I recently had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing Susan Ksiezopolski, local poet who recently launched her first book of poetry "My Words" in the Toronto area.
SF Girl: When did you start writing poetry and why?
Susan: I can’t really recall a time when I was NOT writing poetry. I started at a very young age and it stayed with me. Writing was a way for me to get the words out of my head and onto paper. It was almost like the words were jumping and screaming for attention to get out and if I didn’t capture them on paper they just circled around and around in my head. As I got older writing poetry became a way of expressing my experience of life. I enjoyed the creative process. It was both comforting and rewarding to see the reflection of myself and the expressions of my life experiences in the words on the page. It’s almost as if seeing the words in black and white confirmed and validated LIFE.
SF Girl: Who are your favorite authors and/or poets? Did you have a mentor or person who influenced you in your writing? What other events or places have influenced and continue to influence your writing?
Susan: I absolutely LOVE to read and I have an eclectic collection of favourite authors ranging from Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities), to Victor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning) and to Carl Jung and his various writings on psychology. One of my new favourites is Nina Munteanu, writing about contemporary strong female characters of substance positioned in quality science fiction stories.
My favourite poets include Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda and Edgar Alan Poe. Maya has a unique way to use words to create vivid imagery; her words paint a canvas that brings her poems and stories to life. Pablo Neruda always fascinates me as to how his poems, even in translation, remain powerful and don’t loose their impact! I also enjoy reading Edgar Alan Poe’s, my two favourites of his are Eureka and The Raven – timeless classics!
My high school English teacher, Ms. Margaret Howe, was a great mentor who tremendously influenced my writing. She created the Writers’ Circle at Bloor Collegiate Institute as an outlet for our creativity and she invited Marshal McLuhan to judge our poems in 1976. He picked one of my poems for Writer of the Year Award and this was a great motivator for me to keep writing. Over the years, Margaret continued to encourage my writing, even beyond high school.
Other mentors that influenced my writing include world leaders such as Gandhi for his humanity, Mandela for his perseverance, Pope John Paul II for his message of hope, Mother Teresa for her demonstration of a life dedicated to service and love, Dali Lama for his teachings on compassion and Martin Luther King for his “I have a dream” speech. Their teachings influenced my writing.
My own life events also influence my writing. I like to write about places I have been, people I’ve met or experiences that I, or others around me, have gone through. Music has also been a great inspiring force behind my writing. The lyrics of Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, the Bee Gees and countless others would easily and often spark my creativity!
SF Girl: Define poetry. Define a poet. Would you say that your poetry carries a “message”? What role does your poetry play in your own personal growth?
Susan: A poem is a song where the reader brings the music. A poet is a lyrical storyteller, using the power of words and their meaning, sound and rhythm to convey a story or emotion.
The message that my poetry carries is my view of the world. A poet absorbs the world and events that shape the life and times they live in like a sponge. When the poet is full and totally absorbed, poems ooze out. The broader message that I hope my poems portray is fundamentally that of the human experience. Stripped of all our differences what is left are the words conveying emotion common to all humanity.
My poetry, like any poetry, initially starts out as a tool for documenting personal growth and insights. In coming back to the poems, my own personal growth is enhanced in re-reading and re-living the emotions behind them. Looking at my poems from a different point in time and through a different lens always generates more enlightenment on the human experience.
SF Girl: Would you call your poems “Canadian”? If so, what makes them so?
Susan: Although I was born in Italy and I have one chapter in My Words written in Italian- I have always considered myself a Canadian. Therefore by default, naturally I would call my poems “Canadian”. They were generated from my Canadian experiences, such as growing up as an immigrant in Toronto, attending Bloor Collegiate Institute (my high school). There are a number of poems in My Words that are reflective of the urban environment that was my home and the community and neighbourhood that shaped and defined my “Canadian” culture.
SF Girl: When do you prefer to write? Do you have a special place where you write?
