Friday, May 30, 2014

The Factory Reading Series pre-small press book fair reading, June 6, 2014: Reed, Menear, Eaton, Power + Saklikar

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) presents:

The Factory Reading Series
pre-small press book fair reading

featuring readings by:

Marthe Reed (NY State)
David Menear (Toronto/Montreal)
Chris Eaton (Toronto)
Nicholas Power (Toronto)
+ Renée Sarojini Saklikar (Vancouver) [pictured]

lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
Friday, June 6, 2014;
doors 7pm; reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern,
223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale; upstairs)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with nathan dueck (& Günter Grass)

nathan dueck is the author of king’s(mère) (Turnstone Press, 2004) and he’ll (Pedlar Press, 2014). His book of prose fragments, he’ll, replaces the hyphen in Mennonite-Canadian with an apostrophe. He lives in Calgary, but Winkler, Manitoba is home.

I’m interested & invested in the variety of writing processes, so I enjoy reading interviews with writers. I usually identify with writers who acknowledge how “writing” is a strain, but show how the feeling of “having written” relieves that tension. Those kinds of responses sound honest to me. Alternately, writers who reply with confidence raise my hackles of suspicion – or jealousy.

Given those assumptions, I fear responding to “12 or 20 questions” in all honesty. I feel obliged to wryly comment on my own answers – or, I feel obligated to quote the answers of a suspiciously confident writer.

That’s why I decided to cite The Paris Review interview with Günter Grass from Summer 1991 < >.

Frankly, I feel as though Grass owes me. In his 1968 novel, Dog Years, he characterizes the dialect spoken by Mennonites as “coarse,” “rough,” or, depending on the translation, “vulgar.” In her 2004 novel A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews takes exception to that portrayal by calling Grass a crass name. Like Toews, I’m a Mennonite; unlike Toews, I can’t quite reconcile myself to Grass’s dismissal. I’m proud of incorporating Plaut’dietsch – the Mennonite mother tongue – into my upcoming book of poetry, he’ll.

With the following interview, I engage Grass in an imaginary dialogue. We both answer the questionnaire to indicate the variety of our writing processes. This way, I alternate between baring my honest belly hair & my ironic canines.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
nath&ueck: I stopped writing poetry after publishing my first book, king’s(mère). I was intimidated & overwhelmed by reading for my Ph.D. course work – compared to the writers I was studying, my poetry just seemed naïve to me. A few years later, while I was working on my dissertation, I wanted to try my hand at a few of the ideas I was reading about. During my tryout, I desperately tried to remember the bravery of naivety – but without the cowardice of intimation. Also, I took the opportunity to research my Mennonite heritage & the Plaut’dietsch inheritance. As a result, my second book feels different from my first, while feeling similarly self-conscious.
Günter Grass: My first book was a book of poetry and drawings. Invariably the first drafts of my poems combine drawings and verse, sometimes taking off from an image, sometimes from words. Then, when I was twenty-five years old and could afford to buy a typewriter, I preferred to type with my two-finger system.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
GG: I can answer, only for myself, that poetry is the most important thing. The birth of a novel begins with a poem. I will not say it is ultimately more important, but I can’t do without it.
n&: I came to poetry first for the fun of writing about language for its own sake. As Günter said, I can’t do without it, without the expressive potential of poetry. Now, I can hardly help myself. I try to resist indulging myself in wordplay when I’m writing a letter, an email, a tweet, etc. Who needs to read me punning in a facebook update? Speaking of, you despise facebook, don’t you Herr Grass?
GG: < >.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

