Murmurations: An Author Interview with Annick MacAskill
Murmurations is author Annick MacAskill’s second collection of love poems, that explores how intimacy tests the capacity of language. Her first full-length collection of poetry, No Meeting Without Body, was shortlisted for the JM Abraham Poetry Award and nominated for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She has been a finalist for the CBC Poetry Prize, Arc’s Poem of the Year Contest, The Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize, and others. Shadow Blight is her third collection of poetry and will be published by Gaspereau Press in the Spring of 2022. She shares her experience and thoughts on Murmurations.
Darcey Neale: Murmurations intertwines love poems with sounds of the natural world. What sparked your approach to this book of poetry?
Annick MacAskill: This intertwining of those themes was present in the first poems I wrote. I drafted those pieces without thinking of where I was going, but once I saw what was happening, I knew I wanted to pursue it. I was also intrigued by the word murmuration itself—it has a double definition, meaning both a flock of starlings and a murmuring sound. From there, I wanted to explore the sounds (poetry, music, noise, miscommunication) within a human love story in relation to the sounds of the non-human “natural” world.
DN: What was your writing process like? Was it calculated and a more methodical approach or did the poetry develop and flow onto the page as you went along?
AM: My first poems tend to arrive in an understated, almost unconscious way. A line will come to me, or I’ll be intrigued by something I see, a turn of phrase I hear. The first drafts of the first poems I wrote towards this book (one of which never made it into the collection, and is still a work-in-progress) came very quickly, and then I saw in them a few threads I wanted to explore.
From there, I had the idea of writing a full-length collection of love poetry that would be united by imagery, metaphor, and symbolism exploring the birds around me. What was most methodical or calculated about Murmurations was that I had this goal of a complete book in mind. As I wrote, I considered the tradition of the book of love poetry, and specifically the Petrarchan canzoniere, and how I might write both within and against this tradition, as a queer woman.
DN: What personal experiences did you draw on for this collection? What observations of life around you shaped the poetry?
AM: My life always finds a way into my work. That’s all I’ll say about personal experiences. In terms of observations—I was interested in combining my very novice-level birding with reflections on falling in love.
DN: What is your favourite poem in the collection? Why?
AM: “Magpies.” This is my favourite poem in the collection, and though I couldn’t place it in a journal before the book came out (I published many other poems from Murmurations in journals first, more than with my two other collections), it tends to elicit the strongest response at public readings. I read it a few times at in-person events while I was still working on the book, and was encouraged, and moved, by how much listeners liked it. Readers and listeners at online readings continue to seem particularly drawn to this piece. Andrew Steeves of Gaspereau Press was kind enough to print a limited-edition broadside of the poem around the time Murmurations came out.
DN: What do you hope readers learn or feel after reading this work? What do you hope has a lasting effect?
AM: This isn’t for me to say. Once a book is in a reader’s hands, I’ve done what I can do. Of course, I hope they enjoy it, but their reading of the book will be their own.