so pleased to do do this… and please note i will find a second poet. it just has been a bit of a challenge! have patience…. i am so full of awe to have sheila here!
What am I working on?
I’m writing poems which explore the body, institutional language, and long-term themes of disquiet memory, the church, and mother-daughter relationships. My poetry has been on the back burner this term as I’ve been teaching “Writing the Body,” a third-year undergraduate course in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, as well as working as a writing instructor. I’m itching to get back to poetry and looking forward to more writing time in the new year.
I’m finding my feet after the focus and intensity of writing a poetic PhD dissertation, “Poetic Inquiry: Writing through Shame, Grief, and Silence,” which I completed a year ago. That work is a call and response between poetry and prose, in which I explore issues of authority and growing up as a United Church minister’s daughter in small-town Southwestern Ontario. I draw on the work of poet-essayists Marlene NourbeSe Philip, Maureen Scott Harris, Don McKay, and Lorri Neilsen Glenn, among others.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I draw on daily idioms, holding them up for scrutiny. I’m intrigued by the language of the church, such as scripture, while writing poems which reveal the underbelly of organized religion. My work is both lyrical, narrative, and at times experimental in terms of shape on the page. I sometimes draw on conversations overheard in public places, like streetcars and coffee shops. I also riff off theorists and institutional forms.
Why do I write what I do?
Daily life intrigues me―so much going on at once―in families, in the “news,” and “in transit” around Toronto. Writing about High Park and its trees provides a kind of reprieve, at times a stillness. I inquire into my themes and strive to uncover what is underneath my obsessions. I write about moments of discomfort to try to make a different kind of sense of them. My first collection A Hat to Stop a Train began as documenting and exploring my mother’s life in Northern Ireland, her reluctant emigration, and her life as a minister’s wife; it emerged as an attempt to understand my relationship with her. In The Shape of a Throat, I reflect on the quotidian of mid-life relationships, dislocations, and longings.
How does my writing process work?
When I wake I try to write down my dreams. Some poems are prompted by dreams, such as the pieces in the section “A low moon talking” in The Shape of a Throat. I’m very interested in the role of the unconscious in poetry. Reading a variety of other poets early in the day also helps to prime the pump.
My writing process entwines with doing yoga and walking which help me ground myself. I love a day when I can write first thing in the morning, when I don’t have to head out. Once I’ve done some writing and hit a wall, I do yoga or walk. I often walk with Josie, my Schnoodle, to a particular stand of white pines in High Park. I benefit from being in a writing group, The Long Dash―
A bio: Sheila Stewart has two poetry collections The Shape of a Throat (Signature Editions, 2012) and A Hat to Stop a Train (Wolsak and Wynn, 2003). She co-edited The Art of Poetic Inquiry (Backalong Books, 2012). Her work has been recognized by several awards including the gritLit Poetry Competition, the Pottersfield Portfolio Short Poem Contest, and the Scarborough Arts Council Windows on Words Award. Sheila is a writing instructor and lecturer at U of T.