n&: I can’t seem to find enough time to write. I can become obsessed about the minutiae, so I want a lot of time to cross “t”s, dot “i”s, & stroke “k”s in my notes. &, because I’m far more comfortable rewriting than writing the first draft, the final shape of my work barely resembles its earlier forms.
GG: I write the first draft quickly. If there’s a hole, there’s a hole. The second version is generally very long, detailed, and complete. There are no more holes, but it’s a bit dry. In the third draft I try to regain the spontaneity of the first, and to retain what is essential from the second. This is very difficult.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
GG: At one time I was very old fashioned about writing poetry. I thought that when you have enough good poems, you should go out and look for a publisher, do some drawings and print a book. Then you’d have this marvelous volume of poetry . . .
n&: I’m with Günter, here. Although I’m “old fashioned,” as he puts it, I’m trying to work a different way. I want to try working on a “book,” or at least the idea for a book, from the very beginning.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
n&: I think public readings play a part of my creative process. I’m the sort of writer who enjoys the opportunity to read because I want to know how an audience will respond. I have an odd sense of humour – puns are probably too funny to me – so I’m never sure whether something I’ve written actually works until it receives merciful, or pitiful, laughs.
GG: [silence]
n&: You know what you are, Günter? An ass. Günter Ass.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
GG: I can only answer that books have been decisive for me. When I was young, after the war, one of the many books that were important for me was that little volume by Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus. The famous, mythological hero who is sentenced to roll a stone up a mountain, which inevitably rolls back down to the bottom—traditionally a genuinely tragic figure—was newly interpreted for me by Camus as being happy in his fate.
n&: I try to convey the possibilities for interpretation wherein reading invokes expression. In his 1984 essay “Note Book a Composition on Composition,” bpNichol puts it this way: “i need the readers who will perform the piece, who can play it, play with it as i’ve written it.” By interpretation, then, I mean a rhetorical performance, both in the sense of explaining the meaning of the text, & in the sense of reciting the text.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

n&: I’m convinced that the writer plays a role in the larger culture, but I can’t muster the confidence to say so. So, Günter? What must be said?
GG: There are so many seminars and conferences on the subject “can literature change the world”! I think literature has the power to effect change. So does art.
n&: I’ll say the current role of the Mennonite writer is important. For generations, Mennonites living in North America isolated themselves from the “world” outside. In the last 50 years or so, Mennonite writers have allowed readers access into a cloistered culture. I wrote he’ll for a comparable reason – to give imaginative access to a community which operated through separation. I’m not talking about providing a vicarious experience of life as a Mennonite, but an idea of living in a Mennonite village toward the end of the 20th Century. I hope he’ll finds those readers who are curious to know about people who presented a dour & devout appearance. I also hope that readers will experience the odd, often dark, humour under that pious, stern performance.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
GG: The book is done when I am exhausted.

n&: Working with an outsider editor was essential to the process of writing he’ll. Jeramy Dodds is my ideal reader. Without him gently suggesting I let go, I’d probably be rewriting he’ll right now.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
n&: I’ll defer to Günter.
GG: If this word doesn’t exist in your language, create it.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
GG: Alfred Döblin had such an effect on me that I wrote an essay on him entitled “On My Teacher Döblin.” You can learn from Döblin without the risk of imitating him. . . . But I am still learning, and there are many others who have taught me.
n&: I don’t find it easy to move between poetry & critical prose. I can hardly draw the line between the genres. That’s why I’m drawn to the writers who make that move with fluidity & fluency – e.g., Anne Carson, Lisa Robertson, or Jan Zwicky.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
n&: I’m always committing to a writing routine, only to lose the courage of my conviction. One reason is that I’m a sessional instructor at a small university for eight months of the year, so teaching takes up the daylight hours. For the four months of the summer, I, like Günter, try to write as soon as the sun rises.
GG: Between nine and ten o’clock I have a long breakfast with reading and music. After breakfast I work, and then take a break for coffee in the afternoon. I start again and finish at seven o’clock in the evening.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

