Tag Archives: poetry

Interview with Gary Barwin

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picture of Gary BarwinGary Barwin is a writer, composer, multimedia artist and the author of twenty-one books of poetry, fiction and books for children. His recent books include Scotiabank Giller Prize and Governor General’s Award shortlisted Yiddish for Pirates and the poetry collection Moon Baboon Canoe. Barwin teaches creative writing in the Mohawk College Continuing Education program and will be the writer-in-residence at McMaster University and the Hamilton Public Library for 2017–2018. Born in Northern Ireland to South African parents of Ashkenazi descent, Barwin moved to Canada as a child. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Barwin will be in Thunder Bay on October 30th, 2017 for the International Festival of Authors event at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery; he will be presenting his new book of poetry, No TV for Woodpeckers.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your new poetry collection, No TV for Woodpeckers?

Gary Barwin: I was hoping to be loved by everyone. And also to be carried through the streets as everyone cheers, though some also exclaim, “Mmm,” because my poems are so profound. But really, I believe that poetry is a powerful technology for exploration of both thought and feeling, of concepts and a sense of being-in-the-world. It’s a kind of tool for investigation. I was interested in considering our relationship to our environment and how we live in interconnected spaces. I have hiked in Hamilton for decades and recently began kayaking through the Cootes Paradise marsh at the end of my street. I was stunned to discover such a vast range of lifeforms there—there were some creatures that I didn’t recognize (the water vole? who knew?)—particularly in this famously post-industrial city. The second part of the book explores human experience and language more generally. These are strange times (they’re always strange times!) but I was interested in exploring the braid between language, poetry and contemporary experience—of family life, grief, media, culture, humour, wonder, confusion and consternation. You know, the usual.

Of course. No TV for Woodpeckers is split into two parts: “Needleminer” and “Marlinspike Chanty.”  What’s the significance of those titles?

Needle miners are types of moth. In larval form, they burrow into the needles of conifers. This sequence was created by burrowing into pre-existing poems, populating them with species names that can be found in Hamilton, Ontario where I live. Clearly, I’m a pest. But what’s a pest is relative. Needle miners have a rich culture of their own and are proud to be needle miners. ­­

A marlinspike is a pointy tool used by sailors for separating rope. Hopefully these poems poke into knotty things and make the reader want to sing. Or call out. Or haul on a yardarm.

Well now I can’t wait to see if anything like that happens when you’re reading here in Thunder Bay. In “Needleminer,” you reworked (or “repopulated”) pre-existing texts with various animals from the Hamilton area. How did you choose which texts to repopulate in this way?

That is a good question. I thought about using texts about Hamilton or texts that expressed a particular thematic connection to issues of ecology, place or the environment, but in the end I decided to use texts that were formally rich, that were mini-textual environments in themselves. I repopulated the texts with species names (from plant-life, insects, animals) and then in the last part, I used anatomical terms used in the identification of human parts as well as other species to explore the further interconnection between human and non-human. The result was portmanteau words (or perhaps neologisms)—a hybrid language environment, just as we live in a hybrid environment, neither human-made nor natural, but a complex interconnected situation.

The book is full of many different styles of poems. Do you have a favourite poetic form to write?

In my country, we don’t write poetic forms, poetic forms write us. But it is kinda true: I try to be open to the possibilities suggested by the merest wisps at the beginning of writing a poem. I try to be aware of where it might take me, to be open to trusting the impulse that I perceive in the writing itself rather than lumbering in like a galoot stomping all over things with his big poetic clompers and missing a range of possibilities. So I don’t know that I have a favourite style, but I have a favourite process. That feeling when a poem begins to go madly off in all directions and my job is just to try to keep up.

I think that’s one of the best feelings, whatever you’re writing. Thinking about other kinds of writing, you’re also a novelist, composer, and multimedia artist who has worked on a large range of different media (including visual poetry, children’s books, and music). What draws you to this wide range of medium?

I love to explore how the different media bounce off each other. How they are just different dimensions of the other. And for me, one thing inspires another. It’s exciting to see how the parts of a medium can create a world, a kind of energy field.

Do you have a favourite medium to work with?

Truth. It’s my favourite medium. Sorry, I lied.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing some kind of a Western, but set in Eastern Europe. Right now, a scene where my protagonist is getting a shave and a haircut when he has a revelation. He has to retrieve his testicles from a glacier where they were shot off years before. He wants to have a child and so now he needs them again.

Interesting. I wish him luck in finding them. What book or author inspired you to write?

