Susan Musgrave's creations
from A Cargo of Orchids
are back in a diabolical
and tender, action-packed and
meditative novel, Given.


Forthcoming or New Books, Events and more...

November 2014

Susan is continuing working on a Cookbook:

It has a New Title, and it will now be published in the spring of 2015 by Whitecap.

  Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World  

Includes Susan Musgrave's highly coveted sourdough bread recipe and more in "From the Forage of the Oven" a chapter on beach combing and wash-up and a recipe for Shipwrecked Chicken Wings; in "A Rogue's Galley", and you will read about a local fisherman who offered an exotic dancer 50 lbs of shrimp to spend the night with him, and a famous politician's recipe for Rustled Beef by Gaslight.


June 2014

Susan Musgrave & Dominic Legault
Susan's spoken word poetry + Dominic's pump organ    accompaniment.

The much anticipated album
will be available in the spring of 2015.

Some remarkably successful live shows led to this album's immaculate conception. Inspired by Haida Gwaii, and the Sangan River on which they both live, a mere stones throw away from each other.



February 2014

Trading bread for eggs: A poet’s life

"I still don’t know, after 40 years of being here, what it is about the place that
changes your life." -- Susan Musgrave

February 06th, 2014

Susan Musgrave

Unheralded Joseph Planta has been conducting interviews for his website The Commentary for ten years. Here follows his conversation with Victoria-born, Haida Gwaii resident Susan Musgrave, editor of  Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia (Mother Tongue Publishing) during which Planta exhibits one of the most important skills for any interviewer: knowing how to listen.

Although she lives in a seven-sided house near Masset, Susan Musgrave now teaches in the University of British Columbia’s optional-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. Her most recent poetry collection, Origami Dove, was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award. Her most recent novel is Alone. Visit This conversation primarily concerns her landmark anthology that exclusively pertains to living female poets of B.C.

“I was worried,” Planta recalls, “because Musgrave knew little of me, and I’d only read this one recent collection before phoning her up. Prior to the interview, Shelagh Rogers kindly reassured me I’d enjoy talking to Musgrave, that I’d have fun. She was right. We talked about poetry, the women poets of British Columbia, her life and career, her views on education, and more. I told her we’d speak for about twenty minutes, and she said that was just fine; her sourdough bread needed to bake for just that amount of time. When we got to the twenty-minute-mark, she had to put the phone down and turn her baking pans around.”

Susan Musgrave: Good morning.

Joseph Planta: Good morning. Are you at the bed and breakfast you own?

S.M.: No, I’m out at my house out in the Sangam Rive. I’m making sourdough bread, which is like a 36-hour production. It’s a great bartering place up here. People have chickens and they want a loaf of bread. So I’ll trade eggs for bread. I’m getting more famous for my bread than I am for my writing.

J.P.: [laughter]

S.M.: In a small place, you’re always more famous for what you can do. You know, the jam you make, or the relish you make or the bread you make. I like it that way.

J.P.: How long does it take to get up there?

S.M.: To Masset? Well, you can fly from Vancouver on Pacific Coastal. It’s two hours from the South Terminal to Masset. Or take Air Canada to Sandspit. If you take the ferry, it’s two days and two nights, so that gives you an idea of how far it is. If you go over land, it’s an amazing trip from Port Hardy to Rupert to Skidegate. It’s a long, long trip, which I love doing, because you’ve got the Inside Passage.

J.P.: Do you remember the first time you went to Haida Gwaii?

S.M.: Oh, I do! I was living in Cambridge, in England. We’d moved from the west of Ireland and we weren’t very happy in Cambridge. My publisher, Michael Yates—who had Sono Nis Press, who published my first book—was working in Port Clements as a logger. I had spent a lot of time feeling homesick for the coast, visiting the Ethnology Museum in Cambridge. It was full of stolen artefacts like totem poles from Tanu, and I felt so at home in this museum.  I kind of lived there. A lot of the things there made me really want to come here. So when I found out that Mike Yates was here, I came up. It was when I came home for Christmas o on sort of a holiday. As people do, they either fall in love with this place and they want to live here, or they don’t like it. Mostly people say, you know, “There’s something mystical about this place,’”and “It’s a very healing place.” And now my guests at Copper Beech House will say, “It’s changed my life.” I hear that over and over again, which is a pretty amazing thing. I still don’t know, after 40 years of being here, what it is about the place that changes your life.

It takes me about two weeks to decompress after I’ve been down south. When I lived here in the ’70s, it was really like having a love affair. When I would go back down to Victoria, I would go through withdrawal—I would just be wretched. It has that effect; it has as much of a pull as a person you’re in love with. So, if you came here for just four days, you would just get the tip of the affair [laughter]. You’d get…‘Oh, I need more of this!’ And then you’d be back I would guess. Four days. That’s how long Shelagh Rogers was here. They were up here for the Peter Gzowski Golf Tournament. And Linda Cullen and Bob Robertson.

J.P.: It makes me want to go there now.

S.M.: If you only have three or four days, it’s still better than never having been here, right?

J.P: How did you get involved with editing Force Field?

S.M.: Mona Fertig and her husband Peter were guests at Copper Beech House the year I took over. It was a pretty rough year. My daughter was sort of running the place before she got back into her addictive cycle, and so, there were a lot of things going wrong. Anyway, I survived the worst six months of my life, and during that time Peter and Mona came. And Mona proposed this anthology and said, “How would you like to edit it?” I’ll say yes to everything at first until I step back, and then what have I done? So at some point, I said, “No, Mona, I just can’t do this; I think it should be ten poets. I can’t do a hundred and fifty, or seventy, I’d have to leave people out and I don’t want to leave people out. But if we do 75, there’s going to be another 75.” And sure enough, the poet who won the BC Book Award this year, Sarah de Leeuw—she wasn’t in the book. We just had to drop so many people. I thought, whatever you do, somebody will be missed and it’s unfortunate. I want to do a second volume—but I don’t think Mona does. She’s worn out from all the good work she does.