GG: I often turn to drawing to recover from the writing.
n&: I jog. To sweat. & think.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
n&: Vinegar. The chore I hated most when I was a kid was washing the kitchen floor with vinegar. Oddly, it made the whole house smell a little like supper.
GG: Terrible breath of poison.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
GG: Dürer’s engraving Melencholia I.
n&: Movies, mostly. I can’t get enough Lynch or Malick. That, & ‘80s cartoons.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
n&: Let’s name some Mennonite names: David Bergen, Sandra Birdsell, Di Brandt, Jeff Derksen, Patrick Friesen, Hildi Froese Tiessen, Sarah Klassen, Andreas Schroeder, Vern Thiessen, Miriam Toews, David Waltner-Toews, Rudy Wiebe.
GG: James Joyce’s introduction of the interior monologue in Ulysses has affected the complexity of our understanding of existence. It’s just that the changes that literature can affect are not measurable. The intercourse between a book and its reader is peaceful, anonymous.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
GG: Lie.
n&: Learn High German. I’d also like to grow a variety of sod that matures to a brunette hue. I’d either call it “Günter’s Stache” or “Schnäuzer Grass”: < >
GG: You dog.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
n&: Postal worker in my hometown, Winkler, Manitoba, circa 1979.
GG: Speechwriter.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
GG: Writers are involved not only with their inner, intellectual lives, but also with the process of daily life. For me, writing, drawing, and political activism are three separate pursuits; each has its own intensity. I happen to be especially attuned to and engaged with the society in which I live.
n&: Danke, Günter. I guess that explains why you’re a Nobel Laureate. Not sure how to follow that.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
n&: The last great book I read was Susan Downe’s novel Juanita Wildrose: My True Life. I could write my whole true life & never come up anything nearly as affecting. E.g., “Is God a long, handed-down story?” A close friend recommended I watch Peter Mettler’s 1994 documentary Picture of Light, & I’m going to pass along the recommendation. I’ve never enjoyed staring at the Northern Lights that much.
GG: Melville has always been my favorite . . .

20 - What are you currently working on?
GG: What else do you want?
n&: I’m working on a project I’ve titled “CRTC.” I’m interested in writing about the transition analog to digital technology by making reference to the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission. Also, I just finished a script for an episode of The Raccoons – it was my favourite show when I was a kid.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Six Questions with Emilia Nielsen: 2014 Gerald Lampert Award Shortlist

From early April to early June, I’m featuring short interviews with the authors of the six shortlisted titles for each of the three awards run through The League of Canadian Poets – the Raymond Souster Award, the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Pat Lowther Award. Today’s feature is Squamish, British Columbia poet and academic Emilia Nielsen, whose book Surge Narrows (Lantzville BC: Leaf Press, 2013) is on the shortlist for the 2014 Gerald Lampert Award. See my previous Gerald Lampert Award shortlist interviews with Julie Joosten, Laurie D. Graham, Jordan Abel, Murray Reiss and Juleta Severson-Baker. The winners to all three awards will be announced on Saturday, June 7, 2014 at The League of Canadian Poets 2014 Annual General Meeting in Toronto.

Emilia Nielsen holds a BFA from the University of Victoria, a MA from the University of New Brunswick, and a PhD from the University of British Columbia. Currently, she holds academic teaching positions at Quest University Canada in Squamish, BC and at UBC in Vancouver, BC. Her poetry has appeared in literary journals across Canada including The Antigonish Review, Contemporary Verse 2, Event, Descant, The Fiddlehead, Grain, Prairie Fire, Room Magazine, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry by Prism International. Surge Narrows, published by Leaf Press in 2013, is her debut collection of poetry.

1. Surge Narrows is your first trade collection of poetry. What was your process of originally putting the manuscript together, and how long did it take? How do you feel your concerns as a writer has developed over the space of starting the collection to finally seeing a finished copy at your front door? How do you feel the work, and even the process of writing, evolved?
Not unlike other first books this one also began as a Masters thesis. I was very fortunate to be given an opportunity to work with Anne Simpson via the Creative Writing Programme at the University of New Brunswick, and she mentored me as I wrote and revised these poems. Yet when I graduated I still needed to turn my graduate project into a manuscript. Another fortuitous opportunity arose, and at the Sage Hill Summer Poetry Colloquium under Daphne Marlatt’s mentorship, from a thick folio of poems, this manuscript emerged. Surge Narrows is now made up of six long poems.

2. Who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?
To reenergize, I’m drawn to poets Lisa Robertson, Karen Solie, and Sina Queyas. I often return to If Not, Winter, Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho, Dionne Brand’s No Language is Neutral, and Phyllis Webb’s Sunday Water and Water and Light, which made an especially strong impression on me as I wrote the ghazals and anti-ghazals that make up the middle sections of my book.

3. Between Victoria, Vancouver and Squamish, you’ve lived in British Columbia for quite some time, and I’m curious as to how the community of writers around you, as well as a variety of BC landscapes, may have contributed to your work. Do you think you might have been a different kind of writer had you lived in another part of the country, or in fewer parts of the province?
I have lived in BC for much of my life. (But I’ve also lived in New Brunswick and Alberta, albeit briefly.) Yes, I’d be a different kind of writer if I’d grown up and made a life elsewhere, but I wonder if I’d also be a different sort of person? What I do know is that because I spent a significant part of my childhood in the community of Surge Narrows in the Discovery Islands I felt drawn to trying to write about this childhood experience. And the first long poem of the book—not to mention the title, which functions more as a metaphor—refers directly to a particular place in BC. 

4. In a review posted on the Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian blog, she speaks of Surge Narrows as a collection of poems in which the environment remains a central character. What is your take on the conversations around “eco-poetry,” and how did you approach writing out descriptions of landscape and other natural concerns, as opposed to attempting to articulate any other kind of subject or space?
I’m interested in doing more than simply describing a particular landscape or the particularities of the natural world. The observational gaze can be revealing. But I’m more invested in struggling through, in words, the process of speaking to deeply human experiences in wild places. In “Pass Creek” I wrote from a subjective and physical place. At that time, I was employed as a fire lookout in northern Alberta, and found myself in a very different geography and place than the one I was most familiar. I hint at how human interactions in the boreal forest have fundamental changed it, but I leave the reader to decide how to feel about it all. And while this book may begin in a rural coastal setting it ends in a very urban one, and the last poem of the book “Vernacular Hearts” draws from the cityscape. Now, I feel both pulls in my life, and in my writing.

5. What do you feel teaching has brought to your writing and writing life? Or are the two entirely separate?
After my MA in English and Creative Writing, I completed a PhD in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at UBC, and my university teaching is in the arts and humanities as well as the social sciences. At Quest, where I currently have a full time teaching position, I have mostly taught foundation courses in gender studies. Whereas at UBC, where I now return as a visiting lecturer in the summer, I have had the opportunity to teach introductory gender and sexuality studies courses as well as an intensive social justice in literature course. I love introducing students to critical theory and theorists, essays and concepts and, of course, literary writers and I nearly always manage to work a little poetry into each of the courses I teach! My academic work financially supports my poetry habit.

6. Literary awards have been known to shine spotlights on individual works and authors, as well as writing generally, but has also sometimes brought with it a particular kind of pressure, and a frustration for those works overlooked by awards. As a writer, reader and, now, shortlisted writer, what are your feelings on literary award culture generally?
Personally, I feel grateful for this acknowledgement. (It took this book longer than perhaps originally expected for it to be selected by a publisher, and brought out in trade paperback form. So I’m also thankful to Ursula Vaira and Leaf Press for recognizing something in that original manuscript I submitted.) I also enjoy reading not only award winners, but shortlisted books because there I find gems I might otherwise not have learned of. For me, at best, awards are a celebration of writers, writing and literary culture.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dennis Cooley, abecedarium

dear muse what’s the use
pretending we know where this is
going to end or why i am your out
landish & dashing figure in your o pera
& you yourself limbs akimbo O
lympic in movement limber
emotions thick & sloppy as soup
muddy alembic to your thoughts
your modus operandi shady as a water tower

why is it i should have to be playing opus
sum tell how i came to be your one
                                                            & only
            all yours all limbs (“dear muse”)

Winnipeg poet, editor and critic Dennis Cooley’s new poetry collection, abecedarium (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2014) is an expansive play of puns and train-of-thought sound play constructed through an exploration of a variety of subjects, including the history of the alphabet, references to the works of writers such as Robert Kroetsch, George Bowering and Andrew Suknaski, prairie histories, crows and what the ear hears, and poems that simply appear to propel narratively through and against the sounds of the words themselves. Throughout abecedarium his references are rich and varied, such as the poem “a long funny book,” that opens with a reference to Vancouver writer George Bowering’s novel A Short Sad Book (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1977), which itself played off Gertrude Stein’s A Long Gay Book (1933), as Cooley writes:

I’m thinking of calling
                  this a long poem.
I’m thinking of calling this
                            a long funny book.
            Well it is.
It is when you compare it
                  to George’s. It’s not
            a comic book
& it’s not a cosmic book
it is a funny book.

