Irma is the second-prize winner in the Poetry and Political Language Challenge on Young Poets Network, in partnership with the Orwell Youth Prize. Irma is also commended in August Challenge #1: Re-mixing History, Fiction and the Unexpected.
We asked Irma about the inspiration behind ‘IN WHICH PAPA (A SAILOR) GOES DEAF’ and the writing process.
What was the inspiration for your poem?/How did you approach thinking about political language in a creative way?
This poem draws on elements from my personal life; my father has worked as a naval engineer throughout most of his adult life, and as a result of his everyday work conditions he is now experiencing permanent hearing loss.
For this poem, I wanted to convey how bureaucratic language can obscure the reality of working people: the routine hazards they face and the permanent physical damages they may suffer just from doing their jobs. I chose to use language directly from the British Columbia Workers Compensation Act because I wanted the reader to feel the confusion and frustration of trying to find one’s own experiences in the jargon of labour law.
What is your one tip to other young writers/poets?
Give your poems more time than you think is necessary. In the creative rush of writing, it can be easy to get overconfident and ignore any mistakes or imperfections. I find that a good night’s sleep always brings a lot of insight, not to mention another pair of eyes.
And, of course, read as much and as widely as possible. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
Which writer/s/poet/s most inspire you and why?
I’m really inspired by Karl Ove Knausgaard’s approach to writing about everyday life. He has so much reverence for the little details that surround him. His writing has inspired me to pay more attention to all the beauty around me—the little things that I wouldn’t normally notice.
I also love listening to music, and song lyrics have been really influential in my writing. Some of my favourite musicians are Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, and Leonard Cohen—all brilliant lyricists in their own way.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished Natalia Ginzburg’s Family Lexicon. It’s a beautiful, vibrant memoir about family, written with incredible affection. Ginzburg’s account of her upbringing and early adulthood is equal parts funny and heartbreaking, and as relevant as ever. In between all the domestic squabbles and pet phrases, there’s a lot to learn from the Levi family’s continued resistance to fascism.