Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Out-of-Town-Authors: dee Hobsbawn-Smith

dee Hobsbawn-Smith has an intriguing resume, as you can see from her official bio:

"Chef, poet and food advocate, dee Hobsbawn-Smith is an award winning freelance food writer and culinary educator. Between 2001 and 2008, she wrote a weekly column, “The Curious Cook” in the Calgary Herald.

Hobsbawn-Smith is the author of 6 books, the most recent of which is Foodshed: An Edible Alberta Alphabet. She lives on a farm just outside Saskatoon with fellow author Dave Margoshes, where she is currently earning her MFA in writing at the University of Saskatchewan. Wildness Rushing In, which will be launched on May 15 at the Regina Unitarian Centre, is her first poetry collection."

But what I like about dee is how humble she is, despite all her talents. Like John Lent and Brenda Schmidt, dee is generous with other writers, both emerging and established. Community engagement aside, however, dee's focus is impressive: she'll finish her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Saskatchewan with a just-published book of poems and a contracted book of stories.

All of which is to say is: I can't wait to read this collection. But in the meantime, here's an interview we conducted via email this week:

What do you want people to know about Wildness Rushing In

As you said, Wildness is my debut poetry collection. Writing this collection taught me that I walk my writing into being. My learning the craft is in this book’s bones.

Part of Wildness evolved in response to moving and living here. Parts are meditations on family, on death, on living, on sons, lovers, horses, cats, and dogs. And dinosaurs.

My only request to readers is what any poet asks: read it with your spirit open, the dial set on ‘input.’

As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach readings? What do you get out of them?

In Calgary, I learned to like performance. When I read in public, I like to string together work that’s [even only tenuously] thematic, then pay attention to what’s working, what people respond to, how a poem or line or line break works or doesn’t in public. I especially like reading new work, to see how/if it flies.

When I attend a reading, I have my notebook and pen in my pocket; when a response to someone else’s work strikes, it’s a quick and visceral thing, and I have a lousy memory! Listening to other writers read their work can be inspiring.

But…I’ve learned to only go out when I feel sociable; going out when I’m feeling internal or would prefer to work or watch a movie is a waste of time and money and effort.

You’ve spent most of your professional life – as a chef and food writer – in Alberta. What has it been like to spend the past few years in rural Saskatchewan, on your parents’ farm?

Not just my parents’ farm, but it’s the farm where my Mom was raised, so my grandparents’ farm too, where I visited as a kid. We moved to the farm when I was a cranky teenager, and I lived [t]here for three years before I left – as had my mother – at age 18. So a return, of sorts.

Those facts contribute to a sense of walking among the shadows, in a good way. I feel like I belong here, in a manner I haven’t experienced before. We were Air Force gypsies, growing up. Lots of houses, lots of cities in multiple countries and provinces, lots of towns, so while raising my kids in Calgary, stability for them was important to me.

It’s been wet here. I mean, really wet. We were flooded in 2011, less than a year after we arrived, and we live on a virtual island, beside a lake that didn’t exist prior to the flood. My garden drowned. Our driveway is a causeway, the only way in. That takes getting used to. On the up-side, I sit at my desk in my second floor studio and I watch dozens of species of waterfowl and shorebirds forty feet away!

It took me a year and a half to slow down after we arrived. Life in Calgary is pretty hard-wired for speed. Now, my day starts with yoga, then a cup of tea while I walk the dogs and check on the water and the wildlife. Mostly, I feel blessed: blessed to have stepped into a generous writing community in Saskatoon and SK, and blessed to share my life with another writer, my partner and best friend, Dave Margoshes. We talk about character development or narrative arc or line breaks over coffee each afternoon!

Living rurally – despite all the challenges – works for me on many levels. The challenges [flood, mud, wet dogs, old quirky house, etc.] are creative fodder, as are the birds and the landscape, and have made their way into my writing. The silence – and absence of silence – is profound. More sky than I can see. Those things are humbling.

The hardest part? How much I miss my two sons, who stayed in Calgary with their own lives.

You’ve written six books to date. How is this one, your first book of poetry, different for you? (Or, put another way, what do you try to do with your poems that you might not attempt with your other modes of writing?)

In my previous book, Foodshed, I examined the issues and politics of sustainable small-scale food production in Alberta through the lives of 76 families, with me only partly visible as the connecting thread. Writing poetry is a much more interior act, and can be more revealing. Not that this is confessional poetry. But I do interrogate my life [o the examined life!] in a way that I have not done previously. So writing poetry feels like more of a risk. Naked pages. I try to not flinch.

What I do with my poetry is write poetry, which doesn’t always mesh in works of fiction or nonfiction. Plus I’ve learned – to my surprise – that I like form poetry, that its structure and ‘rules’ don’t limit what can be expressed.

You’ve just graduated with a MFA in writing at the University of Saskatchewan, right? What did the program do for your writing and your writing life?

I defend my thesis in August and convocate in October, so I am not done at uni yet! My goal in enrolling in the MFA program was simple: to become a better writer. That has happened, I think; inevitably, en route, I’ve become a better reader, too. I’ve read more, more widely, more critically. That’s integral to becoming a better writer. I made some new writing friends and colleagues, which matters as well, and I wrote a lot! This program reinforced my belief in the primary importance of hard work, of sitting down and writing, then revising. Then revising again. Then writing something new. Earning my degree solidified [for me, in my own head] that I am indisputably a writer – a poet, an essayist, a fiction writer – and that I belong in the writing community. My tribe, eh.

People like to debate whether or not writing can be taught. What a program like the U of S’s MFA in Writing does is teach craft. Of course mastering craft matters! Craft is the bones any talented writer needs to build on.

Have you ever been to Winnipeg? What have you heard?


I’ve heard it’s another hotbed of creativity. One of my younger brothers was born in Winnipeg, and we lived there briefly when I was a kid. [Air Force gypsy family, remember?] More recently, I attended Cuisine Canada’s national convention, Northern Bounty, in Winnipeg in 2006, and loved what I saw and tasted of the city then. Haven’t been since, but hope to. Invite me, Winnipeg!

What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?


I usually have half a dozen titles on the bedside table at once. I’m currently reading the 2012 Pushcart Prize XXXVI, Best of the Small Presses anthology, an amazing amalgam of prose and poetry. And I’m reading Charles Baxter’s essay collections about writing fiction, The Art of Subtext, and Burning Down the House. As well as Stone Lyre: Poems of Renรฉ Char, translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson. A new story collection by Lorrie Moore, titled Bark, and a beautiful novel, The Horseman’s Graves by Jacqueline Baker.

I just finished working on the 5th draft of my novel-in-progress, The Dryland Diaries, and submitted it to my thesis committee in preparation for my defence in August, so I’m taking a break from that. I’m writing essays, and poems, and revising my short story collection in preparation for turning it over to my editor this fall.


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