Bill Arnott’s Showcase Interview: Scientist-Poet Adrienne Drobnies

Today we’re privileged to visit with the remarkably multi-talented writer, poet, singer and scientist, Canada’s Adrienne Drobnies! I met Adrienne in a poetry class at Simon Fraser University, where our instructors were a pair of Poet Laureates (Vancouver’s Fiona Lam and Evelyn Lau). Unbeknownst to Adrienne, she’s become a poetic role model to me. Adrienne, welcome to the Showcase!

(Adrienne) Thanks Bill!

(Bill) I’ll start as I always do, by introducing you to our Showcase family with a formal bio.

Adrienne Drobnies is a Vancouver poet and scientist. Her poems have appeared in literary journals in Canada, the US and UK (including The Antigonish Review, Event, Riddle Fence, The Toronto Quarterly, Sows Ear’s Review, and Popshot). One of her poems was selected in 2020 for BC Poetry in Transit, and her long poem “Randonnées” won the Gwendolyn MacEwen Award for Best Suite of Poems in addition to being a finalist for the CBC literary award. Her debut poetry collection Salt and Ashes was longlisted for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry and won the 2020 Fred Kerner Book Award from the Canadian Authors Association. She sings soprano in the Rhythm ‘n’ Roots choir, is a little problematically addicted to online bridge, and is part of the Poets Corner Reading Series team.

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That’s a heck of a resume, Adrienne! Having said that, tell us what you feel you’re best known for?

(Adrienne) Maybe for being a scientist-poet, a somewhat rare but not unknown breed.

(Bill) Too true! I can’t help but imagine the Hinterland Who’s Who, “… the rare and elusive scientist-poet occasionally hibernates in snowy climes …” (Which I only mention because I know you’ve done writers’ retreats in Banff!) But what brought you here, Adrienne?

(Adrienne) What brought me to Vancouver was a job that turned out to be terrible, but what kept me here was the desire and dedication to create a good and stable home for my family and myself, having bounced around a lot in my early life. I think I’m fundamentally a west coast woman and the pull of the Pacific is very strong for me. I never want to be too far from the ocean. But if by “here” you mean Canada, since I came from the US first to Toronto, it was a personal relationship initially that brought me to Canada, but I’ve been a Canadian citizen a long time and spent most of my life now in Canada. I know Canada has the same concerns about social and economic justice and environmental sustainability as other places, and it’s everyone’s obligation to do what they can individually and collectively to make the world better, but I’m happier to be trying to do that here. Though I still have ties to and an affection for people in the country of my birth, and believe as a country it has its strengths too, a southward glance often makes me shudder and glad of my choice to stay.

(Bill) Well said. And who would you say’s been a role model or mentor to you?

(Adrienne) Evelyn Lau is an especially important mentor for me and a good friend. Her dedication to poetry is exemplary. Her ideals for what poetry can be and her sensitivity as a teacher are truly admirable. Her work is courageous and skillfully crafted. There’s an intelligence and depth to her work that I admire and love. Her encouragement and faith in me has been extremely important to me and helped me push through difficulty. Karen Solie helped me so much when I was at the Banff Centre. I am lucky to have had several other wonderful and generous mentors, including Rhea Tregebov, Rachel Rose, and Betsy Warland. I am lucky to count them as both mentors and friends.

(Bill) What’s your advice to others?

(Adrienne) I’ll go with Ron Padgett’s advice here from his poem, How to Be Perfect. The second line says “Don’t give advice” followed by a raft of good advice. The last 3 lines are: Love life. / Use exact change. / When there’s shooting in the street, don’t go near the window.

(Bill) Sound advice indeed. Please tell us what you’re currently working on.

(Adrienne) I’m working on my second book of poetry. I have a lot of poems but haven’t yet found the core of the collection and a sense of its coherence.

(Bill) Your first poetry book, Salt and Ashes is truly special; I can appreciate you taking time with your follow up, there are an awful lot of us looking forward to it! And for our Showcase “Desert Island List,” what’s your favourite book, album, and recipe?

(Adrienne) My favourite book is Remembrance of Things Past, or Search for Lost Time if you prefer, by Marcel Proust. I really like The Köln Concert album by Keith Jarrett, and I do have it on vinyl from when it was first released. I also often go back to Prayer Cycle by Jonathan Elias. Eva Cassidy Live at Blues Alley is also a favourite. My favorite recipe is a very pedestrian one, which is my homemade spaghetti sauce. I enjoy the aroma of it simmering away, and making it gives me a lot of comfort. Sour cherry clafoutis is my favourite dessert to make, and I love making it with the cherries from my own tree.

(Bill) Yum! There’s certainly magic in fresh cherries right off the tree. And for our trademark Quirky Question, make a choice: comedy or tragedy, and why?

(Adrienne) I have to go with comedy because comedy always includes tragedy and we do need laughter to live. Comedy is a serious business. We need the art of tragedy, too, but in a sense that’s built-in. I’m reminded of the adage: dying is easy, comedy is hard.

(Bill) A perfect sentiment. Thank you Adrienne, for a lovely visit.

Find Adrienne’s award-winning book, Salt and Ashes at booksellers and through her website, adriennedrobnies.com.


Bill Arnott

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s been awarded at the ABF International Book Awards, Firebird Book Awards, Whistler Book Awards, received The Miramichi Reader’s Very Best Book Award for nonfiction, and for his expeditions Bill’s been granted a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making music and friends.

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