Episode 78: Season 6 Opener with Lisa Richter

The Small Machine Talks, Season 6 – Season Opener

Episode 78 – Lisa Richter

Recorded on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, 11 a.m.

Lisa Richter http://www.lisarichter.org/

Nautilus and Bone (Frontenac House, 2020)

Closer to Where We Began (Tightrope Books, 2017): out of print, please contact the author for a copy.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Lisa about her second full-length poetry collection to introduce our sixth season. Lisa tells us about Anna Margolin, the subject and muse of the book, a Yiddish-American poet who lived in the late 19th/early 20th century. I draw some parallels with Kiki, my poetry collection. We discuss the cover art created by Oxana Volkova, which she discovered on Etsy. We discuss the spiral of the nautilus as a form of narrative. I mention the book Meander, Spiral, Explode.

I asked about some of the parallels that resonated between Anna/Lisa. Lisa said Anna was “viciously authentic” and wrote many queer poems. We talk about coming out bi/pansexual only recently. We discuss Yiddish women and gender fluid queer writers who were marginalized due to the patriarchy, but still writing and pushing boundaries.

Lisa talks about the various pseudonyms Anna Margolin used. She raises the danger of reading biographical subject matter into a poem.

We speak of pseudonyms and why Lisa doesn’t use them herself, the importance of family names and history in her life.

We talk about the research required for the book. Lisa talked to Anna’s translator Shirley Kumove, who was living in Toronto, and travelling to the Yiddish Archives in New York City.
Lisa talked about the various constraints she used, including the crown of sonnets.

Lisa refers to the support she received from her editor, Micheline Maylor, her mother and Shirley Kumove. I mention the importance of raising awareness about a woman who would be unknown to many today.

We discuss the challenges of navigating the real aspects of a person’s life in poems. I confess my love of prefaces, notes and acknowledgements. Lisa talks about her worries of being invasive and honourable in her treatment of Anna’s life, how she was able to create distance between the historical figure and the character of her imagination. We discuss the pathologizing of women writing about their lives.

Lisa talks about how poetry was a safe haven for her as a child going through difficult times. She points out the range of voices of Canadian women poets and the importance of moving away from the white male canon. I talk about how the erasure of women artists and visual poets affected my own lack of growth as a visual poet.

Lisa reads Two Thousand Rubles (p. 20) from the book. We discuss the sound of the poem and the imagery. Lisa talks about the connection between creativity and Project Runway. I ask about how she comes up with imagery and Lisa talks about making lists of words. She reads a bit of the opening of Jewess, the opening poem. I talk about the visual nature of her poems. She talks about how her job as an English language instructor plays a role.

In September, Lisa is reading as part of a Calgary event called the Single Onion. She’s part of a concert where various poems by women poets have been turned into songs.

She also talks about the role of the Yiddish language in the work.


Nautilus and Bone follows Lisa Richter’s mesmerizing collection, Closer to Where We Began. It is a daring work about a woman who rebels against her time with many lovers, and a fighting spirit to take on injustice. While reading the book, I felt as if I had time traveled to New York City in the 1900s because the poems were so vivid and alive. I’ve never taken a drug except prescription, but Lisa’s poetry makes me think I know what a good magic mushroom trip feels like, all the colours at the velocity of winged creatures striving for the light but maybe faster? The book sheds light on a rebellious, larger-than-life woman, a poet, who deserves to be remembered and is beautifully rendered here by Lisa Richter through imagination, affinity, skill and heart.

Thanks to Lisa for being on the Small Machine Talks. Thanks to all of you for listening and sharing the episode. Stay tuned for more episodes in the sixth season, featuring screen writer, Jennifer Mulligan, writer Concetta Principe, typewriter artist Barrie Tullett and visual poet and editor, Kristine Snodgrass.