Meghan Kemp-Gee recently published a
prose chapbook called What I Meant to Ask. Her debut full-length poetry
collection, The Animal in the Room, is forthcoming from Coach House
Books in Spring 2023. She also
co-created Contested Strip, the world’s best comic about ultimate
frisbee. She currently lives somewhere between North Vancouver BC and Fredericton
NB. You can find her on Twitter @MadMollGreen.
How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?
I majored in English and French literature in college,
and I always enjoyed reading poetry. But I didn't seriously consider writing it
myself until long after I graduated... I don't remember any particular thing
that got me started. Then, like now, my instinct to write poems simply came
from wanting to write something I might want to read. I guess I started to
write exactly when I felt like I could write something I'd be interested in
What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?
The poets that I'm most aware of as major influences are
the English Renaissance poets I studied in college, especially Shakespeare,
Donne, Wyatt, Sidney, and Herbert. That was the first poetry I read seriously,
and studied seriously, and loved seriously. I feel very nerdy admitting this!
But I think those 16th- and 17th-century guys are always really with me,
because they were the first thing I ever read that showed me how poetry works
on the human body, how poems could work like little rooms or little machines.
Louise Glück is definitely one of my most important
influences, because of what she's taught me about the lyric mode, its geometry
and possibilities that I want to spend my life exploring. I have learned a lot
from John Ashbery and Claudia Rankine, too, especially from the fascinating
things they do with each poem's audience and speaker, the "you" and
"I" inside each poem.
In some ways I feel like all my work is about influence.
In one way or another, most of my poems are conversations or ekphrastics or
"afters" -- my secret imaginary communications with what I've read.
It's one of my favorite ways to write.
Have you noticed a difference in the ways in which you
approach the individual poem after you began publishing a chapbook, or through
working on your forthcoming full-length collection?
Yes, a huge difference! Three years ago, I was very
poem-focused. I wanted to make each poem a perfect unit that could stand alone
-- or that should stand alone. And that's still true! It's still one of the
things I love most about reading and writing poetry! I'm still that
poem-focused person, as a reader and a writer. I love that you can come to a
poem and experience it like a perfect little world, or like a room you can come
into and out of, shutting the world out.
However, writing The Animal in the Room really did
change my practice. It was my first sequence of poems that was written
intentionally as a sequence. But now that I've written that way once, I've
never really stopped.
That's how I'm writing nowadays. I like my little
projects -- little groups of poems that are in dialogue with each other. My new
work since I moved back to Canada in 2021 is all sequences: two new chapbooks
and a new full-length manuscript in progress. I even went back and revised all of
my older poems (all the stuff I wrote before and during my MFA) into three
chapbooks, then added new poems to mould them into cohesive sequences. (That's
actually where my chapbook What I Meant to Ask came from!)
Has co-creating and working on a comic strip affected the
ways in which you approach working on poems? Has one anything to do with the
Oh, boy! This is something that I could really talk your
ear off about, because in my other-other life, I'm a composition specialist...
and I did my MA research about how writing comics impacts your skills and
knowledge in other kinds of writing!
My interest in this area of composition pedagogy came
from my personal experience writing comics -- from what I already knew about
what comics can teach us as writers in many different media and forms.
So the short answer is... YES! I think comics writing has
influenced me hugely as a poet. Comics teaches you to think constantly about
how text and image work together dynamically. Comics also (perhaps more than
any other medium!) depends on the reader and cartoonist working collaboratively
to make meaning happen. For these reasons, I love thinking about poems as
(tl;dr: This is one of my favourite soapbox topics! Poets
should read comics theory! You will learn a lot!)
Comics has also taught me about how to work
collaboratively with other artists. Scriptwriting requires efficient
translation between technical description and stylistic narration -- and
between image and text. These are very useful skills for poets, in my opinion,
because our whole job is to figure out how to make the un-word-able or un-worded
into words somehow.
How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there
anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?
Yes. Mentorship has been absolutely crucial to my work.
I've been blessed with wonderful teachers and mentors throughout my life. My
college advisor David Sofield introduced me to a particular canon of modern
writers -- Bishop, Frost, Merrill, Walcott, Wilbur -- poets who were in
conversation with the centuries-old poetry I was studying at that time. I thought
he was teaching me how to read poetry, but he was also teaching me how to write
it, even though I didn't know it at the time.
The novelist Richard Bausch was the person who convinced
me to do an MFA and professionalize my practice. Most importantly, he was the
first person to call me a writer to my face and tell me I was good enough to
actually throw myself into this. That changed my life. And it's a good reminder
to me about what mentorship actually looks like. It's really not so much about
teaching someone a technique, or telling them to move this line or that comma.
Real mentorship can also be reading someone's work like a colleague, like it's
something that deserves to be taken seriously in the world. That's what it can
I've had amazing opportunities in graduate school to
study with some of the best poets and poetry teachers you can find anywhere:
Victoria Chang, Martin Nakell, Carolyn Forché, and especially Anna Leahy, who
directs the creative writing program at Chapman University. They've each been
crucial to my work at crucial times, showing me what I need to be reading and
thinking about to do what I am trying to do! And now I'm doing my PhD at the
University of New Brunswick, I'm working under the mentorship of amazing
poet-educators like Sue Sinclair and Triny Finlay. I can't say enough good
stuff about how inspiring the literary community is here in Fredericton. I love
what I'm writing right now, and I feel like this community is a huge part of
Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more
Since 2017, I've been obsessed by Rainie Oet, who writes
these perfect poems about triangles, porcupines, and lyric personas. Everyone
should go get obsessed with her, too.
I also just had the opportunity to hear Christine Wu read
a poem called "ANCESTRY.COM HAS NOTHING ON ME" at UNB's Poetry
Weekend. It's a poem about family, history, and multivocality, and so she used
the voice recorder on her phone to produce multiple voices as she read. It was
a seamless, thought-provoking performance, and I've been thinking about it ever