the 2022 roll of nickels year in review

2022 was a year of two halves here at Roll of Nickels. The first half of the year was largely devoted to quotes on writing. I added 50 more in total this year, largely gathered from three of my favourite reads of 2022: Resonance: Essays on the Craft and Life of Writing50 Years of EVENT Magazine: Collected Notes on Writing and Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversations with America's Poets (I'm still waiting for the writing-craft anthology on writing succinct titles to writing-craft anthologies...). You can read all 700+ (!) of my quotes on writing here

We're throwing out the old
year here at Roll of Nickels!
The second half of the year was devoted to my interviews: another ten this year, two of which were holdovers from 2021 (print publications which finally appeared online). I've included all of those in the year's highlights, below! 

I had two other interviews published this year, one with Steven Heighton in January for The Walrus (you can read that one here), and one with Matt Rader for in November for Arc. Both of those were excerpts from longer interviews, and I hope to publish them in full here on the blog at some point in 2023.

I also managed to squeeze in posts on new books by David Ly, Frances Boyle, and Otoniya J Okot Bitek, and tributes to Kate Braid and Matsuki Masutani

2022 was a welcome quiet year for me, my family life largely keeping me from writing - no new books, and few poetry publications outside of haiku magazines. I was able to set time aside to write a number of essays on writing, though. It was something new for me, which I found I quite enjoyed. Essays appeared in the aforementioned Resonance anthology, EVENT, Canadian Notes + Queries, the League of Canadian Poets poetry month blog, The Tyee, The Tyee again, and Brick.

That last essay, in Brick, is the most personal for me - a reflection on what Steven Heighton taught me about life and writing. Steve's sudden death in April shocked me, as it did so many, and even now hardly seems real. I was so glad I was able to talk with him in-depth about his writing for our Walrus interview, something I'd considered putting off for one more year until my time freed up (needless to say, it didn't). The issue only just came out, and if you get a chance to pick up a copy, I very much encourage you to do so. (It also features a tribute to Steve from Karen Solie, which Brick has posted online - it can be read here. And a heck of a poem about swans from 2022 interviewee Sadiqa de Meijer.)

On a lighter note, last year I wrote that 2021 was "the year my internet silliness spilled over into the real world." That continued in 2022, when my faux outrage over being excluded from The Plum Review, a UK "This is Just to Say" parody anthology, resulted in my last minute inclusion, Silliness levels went off the charts when my "This Is Actually More Of A Comment" jack-o-lantern inexplicably garnered over 3 million views on Twitter (shared between me and a UK author who stole the image and then pretended everyone was doing it). After JK Rowling retweeted my image, I got to have a little fun hurling the pumpkin off my balcony, to boot.

Ok, enough preamble. Here are my favourite posts from the year:

January 2022: To Show Up For Others: Writers on Kate Braid's Mentorship
"I was terrified of the creative writing classroom. Kate's warmth and rigor as a mentor taught me to be an engaged peer. She taught not just to respond to poetry, but to show up for other writers. To let the collective knowledge of the classroom lift us all up as poets. To this day, being taught to value my sense of belonging within literary communities has been a lesson even more powerful than being taught about craft itself." - Amber Dawn

January 2022: What Trickles Down the Line: An Interview with Ellie Sawatzky
"I think something that I’ve learned both from taking care of children and writing poetry is that some things just don’t make sense. Anyone who’s ever spent time around children knows what it is to ultimately answer a line of questioning with “I don’t know why, it just is.” It can be very humbling — and existentially terrifying — to admit that you don’t know something, or to acknowledge that there are multiple contradictory truths. In childhood so much is unknown and there are so many possibilities. As we get older things seem to narrow... To me, poetry is a space that allows adults to ask questions the way children do. So it’s not so much about “making sense” as it is about wondering." - Ellie Sawatzky
February 2022: A Congenial Barrier: An Interview with W.M. Herring
"Retirement brought with it the wonderful gift of time: time to walk slowly, to listen carefully, to contemplate; time to consider a stray thought or to research an event or historical figure; time to daydream; time to wordsmith over a mug of coffee for as long as it takes. In retrospect, I needed time to observe, absorb, and declare before I could produce even the shortest of poems. Until I had that time, I had no idea the writing that would emerge." - W.M. Herring

March 2022: Suspension, Some Dread, A Lifeline: An Interview with Neil Surkan
"I love poems that end with a near-resolution, or a statement that makes sense in a “peripheral vision” sort of way (like, if you look a little to the left you can almost glean the rationale). [Jack] Gilbert is a good example: so often, the thrust of his poetry verges on familiar sentimentality, but then he frays convention to its limit. His speaker’s personal grief transforms into sprawling, savoury, wonderful existential terror. In line with Gilbert, I try to make my poems’ music resonate in the holes left by withheld pieces. Micro-devastations. Clapper-less bells. The “click,” for me, happens when I get a hunch that the last line couldn’t be anything other than what it is, even though I never saw it coming: half-confusion, half-satisfaction, a distant cousin of comfort." - Neil Surkan
March 2022: A Gift of Mystery and Many Hands: An Interview with shauna paull
"My practice is rooted in a kind of deep listening, which I fail at a lot! John Berger says that art is a conversation between the maker and the materials. When I work with language then, there is a waiting and listening. And a reverence for where the text is heard in the body and where I think it wants to arrive on the page. This is partly to respond to the music of the text which I am hearing, which can be done syntactically, yes. But for me, allowing the text to find its place on a page is a part of letting go of authorship, which is important to me in the context of the noise and individualism of our world." - shauna paull

April 2022: A Woven Basket with Others: An Interview with Isabella Wang
"In the story of what I know about my family’s ancestral history, there are chasms of intergenerational narratives lost with my grandmother, lost in my forgetting of language, that I long to fill. I translate, but the untranslatable is ultimately what gives me the momentum for poetry — the trying; reaching toward a horizon that always ends up blurry, in metaphors with a double-edge." - Isabella Wang
April 2022: Admiration, Applause, Adoration: An Interview with Arleen Paré
"I started by writing with only Etel Adnan in mind, meaning she was the object, but as I added the titled poems, and as the project grew, I knew it was broader, for and about all lesbian poets, in the same way that former women’s and lesbian movements were aimed at and for all women and lesbians. It began to feel more political and yet still very personal. In the way of the old second wave movement saying, “The personal is political.” And how could it be otherwise?" - Arleen Paré

April 2022: My Body Knows More Than I Do: An Interview with Jónína Kirton

"When I first entered recovery, I thought that one day I would arrive at normal. I would be healed, and all would be well. That never happened and eventually I began to see the problems with my desire to be “normal” — it was never the right fit for me. I could see that many of the more successful members of my family were boxed in by religious beliefs and colonized thinking that never allow them to feel the freedom that comes with just being human. They were living proof that being judgemental — having the scorched earth thinking that comes with the colonized way of life — burns the one who is judging just as much as the one they judge. Seeing the difference between the way they were with each other and the way my Métis family would tease each other (in a good way) about their faults helped me understand that it is much kinder to myself and others if we accept our imperfections." - Jónína Kirton

April 2022: Rolling Down a Hill With Your Brain on Fire: An Interview with Andrew Chesham and Laura Farina
"I think the main thing I learned in editing this book is that the “life” of writing and the “craft” of writing are profoundly interconnected in a way that is at once cosmic and intensely practical. For a long time, I’ve felt that I’m in this whole writing business for the days when writing comes easily and it feels like you’re rolling down a hill and also your brain is on fire. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? All of a sudden you’re finding all these connections and you have a moment of "OH! That’ what I’ve thought about this thing the whole time!" - Laura Farina

April 2022: The Border Terrain: An Interview with Sadiqa de Meijer
"Before I became a parent, much of what I lived and believed was grounded in a sort of communal struggle: I was against things (like patriarchy and racism and poverty and environmental degradation). I took part in protests and organizing and talks, and that was good and important work. I’m still against all the same things, but with the sense of being responsible for someone small and new, I felt an urgent question—I wanted to know what I was for, what I could pass on as things to believe in. The Che Guevara quote goes “…the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love,”—but his preface to that is “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that…” and I believe I’d unconsciously been placing more weight on that first phrase. It was protective; a layer of cynicism over the vulnerability of feeling love and grief for what was under siege. And that has turned—I can still be a marvellous cynic, but my emphasis has shifted to the side of that love, and to risking myself in its name, whether in a playground interaction or a broader, structured campaign." - Sadiqa de Meijer
October  2022: A Real Donnie Brasco Situation: An Interview with Shaun Robinson
"I gravitate to the inelegant in a poem. I like the pathos of a metaphor that swings for the fences and doesn’t quite connect. I like a poem that deliberately misunderstands a phrase or contradicts itself or forgets who its speaker was. “It’s important to get things wrong,” according to my poem “Trivia Night.” By which I mean, partly, that I’d rather be rough and messy and adventurous than small and tidy and perfect." - Shaun Robinson
December 2022: Matsuki Masutani on Writing