Susan: The inspiration to write can hit anywhere, while riding on a GO train, sitting on a “Red Rocket” in Toronto or walking in the park. I always made sure to have a pen and paper handy to capture the moments, now I have my handy iPhone. Sometimes if an image percolates a poem, I use my iPhone to snap a picture and then come back to it again to put it into words.
When I was younger I would write at the kitchen table in my parents home or sitting at my Dad’s desk. I do find though that a coffee shop is the best place to percolate poems. I find that there is something about the aroma of coffee, the coming and going of people and the soft music in the background that ignites the imagination.
SF Girl: Your book “My Words” consists of a collection of poems you wrote over a period of over thirty years, beginning with the early 1970s. As I read them, I could almost feel a palpable time wave wash over me from one period to another. Can you explain…
Susan: As I changed, my writing changed, capturing the relevance of the experience through the years. What was important to me as a teenager, a young married woman, a new mom, a middle age woman – this is reflected in my writing and translates into the sensation of a time wave.
SF Girl: The extensive collection of poems over a four decade period suggests prolific writing. Was there ever a time that you didn’t or couldn’t write? If so, tell us about it.
Susan: Writing has always been a part of who I am and how I express myself. I have never had a time when I couldn’t write. There are periods of time when my writing flowed more easily but when I didn’t write it was largely due to being distracted with the “busy-ness” of life.
SF Girl: Most of your poems contain very evocative language, metaphor and imagery. Do these come to you through inspiration, intuitively, or do you work them in through second and third drafts?
Susan: The imagery germinates, folds and morphs into the poem. The metaphors present themselves as I write. There is little editing that I do on my poems. The first draft is very often the final draft. The editing takes place intrinsically and holistically in the writing process itself. When I was collecting and preparing My Words for publishing, I had thought about whether or not I should edit the earlier poems, but in the end I did not edit any of them. I don’t like to edit my poems once they have been written – I feel that they have a greater impact in their raw, natural unpolished form.
SF Girl: Several of your poems explore our life journey as evolving souls. For instance, in your 2012 poem “Fragments United” your language, imagery and concepts (e.g., ‘connected in community’, ‘alone our world contracts’, ‘together our world expands’, ‘integrated and one’, ‘the sameness between us’, the vibration of the universe, and ‘energized’) suggest a spiritual, metaphysical worldview. Can you speak on this and how your worldview has evolved to what it currently is?
Susan: My spiritual view of the world set root from early on in my life. My grandfather had laid the groundwork with the Saint prayer cards he would send to me, long before I even knew how to read. The St. Francis prayer, Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace was and still is a favourite of mine. When I was 10 years old I received my first Bible from a Baptist roomer that lived on the third floor of our home. These shaped my early interest in religion. I loved to read the Bible, the words and flow had a strong resonance for me.
In my teens I rebelled against the Catholic framework and disliked the formal institutionalization of religion. I felt that religion was created and defined by man and served to divide us rather than to connect us to the Divine. I have always felt a spiritual presence in my life grounding me to the view that there is a metaphysical force from which we all came from and through which we are all connected.
SF Girl: The proceeds of your book sales are going to United Way. Can you speak to us on this?
Susan: Volunteering and community involvement is something that I am very passionate about. The United Way programs touch many lives. Having been a volunteer and a Board member of the United Way of Halton Hills, I saw first hand the positive impact that the funded programs have on moving people out of poverty, helping children to succeed and building healthy strong communities. The call for action motivated me to donate all proceeds from my book to help fund much needed social programs. The $3,500 raised from My Words will benefit one in three Halton Hills residents.
Susan Ksiezopolski is a project management and change specialist. She is currently taking a break from 30 years of working in the public service and recently self-published My Words, a collection of her life’s poetry. In 1976 she was the recipient of the Bloor Collegiate Institute's Writer's Circle Writer of the Year honour, awarded to her by Marshall McLuhun. Susan was born in Italy and now lives and writes in the Toronto area of Ontario, Canada. Her website, where you can purchase her book, is: www.mywordsnow.com You can find Susan on Facebook.