Interview with Deirdre Maultsaid


Deirdre Maultsaid’s creative essays, poetry and stories have been published in The Barcelona Review (Spain), Canadian Women’s StudiesCV2The Danforth ReviewOther VoicesPif (US), Prairie FireThe PuritanThe Southern Cross Review (Argentina), and others. Her essay, “The Sun Knows What It Does” appeared in the anthology Double Lives on Mother-writers (McGill-Queens University Press). She teaches Applied Communications at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.


photo credit: Tamea Bird

Canthius: I read on your website that you have "spoken at interpersonal health conferences on the ways that creative writing can teach, amplify and beautify experience, and turn tragedy into renewal." Can you speak to this assertion and explain how creative writing can bring about healing?

Deirdre: I am not the only one to say that creative writing—reading it, writing it—can help make meaning out of suffering. Medical schools do teach Medical Humanities courses. Writing uses literary devices and storytelling to play on our senses and help us to feel the vividness and immediacy of our physical and emotional reality. So, such writing helps us look at the human condition, then feel some sense of agency about our own experience and narrative, then feel part of the human community. Art can help us see other perspectives and truths: it is the connection with some greater meaning and the connection to other people that is nurturing and healing. For example, in my poem, “Someone Glimmering”, which explores mental illness and suicide, I blame no one and try to offer a different view.

Canthius: The subject of "Derelict", one of your poems published in the first issue of Canthius, is a "soulless" man who is at once unable to free himself from his cultural roots and to feel a true connection to them. Both Claire and myself were really struck by this poem and your ability, as a woman writer, to articulate the man's dilemma. Can you discuss your inspiration for this poem and how you see it turning tragedy into renewal? 

Deirdre: The subject of the poem is a composite of middle-aged men who I often see around Metro Vancouver. This kind of man seems to be drifting around the city, but is not a hipster (“tacos of pulled pork”), trend-savvy urbanite (“Seattle yacht”, “cubicle life”, Korean food cart), is not ironic and studied (“walk for a cure”). This man can’t find value in the people and life events that used to seem important: solitary walks, Elvis, homey cafes (Saskatchewan raisin pie instead of the “waitress” with ironic “pigtails”, talking about the date rape drug—“roofies”).  Where is the place for the man who is not self-aware? Is it his task to adapt to urban life? Does he have to move to a small town? Will “the love of a good woman” save him now?

Canthius: In your opinion, what makes art feminist? In keeping with your belief in poetry's ability to heal, how do you see feminist art (specifically writing) bringing about healing and change in defiance of patriarchy? 

Deirdre: Good questions! What is art? An intentional aesthetic illustration of ideas that plays on our senses and souls. A revelation. A provocation.

In my own view, feminism is the claim to the truth that women have moral, political and sexual agency and should have commensurate influence in the world. Feminists are those that speak that truth and influence social mores, culture, and public life.  Feminist art is an intentional creation, however ambiguous, troubling, challenging, pleasing, hideous!, that provokes, promotes or pokes at that truth. Like all art, feminist art helps us connect and be part of the evolving human community.

I try to explore, and am constantly preoccupied with exploring, the idea of agency. See, for example, my poem, “Shine on, you moons of Jupiter” or the poem “Washerwomen, Blessings”, first published in Canadian Women’s Studies.

Canthius: Is “False Dilemma”, another poem published in issue one of Canthius, a feminist poem?

Deirdre: In “False Dilemma”, whether successfully or not, I have tried to braid together the concept of “black and white thinking” (false dilemma) with a symbolic West Coast mammal, the Orca, with its black and white colouring. The Shantymen in the poem, are men who wore dark pants and white shirts, and are a group that I associate with the West Coast, although these evangelists probably worked throughout rural Canada. Just because I am a woman and wrote the poem does not mean it is feminist, although because it portrays me, a woman, and my “personal” conflict with false dilemmas and my personal attempt to be mentally tough (“take me for a wild ride”), maybe it is feminist. Let the reader decide.

Links to more work by Deirdre: