News and Interviews

Dirty Dozen: Jane Munro Talks Teenage Jobs, Her First Poem, and the Joys of the Upside-Down

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Griffin Prize-winning poet Jane Munro's newest collection, Glass Float (Brick Books), is a study of boundaries and connections. The limit of the horizon, of a land-bound glass float, is used to illustrate the borders of our past and present. Connections between one's consciousness and physicality are explored through the disciplines of yoga and meditation. The poems in this, Munro's seventh collection, are patient and humble, but never lacking in power. Her deft arrangements evoke a deeper, mysterious truth lying dormant in ourselves, daring us to reach out and touch them.

We're thrilled to have Jane at Open Book today as part of our Dirty Dozen interview series, where authors share twelve facts about themselves they think you'd be interested to know. She shares her very first poem, reminisces about working as a cook at a Banff resort, and discusses the many benefits of standing on your head.

 

1. My grade seven teacher held up one of my notebooks at the front of the class and leafed through it – page after page bleeding red ink – as a horrifying example of terrible spelling. I’ve learned to love dictionaries.

 

2. I composed my first poem when I was five and printed it out for my mother with a pencil in her little notebook. She kept it.

on my 2-wheel bike
with its nose so long
I feel so steedy
so steedy and strong
I think that I am
queen of the town

 

3. The summer I was sixteen I worked in Banff as the Assistant Cook at the Alpine Club of Canada’s Clubhouse on Sulphur Mountain. I made $120 a month plus room and board and worked ten-hour days, six days a week. On Mondays, guests would sometimes take me climbing with them. The most exciting Monday was when I learned how to rappel – leaning out at a right angle (boots flat against the rock face) high up on a mountain. I also learned how to bake bread, sweep black bears off the back porch with a broom, and slice tomatoes paper thin for garnishes on plates.

 

4. A few years later, I spent a summer as a comptometer operator, taking stock in drug stores and department stores throughout the interior of BC. Our comptometers were an adding machine with no memory that kept a running total in a little window. If you accidentally hit the handle on the side of the comp, it cleared the screen. Disaster. We started early and worked late - had to count everything in the store on the one day it closed. Afterwards, I couldn’t look at an office tower without counting the windows.

 

5. The day before my first child was born, I knit a brown and white squirrel. Obsessively. I followed a pattern and stuffed it with cotton batting. The next day, I followed the psychoprophylactic method for childbirth. I’d taken the first psychoprophylatic childbirth course offered in North Vancouver. My song was, “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” I counted breaths and repeated it. And repeated it. I was twenty-three.

 

6. I’m learning Scottish Country dancing. It’s fun. You don’t need a partner. In high school, I was on the Viennese Waltz team. My partner later became a radical gay playwright. He was a good dancer.

 

7. My husband called me “The Salad Monster.” During the twenty years we lived at Point No Point, I made salads from our garden year-round.

 

8. I once had a secret admirer who left wistful letters under my door mat one winter. I found out he was a short-story writer.

 

9. The cats in my life: SmudgeCat, Tiny the fluffy Persian, Apricat the apricot point Siamese, Tilly, Sandino, then George and Ira the tabby brothers. The dogs in my life: Mike, the wire-haired terrier, and Shaun, the Irish setter. I loved each of them. Now, I am friends with two sweet Rottweilers, Sparkle and Scarlett, who always greet me with enthusiasm.

 

10. In grade nine, I did a job study on being an Anthropologist. I’d read an Anthropology textbook and thought it would be fascinating work. My mother drove me out to UBC where I’d arranged to interview an anthropologist. He told me I’d have to do twelve years of university study after graduation from high school. Fifteen more years in school! On the drive home, my mother advised getting a teaching certificate, “in case something happened to your husband.”

 

11. At Point No Point, I designed – drew up the plans and blueprints for – an 850 square foot cottage. It was an independent little house. The floors, window and door trims, stairs to the second floor, tabletop and built-in benches for the dining nook were made of alder milled from trees that grew where the cottage sat. It had lovely light from windows on all sides, a private bedroom with an outside door, a full bathroom, washer and dryer, an insulated and lit basement crawl space, and a good kitchen. One wood-burning cast-iron stove could heat the whole place. It slept two or three couples plus four or more children. When we didn’t have guests, the cottage was my workspace. I loved it.

 

12. Most days, I stand on my head. Usually, I spend at least twenty minutes a day upside down – in head stand, shoulder stand, handstand and sometimes elbow balance or other inversions. Exactly what poses and variations I do depends on how I feel that day, but going topsy-turvy refreshes my body, mind and spirit.

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Jane Munro’s sixth poetry collection Blue Sonoma (Brick Books) won the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize. A member of the collaborative poetry group Yoko’s Dogs, she’s been a professor of Creative Writing at several universities in British Columbia, taught many informal writing workshops, and read her poetry to audiences across Canada. For more than 20 years, she has studied (in Canada and India) and practiced Iyengar Yoga. In 2012, she moved back to Vancouver—where she grew up and raised her children—after spending 20 years living rurally on the coast of Vancouver Island.

 

Buy the Book

Glass Float

Waves carried a glass float—designed to hold up a fishing net—across the Pacific. Beached it safely. Someone’s breath is inside it. In Glass Float, her seventh collection, award-winning poet Jane Munro considers the widening of horizons that border and shape our lives, the familiarity and mystery of conscious experience, and the deepening awareness that comes with a dedicated practice such as yoga. This book is about connections: mind and body; self and others; physical and metaphysical; art and nature; west and east, north and south. In “Convexities,” the book’s opening poem, Munro quotes the grandfather who taught her to paint: “art is suggestion; art is not representation.” No concavities, he said. Only the “little hummocks” that her pencil outlined as she did contour drawings. Munro’s deft suggestion, her tracing of convexities, conveys underlying complexities, not by explication but by looking with eyes and heart open to where mysteries almost surface.

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