Maleea Acker is the author of three poetry collections, Hesitating Once to Feel Glory (Nightwood Editions, 2022) and Air-Proof Green and The Reflecting Pool (Pedlar Press, 2009 & 2013, poetry), and a non-fiction book, Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2013), which charts the Indigenous stewardship and current restoration of an endangered Vancouver Island ecosystem. Acker lives in unceded WSÁNEĆ territories on Vancouver Island. She holds a PhD in Human Geography as well as an MFA in poetry and an MA in Literature, and lectures at the University of Victoria and Thompson Rivers University. She is also currently a UVic post-doctoral researcher, funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada, where she uses storytelling and art to communicate and urge action against climate change.
Maleea will be reading at UNB’s Poetry Weekend, in Fredericton, September 20-October 2, 2022.
The poems in Maleea Acker’s newest book, Hesitating Once to Feel Glory, thread their storylines on precipices of emotion. These poems fight and push, love and tear their way from states of hyper joy all the way to abject sadness and longing. Whether it’s the cold machinery of humanism or the warmth of the constructed world, these poems are alchemic, they balance, erode and make new poetic worlds.
Do you think you change a lot as a poet from book to book?
I think I’ve let different aspects of myself to the fore as I’ve moved from book to book. I was really interested in thinking in my second book, and my first was about working with music in language. With this book, I am keeping those things, but I’m also interested in greater honesty about hard feelings (to quote Sheryda Warner’s fabulous book), and so I have let more untamed and unmanageable feelings into the book (fear, anger, anxiety, sadness) than ever before. I’m also paying more attention to how my mind moves (or perhaps more accurately, how the transmission of what I’m receiving when I write seems to move, ). I’m a fan of Creeley’s assertion that poems are transmission; you tune in and scribe what they’re saying. There are sharper turns in this book; nothing hangs out for too long and the metaphors build and pile on one another. That seems to me to be a more full way of working for me right now—I wanted thickness and richness and a sense of accumulation that doesn’t wait but just keeps moving. It’s also a fair approximation of my life when the poems were written. My dearest friend in Mexico called me “pájaro libre” or free bird, something that couldn’t be caught. The poems feel that way, too.
What was the first poem you wrote from this collection?
‘Tacos’, surprisingly. A lot of this book was written to someone I no longer have contact with, a Mexican writer who I met in 2002. I talk to him a lot in the poems, cajoling, musing, teasing, thanking him. That poem, too, has him in mind, as a way of announcing my displacement in Mexico as a foreigner and my simultaneous feelings of being at home.
‘The Trumpet Speaks to the Crowd’ is a poem that has such a visual element to it, like an illustration in a Richard Scarry book. How did you stack all these elements together with both animals, people, nature? The flow is delightful. Can you talk about the process for this poem? What was the inspiration, did you get lost in its creation?
A lot of the poems in the book began as small scrawling in a Moleskine that I keep in a pocket. They rove because the things I am seeing or feeling or that are coming to me rove. “The Trumpet Speaks to the Crowd’ is no exception. In this case, a lot of the twists are actually based on things in the landscape of Jalisco, Mexico, where I was living. There’s a huge tension there between ex-pats who don’t speak the language and come with all sorts of preconceptions of how they should be treated in the country and how things should work, and between the locals, who have jobs because of the ex-pats, but also must endure their rudeness or lack of language skills. In my head, the place kind of does operate like a Richard Scarry book, or like Dennis Lee’s Garbage Delight. The images in the poem were simply following what the life was like.
What was the inspiration for the title?
I use Matthew Zapruder’s image of the black crater in the book to similarly speak of depression and especially anxiety, which is a huge part of my life. The title speaks to this because it speaks to what might otherwise be possible in a life, were there not always these hesitations, these inhibiting, these unbalancings that force my life through a kind of meat grinder. But the odd time things do make it through, well, it’s glorious.
‘Interiors’ is a disturbing scene in a binge-worthy series, yet it’s actually a poem in your book. Was this poem written quickly or was the final product heavily edited over time? I ask because it reads very honestly, yet is of course, a written poem, and not just what it sounds like, which is a filmic interior monologue, reduced to not the small screen, but the 40-watt glow of the poetry page.
Thank you; that’s a lovely thing to say about it! ‘Interiors’ was, like many (perhaps most) of the poems in the book, written quickly, and, though it might have been an amalgam of several bits of images, didn’t change much once the bits were united. My partner, who is also a poet, likes to joke that I receive my poems whole, from the sky, while his are packed and patted and flattened and reformed after much editing. That’s hyperbole, of course, but there is something I was trying for in this book, which was something like you say, that’s honest, quick, and with its edges still intact (not smoothed). So the interior monologue that you pinpoint, I think, is actually quite accurate.
What advice do you give a poet who finds themselves continuously being rejected by magazines?
Always have three things in the mail at once. And listen to your editors; kill your darlings. And if you’re not reading, if you think your voice is that precious that it can’t be sullied by other writers, well, you’re just wrong. Read, read, read. Be ready and willing to try on a multitude of guises and voices. And don’t give up. For every writer that first got noticed in their teens or twenties, there are others that didn’t publish their first book until 40 (Stevens) or didn’t get good until decades of practice (Purdy). And know that for every poem you write and think is good enough to put out there, there should be 3 more in a drawer that are just practice, and don’t need to go anywhere. Make sure you’re culling and shelving what isn’t shining.