As a small child, I remember listening to stories, but also to language itself. The sound of it. The patterns. The fact that it existed, that it was something between people and the world, that it could help you notice things, but that it was also a thing in itself. And different people used it differently. How could I not want to try it out, to explore it.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Whatever makes their body and brain feel electric. I think it’s a good experience to, at least sometimes, read books that change how you think books work, change what you think is possible in a book and therefore in your thought and experience of the world.

And what are you currently reading?

About twenty different books at once. I just finished, Pockets, a tiny perfect novel by Stuart Ross. Strange, surprising and moving. Also, Cop House, short stories by Sam Shelstad which is just out. And Whereas by Layli Long Soldier, an Indigenous American poet is remarkable.

No TV for Woodpeckers cover

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Interview with Lorraine Reguly

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picture of Lorraine RegulyLorraine Reguly, BA/BEd, is an author and English teacher-turned-freelancer for hire. She offers 4 different services on Wording Well: writing/blogging, and editing. She also helps others become published authors! Check out her services and see what she can do for YOU. You can also visit her author site, Laying It Out There.

Shauna Kosoris: Your first book, Risky Issues, is made up of mostly fictional short stories. Why did you decide to change to nonfiction for your new book, From Nope to Hope?

Lorraine Reguly: I saw that many people needed help.

I wrote about my suicide attempt, and that article hit the #1 spot on Google. I was getting over 500 people a day reading that blog post. I was surprised that so many people were contemplating suicide, and were looking for answers on what to do, on how to cope with their problems, and how to improve their lives.

As someone who continually struggled with suicidal thoughts for years, I wanted to share the exact strategies and techniques that I used (and still use, on occasion) to overcome mine. I also wanted to share how I maintain a positive outlook on life now. I am a much happier person than I ever was… now. Finally. Thank God!

From Nope to Hope is a book that will change your life! It also contains a built-in workbook with exercises for the reader to do (at the end of each chapter).

FYI… My first book, Risky Issues, was my “practice book.” I wanted to make sure I could go through all of the steps to self-publishing.

My second book is my pride and joy (next to my son, of course!). From Nope to Hope took me about a year to write, and I shed many tears during the process because of all the old memories it brought up. However, I completed it, published it, and sold many copies. I’m proud of myself for helping others. It brings me great joy to receive emails and messages from people I have helped. There is no greater feeling in the world than when someone tells me I literally saved their life. Wow. It’s just amazing!

After overcoming many obstacles in your life (many of which you share in From Nope to Hope), you were able to turn your life around. What do you credit with helping you get to this point?

There are many factors that contributed to the positivity in my life. The person who drove me to change myself was my son. He is also the reason I always chose to continue to live and move forward.

The other factors are the strategies and techniques mentioned in my book, From Nope to Hope.

However, it was the epiphany I had while I was in the hospital when my appendix burst in 2012 and I nearly died. I realized that I wanted to live, that I didn’t want to die without saying goodbye to my son, and that I had so many things I wanted to accomplish before I died.

So I began LIVING. I reconnected with my son, and many wonderful things happened as a result.

How Re-Uniting with My Son Impacted My Life tells them all!

Along with publishing your books, you’re also an accomplished blogger.  How did you get involved in copywriting?

Once I began blogging back in 2013, others started noticing me and how well I write. My writing is always perfect and edited to perfection. I started guest-posting as a way to “get my name out there,” and one website owner hired me to write articles each month for his site. I then began marketing myself as a freelance writer and editor.

Once I became an author, I started offering services to help others become authors too.

These are the services I offer.

What was your first published piece?

I have had many published pieces both online (in the last several years) and in local newspapers (about 20 years ago!) so I honestly cannot remember. Sorry!

For a list of my online publications, you can refer to my portfolio on Wording Well.

Thinking about Wording Well, why did you start your freelance writing, editing, and coaching service?

First and foremost, as a way of helping others. Secondly, to supplement my income.

I currently have multiple income streams. You can read more about them all in the article called The Essence of Blogging (+ How to Earn Money Online).

You have written many different pieces, from short stories and articles to blog posts and poetry.  Do you have a favourite writing style?  

LOL – I like them all!

I like writing true, factual accounts about both my life and about any topic, in general.

I love writing poetry.

My favorite would have to be sharing stories about my life, though. I love talking about myself and how far I have come in my life.

To learn a bit about the obstacles I have faced and the situations I’ve overcome, you can read My Life Journey (#inspirational #poetry + #motivational #poem).

What are you working on now?

I’m considering a historical book about Winston Hall, an apartment building that contained about 130 apartments before it ultimately burned down. It used to once house the women who worked in World War II and it, at one point, contained a bowling alley, a dance hall, and a concession stand that later became a convenience store.

