An Interview with Robin Richardson
Robin Richardson is the author of two collections of poetry, and is Editor-in-Chief at Minola Review, a Journal of Women’s Arts & Letters. Her work is forthcoming in POETRY, and has appeared in others including Tin House, Arc, The North American Review, and Hazlitt and been interpreted for an opera entitled Earthquakes and Islands by composer Andrew Staniland for the Brooklyn Art Song Society in New York. She has been shortlisted for the Walrus Poetry Prize, CBC Poetry Award, Lemon Hound Poetry Prize, and ReLit Award and has won the John B. Santorini Award and the Joan T. Baldwin Award. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and BA in Design from OCAD University. Richardson’s latest collection, Sit How You Want, is forthcoming with Véhicule Press.
Don’t think I ever had a choice in that matter. Poetry’s been my preoccupation since kindergarten.
The Mackinac is a dyslexia-friendly publication. How has dyslexia impacted your creative process?
I was diagnosed with dyslexia after failing second grade. I couldn’t read or write a word and wouldn’t be able to for another five years. I rode a short bus to a school for learning disabled children and was repeatedly reminded that my only goal in life – to be a writer – was the one thing that was guaranteed out of my reach. I’ve overcome it for the most part but it does mean that writing and reading takes a lot more work than it might for a normal person. The fear of misreading or miswriting is pretty potent. There’s also that drive though, it’s really instilled in me a need to prove myself, to excel at the thing I was told I’d never be able to do. Having had to work this hard for a thing makes each victory that much sweeter, and the blessing of this isn’t lost on me.
How long did it take you to write your forthcoming book, Sit How You Want, from the first draft to the final edit? How did this process compare to your previous books, Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis and Grunt of the Minotaur?
Always difficult to say how long a thing takes. I wrote the bulk of it in two years but will be adding and tinkering until the day it goes to print, which will be 2018. My process has been pretty consistent through all three books. I wake up and write. Simple. Though I have upgraded, in the past few years, from drip coffee to Americano. Figure I’m an adult now, I can afford it (I totally can’t).
You divide your time between Toronto and New York. Are there marked differences or similarities between the writing scenes of both cities? Do you consider yourself to be a Canadian or American poet - or both? Neither? And while you’re at it, solve a debate for us: color or colour?
I’m no authority on scenes. New York is big and crowded and the poets there make me nervous and giddy. Toronto is small and there are poets here I wholeheartedly love. As for me, I really don’t feel any national affiliation. Canada has been nurturing. America enthusiastic. I will say my work seems to be better received by the bigger publications south of the border, so there might be a shift in that direction whether I like it or not.
I say spell it culr if that’s your fancy.
You are a graduate of the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence. How did this experience shape you as a writer?
Sarah Lawrence had a huge impact. I was a pretty lame writer within the program. I think most people are during MFAs. But now that it’s all had some time to set in, the impact is profound. I learned that there is no ultimate authority on writing, that all the greats under whom I studied were all 100% right in their approach, and all of their approaches where in 100% conflict with one another. So it’s not about finding the perfect path. There’s no such thing. For me it’s about being sponge-like, open-minded, curious, and hard working.
I’ve also formed bonds with peers that will inspire me and keep me on my toes for the long haul. It’s impossible, though, to list all the ways that MFA has shaped me. Humility might be the main one, that and a persistent nostalgic attachment to the weird little wealthy town of Bronxville, New York.
Who are you reading these days?
I’m obsessively reading Marie-Louise von Franz, Barbara Hannah, and Carl Jung. Anything and everything on fairy tales, archetypes, and the collective unconscious. Also just ordered books by Ocean Vuong, Anne Boyer, and Natalie Eilbert, which I’m insanely excited to dig into.
What are you working on now?
Still, as always, working away at poems, which will probably end up inSit How You Want. I am also putting the finishing touches on my first novel, a poetic autofiction about sexual politics, power, and neurosis.
Any suggestions for The Mackinac Liquor List and the Issue #9 Companion Playlist?
I call my drink Sobriety looks sexy on you:
1 cast iron pot of boiling water
2 tablespoons of anise tea in strainer or bag
1 teaspoon of honey
1 clove leaf
Playlist, eh? All I listen to now when I write is Fever Ray and The Ink Spots. Let’s go with those.