This interview with Canadian poet Brittin Oakman speaks volumes about creating poetry in the modern world. Obstacles, societal expectations and inner emotion are all covered here.
My empathy has gnashing teeth
A pearl-less oyster
Wading through the deep
Broken by fractions-
of light, carnivorous
But that is the cruelty of the tide
For I am still
Left to chew on my thoughts:
If light could talk, what would it say?
If I could move, where would I go?
Who are you and where do you reside on this planet of ours?
My name is Brittin Oakman and I live in Mission, British Columbia, Canada. I have lived my whole life within a 30km radius of Mission but my husband and I yearn to experience other lands and immerse ourselves in other cultures.
What is it to be a poet in this age and time?
Great question! One I have not thought about in any great capacity. It’s interesting to think back on previous eras of poets, like the renaissance, romanticism and the beat generation, with such well defined influences and themes. I wonder what our era will look like in retrospect.
For me personally, I think being a poet largely comes down to expression to unite and evoke change. We are a generation that talks more and says less, that is constantly connected but has never been more isolated.
I think poets in this day and age feel a certain responsibility to discuss current issues while drawing wisdom from those that have gone before us. This is something I have observed within the incredible writing community on Instagram. Some people take great offense to being called a poet, but I’d say having the same label as greats such as Atwood, Whitman and Emerson is quite an honour. I try not to let technicalities matter.
Who is your muse?
I would say my muse is more of a ‘what’ than a ‘who’. My main inspiration is personal experience. When I was young, my writing outlet was journaling, and now it is mostly poetry and prose. The common thread is storytelling. I am driven to document moments and feelings, to write about things that matter, to inspire others. We all have a perspective that is uniquely our own and I strive to do mine justice.
I like to challenge myself to transform something ordinary into the extraordinary through my telling of it. Often one word can spark an entire piece. Equally so, I like to challenge myself to express that which is already extraordinary in a novel way. One of my favourite methods of doing so is researching word origins (etymology) and tying that in to my work.
I find it both painful and liberating to write. Is this a similar experience for you?
For myself, I would say writing is mainly a liberating experience. I am a highly sensitive and introspective person. Much of my emotional processing is done prior to the writing experience; however, I am usually left with residual thoughts and feelings that get channeled into my pieces.
Writing gives me the ability to explore the beauty that exists in everything, no matter how small or insignificant. I’m a messy writer, not a pretty one. I like to write about the raw and uncomfortable aspects of life that others may not. At the same time, I am an optimistic person; I choose to see the silver lining in all things. This diversity is reflected in my work.
So would you say emotion is inspiration?
Yes! Emotion is the fuel for my writing. I feel deeply, and it reflects in my poetry. I tend to write in times of extreme emotion, ranging from grief and sorrow to joy and gratitude. I don’t consider these emotions to be inherently good or bad as they all contribute to the creative process and are a normal part of life.
I am fascinated by humanity and what drives us. Evolutionary psychology would say we are driven to survive and reproduce; but in the day to day, I think there is something more. Something less obvious. Something I’m still learning about.
Where in your mind do you go to write?
I go to a solitary place amidst a loud world. My writing space is truly a conceptual place, as I don’t have a specific physical space where I prefer to write. I get inspired to write at odd times and usually there is no real rhyme or reason to my headspace or current mood. However, I do try to mentally disconnect from my environment when I write and turn my attention inward. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that “your solitude will be a support and a home for you”, and this has certainly been true for me, particularly when I write.
What poet or poem has most influenced you?
I find it impossible to choose a favourite or ‘most’ of anything! However, I will reflect on one of my ‘top 10’. Mary Oliver has certainly influenced me. I feel we are kindred spirits to some extent – we speak the same heart language. Her style and poignancy resonates with me. She exudes a wisdom that is so eloquent yet accessible. These are characteristics I strive to emulate in my work as well. Here is one of her shorter pieces that I hold close; it is probably a more familiar one:
“The Uses Of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
— Mary Oliver (from Thirst)
A few last words from the lovely Brittin
I am honoured to be featured in this series of interviews to break down barriers and misconceptions about poetry and poets. I often see on Instagram people saying things like “I wish I could write like you” or “I’ll never be as good a writer as you” (not to me in particular, just in general).
To the ones that are measuring their talent in likes or follows, to the ones that are discouraged by where they are in their writing journey – I urge you not to compare yourself to others. If you love to write, never let anything take that away from you. Your worth is not determined by subjective success.
Write because you will burst if you don’t. Write because you have something to say. Write because it makes you feel alive. But don’t write for them, whoever they are. Your voice is yours and your words matter.
You can follow Brittin on Instagram @b.oakman
Loved reading through. 🙂
Wonderful interview, as always, Nadia. I *loved* the Mary Oliver quote 💜 We are all of us linked by the magnetism of words.
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