Sunday, November 27, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with D.A. Lockhart

Born in Chatham, ON and raised in Windsor, ON, D.A. Lockhart holds degrees from Trent University, Montana State University, and Indiana University. He is a graduate of the Indiana University - Bloomington MFA in Creative Writing program where he held a Neal-Marshall Graduate Fellowship in Creative Writing. His work has appeared in the Windsor Review, Sugar House Review, Hawk and Whipporwill, Vinyl Poetry and Prose, and Contemporary Verse 2 among others. He is a recipient of Canada Council for the Arts grant for Aboriginal People and Ontario Arts Council grants for his poetry. He is author of Big Medicine Comes to Erie (Black Moss Press 2016) He is a research consultant and is editor-in-chief for Urban Farmhouse Press based out of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He is a member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Oddly enough, the concept of the first book hasn’t exactly had this massive effect on me. I feel like it should, but things sort of feel, well, the same. Having that first book is important, I won’t lie on that accord. As a professional it’s an absolute critical step in the process of one’s career. Because of that I feel deeply thankful to Black Moss Press and Marty Gervais for taking on chance on my work. But I’m still just focusing on the other work I’m still trying to wrap up. And that feels pretty normal. So you could say that there is a change internally, in the day-to-day of what I’m doing. But externally it’s an important and big change because it’s the physical thing that people can see about me.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Funny on this one because I actually majored in fiction in graduate school. I did write some rather amateurism poems when I was doing my undergraduate in Montana, but on the whole I first came to fiction. My thesis was actually in fiction and the majority of my studies focused on fiction. But my success has come mainly in poetry. It has always seemed more natural, in a very personal way, to construct. You could say that I just find something that is more me in poetry. It’s a more natural way for me to do the work I often find myself wanting to do. But let’s be honest, I did have excellent poets as instructors at IU with Catherine Bowman and Maura Stanton. They probably helped me straighten out those amateurism poetics.

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?
Easy answer is as long it takes. But that’s a bit of a cop-out. So let’s go on with some nuance. Some writing projects are quick, others take a considerable amount of time. One of the shortest poems I’ve ever written took me about seven months to get to a place I wanted it to be. An exception, yeah, but I think you get the point about “as long it takes” because I rarely get that amount of time with a single poem anymore. Typically it takes about a month of pretty focused work to get a given individual piece to a place I would want it to be before submitting to a journal or magazine. My thesis director and Indiana University was Tony Ardizzone. He’s known for teaching the “waxing-the-floor” method. In it you lay down a rough “floor” of a piece (poetry or fiction) and you then you keeping smoothing the piece with successive layers of revisions until it gets to the place you need it to be. The very process is rather indicative of the length it takes me to get through stuff.

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?
Oddly enough, a lot of poems start with the friction between two ideas or items or places. There is a lot of Richard Hugo in where my work starts. For me, The Triggering Town, is just about all you need to know to get going on writing a poem. But they are organic. Meaning what you see is the end process. The basic concept is that you come up with something, say an image, an event, a place, and then find something else that haunts you about it and put them down on the page and see how they play out. It’s the whole chorus girls in the silo thing that Hugo talks about in his essay. That is the manner in which I explore individual pieces. But a lot of my recent work has actually been envisioned as larger works first. Take for example the “Devil in the Woods” manuscript I’ve been working away at. The over-arching concept of the collection is craft an indigenous consciousness in the heart of Ontario’s physical being that then reacts, both spiritually and vocally, to the key figures and events in Canada’s consciousness and self-identity. With that framework, I then crafted the individual pieces in the collection. But the individual pieces, I construct my poems organically.  

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are definitely part of what I do. They aren’t necessarily central in any way to the creative process of the world. As I write the pieces I definitely consider the sounds and the musicality that goes into the way the poem reads. I see even an individual reading a poem on the page or screen as an event that must take into account the sound of the poems. But what I read, by the time I do so in a public reading is already past the creative process. I generally don’t read unfinished work in pubic readings. I enjoy reading as much as the next poet. Thing is that once I’m there and reading I feel as though I’ve already crafted the piece and am performing what I’ve come to know as my work.

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?
I am interested in the manner in which land defines us. My characters and poems ride heavy on that. There is a spirituality in my work that explores that connection. Although I am profoundly interested in the manner in which the land shapes and defines everything from our emotions to our choices to the very types of creatures we are. I do have to admit to a slight Marxist bend on things on top of that. But to a certain extent perhaps every working class poet must claim a connection to Marxist ideology if not even just tangentially.

