Sharon Berg Interviews Lynn Tait
Sharon Berg Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Lynn. I feel it’s important to give audiences a chance to know who you are outside of your published material.
You haven’t had your work reviewed much as You Break It You Buy It is your first book, but Debbie Okun Hill calls the poetry you presented at a Sarnia’s Sesquicentennial Celebration reading both ‘memorable’ and ‘hard-hitting’. You also warned me before I received the book that your poems are ‘not pretty’, saying the book’s focus is mostly about disconnection. Yet I found the book remarkable for the way the poems seem to interconnect. They create a portrait of someone who keeps pulling her chin up, wishing for connection with a larger community. Can you comment on this seeming contradiction? In my eyes, it appears that—despite experiencing disconnection—connecting with others is vitally important to you.
Lynn Tait Oh my! You are right, but I didn’t really notice it until you pointed it out. My whole point for writing is my need to connect. Within social media I use humour. I tend to lack boundaries, but have walls up. There is responsibility that comes with certain connections that I’m not sure I’m willing to take on, yet yearn for. I’m learning just because you’ve known somebody for 20 plus years doesn’t mean they’re your friend.
We find out who we are during crisis. Our global disconnect—I don’t see that changing anytime soon. There is so much violence and hate out there; we are doing so much harm to our planet, so I love when we can find pockets of connection.
SB You Break It You Buy It opens a story about your life that is confessional and suggests more than the words on the page. Indeed, the reader is introduced to myriad details, such as a novel might offer. What you’ve written is poetry that suggests strong links with other genres of writing, making me wonder if you’ve always envisioned your story as poetry? What is it about the craft of poetry that determined this was how you’d present your heart and ideas?
LT I have strong ties to music. I kept a journal. My mother read it. There was hell to pay. She wasn’t happy with my opinions or observations. I still needed an outlet. I wrote a poem and she was thrilled. I could get my feelings and thoughts down through poetry. I have a short attention span and I’m not a real linear thinker so poetry was perfect. Later, I realized I had something to share; subterfuge by poetry was unnecessary.
I don’t have the organizational skills to write a novel or short story. I couldn’t even bring myself to journal again until 2016.
SB I listened to your presentation on Catherine Owen’s Poetry Outlaws podcast, where you suggest your poetry ‘focuses on fractured relationships and trauma’, but you also said you see your writing of poetry as problem-solving influenced by nature and human nature. I insist my own writing keeps me sane. I wonder if you can speak to the therapeutic aspect that writing poetry has brought into your own life?
LT Nature, music and reading kept me sane as a kid. There was a creek running alongside the apartment building, and a willow tree I just loved. My mother remarried when I was nine. I went from only child to the youngest of five living on an air force base. In Trenton there was a field and woods behind my house. My favorite spot was a huge nurse log I could crawl inside and sit. Good memories during some troubling times.
I talk to animals, trees and plants. I have an interesting back yard. My husband and I have spent time in places where you must be careful where you walk, swim, what you touch, including trees. I’ve observed and experienced incredible behaviours in the wild and in my backyard including adaptation, cooperation, violence, humour and death.
In You Break It You Buy It I use animal images as metaphor for groupthink mentality, bullying as in When Geese Cry Wolf and the Sensory Overload poem. Scattered Seeds uses seed growth as metaphor for individuals not growing at all, being a conformist, flourishing in isolation and connecting despite differences.
SB Every book takes a stance in the midst of the social and political concerns of its day. How do you describe the position of You Break It You Buy It and its area of concern in today’s world?
LT I tried not to take too much of a stance. Didn’t want didacticism to creep in. I am neither hero nor victim in the pages. My stance: awareness of exclusion? How we end up hurting others and ourselves. It’s the adage about people in therapy are there because of people who should be in therapy.
I touch on Narcissism but ‘narcissist’ is overused and is different from someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Though I write about mother relationships, defence mechanisms, climate change, pollution, violence, neuro-divergency I’m not an activist by nature. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else is in this regard, so I can’t really get on too much of a soapbox. I do have friends, some are writers who are true activists, no rhetoric; they walk the walk; they don’t talk about how spiritual, caring they are, or how they serve their community, they just do it. I’m in awe.
SB In terms of audience for the book, there will be a group who are naturally drawn to reading You Break It You Buy It, and likely others that you think should read this book. What makes the two groups different? Why do you think the last group should read it?
LT Writer Bruce Hunter refers to my work as peoples’ poetry which I understand and appreciate: my poems’ readability, the topics. I use conversational styles with poetic language, there’s humour, irony, allegory, extended metaphors. So I think this book is relatable to poets and non-poets alike. Disconnect and isolation can be excruciating. Who really wants to relive the schoolyard mentality as an adult? Work in a toxic environment but can’t quit their job? Betrayal by persons you thought were your friends? In many ways—we are not kind to each other. I find that sad. So I’d like to believe there is something for everyone within the pages.
SB Can you offer an idea of the literary surrounds for You Break It You Buy It? As in, what books were you most impressed with reading while you worked on it. And what live performances, if any, did you attend that you feel influenced the book you produced?
LT No live performances that I can recall. For years I’ve read books on human behavior, animal behavior, narcissism, philosophy and cognitive bias. I read an enormous amount of poetry: Canadian, American and some UK and European.
Kim Addonizio’s books and a workshop with her rounded out the last poems in the book and a few are in a 2nd manuscript; Diana Suess’s Frank: Sonnets, Catherine Owen’s poetry, Karen Solie’s early books, Tony Hoagland’s poetry and essays. Ann Lamott’s essays were lifesavers.
Books on trauma and stress, mother relationships. When Covid started, Lisa Richter started a two-week workshop that ended up developing into much more. From those connections four of us (The Pogos) still Zoom twice a week and correspond through group Facebook messages.
