ARTS December 8th, 2013

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NTCI alumna honoured with top poetry award

Kateri Lanthier's 'mad brain days' pay off

There’s a sense of pleasure, and relief, when poet Kateri Lanthier discusses her winning poem from The Walrus Poetry Prize.

It wasn’t the first time the North Toronto Collegiate alumna had been given top honours for her verse, but it had been the payoff for a long hiatus from writing.

She sits snug in the corner of a Beaches Starbucks’ couch, ginger locks fanning out over a blue dress.

There’s a smile affixed to her lips, and pride in the words she plays with to describe both love and death.

In the Walrus December issue, her poem The Coin Under the Leftmost Sliding Cup is neatly displayed. The judges’ prize for the honour: $2,500.

“That poem is kind of a loose ghazal,” she admits. “It isn’t really a traditional ghazal because I don’t use the repeated rhyme scheme.

“Typically the poet addresses usually himself towards the end of the poem, giving himself the moral of the story.”

A ghazal is known as a flexible lyric form organized in a series of small couplets. Its origins are rooted in the Middle East, with some German romanticists and post-modern American poets picking up the structure.

Even though Lanthier has been toying with couplets, and with sapphic style of three lines of eleven syllables in other works and quatrains too. She’s candid, admitting she had stopped writing poetry for 15 years. It wasn’t until the birth of her third child, son William Sinclair, five years ago, that she picked up on her dormant talent.

By 2011 she had enough new works to put into a book, Reporting From Night.

“I got married in 1994, and not long after that I stopped writing poetry,” she says, with no slight against her husband, TV producer Gregory Sinclair. “I call it the poetry coma.”

Before that time the 50-something had plenty of success. While attending North Toronto CI, she had earned the respect of Poetry Canada Review, and won the E.J. Pratt Poetry Award.

North Toronto was a hotbed of artistic talent, Lanthier shares. Classmates included Globe and Mail journalist Deirdre Kelly, Julliard scholarship winner and dancer Megan Williams, as well as writer Diana Bryden and actress Barbara Garrick (née Cook).

“It was quite a group of kids there at that point,” Lanthier admits, adding her sister Jennifer has had success as a children’s author.

Speaking of children, her brood has already shown signs of artistic flair.

Her youngest, William, has inquired about stanza structure and spacing. Daughter Julia, 7, has taken to illustrations.

“Julia is very witty, and also a very gifted drawer,” Lanthier coos. “In the first week of school, the teacher had them all do self portraits in the manner of Modigliani, and hers is amazing.”

Her eldest, 11-year-old son Nicholas, is a short story maestro, with “a great ear for dialogue and a good sense of plot.”

And he has also started to write poetry.

“There is an interesting way in which children growing up in a household where the arts are a preoccupation of the parents, they do absorb that and reflect it,” Lanthier says.

With that return to poetry, Lanthier admits her artistic yens have come full circle.

“I think of myself as an early bloomer and late bloomer,” she says. “Now that I have returned to poetry I find I can’t stop those mad brain days.

“I realize how, in a way, how essential it is to how I perceive the world.”