“Poets, step out of your rooms, Peel yourselves, thinly, with the blade of cool air Come clean. Lay your skins down in the grass.”
From “The Wild Doe in the Woods”, The Adultery Poems, Nancy Holmes
Nancy Holmes, the head of the Creative Studies Department at UBCO, says the highlight of her job is talking to people. There are lots of meetings to attend, and Email to answer, but making sure departmental business is taken care of frees up the department to continue its focus on art practice and teaching. Nancy has her M.A. in English with a Creative Writing thesis, specifically, poetry. She is interested in Poetics, Artistic Strategies and Eco-Poetics, the integration of environmental philosophy and theory in poetry. A bookworm at heart, she has wanted to be a writer since she was 11 years old. Reading a vast number of books when she was young, Nancy naturally progressed from a reader to a writer.
“I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about eleven and I took an awful lot of creative writing classes when I was an undergraduate at the University of Calgary with a crazy guy called Bill Kinsella (W.P.) and a wonderful poet, Christopher Wiseman.”
After her B.A. in English at the University of Calgary, she left academics for the “real world”. But there was once again the draw of academia, and she returned to the University of Calgary for her M.A. in English, with a Creative Writing thesis. Interested in Canadian texts from the 19th century and the “women in their long skirts doing all sorts of interesting things” she took the form of the long poem and wrote her second book of poetry entitled Down to the Golden Chersonese: Victorian Women Travellers, as her M.A. thesis project.
“Women who travelled had to have an excuse to travel, so they were flower painters ... in Jamaica, Malaysia, India and they would paint flowers and orchids and things like that, so nature was “seen” from the civilized view of the lady. The flower painter was a role they took on in order to be adventurous ...”
Offered a job at Okanagan University College in 1991, she has been in the Okanagan ever since. She doesn’t consider her work to date to be the “traditional kind of academic job” as she spent her first fourteen years in Penticton at the college there.
“It was a tiny place; there were only ever two English instructors, one biologist and one historian. And it was a very interdisciplinary place and that’s in fact how I became quite interested in environmental issues, because my office just happened to be next door to the biologist.”
Reading what others say about the world is something that all disciplines at a University do, but also something that is a source of stimulation for Nancy’s writing. Reading non-fiction, for example, and how another person interprets the world around them, digging into the minutia of a subject, hold a lot of value as an inspirational resource.
“I really like nature writing, because it’s paying attention to the world and trying to explore what people take for granted.”
The “dailyness of existence”, is also something that inspires Nancy’s writing. The act of looking after your children, driving your car to work, working in the garden, cooking your dinner, cleaning your house; these are all constant sources of stimulation for her work. There is a Zen quality about trying to be in the moment and for Nancy this could mean opening an excellent bottle of wine accompanied by braised lamb shanks (one of her favourites!). Cooking and working in her garden are very centering activities, and they are part of the dailyness that feeds her writing. She confesses that writing is a wonderful experience, that when she’s in the moment the world can melt away, and all that’s left is the writing. Looking back after the Zen experience she might be more critical of her own work, but that’s part of the draw of creativity. For Nancy, anyone who cares about their work is critical: “it’s just part of the experience.”
“And that seems kind of uninspiring [dailyness] but in fact it’s how we spend our lives ... and it seems to me that’s perfect material for poetry.”
Of her experiences in Graduate School, this episode comes to mind ...
“I was in Grad School in the late 80s at the University of Calgary and it was right when the French Theorists were starting to infiltrate the academy. And I remember sitting in the Grad Room, seven of us in this big room, and I was sitting there ... trying to write some poetry and the door slams open and this woman, this other Grad student comes into the room crying, ‘Derrida is so hard, I don’t get it! What do you mean the author is dead? How is the author dead?’ And I thought, ‘oh my god’, no wonder I can’t write anything, I’m dead’. I just felt this horrible feeling that I was missing something crucial.”
Nancy has just finished editing the very first anthology of Canadian nature poems, which is coming out soon through Wilfrid Laurier University Press. She has spent the last two and a half years working on it, reading almost the entire corpus of Canadian poetry. Now that she has completed that mammoth undertaking, she is enjoying the opportunity to return to her own creative work, writing poems about the Okanagan and working on historical fiction.
For Nancy, the Creative Studies Department is an excellent place to work in a multidisciplinary area. It is an integrated department with three program areas in the fine arts. It also has a brand new interdisciplinary performance program designed for students interested in more than one of the arts. She notes that students will come out of this program with a solid background in two fine arts, plus experience in all three (Performance, Visual Arts, and Creative Writing). The program is focussed on artistic practice and artistic production. And in her opinion that is an integral part of what makes the Creative Studies Department a great place to be.
“If you’re interested in any combination of creative writing, visual arts or theatre performance, this is a really happening place to do it ... we want to have students come out of the program as writers, as artists, as performers.”
Article by Melissa Larkin
Last reviewed 11/17/2014 11:13:43 AM