Friday, June 24, 2016

U of Alberta writers-in-residence interviews: Erín Moure (2013-14)

For the sake of the fortieth anniversary of the writer-in-residence program (the longest lasting of its kind in Canada) at the University of Alberta, I have taken it upon myself to interview as many former University of Alberta writers-in-residence as possible [see the ongoing list of writers here]. Seethe link to the entire series of interviews (updating weekly) here.

Erín Moure by the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. Photo by Karis Shearer.

Erín Moure is a poet and translator of poetry from French, Spanish, Galician and Portuguese. Her work has received the Governor General's Award, Pat Lowther Memorial Award, and A.M. Klein Prize (twice) and been a three-time finalist for the Griffin Prize. Her Insecession, a biopoetics echoing Chus Pato, appeared in one book with Pato’s Secession, in Moure translation (BookThug, 2014). Her French/English play-poem Kapusta (Anansi, 2015), sequel to The Unmemntioable, was a finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize and was a CBC Best Book of 2015. 2016 will see three new Moure translations from Galician and French: Flesh of Leviathan by Chus Pato (Omnidawn), New Leaves by Rosalía de Castro (Small Stations), and My Dinosaur by François Turcot (BookThug).

She was writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta during the 2013-14 academic year.

Q: When you began your residency, you’d been publishing books for more than three decades. Where did you feel you were in your writing? What did the opportunity mean to you?

A: For me writing is always starting anew, as a beginner. Language always asks me to begin again. I don’t want to do what I did before.

I went to Edmonton very excited about spending time in English, and having time free of freelance work slogging (which largely conspires to make creative life impossible) to complete one poetic project (Kapusta, appeared from Anansi in 2015) of my own, and do a very complex and long translation of Brazilian Wilson Bueno’s work in Portunhol with Guaraní into English flecked with French and, I had hoped, Tsuu T’ina or another indigenous language of Alberta… that didn’t work out, and I decided to keep the Guaraní… but I did finish the translation and start trying to find a publisher. It will be out in the second half of 2017 from a US poetry press, but I won’t name it as I haven’t received the executed contract. I also wanted to spend those months with my father, whom I knew was near the end of his days and was in a seniors residence in Edmonton. He wanted to be part of my poetry life again too. Unfortunately for me (but fine for him, given his health), he died 10 days before the start of the residency; we were able to say goodbye and accompany each other, but the residency plan was altered.

Q: What do you feel your time as writer-in-residence at University of Alberta allowed you to explore in your work? Were you working on anything specific while there, or was it more of an opportunity to expand your repertoire?

A: It allowed me to be in Alberta to grieve my father, for sure. I was working on specific projects, and just trying to live more calmly and focus on them. I snowshoed by the river, and took self defense classes, made use of the gym and bike paths and all, and the library was a great resource. The department itself was in a bit of disarray as there were budget cutbacks at the university level and an offer of early retirement packages that year; as well, one of the key poetry people, Christine Stewart, was on sabbatical.

Q: How did you engage with students and the community during your residency?

A: Through my usual office hours, I found there was a large contingent from the community who came for advice on every imaginable project and genre, unlike at other university residencies where mainly students make appointments. As well, I met with and worked with many great folks from Modern Languages, both profs and students, and some students in creative writing, via the poetry translation seminar I led all year. They were a marvellous group. I visited Jenna Butler’s poetry class, the TYP classes, attended events in the History department, in Modern Languages, and in English. I was also invited to speak elsewhere in Alberta (besides the exchange with U of Calgary): I gave a class in the history of writing and thinking at the college in Maskwacis, the Cree community south of Edmonton, and a talk at the U of Lethbridge.

Q: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment while there? What had you been hoping to achieve?

A: For me, the highlights were my class visits doing workshops in the TYP classes — the Transitional Year Program for Indigenous students coming into the university for the first time. They really inspired me, both the students and the profs, and excited me by their desire to learn and not just to learn, but to change learning as we know it, change the university, grasp new ways of viewing learning. Also, the river was a highlight.

Q: Were you influenced at all by the landscape, or the writing or writers you interacted with while in Edmonton? What was your sense of the literary community?

A: The literary community in Edmonton is rich and varied and very welcoming in many ways; I would say I hung out more with the landscape and with the writing I was critiquing, and with my own projects which I desperately needed to work on! It was a renewal, for me. A luxury and and a fount of new energy. And I met folks I still keep in touch with, probably moreso than at other residencies. Had many great interactions with profs in the dept, such as Dianne Chisholm, Julie Rak, Keavy Martin. And because of the neighbourhood I was living in, and the fact that I did my grocery shopping on a bicycle and not in a car, I also had a lot of interesting conversations about the downside of the oil industry and the crises in mental health that people were living with on the streets. I met a lot of people who were ravaged, really, but also, strangely, full of hope for their day. I learned a lot.