George’s was not.
                                                You could tell
                                      it was.

            a short sad book.

I’m telling you George
                                                & it isn’t
            funny. Funny he sd
                                                            you shld
                              say that.
                                                                        That’s true
                                                                       that’s what
                                                                              I said.

Cooley’s poetry collections over the years have each shaped themselves around a central idea or theme, from the play and punning around the physical landscape of the prairies, hearth and home of his correction line (Saskatoon SK: Thistledown, 2008) to his play around the histories of Manitoba outlaw John Krafchenko (a book heavily influenced originally by Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid) in Bloody Jack (Turnstone Press, 1984; Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2002), to the exploration of his mother he did with Irene (Turnstone Press, 2000), and even to the Dracula-themed vampire poems of Seeing Red (Turnstone Press, 2003). The lineage of abecedarium appears to follow a particular trajectory directly back to his correction line, as Cooley wrote out geographic tracings, as well as historical and pre-historical tracings, furthering such in the stones (Turnstone Press, 2013), a book that opens a play on the word, the image and the idea of the stone, writing “the rocks scraped by wind and snow / and by later arrivals / rivals for space,” and composing a space entirely constructed out of the semi-permanence of stone. Writing his way down to basic elements, Cooley writes through the development of language and writing, various ancient histories, books and writers he has read and admired over the years and prairie landscapes, blending them together in an abecedarium that works to explore the very idea of communication: written, spoken and archival.

    a part
of a new line
made a new
make a new
now     how does it act
up on you
    does it leave you
    breathless does it
bring you gasping
to the breathing hole

            till death doth us part
    & you you are pretty
    broken up about it be
    cause breaking up is hard
                to do    is it
    not dear reader (“home thoughts”)

Over the past three decades or more, Cooley’s poetry books have increasingly appeared to be each composed and collected as a kind of expansive collage-work in the form of a trade collection of poems, writing the subject from as many angles and perspectives as possible, allowing the final result to be a collaboration between an exhaustive poetic research and polyphonic mishmash that refuses to hold any perspective as singular, staid or solid. And yet, it would appear that this book, more than many of the books he has produced, the word play and the explorations of sound might be the forefront of his purposes. This is Cooley at smart and serious joyful play, pure and simple, bringing the weight of years of reading, listening, research and knowledge to every motion.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize : Writers' Trust Announces Career Prize for Canadian Poets

Writers' Trust Announces Career Prize for Canadian Poets

Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize becomes country’s newest literary award

April 22, 2014, Toronto
– The Writers’ Trust of Canada is thrilled to announce the creation of the Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize, an annual award in recognition of a Canadian writer’s exceptional body of work. The prize, which is sponsored by the Latner Family Foundation and administered by the Writers’ Trust of Canada, will be presented alongside five other prizes for excellence in Canadian literature at the annual Writers’ Trust Awards in November. The winner will receive $25,000.

The Writers’ Trust has assembled a three-member jury consisting of Stephanie Bolster, an award-winning poet and coordinator of the creative writing program at Concordia University in Montreal; Lorna Crozier, an award-winning author of 16 books of poetry who is based in North Saanich, BC; and Fred Wah, formerly Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate and current Professor Emeritus at the University of Calgary.

“We know that the financial rewards to poets can rarely match the joys their work brings to so many readers, and that work's importance to our national literary culture,” said Steven Latner. “Through this partnership with the Writers’ Trust, the Latner Family Foundation is honoured to invest in the future health of one of Canada’s most vital art forms.”

“The Writers’ Trust now has a portfolio of ten prizes to reward Canada’s exceptional writers at all stages of their careers,” said Mary Osborne, executive director of the Writers’ Trust of Canada. “We are delighted that today, with the support of the Latner Family Foundation, we are able to round out our awards program with a prize to recognize Canada’s finest poets for their contributions to our country’s literary culture.”

The $25,000 Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize will be awarded once a year to a Canadian poet in mid-career in recognition of a remarkable body of work and in hope of future contributions to Canadian poetry. For the purposes of this prize, mid-career is defined as having published at least three collections of poetry that demonstrate outstanding mastery in the art of poetry. No age restrictions apply. Recipients must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada. There is no submission process for the prize.

