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Interview with REN PIKE

What led you to submit your work to RED SKIES?

A few folks on Twitter were chatting about it. So, I checked out your website. Liked what I saw, and got to thinking about a poem I'd written back in early 2020. The Splintered Disorder Press RED SKIES call for submissions felt like it was asking for this piece, for my experience of this universal unsettling.

How have you spent the year? Has it impacted your work creatively? I wrote one piece early on—the one I submitted. I had some publications due to come out spring of 2020. As they appeared, I felt more and more like a fraud. I was writing nothing. I could not even read for pleasure. The demands of my day job increased. My attention was reserved for paying work, which I was grateful to have. I was fragmented. And not in a good way. Late summer brought some balance and perspective. I started writing again, reading again. I'm not sure what the lock-down this winter will bring. I'm trying to buffer a bit, surround myself with great writing - books, audio, readings. Trying to connect more creatively.

What writers or artists have influenced your work?

Early on it was ee cummings, Margaret Atwood, Katherine Mansfield, Pablo Neruda, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Matsuo Bashō, Elizabeth Bishop, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Leonard Cohen, William Carpenter, Wallace Stevens, Earle Birney, Eduardo Galeano. More recently it's been Anne Michaels, Natalie Diaz, Clea Roberts, Stephen Rowe, Michael Crummey. So many gifted contributors. I could just keep dropping names.

In your submitted piece, you really nailed the hollowed out urban spaces. What inspired your process in writing "We're closed, please come again"? When things locked down in March 2020, I found myself alone, driving streets that were usually bustling. I was thinking about how desolate my neighbourhood felt. Calgary was such a boom town, then the oil industry collapsed, followed by the pandemic. It seemed to turn everything on its head. Ghosts everywhere. No one spared. It felt pugilistic. The hits kept coming. I caught myself slowing as I passed closed businesses. Noticing what was left behind. How it all seemed bruised. I wrote the poem in one sitting. Revisited it to tune the phrasing a few times. When I read it, it puts me right back there. Wondering whether the next hit takes us to the mat.

Does community have an impact on your work? Are there any specific small presses or magazines that you're especially fond of? Despite writing for many years, I only started publishing my poetry in 2019. My poetry ties were few and virtual. But the publishing process unexpectedly connected me to so many new poets and introduced me to fantastic journals, many in Alberta. It made me want to write more. My first published poem was accepted by Calgary publisher, antilang., who produces an awesome free, online, literary magazine. I also really enjoy filling Station, a Calgary literary and arts magazine. Indie bookstore Shelf Life Books provides great books and a welcoming venue for readings; they truly champion local writing. I love Calgary's Freehand Books, who publish excellent Canadian literature; I have read so many engrossing titles from them.

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