Literary Writes Judge Jude Neale in Conversation with Cynthia Sharp

Cynthia: There are so many thoughts on what is or is not poetry. What is poetry in your view?

Jude: Poetry to me is the distillation of feelings, thoughts and ideas into the fewest words possible. A good poem does not lie. It is an imagist painting written equally from the heart and the brain.

Cynthia: You’ve published seven books of poetry, with your eighth forthcoming, and have already started work on your ninth. You’re an incredibly accomplished poet and performer, travelling around the province and world for readings. How did you become a poet? When did you first know the value of poetry in your life?

Jude: Thank you Cynthia for your kind words.

How did I become a poet, well it’s always been part of me, of my life. One of my earliest memories involves my grandfather, Herbert William Bilton. Grandpa and grandma lived in a village of 150. He was the Justice of the Peace, Postmaster and raconteur. I remember sitting with my twin on his lap and he would recite Robert Service to us. He memorized all of Service and did all the voices. I loved the meter and the dynamic language. I don’t know when poetry wasn’t important to me, as I was marinated in it. 

Cynthia: You’ve mentioned that in some of your books like Splendid in its Silence, you’ve given each poem twenty or more hours of editing. Could you elaborate on the role of editing in securing your best work? 

Jude: I was mentored by the great Canadian writer, Elisabeth Harvor. She took no prisoners when it came to editing. She would ferret out the cliches, the sentimental and the maudlin. Get rid of duplicate words, unoriginal language and uncreative metaphor. I still have her on my shoulder when I write today!

Cynthia: What can Literary Writes contestants do to take their work from a first draft to a solid, polished poem?

Jude: Write your first draft. Leave it for a day or two. Go back, listen for your voice. Concentrate on line breaks, the breath of a poem. Read it out loud looking for cadence and sound. Edit again. Don’t be afraid to chop! Repeat the process a couple more times. 

Cynthia: What is the mark of a great poem?

Jude: A great poem will take your breath away. It will allow you to connect with another reality. 

Cynthia: I love that you come from a collaborative arts background and in particular opera. What is the relationship between music and poetry in your experience?

Jude: I love this question, Cynthia. I first was an opera singer three careers ago. This attention to rhythm and silence has transferred over to writing. For me, breath is everything. My entire use of line breaks depends on this, which I believe makes my poems different. It gives the poem room to expand. 

Cynthia: In your  essay “Sum of all parts” for The League of Canadian Poets Feminist Caucus in their publication Women and Multimedia, you say that “Authenticity in collaboration is absolutely critical.” That really struck a chord with me, since you live authentically in all the ways that you work, both independently and with other poets and artists in performances large and small. How can poets bring authenticity to their voice and work?

Jude: I really do believe we should be writing from our own reality. Nothing is so insignificant it can’t be turned into a poem. Love, pain, loss, joy and death are not small and we all recognize this as the human condition. It is something we as poets need to affirm, that no life is so small it can’t be written about. That is what I shall be looking for in this competition. 

Cynthia: Who are your favourite poets and influences? 

Jude: My favourite poets are Gary Geddes, Leonard Cohen, Lorna Crozier, Rachel Rose, Sylvia Plath and Mark Doty, to name a few.

I was a child of the sixties and because of this I was able to hear some pretty amazing lyrics. I know I was influenced a great deal by Cohen, Dylan and Mitchell.

Cynthia: What poems either classic or contemporary have most resonated with you and what was it about them that captured you?

Jude: “A Display of Mackerel,” by Mark Doty, is my all time favourite poem. In such few words Doty describes death, singularity and common goals using the example of frozen fish. A perfect poem! 

Cynthia: You’ve been a tremendous mentor in the writing community, lifting others up and helping them establish trust and confidence in their unique voices, whether one on one informally, through Pandora’s collective Poetic Pairings, school classroom visits or community workshops. We’re incredibly grateful to have you as this year’s contest judge. What advice do you have for our members composing for Literary Writes?

Jude: Share your poem after you’ve edited it to death, and ask your listener or reader which words or phrases they loved the most. It is really important to have a sounding board, another eye and ear.

I’m so looking forward to receiving this year’s poems. I will treat each one gently! 

Cynthia: Thank you so much for your time!  

Jude: You’re welcome, it’s been a pleasure.

BC Writers can submit to Literary Writes at this link. The rules are posted here too: https://fbcw.submittable.com/submit/153666/fbcw-literary-writes-2020

Cynthia Sharp with Literary Writes Judge Jude Neale

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