Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Calm Things Questionnaire: Nina Berkhout

This is the first in a new series on Calm Things that unabashedly jumps on the Proust Questionnaire bandwagon. First up is Nina Berkhout, who agreed to answer the questionnaire, and also to grace this blog with a poem from her latest book.

Nina Berkhout is originally from Calgary. She is the author of four poetry collections, most recentlyArrivals and Departures (Buschek Books, 2010), which was a finalist for the 2011 Archibald Lampman Award for the year’s best poetry by a writer living in the National Capital Region. Her work has also been shortlisted for THIS Magazine’s Great Canadian Literary Hunt and the John Hirsch Award for most promising Manitoba writer. Berkhout holds a degree in Classical Studies from the University of Calgary and a Master’s in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. She currently lives in Ottawa.

What's your idea of calm?
I’m a worrier by nature. If I’m eating well, exercising, and getting enough solitude time, then external stressors don’t affect me as much and I’ll have periods of easier sleep and breathing. With that come creativity and a ritualistic writing routine. Only then do I feel balanced and tranquil. 

What makes you come alive?
Walking. Anytime, anywhere, in any weather. If I don’t walk every day, my senses are dulled and I’m cranky. When I walk my mind clutter dissipates. It helps with the writing, too.

What is your favourite colour and flower?
Lilacs and all shades of green.

What is your favourite bird?
The common robin for its flash of red, its happy song, and since its arrival heralds spring.

Who is your favourite heroine?
Anne Shirley. I always wished I was Anne Shirley.

Favourite poet?
Impossible question! Let’s put it this way. If I could be stranded on a desert island with only one poet, my bard of choice would be Leonard Cohen.

Favourite prose writer?
Anita Brookner. Her books are quiet. Not much happens on the surface. But she captures the human condition brilliantly.

Your favourite painter?  
Right now it’s David Milne, though, working in an art gallery, that tends to change every month or so.

Your favourite food and drink?
Raspberries from my parents’ garden. Eating them off the branches when they’ve been warmed by the sun. My favourite drink right now is blood orange Italian soda mixed with sparkling mineral water and a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. On ice.

A favourite quotation?
I have this one taped to my monitor:

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

Joseph Campbell

Maybe it sounds trite, but I find it difficult to accomplish.

If you were to make a list of calm things, what would you include?
Long walks. Peppermint tea. Washing dishes. My paperweight collection. The rain from indoors. Chopin. Being surrounded by my books. Reading in my favourite chair for the hour a day that the sun lands on it. Hot baths. Silence.

Positive Thinking

by Nina Berkhout

Feelings. That’s where the work begins.
You have to grab a pick-axe and toil with your mind
to obtain what you deserve. This morning, my affirmation
suggests itself in graffiti on concrete walls
of the underpass I’m walking through:  IM IN LOVE!

The washed-out letters don’t lessen the freshness
of the declaration, no matter how often I go by – 
you’re in love. How about that. I’m thrilled for this individual
who impulsively spray painted his sentiments
onto grey slabs above the traffic.

I question the controlled lettering, though, bordering
on cursive. Actually it must have taken forever.
Notwithstanding the missing apostrophe,
how could a vandal devoured by love be so in control?

I’m in love TOO! I shout  – and the tunnel’s
validating my echo so that it penetrates my subconscious –
with Shoppers Drug Mart’s Life Brand chocolate facemask!
In fact I’m on my way there now to purchase it,

and this love is manageable; the more I spend the more
I redeem points toward cosmetics and fragrances.
Guess what, I may even brave the Hallmark aisle
for a Valentine I’ll send myself via the postal outlet
located at the back of the store, why not!

When I retrieve the envelope from my mailbox,
tearing it open, Cupid will blotch my complexion –
nothing a daub of Very Berry lotion can’t fix
and it comes free after two hundred bucks, imagine that!
For all these gifts today, I am truly grateful.


  1. Love this. And I'm so looking forward to more questionnaires.

  2. Hey, I like this! Love the poem, too.


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