Today we have an interview with Courtney Bates-Hardy, who is a poet and the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Book Awards, and one of our members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association.
Her debut collection of poetry, House of Mystery, is now out from Kelp Queen Press, an imprint of ChiZine Publications, and was an Elgin Award nominee. Courtney and her husband Christian Bates-Hardy are the hosts of Textual Relations, a podcast about adaptation, ranging from novels to short stories, film, video games, and more.Her first chapbook, Sea Foam, was published by JackPine Press in December 2013 and sold out in six months.
Her poems have appeared in a variety of literary magazines, including Room, Carousel, and On Spec. Her poems have also been featured in Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing and longlisted for The Best Canadian Poetry 2015. Bates-Hardy holds a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Regina, and lives in Regina with her family and their cat, Jean Grey. You can find her on Twitter (@poetcourtney) or online at https://courtneybateshardy.com
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a writer?
I remember writing my first poem when I was about 8 years old. I’ve been writing, off and on, ever since. I try my hand at short stories every now and then, but I always return to poetry. As a kid, I thought there was something romantic about writing poetry. Now I’m just too far gone to stop.
What’s a poem you usually suggest for a reader who wants to read you for the very first time?
When I do readings from my first collection, House of Mystery, I tend to start with “Origin Story” or “Jack’s Forgotten Sister” because I think they best convey the sensibility of the collection. “Origin Story” is an adaptation of “Snow White” and “Jack’s Forgotten Sister” is a new spin on “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Both poems are a great introduction to the collection and its focus on women’s perspectives in fairy tales.
What should beginning writers understand about mystery in poetry?
I don’t tend to think of my poems as mysteries—I would like them to be accessible to anyone who loves fairy tales. I think it’s unfortunate that poetry has a reputation for being completely inscrutable. Beginning writers often make the mistake of thinking that their poems need to include big words or that they need to hide their meaning from the reader. Great poems can be simple, they can use ordinary language, and they can reveal themselves to the reader slowly or all at once.
What inspired you to write House of Mystery? What was the most challenging of the poems for you to include in this collection?
I’ve loved fairy tales since I was a child, and my favourite has always been Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” I began by writing mermaid poems, which turned into the first section of the book. It quickly expanded from there; I wanted to write about many of the well-known fairy tales, and a few lesser-known as well. However, I didn’t want to just rewrite them in poem form. I wanted to draw attention to their darker origins, and try writing some of my own versions. There were a few poems that proved challenging to write, namely “Human Perfection” and “Romantic Comedy.” Both poems were written early on, and they’re both a bit longer than my usual style. I wanted to evoke Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” along with a kind of post-apocalyptic atmosphere in “Human Perfection”. “Romantic Comedy,” on the other hand, was one of the more personal poems of the collection, but I was translating my experiences onto a fantastical landscape.
What’s your favourite haunted house, real or literary?
This isn’t really a haunted house, in the strictest sense of the term, but I recently saw the Guillermo del Toro exhibit “At Home with Monsters” at the Art Gallery of Ontario, which displays del Toro’s personal collection from his home, the aptly-named Bleak House. If I could live at Bleak House, I absolutely would. The exhibit had a facsimile of his Rain Room (named for the special effects windows in the room that make it look and sound like it’s raining all the time) set up in a little offshoot of the exhibit, and it is wonderful, but it would be absolutely sublime in his actual home, because it can only be entered via a secret passageway behind a bookcase of fairy tales. Isn’t that just about the most perfect thing you’ve ever heard?
What is one of the riskiest things you’ve put forward in a poem?
I’m working on a series of poems right now about our modern monsters, like Trump and other powerful and predatory men. So that certainly feels very risky, even though none of these poems have been published yet.
What’s keeping you going as a poet?
Poetry has a history of keeping me going as a human being. I tend to turn to poetry when wrestling with something that I don’t have the words for in my everyday life. Plus, I get horribly grumpy if I don’t write, so I don’t think I will ever stop.
What do you love most in science fiction and fantasy?
I am a huge fan of the portal fantasy genre, but I’ll read just about anything. I think my favourite thing about fantasy and science fiction is the way they hold up a mirror to real life and offer other possibilities, ways to imagine a new world, a better world.
If you could have any creature, fantastic or real, for a traveling companion, what would it be?
I am very devoted to my cat, Jean Grey, so if she could be a magical talking cat who grows and shrinks in size so as to be extra useful, I think she would be a perfect traveling companion.
What’s your advice for beginning writers who want to write poetry?
Read poetry. Every once in a while, I come across people who write poetry who do not read poetry, and I am secretly appalled. Why would you write something that you don’t enjoy reading? Why would you not support your fellow poets? You need to find out what you like and dislike, and learn from both.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently at work on my second collection of poetry, as yet unnamed, although I can tell you that it includes monsters and other unusual beings. I’m interested in monstrosity—who decides what is monstrous, how we react to the monstrous, and the ways monstrosity intersects with beauty and our obsession with death. Mainly, I’m just enjoying being playful in my writing again, and seeing where it takes me.