Q: Given you are originally from Alberta (specifically, Calgary), was there any element of the position that felt like a return?

A: Being in Alberta was great. I grew up in Calgary decades ago, a different Calgary than the one that exists today. I have brothers in and near Edmonton, who are great guys, and my roots are definitely in the landscape of Alberta, those sounds, those trees, the river, the animals along the river. All these are my familiars, in a way, and kindling those relationships was vital to me. I felt close as well to both my parents, to their movements and voices, and to my grandmother. All of which really helped me work.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Mark de Silva

Mark de Silva holds degrees in philosophy from Brown (AB) and Cambridge (PhD). Having served for several years on the editorial staff of the New York Times’s opinion pages, he now freelances for the paper’s Sunday magazine. He is the author of “Distant Visions,” a critical essay on the state of contemporary fiction recently published in 3:AM Magazine, where he serves as a contributing editor. Square Wave, released in February by Two Dollar Radio, is his first novel.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Since I’ve written close to no fiction previously, I suppose it showed me what I was capable of. My most significant previous written work is a doctoral dissertation in the philosophy of mind. The novel is a little more accessible, I hope, and more alive.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I came to non-fiction—academic philosophy—first, actually. But the feeling that it didn’t quite map on to my interests and temperament is what drove me to write fiction.

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?
The longer the project, the longer it takes to get it up and running. I do take notes, but those don’t figure directly in the drafting. I write pretty slowly—sometimes just 400 words in a day—but the words are usually pretty worthwhile.

4 - Where does a work of fiction 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?
I prefer undertaking big projects, so I think I generally know I’m working on a book. I would have a hard time setting out to write something I thought might only be a short story, at least right now. Having a book behind me, though, I might come to feel differently.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’ve only just started doing fiction readings, so I’ll have to see how it goes. I do want to see what it’s possible to convey in a reading that might not come across otherwise.

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 think I like to explore and depict how the world, and consciousness itself, manages, through all the obvious heterogeneity, to hang together--how all the elements manage to co-exist somehow, however riotously. That is a classical philosophical goal, and I suppose that’s what I carry over into my fiction. The current questions are probably too many to name, or anyway a mystery to frame. But I don’t really start with questions. I start by entertaining the phenomena, some of it subjective, some of it less so. From that a sense of what matters, what is mysterious, what else one wants to know, emerges.

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?
As far as the larger culture is concerned, the writer of literary fiction mostly has the role, if he has any luck, of writing novels that might be adapted into Hollywood films that in their turn might bear upon the country’s consciousness. Otherwise he is mostly invisible—just as most scientists, philosophers, and visual artists are. No shame in that.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven’t found it difficult so far, and it has been helpful to me.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Maybe “Never look back”? I’ve always had trouble taking this bit of advice, though.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
The appeal of moving between genres? There isn’t much appeal to it, per se. I think fiction is most satisfying to me on a daily basis. I write non-fiction now only when something very specific presses on me.

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?
With fiction, I try to write for 3 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week. With non-fiction, there’s no schedule really. Just as much as I can.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
It doesn’t really stall when a project is active. Between projects is sometimes a challenge. I try to avoid the usual diversions of modern life for a week or so, and usually I’m able to get things going that way.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Home these days is Manhattan, so car exhaust and steaming garbage. As for my childhood home, in California, the simple smell of freshly mown grass tends to do it. Nothing exotic.

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 is one of the topics covered in my novel, and I used to play guitar and drums pretty avidly, so certainly that has been important—music from indie rock all the way to experimental art music. Film and TV must have had an influence—I can’t see how not, in a world as saturated in those media as ours—but perhaps a less conscious one than music. Visual art plays a large role in the new novel I’m writing, so it is coming to have a major influence, I think, as I visit galleries in New York holding some of the relevant paintings and prints (for instance, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s).

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Here are five I come back to: Coetzee, Naipaul, Salter, Marias, DeLillo. Lately I’ve been reading Rupert Thomson, Dana Spiotta, and Diane Williams.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a page-turner, maybe? That might be nice.