"I know more than the words about these poems." - Matsuki Masutani

I've got a bunch more new interviews coming your way in 2023, as we blow past 100 total (currently at 99!) and begin inching our way towards 200. I doubt I'll hurl any gourds off my balcony, though only time will tell.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, all!


temporary stay against the inevitable next stretch of wilderness

Poems, for me, are deeply private, as is the making of them. I've no idea how I do this thing, ultimately. Nor do I want to know. To be given a map or compass would prevent my getting lost - what, for me, the making of poems requires from the start; the act of writing is a way of finding a way forward into the next clearing, as temporary stay against the inevitable next stretch of wilderness, where with luck the next poem lies hidden.

- Carl Phillips, from the introduction to his essay collection, My Trade is Mystery.


it has to all keep moving

rob mclennan: What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Luke Hathaway: I do think writers have a role in trying to keep the bullshit out of language; or, in trying to purge the language of the bullshit, once the bullshit has gotten in.

Beyond that ... writers are listeners, or should be; instruments through which the motion of meaning in the universe can register itself in the particular medium which is language. It has to all keep moving, though; if meaning stays written down, it gets dead. We have to read it, re-speak it, if it’s going to keep on living in the world.

- Luke Hathaway, answering rob mclennan's 12 or 20 questions over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here


no instruction manual can teach as much

Art proceeds according to principles discernible in works of art. Therefore, if one is asked for a good book about traditional metrics, a good answer is: The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats, or The Complete Poems of Ben Johnson. Two excellent books about so-called free verse are the two-volume Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams and The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. One of the most instructive books on short lines is The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. To learn a lot about the adaptation of ballad meter to modern poetry, an invaluable work is Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems. No instruction manual can teach as much as careful attention to the sounds in even one great poem.

- Robert Pinsky, opening his instruction manual The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide.


Matsuki Masutani on Writing

I loved Matsuki Masutani's poetry before I'd seen his first book. I was a juror with Poetry in Transit that year, and as I was sifting through the submissions, I came upon his poem and was seized by a swift joy - one of those readerly experiences you dream of:

At a Party

I am one of two
Japanese men on the island.
I have long hair and Yoshi’s is short.
He wears glasses and I don’t.
Still, many people
mix us up.
When people ask me,
“Do you make miso?”
(which Yoshi does)
I say,
The poem went on to be included in the series, soon after the book in which it appeared was published. That book, Masutani's debut collection I Will Be More Myself In The Next World (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2021), was my favourite of the year, and I was thrilled when it was longlisted for the Gerald Lampert award for first poetry book (and comparatively peeved when it went no further, spurring me to have an "I’mma let you finish, but..." Kanye West/Taylor Swift moment).

Masutani's precision and openness - such a difficult combination to achieve - created these easy-to-access, yet profound (and often very funny) poems. They are poems that seem deceptively simple and yet take a lifetime to master. 

Here's another example:

My fourteen-year-old daughter

asked me, "Dad, do you worry
about losing our respect?"
"No! Not at all," I replied.
"That's good."
She sounded relieved.

In bed, I wondered what she meant.
Soon a watchman in a dark costume
appeared and gazed 
at the lake of my consciousness,
as if to prevent 
a dragon from emerging.

The watchman's earnestness 
prevented me from sleeping
for a long time.

Matsuki Masutani
I anticipate (dread?) just such conversations with my own children down the road. And I'm struck, against and again, by the fact that it's the watchman's earnestness, and not the dragon itself, that keeps the speaker from sleep.

