Leslie Timmins is the author of the chapbook The Limits of Windows (The Alfred Gustav Press, 2014) and Every Shameless Ray (Inanna Publications, 2018). Shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, winning honours in magazines in Canada and the United States, and published in numerous magazines and anthologies, her poems are strongly influenced by the years she spent living in Europe and the Canadian Rockies, as well as by activism and a decades-long Vipassana (insight) meditation practice.
Leslie currently works as an editor, writes reviews for Event magazine, and is a member of the powerful powerX6 writing collective. For several years she has volunteered with WRAP, the Women Refugees Advocacy Project, petitioning government to provide effective trauma care and family reunification for female Yazidi refugees in Canada.
Q&A About Writing Poetry
From an interview with Canadian Literature.
Canadian Literature: Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
Leslie: I don’t remember a specific moment that inspired me to write poetry, but I do find inspiration all around me—for example, in the books I read, especially poetry, but also memoirs and topical nonfiction, as well as novels and a daily newspaper. I visit art galleries on a regular basis because looking at art is a great way to access the receptive mood that is the bread and butter of a working poet. Wilderness or even a walk along a treed street or by the ocean promotes the same mind state for me.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
These days as soon as I get out of bed in the morning I write down a dream if I can remember one, then I spend at least a half-hour reading someone else’s poetry. Sometimes this is enough to elicit a poem in my own voice, about a domestic moment perhaps, small in scope, sometimes using the plot line suggested by a dream, or sometimes I examine a line of thinking for a more philosophical or investigative kind of poem. Whatever it is, I don’t argue with the Muse—I’ll take anything that shows up. I keep my expectations low and maintain that morning habit, not comparing myself to any other poet I’ve been reading, but letting my mind and feelings move freely, not rewriting anything at first, just trying to attend and keep the flow going.
How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?
My poem “The Field Speaks of Its Persistence” began a number of years ago when I was working at the race track in Vancouver. I worked in the office as a lowly clerk and when I arrived at 8:30 I’d stand outside for a while to watch the morning gallop. The pounding of hooves, dirt flying up from the track, the sheen of the horses’ flanks, the intense concentration of the riders — exhilarating. At lunch time sometimes I’d head over to the barn to visit the two-year-old horses that were waiting to be sold. One day I stood in front of a huge mare that allowed me to stroke her long nose and instantly I saw an image of a wide furrowed field inside the horse’s forehead. I felt almost physically struck. As I made my way out the barn door and back to work I completely forgot about it.
When I remembered it later on, I wondered if the horse had communicated that image to me and that question raised possibilities that were tantalizing. Doesn’t Rilke say “love the questions themselves like locked rooms”; doesn’t he say, “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror”?
Another image, this time of sound, that had been kicking around in my imagination for a while was the static between stations on a radio. Its visual representation was of the stations as posts along a fence and the space in-between a sort of snowy, semi-solid static. As I’d been involved in Buddhist mindfulness meditation for a long time, I was constantly being reminded how preoccupied I was with habitual patterns of thought rather than noticing what was actually going on around me in any moment. Somehow this also came together in the poem in the non-awareness of the driver in the car.
The narrative line never really changed as I worked on this poem—the frame of the driver and the car has been there from the first, but I struggled to find the form that would convey the kind of quantum field jazziness of the horse’s ‘communication,’ the direct impingement of nature in other ways as well as the sense of the aural static.
Working from suggestions offered by the poet and editor, Harold Rhenisch, my final revisions had to do with regularizing the length of the stanzas; in this case alternating between a one-line and a three-line stanza. This regularizing isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it effectively created an architecture for the poem, giving the reader a pattern through which to proceed.
Then there was a question of the most effective line breaks. Some were working well but others not so much. Again following a suggestion of Harold’s, I looked for an energetic principle to guide the tempo. I’d been overly influenced by the notion that a poet’s breath determines the length of a line, so I was excited to find that the phrases I’d written, “atoms entangle,” “superconduct flux,” and “the order of the day” offered a guide for how to break lines and create an effective rhythm and pace. Those phrases now read “atoms/entangle superconduct flux the order of the day” and I hope you can feel that jerky, jammed-together, “entangled” tempo I was going for. To my mind this sort of mimics the situation of atoms that, according to quantum field theory, invariably affect one other if they’ve interacted at all, regardless of how far apart they are. Einstein called this “spooky action at a distance,” but by now you’ve probably guessed that the possibilities raised by my encounter with that horse invisibly, spookily affecting me “from a distance” not only incited the whole poem but kept it intriguing enough for me to persist with it until I found both the right words and the right form.