Michael Lithgow’s poetry and essays have appeared in various journals including the Literary Review of Canada (LRC), The /Temz/ Review, Cultural Trends, Canadian Literature, Existere, Topia, Event, The Antigonish Review, Poemeloeon, The High Window, ARC, Contemporary Verse 2, TNQ and Fiddlehead. His first collection of poetry, Waking in the Tree House (Cormorant Books, 2012), was shortlisted for the A.M. Klein Quebec Writers Federation First Book Award. Work from this collection was included in the 2012 Best of Canadian Poetry (Tightrope Books). Michael’s second collection, Who We Thought We Were As We Fell (Cormorant Books, 2021), will be published in the spring. He currently lives in Edmonton, AB and teaches at Athabasca University.
What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?
I was asked this question recently in connection with World Poetry Day – poetry shares the experience of being human with language. What I man by this is that poems are intimate events with language. A poem is language in which and through which something happens. I’m tempted to say something is discovered, but I’ve read too much Foucault to believe it entirely. And “fabrication” isn’t quite right either, which can also mire language in routine and cliche. Somewhere between creation and discovery is the urge to make sense and to find it —a sense of self, meaning, understanding— to eek out a defiant sensibility through curiosity. Because the best poems to my mind have no idea where they will end up until they do, and this is the sense of wonder they can share. I said “with language”, but maybe “in language” is a better way to put it — an event in language because that’s how human energy is traced in poetry —mind energy, body energy, spirit energy — through a collection of words tangled together with syntax, grammars and so on, whether or not these regulations are actually followed. Poems capture, and at their very best, make human experience in words. They reveal, create, and discover intimacies of subjectivity in all their complicated uncomfortable contradictions. The very best poems for me share the intimacies and vulnerabilities and outrages of learning to be human. Of course, all art forms are about this very thing! So I guess it’s the medium that sets it apart. Words tangled in rules, both tamed and set free through human desire in the face of all the forces that want to determine what can and cannot be spoken legitimately.