Kristine Scarrow: What was the impetus for The Slow Reveal? How did it come to be?
Chelsea Coupal: The Slow Reveal is a chapbook – it’s a small sample of work from my second poetry manuscript. I’ve been looking for a publisher for that second manuscript, and in the process, Anstruther Press offered to publish a selection of the manuscript’s poems as a chapbook.
KS: Your 2018 release Sedley is a favourite of poetry collection of mine; there is an honesty and rawness in the poems about growing up in rural Saskatchewan. How was writing this collection different for you from Sedley? What can readers expect from The Slow Reveal?
CC: In a lot of ways, the work in The Slow Reveal isn’t a huge departure from the work in Sedley. If you like Sedley, I think – hope! – you’ll enjoy The Slow Reveal. I still write about rural Saskatchewan. I still write what might be considered coming-of-age poems. I still like the constraints of form poetry. Maybe I always will?
I’m sometimes concerned that I return too often to the same sort of subject matter, but fellow writers have reminded me that even if we revisit certain topics, we’re not the same people we were when we wrote those earlier poems, so the work won’t be the same either. It’s impossible for it to be the same. I’ve also been reassured that this is a common concern among writers – that our work isn’t growing and evolving as it should if we continue to explore the same themes.
I read some writing advice somewhere – and I can’t remember who wrote or said this – but the line was: “Write what haunts you, not what interests you.” And that stuck with me. I feel like that advice is often in the back of my mind somewhere when I’m writing. If it haunts me, it’s probably worth getting down on paper. Some other advice I return to was given to me by Sandra Ridley at Sage Hill a couple of years ago. She challenged us to ask ourselves, as we drafted and reread our work: “What’s at stake?”
The main difference between drafting this collection and drafting Sedley is that I drafted the majority of the poems for Sedley as a grad student, so I had a lot of structure while writing that manuscript. I had thesis advisors I met with regularly. I had deadlines. It was a great environment to draft the manuscript in. It forced me to write regularly.
This manuscript, I wrote with a lot less oversight, so I hope it’s decent. Nobody’s asking where the poems are. There are no deadlines. I’ve found it a bit harder to stay focused and productive working mostly on my own, but I’ve had lots of generous readers along the way, even outside of a classroom setting, so I’ve been lucky.
KS: Tell us about the process of curating your work into a collection. How did you decide what poems to include in The Slow Reveal?
There are only eight poems in the chapbook, so I chose a few of my favourites from the larger manuscript. I also chose some that hadn’t been previously published – I wanted to make sure the chapbook contained poems that people wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read anywhere else.
KS: Have you always been drawn to poetry?
CC: Honestly, no. I didn’t really get interested in poetry until I was an undergrad in university and started reading contemporary poetry and trying to write it in some of my early creative writing classes.
I knew I was interested in writing in high school. When I started university, I was a pre-journalism major. I thought of writing in practical terms only: “Writing is a skill I have. Maybe I could get paid to write. Maybe I could be a journalist.” It didn’t even occur to me that there were people living and working in Saskatchewan who also published their own creative writing. I assumed you had to live in Toronto or New York to publish anything.
I also didn’t expect to end up writing poetry. In high school, I read novels, mostly. And even my first year of university – before I discovered contemporary poetry – I thought of poetry as this challenging, mysterious form of writing. I don’t think I even realized that people were still writing poetry. Overall, I didn’t give poetry a whole lot of thought until I was studying creative writing.
With poetry, you don’t have to worry about plot. I like that. Whenever I tried writing short stories, people would ask me: “What was the point of that?” And I’d be like: “Oh, does there have to be a point?”
KS: Who or what influences your work?
CC: My own experiences, what I’m reading, what I’m watching and the music I’m listening to.
KS: What would you like readers to take away from your writing?
CC: Good question. It’s not really something I think about that much. Should I? Ha, ha. Other than – I hope they like it? I just want them to enjoy it! I hope they feel something when they read it.
Chelsea Coupal’s first poetry collection, Sedley (Coteau, 2018), was selected by Chapters Indigo for an Indigo Exclusive edition and shortlisted for three Saskatchewan Book Awards; her work has won the City of Regina Writing Award; been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and appeared in more than a dozen Canadian literary journals and anthologies, including Arc, EVENT, Grain, Literary Review of Canada and Best Canadian Poetry.
Kristine Scarrow is the author of four young adult novels, all published by Dundurn Press. Her work has also appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. This past year, Kristine completed a short story collection Only Human through the MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan. She is currently working on another YA novel and an adult fiction medical novel. She is currently serving as the Saskatoon Public Library Writer in Residence.