David White is one of the poets of Renga: A Collaborative Poem (Brick Books). In 1994, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Western Ontario with the dissertation, “A Territory Not Yet On The Map:” Relocating Gay Aestheticism In The Age of AIDS. He is a professor of Theatre History and Writing at Fanshawe College and lives in London, Ontario. The Lark Ascending is his first (solo) collection poetry, published by Pedlar Press (2017).
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Publishing your first book at the age of 62 doesn’t really change all that much. Putting The Lark Ascending together was in part sorting through manuscripts. There’s still a lot to sort through going back to the 1980s. But the one thing that happened when I sent The Lark off, even before the offer of publication, was I set out on a completely different project. I wrote pieces about LGBTQ composers, musicians, performers based on recordings. People like Tyckowsky, Noel Coward, Aaron Copeland, Samuel Barber, Billy Strayhorn. I’d listen to the recordings while writing the piece, letting the music inform the work.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Actually it’s more of a return to poetry. Doesn’t everyone start with poetry in adolescence? After I finished my Ph.D. dissertation in 1994, I worked on fiction, short stories and novels. But when I moved in with Judy and Shen (the subject of The Lark Ascending) I didn’t have any time for that. I started writing a poem here and there. Over the course of 20 years they accumulated into the book.
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?
There’s no one way. Sometimes things come quite quickly, and sometimes I’ve waited decades for the right word to come along.
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?
With The Lark Ascending, I knew when we went to China and started writing about the trip that it was a book, and I’d be writing it as I lived it. Now, while there may be projects, I’m gradually assembling things together, things written before, during, and after the writing of The Lark.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings, but my first degree was in Theatre, and I teach Theatre History. I think of a reading as a performance and I try not to spend too much time explaining things and aim towards a certain emotional impact.
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?
Obviously, as a Gay man, LGBTQ issues are of concern to me. When I first began writing in the late 1970s, I did think I could or would be allowed to write about my experience. What I wrote was fairly difficult; a friend at the time said it seemed as if I didn’t care if anyone was listening. There were love poems that used the wrong pronoun. When I finally got around to changing the pronouns, they were much better poems.
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?
Being a true witness of/to your times.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
So far my experience has been working with Stan Dragland as an editor! So that experience was essential not in the least difficult. Nobody’s going to read your book more closely or carefully. It’s a wonderful dialogue.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Rilke’s advice in Letters to a Young Poet: write what you know.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to collaboration to academic writing)? What do you see as the appeal?
Don’t do much academic writing now. I’ve pretty much dabbled in everything. Poetry feels like home now.
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?
No routine to speak of. Even with teaching, the schedule is varied and changes every 14 weeks. Poems come when they come and when you can find the time.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Learn something new, research; that’s where the inspiration comes from
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Baking bread, and Lilly of the Valley.
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?
Music and the visual arts. I’ll often choose a specific piece of music to listen to and write about; that happens a couple of times in The Lark Ascending, not just in the title piece.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I have to make a choice?
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Publish a second book.
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?
Maybe an actor.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I couldn’t do anything else.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
20 - What are you currently working on?
One of the things I’ve started is a sequence of poems I’m calling Apologies (as in with apologies to…). Individual poems that recall, allude to, rewrite other poems. So far I’ve some based on Catullus, Cavafy, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, R.E.M.