A Northern Life: Karen Bannister in Conversation with Joelle Barron

What do you pinpoint as the inspiration behind this poem? How did it come to you?

The inspiration was definitely a lifetime obsession with Glenn Gould. I've just always found him really interesting, and I'll admit to having a pretty intense crush on him. I found out that he did a lot of traveling around Northern Ontario, to all these places that are so familiar to me. I was fascinated with what I perceived to be his fascination with where I'm from. Then I listened to "The Idea of North," the radio documentary he did for the CBC in 1967 about people living in northern Canada. And then I had a poem!

It feels so quintessentially Canadian to me. Why do you think that might be?

I love Canadiana. I know it's extremely clichéd, but literature about wilderness and canoes and voyageurs has always really appealed to me. So I guess I tend to write a lot of it.

What did it feel like to learn you were the winner of the Open Season prize in Poetry? Do you remember your first thoughts?

I happened to check my emails while I was in the TA office at UBC, and I just sort of stared at the screen for a long time in disbelief! My first thought was that I wanted to call my mom and tell her.

Do you go back to this poem and marvel at what you have written? In what ways has it or might it change from when you first wrote it?

I definitely don't marvel, but I am proud of what I've written. When I first wrote the poem, it had much longer lines and every second line was indented. Some very helpful peers suggested that the form was a bit stuffy, so I shortened the lines for more breathing room.

Do you feel this win changes your outlook on the poem, on poetry, on yourself as a writer?

This win doesn't change my outlook on poetry or myself as a writer, but it definitely feels incredibly validating to be chosen for an award that I've always coveted!


Karen Bannister

Karen Bannister

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