J.P.: And how did you arrive at number 77?

S.M.: [laughter] Well, I really like the number seven. My house is seven-sided. I have three seven-sided modules, and a seven-sided table. I don’t know. We had 75 and then we found three more that we’d forgotten that we needed to include. It was really tricky and that’s the part I don’t like. I don’t like having to say to people, we can’t include you. That’s why I chickened out and said, “I don’t think I want to do this.” She [Mona] said, “Well, you can put me down as an editor.” She has not done that yet [laughter]. I’m going to blame all the omissions on her—”It was Mona! She’s so mean! She can just cut people out!” I would have had 157! Or 177. [laughter]

J.P.: Did you know all of the poets that are in this book?

S.M.: No.

J.P.: But did you know of their work?

S.M.: Yeah, it’s hard not to. I think there may be one or two who are really new who I didn’t teach. I teach now at UBC.  I say to my friends Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier, “When we were starting out, there were no writing workshops.” I think there was one out at UBC. Earl Birney used to teach creative writing [when he was in the UBC English Department]. But now we’re teaching all these people how to write, all our trade secrets, and they’re all winning prizes, and getting published and it’s hard as you get older. People want the new voices. And it’s like, “What are you doing? Maybe we should just shut up and not be teaching people.” But there are always amazing writers coming along.

J.P.: Poets of the past like Page, Lowther, Livesey, they’re not in this collection.

S.M.: Right. If you die, you don’t get to be in this anthology. If you just had 77 dead women poets in B.C., there’d be a whole other anthology.

J.P.: Do you find that you run into people that are surprised that there are this many women poets in the province?

S.M.: I haven’t had that reaction.  But I was really shocked that there were that many. There’s that old saying if you throw a stone…oh no…that’s different. Well, if you throw a stone in any mental hospital, you hit a poet.

J.P.: [laughter]

S.M.: But that doesn’t apply here. [laughter] All the poets here have pretty good reputations, that’s what’s really astounding. I wonder if it would be the same in Alberta and all the other provinces, if you could come up with 77? Maybe that’s another project for Mona. She could do 77 Manitoba women poets; spend the rest of her life doing this.

J.P.: What do you think this collection says about British Columbia?

S.M.: I don’t think that way. I mean, I don’t know what anything says about anything quite honestly. I read individual poems and lines of poems, and they either affect me or they don’t. I don’t look in the general way. It’s too hard. It’s like being in the forest and trying to see the trees—I suppose I’m trying to use some pathetic analogy. But when there’s that much poetry it becomes overwhelming. I’m on a lot of juries and I find that this is the worst way to read poetry, when you have 100 books of poems because, well, pretty well everything starts kind of blending into one. It’s very hard to come up with something that stands out. So there’s a risk of that when I had ten poems from each poet to read, that how am I going to see what really jumps out at me. There was something quite difficult to do; how to pick the best. So I ended up asking the poets to please list your top four—what you would like to see represent you. Some said they didn’t want to do that, they wanted me to choose, and others did. And then we had some longer poems. I think Anne Cameron has a longer poem. I wanted a balance. I wanted different kinds of poetry, what they call language poetry, which is more sort of conceptual. And I wanted some concrete poetry, Judith Copithorne and a couple of other people. So I wanted to show that there are many different kinds of voices and form being written here. I think poetry’s individual—it’s a collection. It’s overwhelming. I look at the book, I pick it up: It’s such an amazing object. And then I dip into it, but I don’t read it from cover to cover. I read bits. I read bits of poems and sometimes I read them backwards. I may not be the ideal reader [laughter].

J.P.: Do you think there’s anything that can be done to make people more poetry savvy?

Musgrave in 2013

Susan Musgrave in 2013

S.M.: I think having poets in schools has changed a lot. It’s true that school ruins you for poetry. Well, we were taught the romantics when I was 14, and I was worried about the atom bomb falling on me, we would have ‘Daffodils,’ and I would think, who is this person? ‘Daffodils’ is taught in more countries that are colonies of Britain in places like Africa where nobody’s seen a daffodil, and they still have to memorize that poem. It’s done a lot of damage in the world. [laughter] So you get people learning things or studying things that doesn’t have any bearing on their life. What you need to do in schools is be teaching rap lyrics,  or just expose people to poetry and say, “If this appeals to you, great. Go and listen to more of this, or read more of this.” In any anthology, you might find one or two poets you like, and then you go and look for more of their work.

What I always say to people who want to write, “Start with an anthology like this one, read through it, find what appeals to you, and then read more of that. But a lot of it’s not going to appeal to you.” Quite honestly, that’s how poetry works. You can show your best friend your favourite poem and they’ll go, “Oh that’s great.” But they don’t have that same emotional reaction you do because it’s triggering all sorts of things from your life in you. They may show you their favourite poem and you’re… “oh, whatever!” [laughter]. The problem with poetry is that you don’t get the same poem appealing to lots of people. You get the odd poem that does and that’s pretty much a miracle when that happens. There are probably lots of poems in history that have affected people but school is where it starts being ruined because we feel self-conscious, we feel that we don’t get it; it’s too lofty for us. It’s a language we don’t speak. I prefer plain language in poetry. Lew Welch, an American poet says, “Rinse your ear, language is speech.’” I love Tom Wayman’s poetry because he wrote about work and people’s jobs. He’s not in this, of course, he’s not transgendered or a woman.

J.P.: [laughter] Who else is like that?

S.M.:  Kate Braid writes poems about her work as a carpenter. So, I like poems that speak directly. I like Lorna Crozier’s poetry a lot. Tons of poems in this anthology. But there’s something for everybody and I think that’s the thing. I tried not to just inflict my taste on the world here. The job as an editor is not just to say that these are my favourite poems. These are the poems that, you know, in this book, you might find something that appeal to you. That was my attitude.