The Writers’ Trust administers three existing body of work awards. They are: the Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award, for a body of work that is predominantly fiction, the Writers’ Trust Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People, and the Writers’ Trust Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life.

The winners of these, plus the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Writers’ Trust/McClelland and Stewart Journey Prize, the Writers’ Trust Distinguished Contribution Award, and the inaugural Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize will be announced at the Writers’ Trust Awards on November 4, 2014.

About the Latner Family Foundation
Founded in 1972 by Albert and the late Temmy Latner, the Latner Family Foundation has been providing support to health care, education, social development, and the arts in the Greater Toronto Area.

About the Writers’ Trust
The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that seeks to advance, nurture, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing through a portfolio of programs, including literary awards, financial grants, scholarships, and a writers’ retreat. Writers’ Trust programming is designed to champion excellence in Canadian writing, to improve the status of writers, and to create connections between writers and readers. Canada’s writers receive more financial support from the Writers’ Trust than from any other non-governmental organization or foundation in the country.

See the link to the original press release here.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Acceptance Speech: [poem]

I have two new poems in the first issue of Touch the Donkey, alongside work by Gil McElroy, Eric Baus, Hailey Higdon, Rachel Moritz, Elizabeth Robinson, Norma Cole, Pattie McCarthy and Camille Martin. Here is one of my two:

Acceptance Speech:

    I love the ology of clouds
        Mary Ruefle, Trances of the Blast

Disorient, a shape. Cohere. What matters would be, antibodies. Truth. I want this, ambivalence. Branches: allusions wrestle, wing. Says one: forbid, thoroughly. What would have been excluded. Coiled, hammer, anvil. Reluctant patterns, boundary. Says one: we dismantle, endlessly thorough. Biopsy: linguistic. I am not ambition: all my roads repeat, interior, repeat. Winning. Snow-branch weight a study, low to ground. This brutal, excessive heat.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Six Questions with Micheline Maylor: 2014 Pat Lowther Award Shortlist

From early April to early June, I’m featuring short interviews with the authors of the six shortlisted titles for each of the three awards run through The League of Canadian Poets – the Raymond Souster Award, the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Pat Lowther Award. Today’s feature is Calgary writer and editor Micheline Maylor, whose book Whirr and Click (Calgary AB: Frontenac House, 2013) is on the shortlist for the 2014 Pat Lowther Award. See my previous Pat Lowther Award shortlist interviews with Anne Compton, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Alexandra Oliver, Sadiqa de Meijer and Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang. The winners to all three awards will be announced on Saturday, June 7, 2014 at The League of Canadian Poets 2014 Annual General Meeting in Toronto.

Micheline Maylor’s many-textured poems explore the liminal space where finite life and infinite time expand and contract into one another. In a duet of contrasts, memory, coming of age, danger, the erotic, and love twine into elegy and wonder. Time plays a featuring role and acts to freeze moments exactly as they arrive and simultaneously stretches experience into ungraspable infinity.

Micheline Maylor teaches creative writing, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and composition at Mount Royal University. She serves as guest editor for Frontenac’s renowned Quartet series for Fall, 2013. She serves as the President and co-founder of Freefall Literary Society, and is the editor-in-chief of FreeFall literary magazine. Her first book is titled Full Depth: The Raymond Knister Poems (2007) and is available through Wolsak & Wynn. Micheline Maylor has a Ph.D. from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in English Language and Literature with a specialisation in Creative Writing and 20th Century Canadian Literature.

1. Whirr and Click is your second trade collection of poetry, after Full Depth: The Raymond Knister Poems (Wolsak & Wynn, 2007), and the chapbook Starfish (Rubicon Press, 2011). After two trade books and a chapbook over the space of nearly a decade, how do you feel your concerns as a writer have developed? How do you feel the work, and even the process of writing, has evolved?

I'll start with what hasn't changed. And that is a deep seated belief that poetry is a humanist art form and that its purpose is, at best, to unite interesting language and commonality of human experience. What has changed is my methodology for achieving those ends. In my first book, the story belonged to someone else (Knister), the experience of love and loss wasn't my own. As a new writer, I don't think I had either the bravery or the experience to write my own story. This second book is a far braver thing. In "Starfish", for example, I tell a true story, but with poetic considerations, like syntax, sound, refrain, palindromic mirroring, to, hopefully, create emotional charge and craft. My purpose as a writer is to generate that effect in the reader where they feel connected say, "I wish I had said it like that". You try for that as an author.