I signed up for a six-part webinar series with Ellen Bass that was phenomenal. Later did a Truth and Beauty Zoom retreat workshop with Ellen Bass and Marie Howe for a week. The first webinar series The Poetry of Resilience, hosted by James Crews and Danusha Lameris was beneficial for getting into a different headspace for my 2nd manuscript and led to an amazing Zoom group of North American poets. We named ourselves Not The Rodeo Poets and get together twice a month and keep in contact through the week with Facebook and emails.
SB Is You Break It You Buy It a book that seemed to lay itself out on the page quickly, almost as if it were channeled, or did you put a lot of effort into its structure and the developmental process for it? Please elaborate.
LT Molly Peacock helped with one of the first drafts. When it was coming together and changing course Stuart Ross was incredible. Poems and lines went by the wayside. It was a very different book back then. Catherine Owen and Kimmy Beach gave me advice on its structure especially before I took out the grief poems. Once they were out it sort of fell together. I was making changes right down to the wire including adding poems and revising. Michael Mirolla, my editor and publisher is one patient man!
SB Authors speak of multiple drafts when they are working on a book. Can you share your experience? Did the length of You Break It You Buy It change dramatically at any point in time after you completed the first draft? Please explain.
LT Yes. It’s longer now than before it started. I thought the main theme was going to be about invisibility, invalidation. A string of deaths in the family including one of my best friends and our son changed everything. I was going to quit writing all together and concentrate on my photography until I was given a short video of my son revealing how proud he was of my poetry.
I went through many personal scenarios with relationships, health issues and loss during the writing. I didn’t attempt poems about my mother until she was in a home. By then I was far more aware of the whys of her behavior. I could write about it without getting caught up in it. There was no more anger or sense of betrayal. I omitted nearly all the grief poems but The Enemies We Cannot See. Then Covid hit. I did workshops and webinars with Lisa Richter, Marj Hahne, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, Di Brandt, Karen Solie and Kim Addonizio all through Covid and more recently with John Sibley Williams. Many of the poems became part of You Break It You Buy It.
SB Of the portion that was removed from early drafts of You Break It You Buy It, are there parts you think will be the starting off point for a new book? Were they simply developing in a different direction from the rest of the text?
LT That’s exactly what happened—a sequel. The tone of the poems is different. The humour is still there. The main topics are nature, travel, love and grief. Connections! We all suffer loss, and have our crosses to bear, but there is healing and connection in grief. We have our memories. The poems prompted by our son Stephen’s death belonged in the sequel. He loved nature. We bring his ashes when we travel, leaving some everywhere we go. Hence the travel and nature poems fit in together. My backyard becomes my office during good weather. I went back and forth writing for each book. In one sense, You Break It You Buy It was easier to write; I could step back and observe more.
Exploring grief was difficult, as was crafting the nature and travel poems. There is more involvement of the senses and internalizing, more movement, which I found harder to express or put into words.
SB Something that often interests readers is knowing how much of a certain work is invented and how much of it is autobiographical. Would you care to share your approach/thoughts on this aspect of your readers’ curiosity?
LT I still have trouble telling the truth slant! Even if fictionalized there’s something in my life that’s prompted the poem. The Guitar Shredder’s Ex is fictional, but I’m interested in philosophy. My husband had taken up the guitar after a 30 year absence and using the pentatonic scale. One of the first songs he played when we first dated was Jethro Tull’s One White Duck on the Wall. The poem is tongue in cheek as is Rain. Crossing Lines is a mixture of times, situations and relationships. The CFB Trenton poem was so traumatic it took over 50 years to find a way to write it. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2020. The diagnosis was changed in 2023 to essential tremor by another neurologist; looks like time will tell.
Some poems were too autobiographical about other characters specifically, though not named. The setting, my reaction, their behavior are all there. They’ve been published elsewhere, so I thought it cruel to include them. I did leave a few in because they dealt with more than a particular scene or my personal feelings.
Then there’s the Anne Lamott quote “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
SB Thanks, once again, for this interview, Lynn. I really feel that I’ve gotten to know who the author of your poems is, through the answers you give to these questions.
LT Thank you Sharon! I’m honoured you asked me to do this and appreciate the support you give Canadian writers.
Lynn Tait is an award-winning poet/photographer residing in Sarnia, Ontario. Her poems have appeared in FreeFall, Vallum, CV2, Windsor Review, Literary Review of Canada, Trinity Review, The Quarantine Review and more, including over 100 North American anthologies. Her photo art has graced the covers of seven poetry books. She is a member of the Ontario Poetry Society and the League of Canadian Poets and an associate member of the American Academy of Poets. She has a chapbook called Breaking Away (2002), and co-authored the poetry book EnCompass I (2013) with four others. Her first full poetry book, You Break It, You Buy It, was published in 2023 with Guernica Editions.
Sharon Berg is a poet, a fiction author, and an historian of First Nations education in Canada. She's published her poetry in periodicals across Canada, as well as in the USA, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, India, and Australia. Her first two books were poetry published by Borealis Press (To a Young Horse, 1979) and Coach House Press (The Body Labyrinth, 1984). This was followed by two audio cassette tapes from Gallery 101 (Tape 5, 1985) and Public Energies (Black Moths 1986). She also published three chapbooks with Big Pond Rumours Press in 2006, 2016 & 2017. Her fiction appeared in journals in Canada and the USA. Porcupine's Quill released her debut fiction collection Naming the Shadows in the Fall of 2019. Her cross-genre history The Name Unspoken: Wandering Spirit Survival School was published in 2019 by Big Pond Rumours Press and received a Bronze 2020 IPPY Award for Best Regional Nonfiction in Canada East. She lives in Charlottetown, Newfoundland, Canada.