J.P.:  Elizabeth Bachinsky is in this collection. In her latest collection she has a transcript of an instant message conversation she had with someone. I asked her if there can be poetry in a Tweet or a Facebook update. And if if that’s the case, anybody can be a poet.

S.M.: Well, there’s poetry in it, but it doesn’t mean everybody’s a poet. I find poetry everywhere.  I teach my students about rhyme and repetition. I say, just look around your community. Like, “Be wise, immunize.” There’s signs everywhere that use poetry. Rhyming poetry because it catches your attention. If it said, “Be wise, get your inoculation,” it wouldn’t have the same ring, right?

J.P.:  [laughter]

S.M.:  So there is poetry everywhere, which is perhaps why people think it is easy to write. I certainly think there is poetry in Tweets. I just got my first cell phone on Saturday so I’m quite new to this, but I do Twitter. Margaret Atwood told me I had to be on Twitter. After two years, I am just kind of getting it. You get your news through Twitter. You find out that Osama Bin Laden’s dead before anybody else does.

J.P.: Right.

S.M.: He’s allegedly dead.

J.P.:  [laughter]

S.M.: And there are some wonderful mistakes and malapropisms that can be like poetry. One of my guests asked for an ensuite bath, and it came out ‘Einstein’s bath.’

BOTH: [laughter]

Musgrave decompresses

Susan Musgrave decompresses

S.M.: Oh yes, we definitely have a room with Einstein’s bath! So who knows what poetry is? I think there’s a quotation that says something like, “The world is made so very much poetry but not so very many poets.”  It’s hard not to be elitist about it. I think it’s great that anybody writes whatever they want to write if it makes them feel better. But it’s difficult when people come to me saying, “Why am I not getting this published?” I can tell by the first two lines why they’re not. If you try to explain to them, “Have you read any contemporary poetry?”, they’ll say, “‘Well no, I don’t want to be influenced.” I hear that a lot. Well, you need to be influenced because if you’re not influenced you don’t know the market, you don’t know what’s trendy. Gerard Manley Hopkins: if you wrote like him now, you wouldn’t get published. So, that’s the problem. That was a phase in time where people wrote poetry that illuminated…

My theory is that you need beautiful language with ugly subject matter so there’s a friction. The romantics had beautiful subject matter with beautiful language, like ‘Ode to the Nightingale,’ and we just don’t go for that. We know that’s sort of being fairly, you know, head in the clouds. But you can write about something that’s like you know, rape and murder and war, but your language is elevating it. What is it Nietzsche says? “Everything we call higher culture is a spiritualization of cruelty.” I don’t like the word ‘higher culture.’ I think everything we call art could be seen as a spiritualization of cruelty. So if you can make cruelty and unpleasantness palatable to people through poetry, or make them feel something about a situation that they may have become immune to, I mean, we hear so much about war and violence, who feels anything? We go: Yeah, another 50 people dead in Syria today. Oh well… Gotta take my bread out of the oven.

J.P.: Do you want to check your bread? And we can pause.

S.M.: 16, 15, 14… I just need to take the lids off and let it cook for another 20 minutes.

J.P.: We can pause.

S.M.:  Sure. Let’s just pause. I’m just going to put the phone down.

J.P.: Sure, sure.

[rattling of pans; timer beeping]

S.M.: There! Okay!

J.P.: I once interviewed Robert Bateman and he was painting while we were chatting.

S.M.: Did you get the sound effects? [laughter] The little beeper going off, and yeah. It’s amazing bread. The recipe is from a bakery in San Francisco; the method: Tartine Bakery. You don’t knead it. You turn it. So, for four hours, every half hour, you have to get up and turn this bread. And it’s great when I’m writing or teaching because it makes me get up. Otherwise I would just be sedentary.

J.P.: I read somewhere that someone had read a poem of yours and kept it with them for six months because they were so moved by it. Yet you told Shelagh Rogers in an interview recently that process excites you rather than the final product. You obviously have a different relationship to your writing than readers do.


Susan Musgrave living in Sidney

S.M.:  Well, I hope so. I mean, if I was absolutely moved by all my poems, I’d be a quivering mass of protoplasm [laughter] weeping over my poems. I think you’re struggling with lines and where to break the line and you get the first draft and hope to retain whatever the emotional thing going on there was, but then you start rewriting. The rewriting is where the craft enters it. And so you become a little bit detached. I can read some older poems and go back to the place I was in my head when I wrote them…but the poems I wrote for my daughter were still really raw. When I read them I have to pinch myself. Like when I’m at the dentist I don’t want to show that I’m terrified, so I pinch myself.  I come out of the dentist with these marks, like claw-marks all over my arms.

I read a couple of the poems for my daughter when I was in London and did that to stop crying. So they’re still pretty raw. I suspect that that will diminish, but I’m afraid to read them really because they have that effect on me still. But they’re a year old. The situation is one of her being on the street so I’m still always worried about her. It doesn’t go away. And I know that there are an awful lot of people who are experiencing the same thing which is, I think, what made me decide to write the poems. People come up afterwards and sort of whisper their story about their daughter or their son and it’s so much pain in people that they’re ashamed. They don’t know who to talk to about it. And I want people to know they’re not alone.

That’s what poetry does too, it makes me feel not so alone when I read a poem that speaks to me in some way. And that makes me say, “Oh, other people feel the same grief and the same loss.” And so, I think it’s all about connecting, writing poetry. But I kind of like it when the emotion dissipates, if the poem has a life of its own. Poets talk about that. It’s born and then you’re just the person giving birth to it. I mean it sounds really hokey, just like a child. It goes out into the world and has its own life and other people, as you say, carry it around and it means a lot to them. There are poems I’ve carried around with me. There are some on the wall in front of me that really mean a lot, and if I were to meet the poet, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the poem that matters.