In fact, my mom was the last person to run the store. I also worked there, as did my sister.

My paternal grandmother and grandfather lived in the building for about 40 years. I lived there, too, for about one-and-a-half years, with my son, when he was a baby (to age one). I had many friends who lived there. I grew up in a house across the street from Winston Hall.

Winston Hall was a HUGE part of my childhood!

What book or author inspired you to write?

No book. No author.

My mother was an elementary school teacher who quit teaching when I was born. I was her firstborn child and she taught me how to read and write at a VERY young age.

I was reading and writing cursive by the time I was in Grade 1. Other children my age back then were still learning how to print within two lines, and I was already writing within one. (I remember this because I got in trouble for disobeying my teacher. Can you believe that?)

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

No. People should read whatever they are interested in.

My son does not read books, but he loves magazine and Internet articles.

I, on the other hand, prefer novels – mystery novels, to be exact.

And what are you currently reading?

I’ve heard many good things about Stephen King’s book, On Writing, and so I’m going to read that soon!

I’m currently reading (and editing) Maxwell Ivey Jr’s 3rd book. Max is a blind man from Houston, Texas, who is someone who is mega-inspirational to me. He lost over 250 pounds, runs two businesses, wrote a motivational guide book to success, wrote a book about weight loss success, and then travelled to New York City alone via train for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in 2016-2017.

Max also uses social media, has two websites, and is internationally known as The Blind Blogger, a moniker I gave him! He is simply AMAZING and is someone I admire the most in this world.

Leading You Out of the Darkness Into the Light: A Blind Man’s Inspirational Guide to Success is his first book.

It’s Not the Cookie, It’s the Bag: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Weight Loss Success is his second.

We are still finalizing the title for his third!

Learn more about Max’s books.

Learn more about mine.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share a few tidbits about me, my books, and my life!

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Interview with Paul Gooding

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picture of Paul GoodingPaul Gooding enjoys poetry from the Victorian to the modern age, especially Tennyson, Frost, and Andrea Cohen. He’s the contact person for the Writers’ Circle, who meet on the last Wednesday of the month in the Waverley Auditorium. For more information on Writers’ Circle, please call him at 807-345-8513.

Shauna Kosoris: How did you get involved with Writers’ Circle?

Paul Gooding: Through a library ad. I was put in touch with Irene Warmenhoven, who edited the first anthology, Voice of Thunder, in 1998. I believe that they had existed prior to the first anthology.

For new members, it doesn’t matter if you’ve written a little or a lot, you can bring what you have and we’ll celebrate and read it. Everyone is welcome. There are no authorities. Everyone has their own thoughts on the piece. Everyone is welcome.

It’s wonderful that Writers’ Circle is so supportive. Other than that support, what is the most positive thing you have gotten out of being a member?

I think it’s the experience of seeing my work in print to a wider audience. To more than just fellow writers. The Writers’ Circle books were placed in the Thunder Bay depot of local works. That was instigated by Ken Boschcoff. I don’t know where it is located but it is the mayor’s collection of books.

That’s very exciting! You were on the editing team for Thunder on the Bay, the Writers’ Circle’s 4th anthology. Who else worked on that with you?

Thunder on the Bay was edited by Joan Baril, Michele Tuomi, and I. Martin Hicks assisted in editing as well (he’s since passed on). L. Keith Johnson was the guiding light to that one. Each time we met he kept a record of who came to the meeting. He was a massive contributor to everything.back cover picture of Thundering

The last anthology, Thundering, has a picture of all our contributors. Keith is third from the right.

Your bio in Thunder on the Bay and Thundering says you started writing after taking a course in Victorian Prose & Poetry. Why did that course inspire you?

It was an era of poetry that appealed to my mother. She got me several Tennyson books. I find the music of the poetry very enticing. I had to imitate it. The professor of that course was Dr. S.R. MacGillvary.

Was that here at Lakehead?

Yes. There’s another teacher, Claude Liman, who also inspired me. He’s since left town.

Have you always written poetry, or have you tried prose, too?

I tried prose in high school. I’ve written several academic papers. But poetry really. I’ve been in several poetry groups besides Writers Circle. My friends and I test each other. It’s lots of fun.

What is your favourite poem form to write and why?

I think variations on sonnet form, 14 lines. But the order of the lines isn’t given much prominence. Whatever I can fit into 14 lines. I’m not a strict follower. It takes a lot of skill. A sonnet is 14 lines, 3 quatrains, and a couplet. I don’t adhere to it strictly.

In terms of interests, I think also in terms of influences: Robert Frost. Andrea Cohen.

Why those poets?

