Mini-interview: Shelley A. Leedahl

Shelley A. Leedahl  has written thirteen books, the most recent of which is the poetry collection, Go (Radiant Press, 2022) which caught my attention with its lively down-to-earth and grounded yet lifting past mundane poems. (See the Go book launch.) 

Mine is a very marked up copy of ooh, like that. Such as “What I Left in that City” which starts as a list poem but whomp,

“Stained-glass wine goblets. Favourites/ gifted from my daughter’s old boyfriend./ Sacrificed because the man I was escaping—//who insisted I not raise my eyebrows/ as the effort left lines in my forehead—//asked for the glasses to remember me by.”

The poems don’t tend to float oceanic but touch the far shore and touch the shallow end of the pool to gratifying results. Later in “Smuggler’s Cove Provincial Park” she shows her humour “I can’t read the minute directions on the $50 can of bear spray […] wouldn’t it be just our luck to be doomed in the wilds by nearsightedness.”

Go: Shelley A. Leedahl
Editor: Donna Kane
Cover art: Kimberly Kiel

Shelley A. Leedahl is the author of thirteen books in various genres, an adult and a juvenile novel; short story collections; creative nonfiction; and the illustrated children’s books The Bone Talker and The Moon Watched It All, and four previous poetry collections. Her most recent title is Go, a poetry collection published by Radiant Press in Regina. 

Shelley presents across the country and also works as a freelance writer, book reviewer and editor. She’s been awarded International Fellowships for prestigious artist residencies in the US, Mexico, Spain, and Scotland. She created a 3-season literary podcast called “Something Like Love”, and she’s produced two audiobooks for Radiant Press.   

Shelley was born and raised in Saskatchewan, where she was very active in the literary community for decades. She raised her own family in Saskatoon. Her active involvement in the arts continued with her move to Edmonton, where she worked as a radio advertising copywriter. 

She now lives in Ladysmith, BC and is often on hiking trails, on her road bike, in her kayak, or literally running around town. 

Sample poem: (p. 69)

Late December

You migrate toward coffee shops
for the velvet of human voices, the warmth
of an oversized mug and indie music.

You are certain no one sees you
falling in love
with the scrape of a chair,
the drooping cedar wreath
in the Beantime’s window.

The white-grey sky is a pelt. Raindrops on glass
a bead you’re tempted to trace
with your tongue.

Across the street:

Fox and Hounds.
A gym.
Women in designer rubber boots.

Everything is exquisite
but once again, no plans for New Year’s Eve.

Getting to be a long time;
you’d like to hold anyone’s hand.

from Go

PP: What was your aim with the book?
SAL: Firstly, Go evolved slowly over fifteen years as I had time to work on it. I was also working on and publishing books in other genres during this period, including the poetry collection Wretched Beast; the short fiction collection Listen, Honey; the essay collection I Wasn’t Always Like This, and the illustrated book The Moon Watched It All

Writing is my fulltime occupation … and to that end, an accountant once said I should be dead. I publish individual poems in journals and anthologies, but as a long-time professional writer, I suppose I do always hope that whatever I’m working on will one day find its way into a book. I’ve known since the time I was old enough to manage a pencil that I wanted to be a writer.     

When I write poetry, I write from a very personal place, with the understanding that the small things are the big things, and, as American psychologist Carl R. Rogers said, “The most personal is the most universal.” I may be writing from my own experience and disparate emotions–joy, pain, wonder, surprise, loneliness–but if I can communicate my own experience as authentically as possible, the hope is that others will make connections with my work via their own emotions and experiences. Sort of an, “Ah, yes, I’ve felt that too.” 

It might be said that poetry makes the world both a larger place (via language, ideas, geography, etc.)  and a smaller place. I’m interested in the inner map, the map of the heart.  

In documenting my own life, I also try to make sense of this often nonsensical world, and share that journey with others. The aim, then, is to make connections. To share our humanity here on planet Earth. And to continue to challenge myself in terms of language, poetic form, and subject. Writing poetry also requires that I slow down. Pay attention. I’m high energy, and slowing’s difficult for me. It’s good for me. 

PP: Favourite moment in making this book?

SAL: That’s a tough one. I really enjoyed writing the walking poems, or what I’ve titled the gratitude poems. I was living in Ladysmith and felt like I’d finally dropped anchor in the right place. I’d go for long solo walks – still do! – and come home and write.

I’ll add that the poems written while I was in Portugal in 2013 are also quite close to me, possible because they earned recognition via shortlisting for CBC Poetry Awards and the Arc Magazine’s “Poem of the Year” Contest. Again, walking was involved. Walking and writing go hand in hand for me. 

Finally, the last section of the book, “Manitoulin Suite”, is also special to me, for many reasons. It’s the most recent work; I wrote it in July 2021. And it demonstrates, I hope, that one can find happiness (and romantic love) later in life. It’s also about the passing of time. 

I wrote the first draft of this long poem in one day, the only day I dedicated completely to writing while on Manitoulin Island (Ontario) at my partner’s cottage, where most days there were many chores to be done, i.e.: I washed the entire exterior of the home, Pete built a shed, and we hauled loads of deadfall into the woods behind the cottage. I include details like this in the poem, as I believe poetry should include the stuff of life … this goes back to that connection thing again.

PP: Where to find out more?

SAL: For more on, please see the member’s page at the Writers Union of Canada site.