J.P.: Do you find solace or wisdom in what you’ve written yourself?

S.M.:  Sometimes I find wisdom. It certainly seems beyond me. Poems always seem to know more than I do and to be wiser than I am, as far as I can see. That’s also what’s magical about writing. Where do these things come from? Because I don’t feel like I’m all that. I’m definitely wiser than I was, but I don’t feel like an oracle, that people come and sit at my feet and expect me to say wise things. I don’t feel like that, I feel like just a lost, I don’t know…I dream about being lost…I dreamt I was lost on the BC Ferry and couldn’t find my cabin…My life is a series of being lost. Everybody I know who’s in the arts and maybe every human being at some level feels unworthy. And where does that come from?

J.P.: I think that’s what people relate to.

S.M.: But people are afraid to say it. You’re not supposed to say it. You’re supposed to say, “Oh, everything’s great! I feel wonderful! I’m on top of the world!” I look at people like that and then I’m envious of them. How can they be so happy? But then, it turns out, scratch the surface…

J.P.: And they’re lying to you.

S.M.: They are lying. They’re lying because people will like you better if you lie. Who wants to really hear the truth about when you say, “How are you?” I love the Irish: “It’s never better.” I say that all the time now. “How are you doing” “Never better!”

BOTH: [laughter]

S.M.: The ultimate lie! I saw this wonderful psychiatrist who I call Shabby the Rasby, who’s a Buddhist and he’s Persian. He says, “Well, Susan, just small talk when people say, ‘How’s your day going so far?”’ But, like, my dad just died, and you know my husband’s just gone to prison. My daughter’s just got addicted. How can I just say, “Great!” [laughter] If you tell them the truth, people just look stunned. So I haven’t mastered small talk. I’m better at it, but I still take those questions really seriously. “How are you?”

J.P.: laughter] But people do sit at your feet and view you as some sort of oracle, don’t they?

S.M.:  Right now I’m looking down and there’s cat hair all over the carpet. My cat certainly does. It’s nice in this community because Wendy Riley and me are sort of the older women. Like, we’re in our Sixties. And it’s not a sort of ageist community, people of all ages mix here. And so people do come, not for advice, but just to come and talk. I don’t think they’re looking for anything. They don’t come to me as a poet, they come to me as a person, which again, is why I like it here. I don’t know how Margaret Atwood feels, but when you become an icon—that’s something made of wood, isn’t it? It’s not living anymore.  David Phillips, who had Copper Beech House before I did said, “Masset forces you to be honest.” There’s not a lot of pretence here. It’s pretty real. You need other people in order to survive because the weather gets stormy, and it’s small. Nine hundred people. Another nine hundred in the village of Old Masset. So, I don’t think they come and sit at my feet at all. They come and drink my wine [laughs]. I tend to order cases of wine because my brother in Victoria knows about good wine.  I have good wine. The liquor store here, you can just buy Yellow Tail, that’s about it.

J.P.: [laughter]

S.M.:  So they come and sit at my table and drink wine. Last night, we processed all the sea spinach… I volunteer at the thrift shop here, that’s a big deal in Masset. There’s nowhere else to donate anything, so it’s one of the best thrift shops in the world. A friend of mine across the road, who’s just been hired as an archaeologist, donated her Blackberry by mistake, or her iPad thing. It was in an basket full of clothes. So we found it, and she came over to get it and I was processing sea spinach. So we ended up eating all the sea spinach and drinking a bottle of wine. That’s kind of how life is here. It unfolds, and I like that. People drop in a lot. They don’t do that in the city because you don’t dare, right?

J.P.:  Are there used bookstores in Masset?

S.M.: Nope. Just the thrift shop. And everything’s fifty cents. I was at Value Village last week in Victoria and I was appalled that used books were $4.95. I’m going, “What?’” In Masset we pay less and they’re really good books because people up here read like crazy. Just so many readers. I think there’s may be a bookstore in Charlotte, on Queen Charlotte. There is, Isabel Creek, it’s a health food store downstairs and a bookstore upstairs.

J.P.:  When you were starting out as a writer, you got to know people like Al Purdy. What did that mean to you as a writer?

Susan Musgrave in 1994

Susan Musgrave in 1994


S.M.: No, I didn’t many meet writers. I didn’t really know what I was doing. When I was about 18, I’d read The White Goddess, because the man I was living with, Sean Virgo, was a great fan of Robert Graves. I think he’d gone back to his wife and I had to do something in Europe, and that was my first trip to Europe, so I went to Mallorca. And I went to lost luggage because I was lost again and a young man called Rodrigo—he was a stamp collector and offered to be my guide of the island, and he drove me to Deyá and I took a pensionné, which was like a dollar a day. And I just went to Robert Graves’ house and knocked on the door! [laughs] I can’t believe I did that! And he sort of took me under his wing for about a week while I was there and that was interesting. And I met Al Purdy in Mexico.

I was down there seeing as my house had burned down up here. So I sort of fled to Mexico and met another poet in Mexico City. And then we went up to Mérida and met Al [Purdy] and Eurithe. So I knew them as people, and as people first rather than writers. Al loved talking about poetry, he was bored talking about anything else. But we had some great adventures down in Mexico together and then I stayed in touch with him up here. The poets I liked best are the people I know as friends. And I do like their work, but they don’t sort of sit down and talk to me about my poetry or anything. I was quite a young poet and I think Al didn’t really take women poets very seriously. He’d edited a book called Fifteen Winds, it had two female poets, and forty-nine male. And at one point, just before he died, he gave me this huge anthology called 500 Women Poets, like from 10 B.C. to the present day. And he said, ‘Here.’ And I think it was his way of saying he accepted me as a poet. A poetess rather.

J.P.:  A poetess.

