poets talk, conversations with Robert Kroetsch, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouré, Dionne Brand, Marie Annharte Baker, Jeff Derksen and Fred Wah by Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy
2005, University of Alberta Press, $34.95
216 pages, isbn 0 88864 431 0
poets talk was published as part of the cuRRents series through the University of Alberta Press, which has also reissued a number of Kroetsch’s novels and his collected/selected poems Completed Field Notes (2002), as well as Dennis Cooley’s revised Bloody Jack (2004).
In a landscape that seems to favour fewer and fewer reviews of Canadian poetry, poets talk is an impressive and essential collection of critical interviews with poets conducted by Butling, Lecturer Emeritus at The Alberta College of Art and Design, and Susan Rudy, Professor and Chair of the Department of English at the University of Calgary. Published as a companion to their anthology Writing in Our Time: Canada’s Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003), forthcoming in March 2005 from Wilfred Laurier University Press, the interviews are built over long processes of what makes their work work.
Fred [Wah]: Since the 1970s I’ve believed that poetry is only interesting if it has to do with change. I didn’t always think of social change, at first I was thinking of individual change of consciousness or change of awareness. Some of that goes back to before the 1970s and working with [Charles] Olson and his notion of what’s right, right value...
Susan [Rudy]: ...ethics?
Fred: Ethics. An ethics and that goes back to writing Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s:
Eth means why any one returns
every one all over the place they are in
entwined into the confluence of the two rivers
into the edges of a genetic inscription
and our homes and loves now night
spreads out up the valleys
into the many-forgotten messages and arrangements
carried there the character sticks
I was writing out of the sense of etch as ethos as home. Earth is home.
More and more lately, the gap has been widening in Canadian poetry between those working the innovative poetic and those in the fixed idea, so a collection of interviews with seven poets with very little overlap, yet all working opposition and the innovative poetic, makes for an interesting read. Each interview begins with a short critical introduction of each of the poets; I think everyone should own this book.
Pauline [Butling]: Creeley works very much with the line, and that’s another question I wanted to ask you. You say somewhere that you don’t care very much about the line.
Robert [Kroetsch]: Yes, I said that when I realized the crisis is located in the line.
Pauline: But I’m curious about how you work with the line. You don’t torque the line like Creeley does, for example.
Robert: Oh I don’t, no, not at all. I think my greatest anxiety is about the end, line-ending. We grew up, my generation, grew up believing that all the action came at the end of the line. Whether it was rhyme or off rhyme or whatever. And I resented that. Put the action somewhere else, you know? I’m not so sure I’ve ever figured it out. Maybe my virtue is in not having figured it out. But later today [at a reading in Calgary] I’m going to read from a poem I’m writing, “Revisions of Letters Already Sent” where there are passages like “delete the following:” “insert the following.” There is a letter we’ve all written and sent, so to speak, in the world, and you want to rewrite it somehow or other, or correct it, or revise it. It’s like “always already” there or whatever. The Heideggerian thing? And I feel I could go on for a long time exploring this. Sometimes I might just send “delete this word.” There’s one incident I use about seeing a butterfly. But the fragment as I use it comes out as lines somehow. They aren’t simply prose pieces. The notion of line often asserts itself.
I’ve always been taken with collections of interviews, and they’ve been few and far between the past few years (I’ve been working on a collection of them myself, with various of my own interviews online, including Douglas Barbour, Stephen Cain, Meredith Quartermain and Gil McElroy), with long, meaty interviews that are about more than just “what kind of pen do you use” and “do you like writing.” Over the past few years there have been others, including:
Beverley Daurio’s Dream Elevators (Mercury Press, 2000; interviews with Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Lorna Crozier, Claire Harris, Michael Harris, Roy Kiyooka, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouré , P.K. Page, Libby Scheier, Anne Szumigalski, Fred Wah and Phyllis Webb)
R.E.N. Allen and Angela Carr’s The Matrix Interviews: Moosehead Anthology #8 (DC Books, 2001; interviews with Robert Allen, Martin Amis, Nick Bantock, Neil Bissoondath, Marie-Claire Blais, Stephanie Bolster, Anne Carson, Michael Crummey, David Fennario, Amitav Ghosh, Michael Harris, D.G. Jones, Irving Layton, Robert Majzels, Erin Mouré and Gail Scott)
Michelle Berry and Natalee Caple’s the notebooks: Interviews and New Fiction from Contemporary Writers (2002, Anchor Canada; interviews with Catherine Bush, Eliza Clark, Lynn Coady, Lynn Crosbie, Steven Heighton, Yann Martel, Derek McCormack, Hal Niedzviecki, Andrew Piper, Michael Redhill, Eden Robinson, Russell Smith, Esta Spalding, Michael Turner, R.M. Vaughan, Michael Winter and Marnie Woodrow).