When talking about what she enjoys about writing poetry, Joanne Epp (CMBC ’86) mentions Canadian painter David Milne, who once said, “The thing that makes a picture is the thing that makes dynamite – compression.”
“That’s one of the things I love about poetry – that compressed energy that you can get,” Epp says. “A piece can be less than a page (long), but it can contain so much.”
In 2015, Turnstone Press published Eigenheim, Epp’s first full-length collection of poetry. Home is a key theme in the collection, literally, figuratively, and spiritually.
“Someone who reviewed it talked about an unquenchable longing, which I think is a strong thread in there – longing for home, longing for God,” Epp says.
Epp has called a variety of places home throughout her life.
Studying at CMBC brought her to Winnipeg after being born and raised in Saskatchewan. After graduation, she moved to Saskatoon, where she worked as a pastor and choir director.
Her husband Ryan Rempel’s (CMBC ‘85) career as a lawyer took the family to Regina, then Toronto, and then Ottawa. They moved back to Winnipeg in 2000.
A constant throughout Epp’s life has been her interest in writing. Eigenheim’s publication was a big thrill.
“Having it accepted (by Turnstone) was like all of the Christmases and birthdays rolled into one,” she says. “It was hugely exciting – a dream come true and all that. It was great.”
The book earned positive reviews and garnered her a nomination for the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer at last year’s Manitoba Book Awards.
Epp says that her writing process is not terribly orderly. Poems often start on little scraps of paper; she keeps a stubby pencil in her jacket pocket just for that purpose.
She writes her first drafts by hand, and then crosses out and inserts things in different colours of ink until she can’t really read it anymore. Then, she types it on a computer and keeps revising.
“I think a lot about what being a poet really is, and talk about it every so often with writer friends and people at church,” Epp says. “It has seemed to me that being attentive is an essential part of the poet’s work... It has to come out of a love for the world.”
She is currently working on material that she hopes will become her second book.
Some of the material has been inspired by her faith, and some of it has been inspired by nature – particularly, places that she and her family visit often, like Star Lake in the Whiteshell.
Another series relates to travelling by train, which Epp started doing occasionally in the late ‘80s and now does with her family whenever they go to Saskatchewan for holidays.
“Maybe it’s because you get to spend hours just staring out the window, but it’s really conducive to poetry,” she says.
“Train travel really is meditative because you’re passing through the landscape and you’re often away from the major roads, so you’re just looking at whatever there is to look at – fields, lakes, trees, birds if you’re fortunate. So, I love it.”