S.M.: He was pretty old school. It was sweet. And the fact that he would even talk to me about poetry was, I suppose, a compliment.

J.P.:  Now reflecting on this life and career of yours. You know, there have been good times, great critical success over the years, and there’s some less than pleasant times. Are there regrets at all?

S.M.:  About what?

J.P.: About life in general, about the career, or anything like that.

S.M.:  Well, like regretting being born? That kind of thing? Because, yeah.

J.P.: Or the choices that you made…

S.M.: No. What’s the point? School put me off being interested in everything. I thought everything was boring. Learning was boring because I was at school. And it wasn’t till about forty that I thought, “I want to learn something every day.” And if I learned something, that makes life not so depressing. And then I’m interested in linguistics; I’m interested in criminology. I’m interested in all these things, and what if I’d gone to university and, you know, maybe studied those things. Even archaeology. Lots of things. I just didn’t. And maybe I wasn’t meant to. I’m pretty fatalistic about things. I don’t regret my life. I wish I had not been discouraged at school. Like I used to win medals for coming first in elementary school. You know three times, top of my class. And then I got bored. So my marks dropped, and then I dropped out and that’s the story of a lot of people’s lives actually. Patrick Lane just got an honorary doctorate in Kelowna this weekend and he said, “Goodbye the high school diploma I didn’t get!”

J.P.:  [laughter]

S.M.:  I wish somebody would give me an honorary doctorate so I could be Dr. Musgrave. I could say to my mum, “See! It didn’t matter that I didn’t finish grade twelve [laughter] Because there’s still that parental: “Finish grade twelve and the world is your oyster,” as my dad used to say. I’m allergic to oysters though.

J.P.: Are you?

S.M.: Well, I think I am.

J.P.:  In terms of your view on education, id your children have the same experience that you did?

S.M.:  Yeah, it turns out that people unfortunately do follow their parents—like Charlotte, I think, went and finished grade twelve on her own, when she was working at a little coffee shop in Sydney. She got everything but one credit. Sophie was sort of involved in racial tension things so she would always side with the Native people, and then she got kicked out for intimidating a girl. You know, long story, but I just couldn’t send her back. I was just so pissed off at the school system. I was not one to force my kids to go to school because I knew how damaging it had been to me.

Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia

Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia

I’m told it’s a different world now and they need this and they need that, unless they’re musical or artistic in some way and can make it, you pretty well have to do something. I see my brother has both his kids at university and that’s because every day he made them get up, and he made them go to school, and they did. But I would just sort of give up and think, “Ugh. Why would I be sending them to this place?” And it’s really hard for me to be positive to anybody about high school and middle school. I try to, like I see people’s parents. But I see kids suffering. There’s an amazing book by Grace Llewellyn called A Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School, and Get a Real Life, and an Education. She talks about how education is so important, but schooling is absolutely not. And this school system began in Prussia and it was to make factory workers, and people who could work nine to five. Not for people who want to think outside that kind of life. And now especially, you can’t just get a job and work at that one job until you die. Now people don’t do that. They change careers all the time.

Teachers are part of the whole thing. They start out being really positive, like prison guards, and then they get jaded because they’re up against so much that they can’t do. There’s a system there in place. And maybe it’s changed. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as when I was at school. At least poetry isn’t taught as punishment as it was when I was at school. We had to memorize poems for punishment, for detention.

J.P.:  And now what do you when you’re the teacher?


S.M.:  I rail against the system. I tell them, if you want to write, I don’t know what you’re doing in university. Well, I know what they’re doing, they’re getting another degree so they can get paid more. And some of them want to learn to write, I shouldn’t malign everybody. Everybody I’ve taught poetry to at UBC, they’re really great, and they’re good writers. But I don’t know why they want an MFA? I guess I shouldn’t be saying that as somebody who teaches in the program.

J.P.: [laughter]

S.M.:  I think more people should have MFAs! The real writers are going to write no matter what, and they do. I see my job as helping people overcome their fear of poetry and, not only that, but liking it. One of my best reviews was a student who said, “Susan Musgrave has made me hate poetry a little less.” So, if I can do that, I think I’ve succeeded. What I get over and over again is, “Oh, thank you for taking away my fear of poetry and making me actually love it, and be a better reader of it.” But I have students who already have two Ph.Ds, who’ve published 13 books, this kind of thing. So one wonders what it is they have to learn from me, probably nothing. But they get something from the whole group; you know, it’s pretty stimulating. And to have feedback for your work is really excellent, too, because that’s hard to find in the community. People who will be honest and also incredibly sensitive.

I’m amazed at the kind of feedback these kids give each other. So that’s what you do get in this program at UBC and generally in workshops. But these people have really learned how to be good critics and editors and they’ve learned to be even better in the program. I love it actually, but I still feel that within the system—those of us who teach in the optional residency–we’re still rebels you know. There’s Brian Brett, who teaches in the program, Terry Glavin, Wayne Grady, a bunch of us who, not all of us have degrees. In fact, a lot of us don’t. We were hired because we were kind of hands-on writers. And who worked in the field… [laughs] So…

Susan Musgrave with Alan Twigg in 1980. Twigg interviewed her 30 years ago for his book "For openers: Conversations with 24 Canadian writers."Susan Musgrave with Alan Twigg in 1980. Twigg interviewed her 34 years ago for his book “For Openers: Conversations with 24 Canadian Writers.”

J.P.:  I really appreciate your time. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you.

