One Question Interview: Triny Finlay

15May10

Triny Finlay was born in Melbourne, Australia and grew up in Toronto. Her most recent poetry collection is called Histories Haunt Us.

The title seems like the love-child of a biography and Poe story.  Do you believe in ghosts, either in the conventional or unconventional sense of the word?

Oh, this is a really complex question. The book is indeed about being haunted by the past, and there are lots of ghosts in there. It started with a story about my great-grandmother, who is long dead. There aren’t any records of this that I know of, but at some point in her life, she went to bed and wouldn’t get out. We all do thissometimes—I definitely use my bed as a comfort zone—but she pushed it to the extreme and spent seventeen years in bed. Seventeen years! My mum reminded me of this story when I was pregnant with my son, and I thought to myself: wow, this is part of my ancestry, my genetic code. Then I re-read a poem by Sue Goyette, “You Know This,” in which she writes: “Fear is passed on like the colour of eyes, the texture of hair. You know this.” Thinking about my own family-to-be, I started to wonder how fear and anxiety might enter my own world once I gave birth, and how much of it I might pass along to my own child. So this ghost of my great-grandmother was the inspiration for the poem “Phobic.” From there, I moved on to more poems about family, about motherhood, and about those abstract losses that we have difficulty identifying, that might linger for a moment or for years.

The section called “Histories Haunt Us” deals with that sense of loss in a long poem format. There are ghosts of all kinds of writers in there—a certain line from Eliot or Toni Morrison that stuck in my head and wormed its way into a stanza. Each of the twenty-six pieces in that section takes these lines (like a mini-glosa) and builds from them, or works towards them, twists them and makes them my own. They’re also all written in a quasi-ghazal form, and the ghost of John Thompson is there throughout—a few lines from Stilt Jack are the epigraph to the section. I went to Mt. Allison as an undergrad, where Thompson’s ‘presence’ is legendary, and I’ve never let go of that, the feeling of being haunted by his particular story, by his voice.

I don’t believe in ghosts in the conventional, paranormal sense, but I think there are people (and things) that you can’t let go of, that are with you: sometimes messing with you, sometimes forcing you onto a new path. They aren’t necessarily dead; they might be an ex-lover, or someone you met on the street and never saw again. But they seep into your imagination and, if you’re a writer, they guide you somehow. That’s how it worked with my great-grandmother; I never knew her, but I feel like I did because I’ve spent so much time trying to imagine what it must have been like to be so lost yet still living in this world. The strange thing about that story is that eventually my grandfather convinced her to get out of bed, and after seventeen years he brought her with him to his own family in Montreal, and she lived there quite happily until she died. So there’s this intense sense of hope in the story too. That’s a part of what I’m trying to get at with this book: the desperation, the horror of life—the “Poe story”—and what you do with that desperation.

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