Author spotlight: Mary Dalton

Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

This week, we feature Mary Dalton, author of Hooking. Her book is shortlisted for the JM Abraham Poetry Award.


Mary Dalton has published four volumes of poetry, the most recent of which are Merrybegot [2003] and Red Ledger [2006]. Her work has also been widely anthologized in Canada and abroad. Dalton has won numerous awards, including the EJ Pratt award and the Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award, and has been shortlisted for the Winterset, Pat Lowther, and Atlantic Poetry awards. She lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland. 

Describe your ideal writing space.
A large white room, with a gleaming wooden floor; a desk at a large bay window looking over water, a high-backed wooden chair, a cat or two lolling on a rug nearby. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Maybe a vase of honeysuckle or mock orange, Oliver Shroer’s violin drifting in occasionally. This room is nothing like any of the rooms I write in. But you did say “ideal.”  Perhaps, however, no writing would happen in such a room….

Tell us a bit about your process.  Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
I once compared writing centos to a Newfoundland outport activity engaged in by boys of a certain age: copying, i.e. leaping from ice pan to ice pan. I think all my writing of poems is like that, an intuitive, an aleatory process.  Materials? Pen and paper, then various drafts on a computer, some of these separated by months or years.

Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book.
I don’t know what this phrase means. Something to do with buttonholing someone in an elevator? Not my style…

What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last?
Not sure I can answer this question…I am tempted to interpret draft here as draft beer, in which case maybe the difference has to do with the angle of tilt.

Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer?
It seems to me that that would vary from writer to writer. I myself always like to hear poets read their work, as I gain some sense of how they hear the rhythms of their work. And some poets are brilliant performers of their work—I think of Paul Durcan and Christian Bok, for instance. In my own readings I try to give voice to the underlying music of the pieces and enjoy doing so.

Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I teach creative writing courses in poetry at university, among other courses on poetry. The teaching keeps me engaged in conversations  about the genre and it keeps me reading widely.

Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.) 
Something I am not inclined to spend my time engaged in.

What are you currently working on?
A collection of poems tentatively titled The Sideways Nod. I can’t say much more, as I find that talking about a project at certain stages can inhibit the process of creation.

What book out there do you wish you had written?
Dart, by Alice Oswald. It is a long poem, a dazzling many-faceted book, in many voices, about the River Dart.  It is a major work of our time.

Who is your biggest cheerleader?
Can’t say—was nonetheless glad to hear the doctor who saw me recently in the crowded emergency department of a hospital say, ” You’re a poet! I love your poetry!” (I note wryly that maybe I thought that such enthusiasm for my poetry could translate into a more deeply considered diagnosis in a frenetically busy set-up.)  Perhaps I can’t  answer this question  because I dislike intensely the concept of cheerleading, which suggests a kind of mindless enthusiasm. 

The winner of the JM Abraham Poetry Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014. 
Mary Dalton’s book, Hooking, can be purchased from your local independent bookseller. 

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Recommended Experience Levels

The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS) recommends that each workshop’s participants share a level or range of writing / publication experience. This is to ensure each participant gets value from the workshop⁠ and is presented with information, strategies, and skills that suit their current writing priorities.

To this end, the “Recommended experience level” section of each workshop description refers to the following definitions developed by WFNS:

  • New writers: those who have been writing creatively for less than two years and/or have not yet been published in any form.
  • Emerging writers: those who have been writing creatively for less than five years and/or have some short publications (poems, stories, or essays) in literary magazines, journals, or anthologies.
  • Established writers/authors: those with numerous publications in magazines, journals, or anthologies and/or a full-length book publication.
  • Professional authors: those with two or more full-length book publications.

For “intensive” and “masterclass” workshops, which provide more opportunities for peer-to-peer (that is, participant-to-participant) feedback, the recommended experience level should be followed.

For all other workshops, the recommended experience level is just that—a recommendation—and we encourage potential participants to follow their own judgment when registering.

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