S.M.:  You too! This has been great. You ask great questions. I’m usually quite reticent, as you know [laughter]. My bread’s about to come out of the oven and I’ve got to go to the thrift shop…

“This past fall, when I was arranging an interview with Alan Twigg, he mentioned that he’d had this interview with Musgrave transcribed, in rough draft, and offered me a copy. I was flattered that Alan found the interview interesting enough to commission a transcription. The interviewer can bring some of their skills and abilities to bear in an interview to make it lively, fun or comfortable, but it’s really all about the guest, the interviewee. Looking back, I was grateful to talk to Susan Musgrave about everything she talked about. She’s a gifted writer and artist, and generous. It’s an interview like this, that makes this avocation of mine enriching and rewarding.” — Joseph Planta, January 31, 2014

Vancouver-born Joseph Planta’s interview program, On the Line, has featured hundreds of conversations with a wide variety of authors, journalists, artists, and notable people. It remains a hobby, even after ten years.
Recorded: 06 June 2013
Posted: 11 June 2013
Printed transcript edited by A.T., Feb. 5, 2014.
To hear the original:

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Take Me Home - Susan Musgrave from Two Story Productions Inc. on Vimeo.


Quirky tales, compelling poetry, social commentary make cut

The Vancouver Sun asked a few of our freelance book reviewers to choose some of their favourite reads of 2013. The results are below


A Tale for the Time Being Ruth Ozeki Viking This fascinating multilayered exploration of people as "time beings," family alliances and stories, ancient history and traditions, along with modern hurdles make for a brilliant and thought-provoking adventure. I found the genre-defying form exhilarating.

Canary Nancy Jo Cullen Biblioasis There's a wonderful shape-shifting that occurs with humour and Cullen has found that place that is both poignant and profound. Gay and lesbian characters appear in every story, which is such a gift when most fiction writers exclude lesbian, gay and transgender people in their work.

The Orenda Joseph Boyden Hamish Hamilton Following the individual voices of Bird (an elder in the Huron Nation), Snow Fall (an Iroquois girl) and Christophe or Crow (a Jesuit priest) kept me up late many nights. Their stories were compelling and now, long after the book is closed, is the assurance of the orenda, the life force that is part of humans, animals, trees, water, rocks - "In fact, every last thing" contains its own spirit.

How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir Amber Dawn Arsenal Pulp Press Amber Dawn found "personal reconciliation and closure" in a memoir of finely crafted poems and essays. Her terrain is "sex work, queer identity, and survivor pride." Readers are not meant to be surreptitious spectators as Dawn invites readers to engage in our own survivor stories. Amber Dawn was the winner of the Vancouver Book Award which she accepted as a victory for other sex workers, survivors, and for "the tenacious and dignified peoples of the Downside Eastside."

Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? Jeanette Winterson Alfred A. Knopf Canada Winterson's mother asked the title question when her daughter left home as a teenager for the love of another girl. Winterson poses her own questions too such as: "Why should a woman be limited by anything or anybody?" It was those questions and Winterson's frank wisdom that has my copy not politely notated in pencil but boldly and colourfully highlighted throughout. So much of her wisdom is about life as well as fiction and poetry and how they heal "the rupture reality makes on the imagination."

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls David Sedaris Little, Brown For guy who can do funny and snide and surreal as easily as breathing, David Sedaris is also remarkable for nuanced essays about the perils and pleasures of family, love, middle age, and ... home renovations.

MaddAddam Margaret Atwood M & S Illuminated by searing lighting flashes of gallows humour, the concluding volume of a trilogy that's pretty much a complete downer relates a page-turning tale that also eulogizes us, that troublesome species with the self-made extinction.

Mount Pleasant Don Gillmor Random House In real life, a few hours spent with a biting, bitter, angry, and self-pitying middle aged WASP would be intolerable. Stuck safely in a novel, though, that clever raging against everything and everyone is a cover-to-cover delight.

The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be J.B. MacKinnon Random House An eloquent messenger with no shortage of environmental bad news (and the stats to prove it), MacKinnon offers a most unexpected point of view: staunch hope and some intriguing ideas about how to the repair the mess we've made of the natural world.

(tie) The Outside World Barry Dempster Pedlar

Juanita Wildrose: My True Life Susan Downe Pedlar One's a terrific boy's coming-of-age story set in suburban Ontario circa 1966, the other's an experimental memoir about the childhood and geriatric days of a woman who lived to be 102. Both are exemplary: thoughtful and intriguing examples of artful, elegant, and deeply affecting storytelling that deserve a wide audience.

The Orenda Joseph Boyden Hamish Hamilton Boyden's novels are always hard to read because of their exquisite examination of human cruelty. And that's why they are necessary to read.

Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia Edited by Susan Musgrave Mother Tongue Publishing This collection of poetry is a gift, full of familiar and soon to be familiar poets. Susan Musgrave and Mother Tongue are to be commended for this beautiful volume.

The Place of Scraps Jordan Abel Talon Jordan Abel's first collection of poetry dazzles with the idea of palimpsest as he explores the complex relationship between Marius Barbeau and First Nations cultures, in particular Abel's Nisga'a heritage.

Leonardo and The Last Supper Ross King Anchor Canada By focusing on one art work, The Last Supper, Ross King shows Leonardo da Vinci's artistic process in the middle of political and personal turmoil. King combines scholarship and fluid style in this immensely readable book.

Life After Life Kate Atkinson Doubleday Canada I love Atkinson's series with Jackson Brodie and in Life After Life, she continues her trademark of great storytelling and whips in some dazzling experiments with second chances.

Hell Going Lynn Coady Anansi Hell YES!

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America Thomas King Doubleday Canada King, one of Canada's best novelists, humorists and essayists, is very funny in this account of what has happened to the original inhabitants of this continent since gangs of criminal European invaders arrived. Funny, but also dead serious. This is a required book for anyone who cares about social justice in Canada, and a great read to boot.

