Susan Musgrave gives funny, quirky talk

Poet, novelist and children’s writer Susan Musgrave gave a funny, quirky poetry reading and informal discussion about her work within the framework of Glendon’s Michael Ondaatje Reading Series on Nov. 17. The following day, she read at York’s Keele campus as part of the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English.

Musgrave’s long and illustrious writing career has produced 17 books of poetry, three novels, three books of non-fiction, four children’s books and several collections of humorous essays. Some of her poetry titles provide the reader with a sense of her central themes: A Man to Marry, A Man to Bury (McClelland & Stewart, 1979), Tarts and Muggers: Poems New and Selected (McClelland & Stewart, 1982), Cocktails at the Mausoleum (McClelland & Stewart, 1985), The Embalmer’s Art: Poems New and Selected (Exile Editions, 1991) and Forcing the Narcissus (McClelland & Stewart, 1994) to name just a few.  

Left: Host Chris Dewdney

“Susan is a wild creature and a true poet, someone who has cherished her freedom in the midst of sometimes chaotic circumstances,” said the reading’s host, poet Chris Dewdney, who teaches creative writing at both the Keele and Glendon campuses. “Her biography reads like an adventure story, filled with exotic countries, bandits, drug dealers, courtroom dramas, courtroom seduction and prison romance. In fact, her biography is so extraordinary that she has sold the film rights to it.”

A prolific author, Musgrave expressed her view that you can’t force inspiration by setting up a rigid framework for writing; yet, at the same time, you have to keep writing for something meaningful to emerge. “I am writing less now than I used to do. Perhaps I am less obsessed with it because I have other outlets, such as my enjoyment in nature,” she said.

At both Glendon and Keele campuses, she read from several of her most recent books, including You’re In Canada Now…A Memoir of Sorts (Thistledown Press, 2006). Her writing pushes boundaries, seeks the outrageous and the irreverent, and explores deep ideas and emotions with candour. Her most recent novel is Cargo of Orchids (Knopf Canada, 2000) and her latest poetry collection is What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems 1970-1985 (Beach Holme Publishing, 2000).

Right: Susan Musgrave

Musgrave is impossible to pigeonhole. “She has been labelled everything from eco-feminist to anti-feminist, from standup comedian to poet of doom and gloom, from social and political commentator to wild sea-witch of Canada’s northwest coast,” said Dewdney.

Musgrave is currently married to Stephen Reid, novelist and former member of the infamous Stopwatch Gang jailed twice for bank robbery. They live in British Columbia, dividing their time between Sidney and Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). She teaches poetry in the University of British Columbia’s Optional Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.

When asked about her choice of living in Haida Gwaii for more than half of each year, she responded, "It allows me the time to read and to write. It is a simple life with not too much coming at you, few distractions. It is also a place where nature is beautiful and magical.”

More about Susan Musgrave

Musgrave has received awards in five different genres: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, children’s writing, and for her work as an editor. She was raised on Vancouver Island. She has published over 20 books and has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry and the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. In 1996, she won the CBC/Tilden Literary Award for Poetry and the Canadian Authors Association Vicky Metcalf Short Story Editor Award. She was chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada in 1997-1998. In the spring of 1999, she and her husband were the subject of the documentary The Poet and The Bandit, produced for the CBC-TV program "Life and Times".

More about the Michael Ondaatje Reading Series

The Michael Ondaatje Reading Series is under the sponsorship of internationally acclaimed writer Michael Ondaatje, who taught English literature for a number of years at Glendon, as well as Glendon’s English Department. The series presents contemporary Canadian writers and poets who read from their recent works and discuss the writing process as they experience it.

Previously featured authors include Michael Winter, Gil Courtemanche, David Adams Richards and Ondaatje.

The next author in the Michael Ondaatje Reading Series will be writer, editor and creative writing professor at Ryerson University, Barbara Gowdy. The date, time and location of the reading are to be announced.

Submitted by Marika Kemeny, Glendon communications officer