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?
We have a duty that extends beyond how much we can get paid for our work. We’re fortunate enough to be a given a voice that rises up for the masses. Our words should and must be measured. Because writers are people and every person must serve a certain role (I’m thinking about the clan system in many First Nations traditions) we all writing a tad bit different. But we do have an obligation to be engaged with the world, aid in the addition of voices that we know to be required, respond to things that need to be responded. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with an outside editor can be both rewarding and difficult. Editors are people too and you can’t possibly get along with everybody you meet. I was lucky enough to have a very good one when I lived in Indianapolis. Stephen Fox, he did some essential work on my manuscript back then. But generally, I don’t work with an editor.  Not recently anyways. Maybe that’ll change.   

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Fail. A lot. Learn from those. Be ok with those failures. Grow from what you learn.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have to write every day or I go a little batty. Although as a dad that works from home it means that I generally have to organically find the time to work. This means I usually end up doing most my work after well into the night. I spend a lot of time with headphones on and writing rough drafts in my journals to CBC (I do love Laurie Brown’s the Signal) and a good deal of 1950s and 60s jazz or Phish concerts.  After I spend some time working through new stuff I generally give a few hours to revisions and transcribing my journals to computer.  It all depends where I am with given work. Recently, it’s been more about creation. This means a lot more journal writing. Which I tend to enjoy a great deal.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read. And then I often make notes, sort of talk to the works I’m reading. If I’m ever really stuck, I’ll sit down and copy out work I’ve really been digging. It’s how I get down to the technical framework of the pieces. I like to see the act of creation on a word-by-word, line-by-line manner. So you could say that I turn to the work of other writers to help me break through. Although, on occasion I can say a good walk along the waterfront here helps, too. But that is when things get a little too unhinged.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
White sage, Sweetgrass, Cedar, Lillacs.

13 - 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?
I listen to music a lot when I work. I do have to admit to a great affinity for Phish and Grateful Dead.  They are a very heavy rotation for me. But a lot of classic jazz, Monk, Dizzy, Freddie Hubbard, makes it on to my playlists. To an extent photographs do influence me. Robert Frank’s work most definitely has over the years, as has Paul Strand’s work.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I’m huge on Seamus Heaney’s work. Simon Ortiz is one of my cannon. I mentioned him before, but Richard Hugo. I would say that poets of substantial influence would be Catherine Bowman, Campbell McGrath, Maurice Manning, Maura Stanton, and Greg Keeler. If studied under almost all of them or I was simply around them enough to know them before I knew their work. It really helped me to sort of back-engineer their work to understand how a poet comes through on the things they writer.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Finish the novel I’m still working on.  Visit Nunavut and Yellowknife. Well, maybe as much of the Canadian Arctic as I can. Norway and Iceland, too. So, plenty.

16 - 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?
I might have been a sports journalist. Like I said, I have to write. It drives me crazy not to. Plus, I’m a sports junkie. So that would make it at least passion drive. If I couldn’t write at all, maybe something in farming. Who doesn’t have dreams about going back to the land? It would be a very good failed or retire poet thing to do. Raising goats and chickens, some heirloom okra and bean crops, all that sort of stuff that super cool folks in Indiana and Montana were up to while I was out there. Maybe the farm thing should be an answer to question 15, too.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It was something I had to do. As have, really can’t explain why. I sort of get up every day and know that I have to write something. It’s been that way since I was teenager. It’s hard not be what you are supposed to be.  

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
It’s not a recent release, but I’ve read it recently and it’s a great book. Bob Earl Stewart’s Something Burned along the Southern Border was a great read. The pieces are gritty and real and just feel like the city I grew up in. In Windsor had a Richard Hugo, it was Stewart. Film’s a little tougher. I read a lot more than I watch films. So maybe I’ll just promise to find some great films in the near future.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m just finishing up the first draft of a historical fiction novel set in southwestern Ontario in 1849 called “The Waters that Divide.” The book explores the aftermath of the burning a Jesuit mission on Walpole Island and sort of powder keg this frontier region of Upper Canada was at the time. All of this is done through the viewpoint of an “urban” Indigenous protagonist as he explores conceptions of culture and self in the face of an ever-burning conflict between those in power and those without. I’ve also just received an Aboriginal Arts grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to finish up a poetry manuscript entitled “Devil in the Woods.” It’s a collection of letter and prayer poems loosely based on Richard Hugo’s 33 Letters and 13Dreams. Major difference is the viewpoint is from an Anishnaabe man in Central Ontario and he is addressing famous real and fictional figures in Canadian society.  

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