I like their voice. I can feel them speaking to me directly and enjoy sharing their poetry. Sharing common interests.

How long does it take you to write a typical poem?

Probably no more than 30 minutes. I don’t write a lot. I write when I feel like it. Not interrupted. 30-40 minutes generally.

What was your first published poem?

I think the poems in Voice of Thunder. That was back in 1998.

So what are you working on now?

Right now, I’ll be giving a presentation to Writers’ Circle on William Wordsworth sonnets. That will be the last week at Waverley in May.

Good luck with that! Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading. What poet first inspired you to write?

I’d say Tennyson. Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He represents an isolated individual speaking for his age. An isolated individual who can remain true to his individual self.

Is there a book you think everyone should read?

Just read anything, really. If you get a copy of Victorian Poetry and Prose, it has major poems and essays.

Stuart Mill -essays
Carlyle -essays
John Henry Newman – essays

Victorian poetry still satisfies. I’ve been writing poetry since 1998 and it still provides challenges, examples, flights of fancy. It’s an escape from the mundane world to a higher reality. It lifts everything up to a higher dimension.

And what are you currently reading?

A book called The Crimes of Paris. It’s about the theft of the Mona Lisa and the criminal underworld of Paris. It’s got larger than life characters. From before Sherlock Holmes.

I also read a book called The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.

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Interview with Karen Connelly

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Author picture of Karen ConnellyKaren Connelly is the author of 10 books of bestselling non-fiction, fiction and poetry. She has won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for her poetry, the Governor General’s Award for her non-fiction and Britain’s Orange Broadband Prize for New Fiction for her first novel, The Lizard Cage. Connelly presents her latest collection of poetry, Come Cold River, a searing portrayal of her troubled family. Refracted through different Canadian cities and foreign landscapes, the book expands into an authentic homage to those who are made invisible and silenced. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Connelly is in Thunder Bay tonight for the International Festival of Authors event at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery at 7pm.

Shauna Kosoris: You’ve lived a life full of adventure, having lived in Thailand, Spain, France, Myanmar (Burma) and Greece.  How has living in these other places impacted your writing, beyond the obvious of giving you writing material?’

Karen Connelly: Living in other places has formed me so deeply that it’s actually hard to answer that question. I was apprenticed as a writer abroad, in Thailand and Spain and France; I came of age as a writer a decade later, in Burma and Thailand again; I have spent years in between all that in Greece, which is still my second home.

When I first lived abroad in Thailand, at seventeen, the magic of learning another language fluently got me hooked. Studying independently languages in situ, in the cultures where they were spoken, became my university, my means of simultaneously grappling with the foreign in a physical way and educating myself. This has certainly been a crucial part of my development as a writer and of my experience of the foreign. It has materially influenced some of the ways in which I write, especially the rhythms and complexities (or simplicities) of my use of words. I often hear echoed in my writing lines that I have originally read in Greek or Spanish; I don’t really know how this process works, but what it tells me is that such foreign words are heavily inscribed not just in my mind but in my ear – in my musical understanding of language.

It took me a long time, when I came back to Canada, to figure out how to write “Canada” again. Come Cold River, the last book of poetry, is mostly about Canada, a kind of memoir in poetry of where I grew up in Alberta; and The Change Room is set in Toronto.

Why do you call yourself a reluctant journalist on your website?

Because I’m too much of an artist, too emotional, to be anything but a reluctant journalist. My power as a writer lies in my ability to feel, to enter and experience the world as it comes to me with a profound bias. I love to investigate facts and ideas—but I have to feel. Though I enjoy the hard work of turning ‘true stories’ into art, I lead with my heart. So perhaps I should have written “lousy journalist” instead!

Fair enough!  In another interview, you said “First I write poetry, then I write a nonfiction, then I write a novel.” Why is poetry first for you?

Partly because, as I mentioned above, I am all muscle and sponge, absorbent, lively. Poetry for me is a visceral emotional reaction to the meaningful and sometimes meaningless events of life. Poetry comes from a different area of the brain. Prose and poetry use different techniques, different voices—poetry is like a different musical instrument. When I worked on my last book Come Cold River–despite dealing with truly miserable subject matter—it was like going swimming in almost warm salt water. I floated—moved effortlessly through the language, even when the poems are hard (and, ironically, a number of the poems are about drowning!)

In prose you really have to swim. Prose narrative is all about duty, making sure the reader gets the connections, building the whole scene, the whole world. Poetry is momentary and emotional. Clearly it can and even needs to mean more than one thing. This multiplicity means it is a freer element. Even if it is narrative, as much of my poetry is, very story-ish, it is still more watery, more fluid. And let’s face it, poetry can just jazz up and crash down and stun the reader in a way that prose almost never can. The sharpness and specificity of poetry has much to do with that. While it is the freer element, it also contains, paradoxically, the possibility of driving a stake into the reader’s heart.

