Noelle Schmidt is a local poet whose work has recently been published by Latitude 46.
The collection, titled Claimings and Other Wild Things, “delves into mental health, suicide, queerness and identity,” the publisher said in a release. “Who am I? How did I get here? And how do I keep going? These are the central questions explored and dissected … These poems are sombre and brooding, yet flavored with determination and accented by sparks of hope.”
A book launch is scheduled for Saturday, April 23, from 2–4 pm at the Sudbury Indie Cinema on MacKenzie Street. It will also be live-streamed. Copies of Claimings and Other Wild Things will be available for purchase at the launch for $20 or can be ordered from a favorite bookseller.
The Star recently connected with Schmidt to ask how she approaches her craft and how it has shaped her.
Q: Tell us about how you chose the title of the collection?
A: The title of the collection of course comes in part from one of the long poems, Claimings. Claimings is very close to my heart as the story of coming to terms with my queer identity, the first time that I really put those words onto paper and put them into the world. And I feel the idea of claiming is so important to me, as someone who grew up feeling like they couldn’t lay claim to space in the world. This collection is me putting my voice out there, taking up space, laying claim to something larger than myself. As for the rest of the title, I feel like every poem I write is something wild, something that I am discovering as I write it, and something untamed. The poems also focus on the wild things in life—mental health, grief, suicide, and always, always, a little bit of hope.
Q: Your poetry is vulnerable and honest. What is it like to share your internal space with others now?
A: It’s both incredible and terrifying. There’s something incredibly powerful to me about knowing other people will read my words and catch a glimpse of my heart, each poem carrying a part of myself in it. At the same time, I do feel very vulnerable, because some of the poems are extremely personal. Sharing those poems is a huge act of trust, and I can only hope that my readers recognize what it means to hold someone else’s words in their hands.
Q: What do you hope others will get out of reading this book?
A: I suppose I don’t have a specific idea of what I want people to get out of this book. I just hope that they get something. I know for me reading can be a very personal experience, and everyone experiences a piece of writing differently. So while certain poems might mean one thing to me, they could mean something completely different to a reader. And I’m good with that—I’m not really worried about people getting what I want out of it. I just really hope that people feel something, that I’m able to make an impact on someone.
Q: How has poetry helped shape who you are?
A: I started writing poetry when I was a young kid (terrible, terrible poetry), and then I fell out of the habit for a long time. It was after my grandfather died, the summer before I started high school, I picked it back up again. My grandfather was a poet as well, see, though I didn’t really discover that until he died. Some of his poetry by him was collected by my aunt into a memorial photo album about him, and that’s where I discovered this tenuous connection I could hold onto despite him being gone. So I started writing more terrible poetry, trying to reach through the past to keep some of my grandfather with me. And over time, my poetry got a little less terrible. I kept writing. And it became more than something I could claim connected us on the surface. It became my outlet, the place I put all the tangled up things I was feeling that I didn’t know how to express otherwise. Poetry is how I make sense of the world, and myself. It takes the fragments of memory and sense and feeling and pastes them together into something beautiful, something that makes an experience more than what it was. Poetry makes me more than what I am.
Q: Are there any poems in the collection that you hold in special regard?
A: Every single poem in this collection is special for a different reason. But like any parent that pretends otherwise, I have favourites. One that is particularly special to me is a demand that knows nothing. Partly because that one won me an award, partly because it’s so intensely personal and emotional. It’s a dark poem, but at the same time, it has so much hope in it. Not the hope of spring and fresh buds, but a sturdier, harder kind of hope. One that, well, makes a kind of demand, of the world, of myself. That poem is a mantra, a declaration, and a promise.
Q: Who are your favorite Canadian poets? why?
A: This is one of the ways that I’m a bad poet—I don’t read a lot of poetry. I always find something to love about poetry when I do read it, but I confess I rarely reach for it. I tend to reach first for novels, especially fantasy novels, because I want reading to take me away from the world. Poetry is an entirely opposite experience. Poetry makes me look at the world more closely, more carefully. Novels let me escape, poetry grounds me. And that can be an extraordinary thing, to be grounded, to feel the world you live in more keenly, to see it more clearly. But it’s a difficult thing too, and when life is already so difficult, sometimes I need a different kind of adventure.
I will say that Don McKay’s Lependu was a revelation in narrative poetry, and that Shane Koyczan can always bring me to tears. I had the joy of seeing Koyczan perform at the OneLove concert in frosh week when I started at Western, and I couldn’t believe my luck. His poem, To This Day, is what got me into spoken word poetry.
Q: What are you writing now?
A: A secret! No, I’m kidding. I’m currently working on writing a book of poetry telling the life story of my paternal grandfather, who I called Opa. (He’s the focus of a few poems in Claimings.) He was largely a mystery to me growing up, but my aunt interviewed him about his life on tape in 1997, and we still have that record. He talks about his childhood in Hungary, World War II, emigrating to Canada, and his life here. It’s truly incredible to listen to his story about him, and I’m in the process of transcribing the interview. From there, I’ll be crafting his life from him onto the page. I suppose it’s a bit of a love letter to a man I barely knew in life; it’s my way of honoring the man who raised my father.