2. Who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?
Don Coles. Hands down. Anytime I read his work I feel as though I have an old friend to count on. Don Coles is the best poet in Canada. Period. K in Love still floors me. Forest of the Medieval World is stunning. Another modern master and huge influence on my work is fiction writer Douglas Glover. His use of syntax and sentence are essential examples of line level craft. Ultimately, a writer should always be concerned with HOW it said, perhaps more so than WHAT is said.

3. You’ve lived in Calgary for quite some time, and I’m curious as to how the community of writers around you, as well as the landscape of Calgary, have contributed to your work. Do you think you might have been a different kind of writer had you lived in another part of the country?

The community of writers in Calgary is diverse. If you are looking for it, you can find it in Calgary: cowboy poets, concrete poets, post modern poets, spoken word poets, old poets, brand new poets, modern poets, eco-poets . . . This diversity allows for a whole lot of interesting discussions, for example, Derek Beaulieu is a person that I don't agree with aesthetically, but have a lot of respect for as a creative mind, mentor, and maker. Through these discussion, boundaries are pushed, if the disagreements are about opening ideas and challenging conceptions, rather than bitter and insulting feuds. In this way, discourse leads to energy and excitement about poetry. However, my deepest influences here and those I feel the most kinship with conventionally are these people Richard Harrison, Chris Wiseman, and more recently Rosemary Griebel, Joan Shillington, and Juleta Severson-Baker.

I think where you live is less important than who you talk to on a deep level about the craft, and what you synthesize in your own aesthetics. At this point communication is beyond regional. These discussions happen on-line and in books, they even happen with the long dead. More the questions to ask as an author are: What are you willing try, and what are you willing discard? And do you know the reasons why?

4. In Bruce Hunter’s review of Whirr and Click posted at Canadian Poetries, he speaks of your poems in terms of their “obsession, longing, and Borgesian myth-making.” How do you feel about this description, and how important is an element of story-telling to your poetry?
Narrative is in our DNA. We all love a good yarn. Poetry as concrete never achieves the level of connection a good narrative does, think of Shahrazad, the way you tell a story is a life/death proposition. And Bruce is a smart cookie. He really understood me and the book and the way reality is both a truth and a plasticity, as is poetry. It was an astute observation.

5. What do you feel teaching writing has brought to your writing and writing life? Or are the two entirely separate?

Teaching writing allows for a crystalization of the WHY. Why does a poem fall flat, how does anaphora contribute to an effect, when is a quatrain more or less effective than a prose paragraph, etc. I feel that I am constantly learning and re-learning the tools of the trade. I am constantly in the shop immersed in the details of poetics and writing. It is very beneficial in every way except time. Teaching requires full attention, and when that attention is given to students, it's taken away from the selfish act of writing for yourself. No the two are never separate. It's always a balancing act.

6. Literary awards have been known to shine spotlights on individual works and authors, as well as writing generally, but has also sometimes brought with it a particular kind of pressure, and a frustration for those works overlooked by awards. As a writer, reader and, now, shortlisted writer, what are your feelings on literary award culture generally?

Well, that's a complex question. As a writer, it's such a thrill to be recognized, if only for the thrill of knowing someone besides your ten friends read the book, and more than that, liked it. It is a bit like being an A student. Nice, but there are ten other A students in the class who worked just as hard and are equally deserving. Writing, for me, is about me and the page, not me and the gala. That's the wrong sort of motive that will ulitmately lead to disappointment.

As a reader, I understand what variations in climate can do to that short list and how on any given day, with any given variation of jury, an entirely different set of books could be selected and the criteria could be entirely different too. As a short-listed writer, it's good to remember how fragile these lists really are. It's not a thing to pin to your ego, it's more like winning a door prize - a nice thing, a bonus, but it shouldn't make or break you. Just go back to honing your craft because you love to hone your craft and have some champagne regardless of outcome. You deserve that much.