What’s great about poetry for me is that no one reads it. Well, maybe a few hundred people. I’ll bring a few secret copies to Thunder Bay, but I don’t have many left. Come Cold River is like a secret, the hard poems I never even wrote. Most poets complain about this but for me it’s a relief. Because of that wonderful obscurity, you can think write say express anything in a poem. There is no censorship, no niceties necessary. At least for me. I do think a lot of other poets do more censoring, more picking and choosing. Or it’s a stylistic consideration—I find there’s a lot of tightness in Canadian poetry these days, a lot of formalism that is neither natural nor emotionally engaging to me. As I get older I am more and more interested in—what? freedom? that’s not exactly it, since I have always had every kind of freedom imaginable. Something else. Not hiding. Telling the truth.

You’ve been writing for many years (your first book of poetry was published over three decades ago) but your first novel, The Lizard Cage, was published just over a decade ago.  Why did you decide to try your hand at writing a novel?

Oh, I’ve always written fiction. I started and ditched maybe half a dozen novels. I have a bunch of really fun short stories embedded in a travel book of mine, One Room in a Castle. And The Lizard Cage took me a decade to write, so really it’s 2 or 3 books.

I’m glad you found your novel even if it took a few tries!  The Lizard Cage is not the first thing you’ve written inspired by your time in Southeast Asia.  Why does this area of the world appeal to you so much?

Probably because I was so young (17) when I first went to live there. It went in—right to my bones. I am so at home in SE Asia. Buddhism has influenced my life too, because I lived in a rural Thai setting as a young person. And that was a real antidote and balm, a relief, after the Christian fundamentalism I’d been raised in.

Your long awaited second novel, The Change Room, is coming out this spring.  What inspired you to write it?

Conversations with women in book clubs, actually. So many of them liked the sexual content in Burmese Lessons—the young woman who is passionately in love with a man who is never around, because he’s an important revolutionary political figure. Burmese Lessons is about many things—the politics of Myanmar in the 1990’s, censorship, violence, the work of witnessing, activism, refugees, being a writer at the edge of war and unrest. But it’s also a book about longing, lust, and sexual fulfilment. Or lack thereof.

Another reason? (there are many!) Well, let’s face it, 50 Shades of Gray was about a sexual nitwit, a completely unsophisticated young woman, a virgin who never used the word ‘clitoris’. Hello! She was annoying! I wanted to write a smart, funny, worldly heroine who is on an intelligent and very transgressive quest for sexual joy.

The Change Room is full of realistic adult sex. It’s very democratic: EVERYONE has realistic adult sex which is sometimes fabulous, but also messy, truncated, and often unfulfilling. My main character has children, and a job, like the rest of us, so she’s having real-life sex. Yet I also wanted to explore the wondrous power and magic of sexuality. It was, needless to say, the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book!

The Change Room features a happily married woman who gets involved with another woman.  Why did you decide to write about this particular relationship?

I wanted to explore the multiplicity and elasticity of female desire. We can be freer to love than men—women often have love built into them by virtue of biology but also because of cultural expectations. We are expected to be nurturers. We take care, we bear children and traditionally have taken care of them more than men. We also take care of men a lot. We do a lot of  unpaid unacknowledged emotional labour. What would happen, I wondered, if Eliza Keenan–my busy, overworked, stressed-out married mother of two–met a lover who could take care of her? Who would be a fabulous lover but also  . . . feed her? What would that look like? Perhaps it’s just another fantasy.

Anyway, to go back to what I was saying earlier, women’s capacity to love is also erotic. I know so many women who identify as bisexual, as I do myself, though I’ve lived much of my life as a heterosexual.

I also thought that a same-sex adulterous affair might engender less anger towards the character than a typical hetero affair. I did a lot of research into adultery for this book: married women having affairs with other men are infinitely more vilified than men who have affairs. Adultery still makes people of both sexes very angry and hurt, even if they are not involved in the affair. The person in heterosexual affairs who is ‘blamed’ and hated the most is—are we really surprised?—the woman. So I was hoping to soften some of those negative emotions by making the lovers women.

With The Change Room set to be published this spring, what are you working on now?

Don’t laugh: the second book in the trilogy of The Change Room. Which a number of my friends jokingly call The Deep End. It might stick, actually. These books are very serious but they are also extremely funny, full of the humour of everyday life, of women and men talking and living and fighting and laughing together.

