We asked Shannon Bramer five questions about incorporating humour into her poetry and what sparked the creation of her first full length poetry collection in over a decade. Precious Energy will be launched through Toronto Lit Up on Wednesday, September 13th and it’s free to attend!
IFOA: Precious Energy is your first full length collection of poems in over a decade, what inspired to you write it?
Shannon Bramer: Life: sticky surfaces, fatigue, the beautiful faces of my three children. The sore throat I had from crying, or yelling. Guilt. The puzzle of new motherhood. The death of my father. Fragments of lego sculpture that I wanted to keep forever. This book is a document of my dreams, failures, excesses and loves. Precious Energy is also deeply informed by my concern and affection for my my mother, who lives with chronic pain. Pain is something we all endure to varying degrees and there’s no answering it away. There’s no solving it. And I don’t want to anymore, either. It’s an important thread in everyone’s life.
IFOA: How is your process of writing a play different from writing poetry?
Bramer: I love listening to people talk; how people express and hide what’s inside. It’s so wonderfully peculiar and specific. Some of my poems are like monologues, they arrive in my head and want to speak their peace. They possess an individuality that is simultaneously fragile and immediate. Although my curiosity and love of voice is important to both my poems and plays, playwriting is a more fluid process.
Once I have a bit of momentum and have found the special way a character speaks, dialogue unfolds quickly; the piece starts to grow and change and travel. The characters in a play say things and they don’t always understand why they are saying them. Also, my plays are more extroverted than my poems, possess a bit more volatility and swagger. Poems are harder to write and take longer to finish because they need so much tinkering and tenderness.
IFOA: Was incorporating humour into your poems a conscious decision?
Bramer: No. You cannot force a poem, especially a poem, to be funny. It just has to happen. It has to be why the poem is happening. Humour is my pin-cushion. It’s a place for pain to park itself. Some of my saddest poems are the funniest ones.
IFOA: What are you reading now?
Bramer: I’m re-reading one of my favourite books of poems from 2016: The Holy Nothing by Jessica Hiemstra. It breaks my heart over and over again.
IFOA: What are you working on next?
Bramer: My youngest is turning three in October so it’s finally going to get a little (tiny bit!?) easier for me to work on multiple projects; I’m excited and grateful to have more than ever before on the horizon. I’m starting new work on a project called Little Guns. I’m beginning the finishing touches on a collection forthcoming from Groundwood Books called Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children.
I’m also getting ready to create the final draft of my most recent play, The Hungriest Woman in the World, which first appeared at Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival in March 2017. Pencil Kit Productions (a feminist theatre collective) is producing the full-length version at Theatre Passe Muraille in December 2017. It’s a dark comedy about a woman who desperately wants to see a play about an octopus with her work-obsessed, preoccupied husband. When he refuses, she goes to the show alone and crazy things happen. Claren Grosz, a young and incredible talent from Calgary, Alberta, will be directing.
Poet and playwright, Shannon Bramer, lives in Toronto. Previous collections of poetry include: suitcases and other poems (winner of the 2000 Hamilton and Region Best Book Award), scarf, and The Refrigerator Memory. She has also published chapbooks with above/ground press and BookThug, and regularly conducts poetry workshops for students of all ages.
An illustrated collection of poems for very young children is forthcoming from Groundwood Books in the spring of 2019. Precious Energy is her first full-length collection in over a decade.