VERSeFest Spotlight: An Interview with Kitchissippi poet Sandra Ridley

By Vivian Vavassis – 

Kitchissippi Times caught up with local poet Sandra Ridley to discuss her upcoming reading at VERSefest, Ottawa’s International Poetry Festival, and gain insight into her writing process. Ridley is the author of four books of poetry: Fallout, Post-Apothecary, The Counting House, and Silvija (BookThug 2016). She has taught poetry at Carleton University and has mentored poets through Ottawa’s Supportive Housing and Mental Health Services “Footprints to Recovery” program for people living with mental illness. In 2015, she was nominated for the KM Hunter Artist Award for Literature.

Kitchissippi resident and VERSeFest poet, Sandra Ridley. Photo by John W MacDonald
Kitchissippi resident and VERSeFest poet, Sandra Ridley. Photo by John W MacDonald

You’re one of our favourite poets at VERSeFest, and we’re so excited to have you back this year. What have you enjoyed about the festival in the past; and what are you looking forward to most this year?

Caroline Bergvall last year gave the audience a stunning reading. Her work and her delivery have been resonating with me ever since. Bergvall opens up the boundaries of what poetry can be. I ended up coming home with several of her books. The VERSeFEst book table is a feast. It might be what I look forward to most—for the chance of long perusal and purchase of material that often can’t easily be found. As for this year, Danish poet Ulrikke Gernes and Erin Mouré’s translation of her work will be an incredible event.

How is this book different from your previous ones? Where does stimulation come from?

Silvija was pieced together from fragmentary, isolated long poems I wrote over five years or so. One section responded to Michèle Provost’s ‘Playlist,’ a multi-form art installation exhibited at the Dale Smith Gallery in 2011. Originally a longer polyvocal piece, portions were performed with local creative talents Christine McNair, Sean Moreland, Glenn Nuotio, Carmel Purkis, Grant Wilkins at Gallery 101 and at the National Art Centre’s Fourth Stage. Another part was commissioned by rob mclennan and The Redwall Gallery as an engagement with Pedro Isztin’s photo installation, ‘Study of Structure and Form’. I also wrote one poem, which later became integrated into the others, as a response to Istzin’s ‘The River’, exhibited at the Karsh-Masson Gallery at Ottawa City Hall.

How would you describe your writing process?

Extensive procrastination, pillow-screaming, and pulling back.

Do you have a process or any rituals? What does the process of writing look like for you?

A poem rarely presents itself. The few that have for me are outliers. My writing almost always starts with gathering long lists of words. I seek out and salvage peculiar, abandoned and phantom limbs of language. In time, sounds and phrases converge. Kith finds kin. Serial poems coalesce, which I eventually print, cut up, and spread out. It’s a method of tactical separation, excision, and fusion—until the fragments, like bones, shift then settle into unexpected contortions. I pare these forms back, then cut them up. It’s Frankensteinish. The surgeries repeat until a deadline creeps up and the poems transform into monsters.

Ridley reads March 26th at 1:00 pm as part of VERSeFest, which runs March 21-26, 2017. The main stage is at Knox Presbyterian Church (120 Lisgar St.), with special events taking place at LIVE! On Elgin and Pressed. For additional venue listings, times, and tickets, visit versefest.ca.

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