I interviewed Masutani about the book for EVENT Magazine (you can read that interview here), and was lucky enough to read at an event with him for WORD Vancouver. Still, I wanted to know more - and I suspected my students would, too. We were lucky enough to have Masutani  agree to visit our (virtual) classroom at SFU's The Writer's Studio last week. 

The conversation went much the way Masutani's poems do. When a student would ask him a question, his answer - often preceded by a length of silence - was short and to the point. If he didn't have a good answer to a question, he simply reply, with a smile, "I don't know." (How different from other writers - like me - who'd fill that space with panicked babble.) When an answer came, though, it was as precise and open as his poems, and very useful. 

During our talk, a storm on was raging on Denman Island, where Masutani lives with his wife (the star of many of his poems), and his connection was cut on a couple occasions. I was lucky, in those moments, to be able to circle back to what had been said, and record some of Masutani's very quotable replies before I'd forgotten them. Here are a few of his many observations, which I think are great reminders for poets, both aspiring and mid-career: 

On why he writes poetry: 

"Most of my friends are great talkers, but I'm not, so I wrote poems instead."

On working with his family and publisher to make his book: 

"Making a book is a collaboration. I'm just a part of it."

On the importance of writing in a writer's life: 

"Life is more than just literature." 
On translating his own writing into Japanese: 

"I know more than the words about these poems."  

On receiving edits to his poems: 

"It was difficult, but I knew these are not the last poems I'll write."
I'll have to paraphrase another one of my favourite quotes, as I didn't get it down, but when asked about the audience he writes for, he said he writes for his wife, in hopes that he might make her laugh. I can think of few more lovely ways to approach the page. 

Our conversation helped recentre me in thinking about my own writing, and my life in/around writing. Hopefully these quotes can do a little of the same for you.

To close, here's one more open, precise poem from Masutani, which likely made his wife laugh. Its last line could easily serve as my epitaph (as I suspect it could for any number of us):

As we rocked on rough waves

I said to myself, "What would
my mother think of me
dying on a sailboat?"

I got more scared and clung 
to the rails, praying
in silence, leaving control
of the boat to a priest
I barely knew.

Finally, I said, "Is the worst

Cupping his hand to his ear, 
he smiled.

I'd planned for 
a different kind
of sailing, packing
my flute
and a book.


Matsuki Masutani is a poet and translator living on Denman Island. He moved from Tokyo to Vancouver in 1976. Ten years later he moved to Denman Island, where he eventually began writing poems in English and Japanese. He has translated Canadian works such as Roy Kiyooka’s Mothertalk, Hiromi Goto’s Chorus of Mushrooms, and from Japanese into English, Kishizo Kimura’s memoir, Witness to Loss, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2017. His poems have appeared in Geist magazine, Capilano Review and in the anthology Love of the Salish Sea Islands.


a reader of the highest caliber, that is to say, disinterested

To P.Z.D., from Chorzów

“Please give me some hope of publication, or at least provide some consolation.” We must, after reading, choose the latter. So attention please, we’re giving comfort. A splendid fate awaits you, the fate of a reader, and a reader of the highest caliber, that is to say, disinterested—the fate of a lover of literature, who will always be its steadiest companion, the conquest, not the conqueror. You will read it all for the pleasure of reading. Not spotting “tricks,” not wondering if this or that passage might be better written, or just as well, but differently. No envy, no dejection, no attacks of spleen, none of the sensations accompanying the reader who also writes. For you Dante will always be Dante, whether or not he had aunts in the publishing business. You will not be tortured at night by the question of why X., who writes free verse, gets published, while you, who rhyme relentlessly while counting syllables on both hands, don’t even merit rejections. The editor’s facial expressions will mean less than nothing to you, while the wincing at various stages will signify, if not nothing, then at least not much. And there is also this not inconsiderable benefit: people speak of incompetent writers, but never of incompetent readers. There are of course hordes of failed readers—needless to say, we do not include you among them—but somehow they get away with it, whereas anyone who writes without success will instantly be deluged in winks and sighs. Not even girlfriends are to be relied upon in such cases. So how do you feel now? Like a king? We should hope so.

- Wisława Szymborska, replying to the "Literary Mailbox" in Literary Life magazine. As collected in her book How to Start Writing (and When to Stop): Advice for Authors.