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).
I am Planta: On the Line, in Vancouver at TheCommentary.ca.
Susan Musgrave joins me now. The noted poet, writer and teacher, among many other superlatives, recently edited a collection of poetry—Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia. It is the first anthology of the sort in well over 30 years. I’ll ask Ms. Musgrave about how this book came about, what the women in this book represent, the sort of poetry that can be found between this book’s covers, and perhaps what this book says about British Columbia. We’ll also reflect on the life and work of Susan Musgrave. Her most recent collection of poetry Origami Dove, published in 2011, was a Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry finalist, one of many awards she’s been shortlisted for, as well she’s received many others. Her last novel was Alone, which was published last year. She lives on Haida Gwaii, and teaches in the University of British Columbia’s optional-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. The website for more is at www.susanmusgrave.com. Force Field is published by Mother Tongue Publishing. Please welcome to the Planta: On the Line program, in Masset, British Columbia, Susan Musgrave; Ms. Musgrave, good morning.
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
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.
Musgrave told host Sheryl MacKay that before Cargo of Orchids even
hit bookshelves, she was plotting a sequel. Given does stand alone,
but it picks up the characters and the scenario from the earlier
book, which Musgrave described as "three women on death row for
the murders of their children, but it's a comedy." She went on to
add that it's black comedy, and "there are of course extenuating
circumstances, none of them are really guilty." Her protagonist
accepts what's happening to her to save her child's life, "because
she knows if she informs on the people who have kidnapped him that
the worst will happen to him, back in Colombia."
Musgrave created a futuristic death row in which the condemned
can choose a method of execution that suits their personality. "That's
where the black humour comes in," she said.
Because the status of the child is uncertain at the end of the
first novel, Musgrave decided to resolve it in a second book, but
that didn't happen in the course of writing it. "I think there must
be a third novel, God forbid, it's somewhere down the road," she
said. "I suspect it won't be resolved [there] either, but maybe
it will get a little step closer."
According to Musgrave, she can never predict what her characters
will do or what will happen as a story unfolds. "Characters turn
and you never see them again. Or they get shot in the head
and you think, I didn't plan for that, how did that happen?" Musgrave
says that she's controlled by her characters to a great extent. "They
seem to have an upper hand." She noted, though, that the characters
are based on research she did about women on death row. Rainy and
Frenchy , who were executed in the first book, appear in Given as
ghosts. They were both raised in "terrible situations," Musgrave
said, and that contributes to how they treat their own children. "It's
tragic and it's awful but you can kind of understand," she said. "It's
hard to be a mother even when everything's going right in your life."
There's plenty of humour in Given, despite the often dark subject
matter. Musgrave says that when she's in the process of writing,
she isn't intent on making the reader laugh -- what she's concerned
about is getting the sentences right. "The language is what interests
me in writing," she said. "You can have the most dull life you can
imagine, but if you can tell your story, everybody will wants to
read it. I think that's why people want to write. Because they want
to transform what can seem mundane."
Musgrave periodically goes for three-day family visits in prison
(her husband is incarcerated). When she comes out and asks people
what's happened in her absence, they tell her "nothing." But Musgrave
believes lots has happened, "but people don't think of telling it,
because they don't think it's interesting."
In Given, what defines freedom for her unnamed protagonist, living
on the B.C. island, is making small choices that someone who's in
prison can't make. Musgrave quotes another character in the book,
named Consuelo. "Freedom is nothing, it's what you do with your
freedom that counts."