The Road to Keringet Maggie Ziegler Cranberry Tree Press This is a memoir of family life that transcends the frequent lapses into sentiment or mean spirited score-settling that so often mar the genre. Ziegler, a psychotherapist and anti-violence activist, provides an even-handed, cleareyed account of her parents' troubled marriage and of her own coming to terms with her mother at the end of the mother's life. Tender, honest and moving.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness Michelle Alexander The New Press This heartbreaking and brilliant book of social analysis, by a veteran civil rights lawyer in the U.S., looks at the way that the much heralded War on Drugs, in conjunction with globalization and old-fashioned American racism, have conspired to create a new and vicious form of racial caste system. It's helpful as a way of understanding the last few decades of U.S. history. While much of the specific analysis is U.S.-specific, it is easy enough to see the parallels in Canadian experience with drug prohibition, selective enforcement and racism.

Bad Monkey Carl Hiaasen Alfred A. Knopf In this hilarious romp through mayhem and confusion in the Caribbean, Carl Hiaasen once more disproves the usual rule that the best satire is written by gimlet-eyed right wingers. Bad Monkey is one in a long line of increasingly deft humorous turns by the Florida reporter turned novelist. Unremittingly entertaining, and politically progressive too. What's not to love?

Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son Michael Chabon Harper Perennial Chabon, one of the best novelists working in English today, turns his attention in this charming and insightful book of essays to the problems of manhood, and manages to make his reflections both wise and funny. Highly recommended.


August 2013

The same sorrows,
the same joys

House of Anansi Press reissues its 1996 book
Alden Nowlan: Selected Poems as part of its
A List series. Story by Mike Landry

The Copper Beech Guest House on
Haida Gwaii, B.C., has received a
large share of the CanLit canon, with
a guest book featuring names such
as Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland
and Graeme Gibson. And waiting
for all of these guests is Alden
    Not the New Brunswick poet himself,
of course. He passed away in 1983.
But it’s his words that welcome guests.
    Susan Musgrave, a Governor General’s Literary Award-nominated
poet and novelist, is the operator of
the Copper Beech Guest House. She
keeps the Nowlan collection, Selected
Poems, edited by Patrick Lane and
Lorna Crozier, on the guest house’s
coffee table, a spot it currently is
sharing with Hot Guys and Baby Ani-mals.
   The collection is Musgrave’s favourite
of Nowlan’s work, so much so that
she defended it in the 2011 edition of
CBC’s Canada Reads.
The book has now been reissued by
House of Anansi Press as a part of its

on them, but he is a poet about whom
other writers say,‘Read him.’”
The trio often spends New Year’s
Eve together, reading poems, and
Nowlan’s words are always there with
them. For Musgrave, poetry must be
“a holistic” part of her life – which is
a way of thinking she feels is suited
to Nowlan, whose work she says “is
everyday life.”
“If every Canadian read poetry,
(Nowlan’s) would be the one poet
they would all ‘get.’
“There’s something life-giving about
his poetry. John Gardener, in On Moral
Fiction, writes that a writer’s job is
to give hope to the human condition,
and I think Alden did that, and still
She knows from her own readings
how people desire to commiserate,
though it’s the writer’s job to start
the conversation. And that’s what she
says happens when reading Nowlan.
In him, she says we find the articulation
to the unworthiness most of us
secretly shoulder.

A List series, a selection of the press’s best books, including Dennis Lee, Al Purdy and Atwood. Musgrave wrote a new introduction for the collection.
    “It’s a really lovely, gentle, hard book,” says Musgrave.
   “And that is to Patrick and Lorna’s credit.”
It was Lane and Crozier that brought Nowlan to Musgrave’s attention with the first edition of Selected Poems. She admired them, and so picked up the book.
    “How we come to poetry is not by prizes, not who’s
the voice moment, but who it is our friends are reading,”
Musgrave says.“Nowlan’s books might not have stickers

“Scratch the surface, and we all feel those things and
we’re not supposed to say it.”
Musgrave never met Nowlan and she lives on the West
Coast, two facts she says Nowlan’s poetry easily can overcome.
She finds, especially with local events in her life,
connections with lines from Nowlan. “His poems are
about people, and people everywhere have the same sorrows,
the same joys – mostly sorrows.”s

Mike Landry is the Telegraph-Journal’s arts and culture


Alden Nowlan LINK:>>>

Mike LandryLINK:>>>



BC Magazine :Island CHARACTER

Poet and Writer reflects on her next chapter as cookbook author and owner of an eclectic Haida Gwaii guest house.

by MASA TAKEI    photography: KATHLEEN HINKEL    >>> Click here to read the article

June 2013

The author and poet Susan Musgrave discusses life on Haida Gwaii, poetry, education, and the collection she’s edited, Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2013), with Joseph Planta.

Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia edited by Susan Musgrave (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2013).

Click to buy this book from Force Field

I am Planta: On the Line, in Vancouver at
Joseph Planta



       or click here

May 2013

CBC's The  Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers, Susan Musgrave interview will be broadcast on Monday, May 27th,just after 1:30 pm, and then again on Saturday, June 1st, just after 4:30 pm. We'll also post an unedited version of the interview with Shelagh as a podcast on TNC's website on May 27th.



"Kiss Tickle Cuddle Hug" made,
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre
Best Books for Kids & Teens 
~ Spring 2013


     or here...




Update from 2011:

Musgrave in particular, in her Governor’s General Award-nominated volume Origami Dove, has broken through to a new level of consciousness.



April 2013

Susan Musgrave edits new anthology of B.C. women poets


Essay in "On Freedom, Spirit, Art and State in Manoa: A Pacific Journal"

Essays in On Freedom are by Japanese writer Mutsuo Takahashi, Tibetan Woeser Tsering, and American Phil Choi. Drama is by American writer Catherine Filloux. Fiction is by Chinese writers A Yi and Zhang Yihe; South Asian Sukrita Paul Kumar; Americans Quan Barry and Andrew Lam;
Canadian Susan Musgrave; American Thersa Matsuura, now living in Japan; and Filipino Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. Poetry is by Chinese writer Chen Dongdong; Burmese Khin Aung Aye, Thitsar Ni, and Tin Moe; and Americans W. S. Di Piero, Tess Gallagher, Melissa Kwasny, and Naomi Long.      OR


March 2013

Susan Musgrave is the author of 27 books, of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and children's literature. She recently won the B.C. Civil Liberties Association Liberty Award for art and the Spirit Bear Award, which honours writers who make a significant contribution to the poetry of the Pacific Northwest.