I also want to collect all my essays and publish them, which I think are some of my best writing.

Good luck with both of those projects. Let’s finish up with some questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

I think it has to be in the present tense. Many writers inspired me and I still need writers to inspire me now. As a teenager, Annie Dillard, the big Canadian poets of the 1970’s and 1980’s, the essays of Camus. Pablo Neruda. Walt Whitman. Lawrence Durrell. And since then, oh, so many writers. James Baldwin—huge. Robin Kelley. I read all the time. I read promiscuously, variously, without a program. Harriet Doerr. Zora Neale Hurston. Elaine Scary’s extraordinary theoretical and political writing. Audre Lorde. Adrienne Riche. Julia Kristeva. The Greek poet Yiorgos Seferis was and still is an enormously important writer for me. Sharon Olds, Stephen Dunn, Lewis Hyde, Susan Griffin. A bunch of Buddhists. And I’m a huge fan of British women novelists: Muriel Spark, Olivia Manning, Dorothy Sayers, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Rachel Cusk. The Irish writer Edna O’Brien.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin. It’s a wonderfully readable book about history, and women, and who creates the narrative of the world as we know it. Zeldin has a great big brain but it’s not a hard book to read—just endlessly fascinating and hopeful. And we have to all of us face the music of what we’re doing to our planet.  The Global Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger makes it much easier to do that. She is a treasure, a magical ecologist.

And what are you currently reading?

Mark Winston’s Bee Time. Helen Garner’s The Spare Room (she is a graceful Australian novelist whom I’d never heard of—discovered her on the public library shelves.) Katherena Vermette’s The Break. Sun Mi Hwang’s beautiful book The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly—also a local library find. I  also just finished two of Ian McEwan’s recent novels, Sweet Tooth and The Children Act. They were wonderful—really the best novels by McEwan I’ve read in years. He is getting better and sweeter as he ages, more playful. So there is hope for me.

Come Cold River book cover

Interview with Andy McGuire

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mcguire-andyAndy McGuire is from Grand Bend, Ontario, and currently resides in Toronto.  He is pursuing an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph.  McGuire’s poems have appeared in Riddle Fence, Hazlitt and The Walrus.  He will present Country Club at the International Festival of Authors Lit on Tour event in Thunder Bay on November 1st.

Shauna Kosoris: What first drew you to poetry?

Andy McGuire: The money and fame. Actually, I really don’t remember. Whatever it was has become historical fact. My earliest attempts at writing poems coincided with a pretty dark time in my life. The main feature of that time was a super unhealthy disassociation with the world, and myself, that apparently was amenable to a poetic impulse. Maybe that was a poetic impulse, or my poetic impulse, who knows—all I have to go on is the memory of a feeling. It was the beginning of my love of language. The engine is a love of language, poetry is whatever that engine puts in motion. All I know is that for me, that engine only became available, or possible, at my absolute lowest.

If your absolute lowest was the beginning, what is driving you now?

This is a hard question because I spend most of my time writing, and thinking about writing. I only ever step back and consider things like what is driving me now when asked in an interview. The thing that drives my work, besides the supernatural Rube Goldberg machine that pulls the mysterious stops in turn, is a love of language. There you have it, the dull moment of truth. Also, I feel crippling guilt and anxiety if I go more than a few days without writing, without making something, anything, really. Yeah, that definitely drives me also. Guilt, anxiety, and shame. The three amigos in the heart of a classic buzzkill. Inside of any maker—someone who feels an imperative to create—something is a little broken, I think, in a good way.

What is your favourite poem form to write and why?

I don’t have a favourite poetic form. On the one hand, I try not to have too much tension in the reins while writing, and yet I find great value in introducing constraints to a poem in progress. A rhyme scheme, a repeated stanzaic structure; these sorts of formal elements usually reveal themselves during the compositional process. The filmmaker Errol Morris has a theory of art: establish an arbitrary set of rules and follow them. I love that. Even though I’m not very interested in writing sonnets and sestinas (at least at the moment), the reasons why some poets are interested make perfect sense to me. It’s the freedom of a limited repertoire. It makes things sayable. The art of encumbrance often leads to otherwise unavailable aesthetic possibilities. I am sympathetic to the formalist cause, I just find that it doesn’t square well with the eternal pursuit of good times. Several of the poems in Country Club flirt with a formal grandiosity and deploy all sorts of traditional techniques in weird ways. Lately I’ve been writing poems in the form of top ten lists. I have found the form to be incredibly versatile and deeply inclusive. I labour endlessly over these lists, but it’s fun, I get away with a lot. I can say things like This life owes me a death, and Love is an unmarked van, and Maybe cashmere just wants to be left alone, all in the same breath.