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?
I think it’s pretty clear the alternative would be academic philosophy. In just the right context, that might have worked for me. But the professionalization of academe over the last half-century or so means that that context probably doesn’t exist anymore.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I think I felt it was my ultimate strength—words—along with being, I’m starting to think, my ultimate pleasure.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I recently read Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time. I don’t know if I think the book as a whole is great, but I do know I was stunned by the narrative power of several of the scenes. I also read Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. Perhaps that’s a book that’s more straightforwardly great. As for film, I used to watch a great deal more of it than I do now. I saw Juice on HBO the other day. It was nice to see Pac again.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’ve got a second novel underway. It’s more linear in construction, as I imagine it now, anyway. The book will take up an obsession of both the Arts & Crafts Movement and the Bauhaus: the aesthetics of the everyday, the designed-ness of urban life.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Five questions for Sara Uribe and John Pluecker by David Buuck (translated by John Pluecker,

As my tenure as interviews editor at Queen Mob's Teahouse continues, the eleventh interview is now online: Five questions for Sara Uribe and John Pluecker about Antígona González by David Buuck [pictured] (translated by John Pluecker). Other interviews from my tenure include: an interview with poet, curator and art critic Gil McElroy, conducted by Ottawa poet Roland Prevostan interview with Toronto poet Jacqueline Valencia, conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Drew Shannon and Nathan Page, also conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Ann Tweedy conducted by Mary Kasimoran interview with Katherine Osborne, conducted by Niina Pollari, an interview with Catch Business, conducted by Jon-Michael Frank and a conversation between Vanesa Pacheco and T.A. Noonan, "On Translation and Erasure," existing as an extension of Jessica Smith's The Women in Visual Poetry: The Bechdel Test, produced via Essay Press.

Further interviews I've conducted myself over at Queen Mob's Teahouse include:
Stephanie Bolster on Three Bloody Words, Claire Farley on CanthiusDale Smith on Slow Poetry in AmericaAllison Green, Meredith Quartermain, Andy WeaverN.W Lea and Rachel Loden.

If you are interested in sending a pitch for an interview my way, check out my "about submissions" write-up at Queen Mob's; you can contact me via rob_mclennan (at)

Monday, June 20, 2016

On Writing : an occasional series

We're three years and nearly one hundred essays into the occasional series of "On Writing" essays I've been curating over at the ottawa poetry newsletter blog. I've included an updated list, below, of those pieces posted so far, and the list is becoming quite substantive. Way (way) back in April, 2012, I discovered (thanks to Sarah Mangold) the website for the NPM Daily, and absolutely loved the short essays presented on a variety of subjects surrounding the nebulous idea of “on writing,” prompting me to kick-start a similar series of responses to the question of writing.

Forthcoming: new essays by Vanessa Lent, Brian Henderson, Dale Smith, Daniel Zomparelli, Karl Jirgens, Bruce Whiteman, Geoffrey Young, Molly Gaudry and Jennifer Baker.

