NuSense: COMMUNITY Issue 4
Dr. Pavlina Radia, "'To Burst Free, Into New and Old': An Interview with Dr. Laurie Kruk"
“Engine-roar-wrapped, I too yearn
to burst free, into new and old. Our blue horizon never changes, just
widens as we wait for the oracle,
in the bow to divine for us,
tell us when we have arrived.”
~Laurie Kruk, My Mother Did Not
Tell Stories (Demeter Press, 2012)
It is a sunny spring morning. I am in between meetings, ravaged by pesky phone calls and text messages, those constant reminders of the here and now. I look at my watch: it’s not 3 p.m. yet. But before I even step out of the car, I hear a door open and out walks a composed blonde with a smile and a notebook, a mark of spending years taking notes, jotting thoughts and memories that come at random, uninvited. Laurie Kruk is a woman of many talents--an associate professor in English Studies at Nipissing University, a mother to two young girls, a dedicated partner, but also an accomplished poet. Her early collections of poetry speak to the intimacies of growing up, of leaving behind the old for the unfamiliar new.
Her 1992 and 2006 collections Theories of the World (Netherlandic Press)
and Loving the Alien (Your Scrivener) embrace the new with an inquisitive daring of a lyrical poet whose ability to probe the darkest wells of life’s many experiences invigorates each page. Both collections tap into the anxiety of moving beyond oneself. When I ask Laurie whether she has her own “theory” or “theories” of life, she smiles and says: “I would never call it a ‘theory.’ You have to outgrow your old self and gravitate towards communities. I think life is about drawing connections,
drawing circles between different people and different places so that your world gets increasingly larger as you get older.” Loving the Alien takes this idea further by exploring the deep sense of alienation that comes from moving to a different place, where, as Laurie Kruk says, “you are being challenged, but also forced to make bridges.”
Contemplating her response, she adds: “But writing comes out of that. It comes out of loss and loneliness. As many contemporary poets told me, it’s when you are puzzled and perplexed, or even in pain, that the poems come out.”
Such puzzling out of meaning is what drives Laurie Kruk’s passion for writing. “That’s basically it. Most of the poems come for me from some kind of pain, some kind of puzzlement…I kind of intellectualize the emotional upset, but I don’t want to completely lose the emotion because that’s so powerful, so I try to come back to the emotion through nature or family life. I seem to keep returning to family life imagery since it’s all about circles, coming back to the circle. You are never without that circle when you are a human being.”
Although Laurie Kruk might claim she has no ‘theory’ of life, the philosophy of “drawing circles” is nonetheless a common theme that also underpins her most recent collection of work, My Mother Did Not Tell Stories (2012), published by Demeter Press. A work of maturity but also poetic aptness and formal agility, the collection gives voice to the complexities of motherhood, the pains and pleasures of growing up, the pangs of anxiety surrounding the intimacy of mothering and partnering, as well as the moments where, as Laurie Kruk puts it in “Heart Exercise,” “we meet at intersections of public and private” (5). Whether chasing “our legends of ourselves” as she notes in the melancholy, yet unscrupulously upbeat poem, “Reliquary,” or whether rubbing shoulders with relatives and their “assorted personalities” during the family Christmas, Laurie Kruk says we find ourselves “drawing circles” around things, people, and, most importantly ourselves.
These daring journeys into the unknown—be it adulthood, motherhood, or partnership—which change what she calls “our legends of ourselves” might be an endearing hallmark of her poetry (“Reliquary 8), but they are also relatable signposts, moments of intimate crossings and remembering. The collection thrives on ironic innuendoes, debunking the myths about motherhood and mothering, while simultaneously crafting a new language to communicate loneliness, anger, misunderstanding, and fear. But it is also an attempt to make sense of mystery by creating bridges through a poetic storytelling that is witty yet lyrical, intimate yet relatable.
The collection thrives on irony and wit: it has no tolerance for binaries or sexist mythologizing. “The good mother stereotype is everywhere. We see this polarization of women into good and bad mothers. Most of the time we are somewhere in the middle. Like many feminist writers, I am trying to explore that complexity and not accept that it’s either one or the other: that you are either perfect or you are a failure.” The insistence on imperfection, particularly as it pertains to our most intimate and anxious encounters is what is so endearing about Laurie Kruk’s poetry. As she says, “the kind of poetry I write allows me to write narratives that are quick and witty. I like the poem because it’s short and accessible and wonderfully sharable. It’s just a wonderfully accessible medium.”
When I probe deeper into the realities of balancing professional life with creative interests, she graciously ponders the question before answering. “I try to bring them together; they intertwine.” Reflecting on creative themes in her academic writing provides further insight, but it also helps to flesh out ideas, she adds. It paves the way to new ways of seeing and understanding. However, as Laurie Kruk says, it’s all about sharing with others. Once again, she comes back to the importance of drawing circles.
When I ask her what kind of advice she would give to young, aspiring authors, she says: “Just share your work. Don’t be solipsistic. I guess today you can share your writing online, which is fantastic and appealing to many younger writers, but also share it live, in readings and writings. I guess that would be my encouragement. A lot of writers start off very, very shy and private. They say ‘oh’ I write in a
journal, but I don’t share. I think if you are going to be a writer, then you have to share,” she says.
I am touched by her generosity and sincerity. I want to ask more questions, but I know our time is winding down, I have to rush off to another meeting, but I ask nonetheless.
PR: “Where does your poetic inspiration come from? What drives you?”
LK: “Reading leads to writing...and my parents, both teachers, always encouraged us to read...so I was eventually inspired, as a teenager, to begin to put my ideas
down in narrative form. I found that I could shape little 'narratives of the heart' in poetic free verse form—inspired by the examples of Canadian poets Atwood, Purdy, Wallace, Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier, etc. etc. That was both pleasing and immediate. I also love to read, study, and write short fiction (still unpublished), but a poem has the advantage of being both more sensuous (when read aloud) and more compressed, so that it is more quickly written and easily shared, both with intimates and with strangers. As a poet, I'm trying to find...meaning, in the experiences and emotions that puzzle, perplex, provoke, upset, and disturb me. I find that most of my poetry comes from some kind of questioning, if not actual pain or loss. My poetic inspiration, as a mom and a poet, is grounded in my daily life and relationships....and my process is also rather domestic and casual (scribbled notes on paper). The poems sprout like mushrooms, I feel, from the compost heap (‘kitchen midden,’ Al Purdy calls it) of my changing life.”
With her reference to the “compost heap” from which the new sprouts, I know that our time is up. It is 3:40 p.m. I am already late. And yet, I feel that those thirty minutes spent on the porch discussing poetry, the challenges and rewards of creativity, were yet another means of drawing circles, of “bursting free” out of the shackles of the everyday, if only temporarily.
© NuSense 2011