Heather Grace Stewart wrote her first poem at age five, inspired by falling down a lot while trying to figure skate. At the Arena was published in her school newsletter. From that moment on, Heather was hooked on writing. Heather’s poems have been published in Canadian literary journals, newspapers and magazines, nation-wide school textbooks, online journals, international print anthologies, and in the British small presses. She was awarded Queen’s University’s McIlquham Foundation Prize in English Poetry and the UK journal Various Artists’ Poet’s Poet Award. Her collection of poetry and photos, Leap (Graceful Publications, 2010), has been described as a “lovely lilt of language,” and, “a must for new and already hooked fans,” by reviewers; in August and September 2011, the ebook reached #3 in Poetry in the Canadian iBookstore. In addition, she has also written, Where the Butterflies Go, Carry on Dancing, Three Spaces, and more. Earlier this year, she was nominated as Author of the year by Muse in The Valley.
1. At the age of 5, you wrote your first poem, “At the Arena” about falling down a lot. What caused you to make the decision to write a poem about this experience?
My teacher told us we had to write an ‘expressive limerick’ and taught us how. It was a certain number of lines, but didn’t have to rhyme. I was inspired to write it the same way I think I’m always inspired to write: something happens to me or someone I know and it touches me so deeply I need to write about it. It was my first time skating and a very long day and I had a very sore bottom from falling and I guess I wanted to get something positive out of that experience!
2. Do ideas or lines pop into your head or do you tend to linger on a vague thought before beginning to write?
For my poetry, the ideas usually come to me in a couple linked words or a phrase, but sometimes it’s
as simple as watching a piece on the news and feeling of being practically propelled to my notebook or laptop to write my feelings out around the
issue. Sometimes it comes to me all in one sitting; other times it’s just a few thoughts on a sticky note or in my notebook, and I’ll come back to it
later with a laptop ready to work on the piece more deeply. I’m working on a novel now and finding there’s more sketching out plot and character first, but when it comes to the writing I try to just write freely for a few hours and not edit until I’ve got a lot down.
3. Poetry is very therapeutic. Do you go to a certain area of the house or somewhere special outdoors to gain inspiration?
I love sitting by our fire in winter, where I can look out our window at the trees and snow. There are gorgeous sunsets in winter at that window.
In summer, I like to write out on our deck. The ‘white noise’ outside helps me write. I wrote a piece about that as an epilogue in Carry On Dancing.
4. Speaking of inspiration, who are your favorite writers and/or poets? Do you have any favorite books or poems?
I love Frost, and Sarah Teasdale. As for modern poets, I love Canadian Don Coles’ and American Mary Oliver’s works.
5. You’ve had many jobs, such as Chief Reporter for a local paper, Associate Editor for a few magazines, and freelance writing. What skills have you gained from some of these jobs?
Discipline. Working to deadline. I think working for yourself, there can be a lot of distractions at home, but those jobs outside the home taught me how to plan my time and prioritize projects. I’ve been a freelance writer for over a decade now, and over the years I’ve learned a lot about copyright and the art of negotiation. All of that has helped my business a great deal. As a poet, I can’t really make what I’d call a living, but it makes me a life. I love poetry, so I’m trying to make as much of a living with it as I can. Branching out into textbook writing (poems) and speaking & reading my poems couldn’t have happened without my learning freelance business skills such as pitching, negotiation and what to look for in contracts.
6. How difficult was it to get your work published and could you explain the feeling of seeing a copy of your collections for the first time?
It’s been a long journey! I chose to self-publish poems that were on my blog Where the Butterflies Go first, because I wasn’t getting much of a response when I tried knocking on publisher’s doors. I used Lulu for my second collection, Leap, as well, and then both those books were chosen by the iBookstore to be some of their first ebooks in iTunes/ iBooks. That gave me more confidence to keep on searching for a publisher, and my third manuscript, Carry On Dancing, was published by by Winter Goose Publishing in California. When the first box of books arrived at my door, I felt the weight of twenty years of trying to get my poetry ‘out there’ lifted. My daughter, who’s in the photo I took for the cover, started twirling around with a copy. She felt my excitement!
7. If you don’t mind, could you share an excerpt from one of your mostrecent works?
I am not my generation.
I am not my mother’s generation.
I am not my work.
I am not my photograph.
I am not my Facebook, my blog, or any of my Tweets.
I am not my purse, my shoes, or my unmade bed.
I am not one of eight types of women in the world,
Vin DiCarlo, call me Pandora and I’ll put you in the pithos.
I am not my skin, not my hair, not my fat, not my figure.
I am not anyone’s expectations, especially my own;
not the stress, not the guilt, not the doubt,
not the awful things I tell my mirror.
I am not Kristen Stewart, Martha Stewart,
Ellen DeGeneres, or Rosa Parks.
Most days I wish I were the best of all four.
But I am not.
I am me.
And that is enough.
-Heather Grace Stewart