Susan Gillis says she writes because she can’t not write. “I’ve tried,” she says. “It’s harder than quitting smoking, which is hard, but doable.”
As a teenager, Susan fell in love with poetry, inspired by a Grade 10 teacher who had his students write every day and recite poems aloud from memory. This experience, she says “further demonstrated to me the power of sound.” When the teacher saw Susan writing in a tiny 3x5 inch notepad, he suggested that getting a bigger notebook might help her write bigger poems. She still does her first creative work in an artist’s notebook before looking at a computer screen.
Susan’s poems often address themes of love, food, and travel. “When I’m writing well, I often forget to eat. Maybe a subconscious hunger conjures a plate of olives or a ripe tomato and slips it onto the page.” She writes about travel for “its power to disrupt and disturb assumptions.” As a writer, she is always seeking. “The moment I begin to get really comfortable and stop being surprised by things, then I try to find new ways to get surprised again.”
Her first book, Swimming Among the Ruins, was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and the ReLit Award. Canadian Bookseller says that she “transforms the familiar themes of ‘poet abroad/poet in love’ into a work that is both new and remarkable” Her second collection, Volta, won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. The Winnipeg Free Press praised her poetry for its “balanced, measured, and unpretentious sensibility that takes love as its principal theme.” This year brings the launch of a new collection, The Rapids, which explores the turbulent passages in our lives.
Born in Halifax, Susan has lived on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. She currently divides her time between Montreal, where she teaches English, and her country home near Perth, Ontario, where she lives with poet and novelist John Steffler. Susan is also a member of Yoko’s Dogs, a poetry collective dedicated to writing Japanese renku, a form of collaborative linked verse.