpret as much as know on more sensory levels, (which is also a deep way of knowing, in the Feminine.)

Prose is often about the details and follows a more practical line, generally. Some writers are pushing the boundaries of fiction writing as well. I will often read a book for its style rather than its story.

(I wrote this in my notes but I don’t entirely believe it, since prose and poetry both operate this way.)But, perhaps it is this: prose reflects our lives to us in a more conscious way, while poetry is more apt to mirror the collective unconscious.

Is it important that poets communicate with other poets in the world?

I wrote for years, in secret and hid everything I wrote. My art and writing have always been “outsider” work and I despaired at ever finding people to relate to. At the moment, I am enjoying my Facebook poetry community and am quickly adjusting to having my work read and appreciated. At the same time, I am in awe of so much of their work. I am surrounded by a few incredibly good poets. I am reading more great poetry now than I have ever before. I would say, yes, it is important to be in community with other poets. I think, for poets who are pushing the boundaries in their work, there is a cross-fertilization happening.

Is writing a metaphysical process?

I think some writing is a metaphysical process. God, this gets complex! If you think about the amazing engineering of our brains and our ability to learn and the process of relating in language, let alone being capable of gauging innuendo, meaning, subtle changes on many levels, even in a description of an experience of a blade of grass…. and you ask me this? (laughing)

I will tell you this. The unconscious doesn’t even care if it is exquisite writing as long as “it” has an exquisite connection. I remember when I was writing The Woman Who Could See In All Directions At The Same Time and I would suddenly have a kundalini experience even as the words streamed out onto the page/screen as I typed. This happened regularly. At night, I would dream of the writing of the day before and dream that spirits rose from the page from between the lines and began interacting with one another. In dreams an individual word would claim a space as if it were an entire poem.

Writing is like having a lover. Or like bread—the Eucharist.

Who are your favorite poets and why?

This is another hard question.

How many favourites? So many have spoken to me and touched me deeply.
A few of my favourite poets are Neruda, T.S. Elliot, Pound, Charles Olson, and Lorca, William Carlos Williams, Di Brandt.
Susan Musgrave's work has always inspired me.  I love Rumi. They thrill me, expand me, touch me deeply in ways that I can barely measure in words. The Chilean poets “in exile,” Jorge Etcheverry, with his unique style and play of words, a celebration of sex, of life.

What is your favorite poem and why?

My favourite poem has to be Paterson, (William Carlos Williams) since it appears in my dreams regularly. I am passionate about the styles of writing embodied in the same poem. It is ingenious! It excites me. It provides me with new eyes with which to see. The Witch, a long prose poem by Jorge Etcheverry is a favourite for its style and play of words. It is startlingly rich. My sudden, recent favourite is The City in Which I Love You, by Li-Young Lee. When I read it for the first time, I had to stop reading and leave it momentarily. When I came back to it, it had the effect of “what is the point of writing one more poem. This is every poem.” I am happy to say, that paralyzing first love has dissipated somewhat.

Do you think Canadian writers have a unique perspective in the realm of poetry?

I think every nation has a unique perspective which can follow particular forms that engage the language of the time. There are always those who are compelled to push the boundaries of conventionality.

If we look at our obsessions we can see what our search is trying to discover/uncover. I believe there is a unique Canadian psyche that differentiates itself by its roots and its search for meaning in a Canadian context. I don’t know how conscious we are of that. We are/have always been obsessed with the land, nature and our connections to the north.

A Swiss Jungian analyst recently said that we Canadians are so fortunate to be a country in relationship to Aboriginal culture. He thought that had given us a better chance of “salvation” in that the “instinctual” that European and American culture had lost was still alive in our psyche through that relationship. He sees what many here don’t notice.

I believe our search for roots and meaning has defined us. This has to have bearing on Canadian poets especially, since poets and artists are the carriers of soul in a nation. How we express that, is what defines us. We are about remembering ourselves to history. We recite the words the history books forgot.

It is interesting that this ongoing obsession now fills our conscious minds in relation to our “roots” in Native land and land claims, (and our collective amnesia) and the need to make that right. Emerging and established First Nations poets are repossessing a rich historical space in a language of remembrance. Healing words that bridge the divide of before and after colonization. Poet and artist, Sarian Stump writes:

It's with terror, sometimes,
That I hear them calling me
But it's the light skip of the cougar
Detaching me from the ground
To leave me alone
With my crazy power
Till I reach the sun makers
And find myself again
In a new place
Sarian Stump (1945-1974)

If it is true that the poets carry the soul of the nation and give it a home in the world, then, in that sense, we carry the burden of exile in our collective memory. We are a multi-cultured, multi-faceted nation. We all come with our burdensome wealth of myths.

Quebec has its own historic sense that is unlike the rest of Canada. French Canadian author and poet, Marie-Claire Blais writes in a mytho-poetic style reminiscent of some of the Chilean-Canadian poets in exile. Her work had a huge impact on me. It was like entering a text that is closer to the “Feminine” and an embodied sensuous connection to words, a way of writing that is about process more than goal or beginnings and endings. It is about the world alive with mystery.

November, 2009

Claire-Paulette Turcotte has been involved with the arts community for more than 40 years as a painter and writer. In 1985  she cofounded a small publishing press, Split Quotation with Jorge Etcheverry in Ottawa.

Paulette’s work has appeared in a variety of Canadian magazines and periodicals such as Quarry, Anthos, Vox Feminarum, Room of One’s Own, Synchronicity, Atlantis, Waves and a Tree Anthology edited by Heather Ferguson, Ottawa, including her book of experimental prose poetry, The Book of Marecha. She has been assistant editor of Vox Feminarum and has been one of the organizers of the Pacific Festival of the Book since its inception.

She launched her book The Woman Who Could See In All Directions At The Same Time in 2006 with an art exhibition at the Victoria Arts Connection, curated by Heidi Bergstrom. Paulette has done numerous readings over the years including Salmon Arm Gallery, Tree, in Ottawa and Orion and VAC as well as various readings in Victoria. In 2005-06 Paulette was “House poet” for Serious Coffee House weekly open stage with James Kasper MC, Cadboro Bay Rd.

The Victoria School of Contemporary Dance and Constance Cooke will choreograph a program from The Woman Who Can See In All Directions At The Same Time.

Paulette’s long poem "The Mysterium of Godde" will be published by OMEGA in 2010

Paulette exhibited her art in more than 35 shows in Ottawa, Toronto and Hull PQ, from 83-87. In the early eighties her artwork was discovered by a patron of the arts who purchased more than 200 of her works. Her art can be found in collections in Britain, Germany, USA and Canada.

Paulette lives on an island on the west coast of Canada where she writes, paints, teaches dreamwork and spends time by the ocean.