Musgrave dropped by North by Northwest to talk about her latest novel, Given, which is a sequel to her earlier novel Cargo of Orchids. The book is full of ghosts and dreams, and characters who live on the margins in various ways. Its themes include motherhood and loss. The narrative opens dramatically with an accident on a California highway, in which a prisoner facing a death sentence escapes and heads up the coast to British Columbia, where she reunites with her husband. That's just the beginning of an action-packed story.


December 2012

CBC , DayBreakNorth Interview By Betsy Trumpener, Host

Author transitions from dark poetry to "Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug"

Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug

Susan Musgrave is known for dark poetry and novels tackling stories of drug dealers and death row. But now she's tackling an even tougher audience- toddlers. She spoke with Betsy Trumpener about her new book, "Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug."



New Books:


The characters from Susan Musgrave’s Cargo of Orchids are back in this brilliantly engaging novel. Rainy, the Mexican-American woman, and Frenchy, the African-American, along with Musgrave’s narrator X have returned and convincingly insist their story is not done. Once inmates on death row, now reunited and hanging out at an old house in a BC outport, they create a grand new afterlife adventure. As we are shuttled along an energetic storyline in an old hearse, through gated communities in Vancouver to BC’s First Nations island outposts, we witness the transformation of lives on the slopes of purgatory. The passageways are rife with wild rides, social satire and visually hilarious encounters. Musgrave’s trademark undercurrents of lurking peril and unexpected havoc play out against murder, drug encounters, and sexual tension but Given is a novel with its own rules of engagement. Musgrave’s comic gifts and ability to transcend this earthly plane create a ghost story that becomes a masterful allegory for personal loss and the potency of love.

For an ePub version of this eBook go to: Kobo, Amazon Kindle Store, or your favourite eBook store

Kiss Tickle Cuddle Hug

Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug by Susan Musgrave, a cozy book for babies and toddlers.

Kiss, tickle, cuddle and hug your way through a book every baby and toddler will love.
An enjoyable board book for babies and toddlers that introduces facial expressions, emotions and gestures of affection. In Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug, emotions are linked to facial expressions with an array of colorful close-up photographic images that showcases a multiethnic cast of babies. Perfect for little hands to hold, this is a board book to share and enjoy over and over again.

  CM Magazine - October 12, 2012

"A range of emotions recognizable by caregivers and early childhood educators alike will appeal to babies and toddlers who are becoming more emotionally aware...Babies will be especially attracted to the variety of facial expressions, and all readers will appreciate the racial diversity of the children in the photographs...Highly Recommended."

"Kiss Tickle Cuddle Hug" made,
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre,Best Books for Kids & Teens 
~ Spring 2013

Orca Book Publishers
Pub Date: 
In stock. CLICK

June 2012:

Winner of B.C. Civil Liberties Association Liberty Award for Art  ~June 2012

A quirky anthology of Canadian poetry: Desperately Seeking Susans


"Silent in Its Shout" (personal essay) first prize ($1000) in the Accenti Writing Contest, April 14, 2012

Feature Writer in Branch Magazine, April 2012

March 2012:





September 2011:


Origami Dove, poetry, from McClelland and Stewart, 2011

Join Us for the launch of the eagerly anticipated new collection of poetry,

Friday, April 8th | 7:00pm to 9:00pm | Open Space Gallery, 510 Fort Street, Victoria, BC

Please RSVP to

Books will be sold by Munro's Books | www. /poetry

Click here for evite.pdf

A new interview, promoting the Vancouver International Poetry Festival, Susan is reading on April 19th.

One cannot easily pigeonhole Susan Musgrave. The Canadian poet is a fascinating contradiction of everything that came before, and doesn't fit easily into any convenient packaging. By turns cheerful and grim, funny and sombre, the 60-year-old writer has been publishing poetry since she was 19 (her first collection, Songs of the Sea-Witch was published in 1970).





Mystery and Mischief in Poetry: Canadian Writer Susan Musgrave   more>>
BY   Greta Aart  &  Susan Musgrave


Fresh Bread Ahead

27 January 2011 by Susan Musgrave

A sign on Tow Hill Road, about five kilometres after you leave the pavement, and well into Naikoon Provincial Park, says “Fresh Bread Ahead.” This is the only warning you’ll get that you are nearing Moon Over Naikoon, one of Haida Gwaii’s most beloved bakeries.

“You feel you're outside civilization, in a very ancient place,” one blogger writes. “Then you get to stop in a surreal little bakery right on the periphery of capitalism.”




Origami Dove
The first collection of new poems in more than a decade from one of Canada's most vibrant and original writers.

Origami Dove is award-winning poet Susan Musgrave's first collection of new poems since Things That Keep and Do Not Change (1999). In it, Musgrave offers brilliantly crafted poetry that moves effortlessly between violence and beauty,rage and sanity, the humorous and the erotic. By turns dark, playful, and edgy, these poems are informed by a mature intelligence. The collection includes aharrowing urban sequence inspired by the true stories of six prostitutes from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, as well as a moving elegiac series that unfolds against the changing seasons and draws on the richness of the natural world around her home on the Sangan River, on the Queen Charlotte Islands, during the year a close friend died of lung cancer. This is Susan Musgrave in full control of her powers, writing poetry that cuts right to the bone.

Link: Origami Dove, poetry, from McClelland and Stewart, 2011


When the World is Not Our Home: Selected Poems 1985-2000, from Thistledown, 2009


The Obituary of Light: Sangan River Meditations, from Leaf Press, 2009 (chapbook)

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