What made you start writing poems in the form of top 10 lists?

It happened by accident. I was reading an article about Afghanistan, and the supernatural Rube Goldberg machine pulled some mysterious linguistic stop and suggested the title, Top Ten Stans. So I made a top ten list of preeminent Stans that included Stan Cup, Paul Stan, Stan Park and Afghanistan. It was my first taste of the linguistic slippage that characterizes the lists. I was hooked.

Do you think you’d ever be interested in writing sonnets and sestinas in the future?

Absolutely, maybe, who knows. I may wake up wrecked on a formalist shore one cold New England morning. It wasn’t in the cards of all my old futures. Still, I carry around a little emergency kit with a bag of scotch mints and a list of words like chesterfield.

Earlier you said that formalism doesn’t “square well with the eternal pursuit of good times.”  What exactly do you mean by the eternal pursuit of good times?

I mean the pursuit of pleasure, the diametric opposite of scotch mints and words like chesterfield.

Country Club  examines human passions, such as wealth, power, leisure, and desire.  Which passion did you find the most interesting to explore in poetry?

Several of the poems in Country Club are either about or set in Florida. The reason being that I wintered there one year while I was working on my manuscript. The human passions you mention are hard to parse in the Sunshine State. They kind of come as a package deal. That winter I was living in a private golf course community deep in the heart of retirement country. A few weeks ago Donald Trump held a campaign rally just down the road from where I was. That is where I spent the winter, American Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. The frozen sea within me melted. At that latitude, you would only need an axe when Florida freezes over. Anyway, the culture down there amounted to conspicuous excess, a kind of disengagement from the world. I wanted the Florida poems to reflect in some way the cultural attitudes and postures, the sheer idleness, that gave rise to their occasion. The Florida poems, in particular, were a pleasure to write.

So gluttony and sloth (in Florida)?

That’s a generous way of putting it, but yes.

You’re currently pursuing your MFA in creative writing at the University of Guelph. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned so far during your time there?

I just defended my thesis, which was a novel, this past summer. I had never attempted fiction before, and I learned that the process of novelistic composition involves way more typing than poetry. The Guelph program has a stellar faculty, and the instructors I worked with—Catherine Bush, Kevin Connolly, Dionne Brand and Michael Winter—helped me in various ways to become a better reader and editor of my own work. The Guelph program really encourages students to take risks in their writing. I bet the farm a few times. For me, that was one of the most valuable outcomes of the program: learning what kind of risks I want to take in my work, and developing my writerly instincts in that sense.

How successful were you during those times you bet the farm?

The point was to try things out, so my experimentations were successful, in that I found great value in taking risks (considered risks, of course) and simply trying out different modes of writing. Hence the novel. If we’re talking about publishing as a measure of success, well, my novel and I are on a break. I was like, It’s not me, it’s you. Sometimes you need to shelve a piece of writing to figure out what it is, what it needs to be.

Other than your MFA, what are you working on now?

I have been doubling down on my second book of poems. It’s going to be a collection of the aforementioned top ten lists. My novel is enjoying the inside of a drawer for the time being. I always have a gaggle of projects on the go—things I should wait to talk about until the second trimester.

Finally, I have a few questions about what you read.  What book, author, poem, or poet inspired you to write?

The authors that have been putting the flames in my fire lately are Adam Phillips and Sarah Manguso. Their sentences are special. Also currently in rotation: Alice Oswald’s Memorial, Emily Dickinson’s collected poems, Jenny Zhang’s Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, Arthur Waley’s translation of the Tao Tê Ching, James Tate’s Memoir of the Hawk, and the letters of Groucho Marx.

Those are all authors and poets who are currently inspiring your writing.  Did anyone or any poem first inspire you to write?  

My old friend Graeme Charles read my earliest poems. They would come back to me creased and stained, covered in slashes and burns. He was ruthless, he really cared. He’s the smartest guy I know, and I haven’t seen him in years. Graeme, if you’re reading this, give me a sign, let’s get together.

Is there a book or poem that you think everyone should read?

On the contrary, I would advocate for veering off the beaten path. Read a book written by the trainer of a famous dog. Read The Warren Report. A book about a river, or the greatest art heist in history. An autobiography of a failed lion tamer. I once heard someone say, All reading is counterproductive—a truly stupid thing to say, but an interesting provocation nonetheless. I have gotten the best returns from my most seemingly counterproductive reading. That said, maybe everyone should read Country Club.

So what was the most seemingly counterproductive thing you’ve read?