On Writing #97 : Paul Pearson : WRITING IS FAILING: My 10 Rules for Writing ; On Writing #96 : Mer Brebner : You always swore you wouldn't... ; On Writing #95 : Claudia Coutu Radmore : The Poetry Three ; On Writing #94 : Valerie Coulton : On Writing ; On Writing #93 : lars palm : first things first ; On Writing #92 : Ashley-Elizabeth Best : The Hard Remainder ; On Writing #91 : A.J. Levin : The Curse of Writing Poetry ; On Writing #90 : Julie Morrissy : On Writing ; On Writing #89 : Alice Zorn : Fixings ; On Writing #88 : Lillian Necakov : Writing is a Hyena ; On Writing #87 : Ken Norris : ON WRITING ; On Writing #86 : Jani Krulc : Practice, practice: On writing and yoga ; On Writing #85 : Steven Artelle : On Writing ; On Writing #84 : Chris Eaton : On Writing ; On Writing #83 : Kaie Kellough : Ceremony ; On Writing #82 : Jacqueline Valencia : On Writing ; On Writing #81 : Kevin Killian : Writing the Anthropocene ; On Writing #80 : Mike Spry : On Writing ; On Writing #79 : Dina Del Bucchia : OMG. Watch TV! ; On Writing #78 : Michelle Berry : On Writing ; On Writing #77 : Eric Schmaltz : Writing as an Intimacy with Machines ; On Writing #76 : Barbara Tomash : Dear PRE- ; On Writing #75 : Eileen R. Tabios : NO LONGER CASUAL ; On Writing #74 : Sheryda Warrener : Make It New ; On Writing #73 : Pam Brown : Writing ; On Writing #72 : Renee Rodin : The Nub ; On Writing #71 : Rebecca Rosenblum : Ways to Help a Fellow Writer with His/Her Work ; On Writing #70 : Susannah M. Smith : On Writing ; On Writing #69 : Natalie Simpson : On Writing ; On Writing #68 : Jennifer Kronovet : Fighting and Writing ; On Writing #67 : George Stanley : Writing Old Age ; On Writing #66 : George Fetherling : On Writing ; On Writing #65 : Gail Scott : THE ATTACK OF DIFFICULT PROSE ; On Writing #64 : Laisha Rosnau : The Long Game ; On Writing #63 : Arjun Basu : Write ; On Writing #62 : Angie Abdou : The Writer & The Bottle ; On Writing #61 : Carolyn Marie Souaid : Lawyers, Liars & Writers ; On Writing #60 : Priscila Uppal : On Creative Health ; On Writing #59 : Sky Gilbert : Yes, They Live ; On Writing #58 : Peter Richardson : Cellar Posting ; On Writing #57 : Catherine Owen : "Bright realms of promise": ON THE POETIC ; On Writing #56 : Sarah Burgoyne : a series of permissions-givings ; On Writing #55 : Anne Fleming : Funny ; On Writing #54 : Julie Joosten : On Haptic Pleasures:  an Avalanche, the Internet, and Handwriting ; On Writing #53 : David Dowker : Micropoetics, or the Decoherence of Connectionism ; On Writing #52 : Renée Sarojini Saklikar : No language exists on the outside. Finders must venture inside. ; On Writing #51 : Ian Roy : On Writing, Slowly ; On Writing #50 : Rob Budde : On Writing ; On Writing #49 : Monica Kidd : On writing and saving lives ; On Writing #48 : Robert Swereda : Why Bother? ; On Writing #47 : Missy Marston : Children vs Writing: CAGE MATCH! ; On Writing #46 : Carla Barkman : Tastes Like Chicken ; On Writing #45 : Asher Ghaffar : The Pen: ; On Writing #44 : Emily Ursuliak : Writing on Transit ; On Writing #43 : Adam Sol : How I Became a Writer ; On Writing #42 : Jason Christie : To Paraphrase ; On Writing #41 : Gary Barwin : ON WRITING ; On Writing #40 : j/j hastain : Infinite Chakras: a Trans-Temporal Mini-Memoir ; On Writing #39 : Peter Norman : Red Pen of Fury! ; On Writing #38 : Rupert Loydell : Intricately Entangled ; On Writing #37 : M.A.C. Farrant : Eternity Delayed ; On Writing #36 : Gil McElroy : Building a Background ; On Writing #35 : Charmaine Cadeau : Stupid funny. ; On Writing #34 : Beth Follett : Born of That Nothing ; On Writing #33 : Marthe Reed : Drawing Louisiana ; On Writing #32 : Chris Turnbull : Half flings, stridence and visual timber ; On Writing #31 : Kate Schapira : On Writing (Sentences) ; On Writing #30 : Michael Bryson : On Writing ; On Writing #29 : Sara Heinonen : On Writing ; On Writing #28 : Stan Rogal : Writers' Anonymous ; On Writing #27 : Lola Lemire Tostevin : What's in a name? ; On Writing #26 : Kevin Spenst : On Writing ; On Writing #25 : Kate Cayley : An Effort of Attention ; On Writing #24 : Gregory Betts : On Writing ; On Writing #23 : Hailey Higdon : Hiding Places ; On Writing #22 : Matthew Firth : How I write ; On Writing #21 : Nichole McGill : Daring to write again ; On Writing #20 : Rob Thomas : Hey, Short Stuff!: On Writing Kids ; On Writing #19 : Anik See : On Writing ; On Writing #18 : Eric Folsom : On Writing ; On Writing #17 : Edward Smallfield : poetics as space ; On Writing #16 : Sonia Saikaley : Writing Before Dawn to Answer a Curious Calling ; On Writing #15 : Roland Prevost : Ink / Here ; On Writing #14 : Aaron Tucker : On Writing ; On Writing #13 : Sean Johnston : On Writing ; On Writing #12 : Ken Sparling : From some notes for a writing workshop ; On Writing #11 : Abby Paige : On the Invention of Language ; On Writing #10 : Adam Thomlison : On writing less ; On Writing #9 : Christian McPherson : On Writing ; On Writing #8 : Colin Morton : On Writing ; On Writing #7 : Pearl Pirie : Use of Writing ; On Writing #6 : Faizel Deen : Summer, Ottawa. 2013. ; On Writing #5 : Michael Dennis : Who knew? ; On Writing #4 : Michael Blouin : On Process ; On Writing #3 : rob mclennan : On writing (and not writing) ; On Writing #2 : Amanda Earl : Community ; On Writing #1 : Anita Dolman : A little less inspiration, please (Or, What ever happened to patrons, anyway?)