I guess what I mean is that my reading habits are largely determined by chance. Books lead to other books, and I’ve developed a fairly decent instinct with regard to literary leads. Also, bibliographies, obscure blogs and remainder tables are my best friends. I have found that the most memorable books are the ones that are like portals to weird little alcoves within the world. For example, there’s a book called Letters to Strongheart by a man named J. Allen Boone. Strongheart was the first canine movie star, like, before Rin Tin Tin. He was famous for having apparently cried once in a close-up on film. A little dog tear running down his dog cheek. Anyway, after Strongheart died this J. Allen Boone started writing letters to Strongheart. And so the book is twenty-three letters to a dead dog. The kind of book you might find on a remainder table—my kind of book. That sort of obscure stuff really fills my tank. But also, it doesn’t have to be books. When you value writing as writing, any paragraph, any sentence or line can be as good as the next. Your mom can write a line in a text that sounds like it came from a crestfallen mermaid. Reading is reading, and in the course of a day I read all sorts of things that you probably wouldn’t think contribute or are relevant to artistic work, but there’s always some processing happening on some level. Who knows how these things work. They work, is all, and they’re always working, even when they’re not. I mean, a river doesn’t flip an on switch as soon as someone looks.

Country Club book cover

Shakespeare in Popular Music, part One

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by Unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th century (late 15th century)

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th century (late 15th century)

Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal. T.S.Eliot

Sometimes,it’s not really stealing, its is simply paying homage to great words and great ideas.  I was actually surprised by the number of pop songs that have taken inspiration by Shakespeare’s words or plays. The variety of artists range from Bob Dylan to Dire Straits, with Canadian contributions by The Tragically Hip, The Barenaked Ladies and Rush.

A personal favourite is “Cemetery Gates by The Smiths. I fell in love with the lyrics, and was surprised that the words had a literary pedigree. The quote is from Richard III,  Act Five, Scene III

  RATCLIFF
Ratcliff, my lord; ’tis I. The early village-cock
Hath twice done salutation to the morn;
Your friends are up, and buckle on their armour.

KING RICHARD III
O Ratcliff, I have dream’d a fearful dream!
What thinkest thou, will our friends prove all true?

By this time in the play, Richard’s plans are falling apart and his conscience is bothering him. The ghosts of his misdeeds, figuratively and literally, are beginning to surround him and for Richard the end in nigh.  The Smiths version conjures Shakespeare and references Wilde, Yeats and Keats, as well.

“Cemetery Gates”
The Smiths

A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your sideA dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
While Wilde is on mineSo we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people all those lives
Where are they now?
With the loves and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived and then they died
Seems so unfair
And I want to cry

You say: “ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”
And you claim these words as your own
But I’ve read well, and I’ve heard them said
A hundred times, maybe less, maybe more

If you must write prose and poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarise or take “on loans”
There’s always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows
And who trips you up and laughs
When you fall
Who’ll trip you up and laugh
When you fall

You say: “ere long done do does did”
Words which could only be your own
And then you then produce the text
From whence was ripped some dizzy whore, 1804

A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re happy
And I meet you at the cemetery gates
Oh Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re wanted
And I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you lose because Wilde is on mine

On Shakespeare by John Milton 1608-1674

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anything-new-by-shakespeare-cartoon1

What needs my Shakespeare for his honour’d Bones,
The labour of an age in pilèd Stones,
Or that his hallow’d reliques should be hid
Under a stary pointing Pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of Fame,
What need’st thou such weak witnes of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thy self a live-long Monument.
For whilst to th’ shame of slow-endeavouring art,
Thy easie numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalu’d Book
Those Delphick lines with deep impression took,
Then thou our fancy of it self bereaving,
Dost make us Marble with too much conceaving;
And so Sepulcher’d in such pomp dost lie,
That Kings for such a Tomb would wish to die.

The poem was originally published as “An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramaticke
 Poet, W. Shakespeare,”. Though Shakespeare’s death occurred fourteen years
 before the composition date, Milton concentrates on the immortality of his art 
rather than on the sadness of his death.
Modern authors are still using Shakespeare for inspiration "The Shakespeare
 Project", will feature a broad spectrum of current authors using his plays
 as inspiration for new novels. The first in the series is
 Howard Jacobson's "Shylock is my Name" which
is a retelling of the Merchant of Venice from Shylock's point of view. The second
book is "Vinegar Girl" by Anne Tyler. Vinegar Girl takes another look at "The 
Taming of the Shrew."
Other upcoming works include Margaret Atwood's reworking of "The Tempest",
 Jo Nesbo exploring"Macbeth" is as a noir thriller, and Jeannette
 Winterson creating a new version of "The Winter's Tale".