Monday, September 10, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Lance Blomgren
Lance Blomgren (b. 1970, Cumberland, British Columbia) is a writer, curator, artist and teacher. He is the author of Practice (Intrepid Tourist Press,1996), Manual For Beginners (with Yvette Poorter, ITP, 1997), Walkups (conundrum press, 2000), Oasis (with Yvette Poorter, Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, 2001) and Corner Pieces (conundrum, 2004). Éditions Adage published a French-language edition of Walkups in 2007 (trans. Élizabeth Robert). Blomgren’s writings have been recently published in Geist, Matrix, Fillip, Spur, Ascent, Terminal City, Doppelganger, Visual Codec and Art Asia Pacific, and have appeared in the anthologies You and Your Bright Ideas: New Montreal Writing (Véhicule Press, 2002), The Portable Conundrum (2006) and Helen’s Cookbook (Helen Pitt Gallery, 2007). In 1998 Blomgren was the recipient of the bpNichol Chapbook Award for his text Liner and in 2005 Corner Pieces was a finalist for the ReLit Award. In 2003, his radio drama, A Room Full of Birds, was produced for CBC Radio One. His art projects and text-based installations have been exhibited in Montreal, Vancouver, Banff, Berlin, Brisbane, Barcelona, Chicago and Las Cruces, New Mexico.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

It didn’t. I think photocopying my first small batch of writings for my family and friends ultimately indicated the sort of change you’re suggesting, rob…a coming out of sorts.

2 - How long have you lived in Vancouver, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I’ve been in Vancouver for two years, after ten in Montreal. It’s hard, if not impossible, to be left unaltered by your surroundings, but really I don’t think too much about my local geography in terms of writing. Even for my book Walkups, ostensibly about Montreal apartments, I didn’t really think too much about the city…the apartments and architectural focus of the project became a kind of unifying structure after the fact, something to encapsulate a series of texts that were, at the time of writing, not really about anything, weren’t set in apartments at all, and certainly were not related to Montreal specifically. Actually I began these writings while living in New Mexico under the guise of a science fiction project. Theoretical notions of space—my hobbyist’s love of the architectural works and writings of John Hejduk, Constant, Capability Brown, Saskia Sassen, Eyal Weizman, and Stalker, the Italian research group—definitely inspired an attention to the social complexities of space which have underscored a fair percentage of my recent work. But within the writing itself I often seem to prefer a kind of fictional non-space, or everyspace. That said, I recently composed a series of public text-works for the city of Banff, which focused on the history and mythos of the location. But this was definitely an outsider’s perspective, not my home landscape whatsoever.

3 - Where does a piece 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?

While I have always tried, and continue to try, to be working on a book, I haven’t had much luck. Most of my published writings are short pieces that initially have no sense to them—no rhyme of reason for their existence. At some point the emergent, quixotic qualities of putting two texts together, side-by-side, begin to suggest a larger form.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Public readings are a satisfying way of engaging with the audience in a direct way…a nice, less-mediated way of visualizing an audience. But I can’t say they influence my practice on way or the other. They’re fun, or perhaps terrifying…I can say that.

5 - 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 don’t begin with any real concerns or questions per se, but I have noticed that once I’m going I often return to fundamental questions around the nature of representation in writing, questions like: how do we believe in these words and worlds, how do we make sense of things? And then there’s perhaps the fundamental question—or promise—of almost all writing: mystery. From the drug-store whodunit to the figurative language of poetry, or even constraint-based experiments in writing, the notion of mystery seems to be a consistent unifier. Donald Barthelme’s writings on the idea of “Not-Knowing” continue to resonate for me in this light. It gets complicated quickly—for me not a good thing to be worrying about while I’m writing—but I recognize a political dimension to this mystery, which at some point I can’t help thinking about. The mystery inherent in most writing either lends itself to supporting dominant structures and lazy, predictable responses, or it can, more idealistically, work to unravel the whole power dynamic inherent in “knowing.” I do like to work with a sense of mystery in mind…how little I can get away with in order to make something happen; how can meaning emerge from virtually meaningless text; what kind of mysteries can occur when one does away with many of our normal, literary signposts of meaning altogether.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

It’s an essential pain-in-the-ass that always makes your writing better, no matter who the editor is, but also places you squarely in the way of your own ego.

7 - After having published a couple of titles over the past few years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

It remains the same. Writing is Like all work it can often be very rewarding, sometimes enthralling, and occasionally dreadfully boring and soul-destroying.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Almost a year ago.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Don’t worry.

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’m either writing consistently or not writing hardly at all, depending on the nature, or flavour, of my daily life. I feel quite lucky to have found other outlets for my writing… curating art exhibitions, commissioned articles or text-based art projects. This means that these days even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. Having lots to do makes it easier to keep going. That said, an ongoing book project can often be left on the back burner for awhile. I either write during the day like regular office hours, and which can often be regular office hours literally, or, more ideally I stay up very, very late.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I have found that if I have numerous projects on the go, getting stalled doesn’t even seem to be an option. Get stuck on one thing, move on to another. Or start something new. And never underestimate the inspirational power of deadline panic.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

Corner Pieces (2004) was very much a compilation of scattered writings that upon closer inspection seemed to be about the great outdoors, mainly the urban environment. In this sense it seemed to be the counterpoint to Walkups (2000) which was all set indoors. They seem similar in a sense, even if Walkups was a contained novella of sorts and Corner Pieces was a collection. Both deal with psychological and emotional responses to the constructed environment, and both do away with notions of plot or character to a large extent. And in both projects the basic unit of composition is the paragraph…perfect for bus rides and trips to the washroom.

There are some essential differences though. Walkups was composed as a kind of voyeuristic project—the narrative voice is quite distant from the subject, an almost spectral protagonist hovering off in the distance, perhaps masturbating or in the midst of crying jag or euphoric rush...I’m not sure. In Corner Pieces, the voice becomes much more intimate, inextricable from the subject. In this project the reader would probably assume the voice to be closer to myself as the author—the classic poetic utterance—although this would be largely false.

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?

Well, it’s hard to argue with this guy…the closest thing we have to Frank O’Hara in Canada. For sure, books remain the key things that teach me about writing. But I’d have to admit that there are only a few books or writers that influence or inspire my work these days. For the most part, I find a more kindred sense of community, tradition and creative lineage in other fields—architecture and urbanism for sure, but also contemporary art, curatorial studies, sports.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I tend to return to a few writers, or subjects, or books regularly. A few recent re-readings have included the tape-recorded, oral novels of Mohamed Mrabet and Driss ben Hamed Charhadi; the non-fiction works [of] Mike Davis; the poetry of René Ricard and Yannis Ritsos; the writings and pictograms of Gabriel Pomerand, to name a few.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d like to visit Russia.

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?

As an avid fan of competitive swimming, I have always wanted to be a coach of Olympic-level, elite swimmers. Unfortunately, I haven’t even received my basic coaching certification. Writing is not the only thing I do, so I feel that alternate careers are presently on the go already, with likely more to come. Presently I am working as the Director/Curator at the Helen Pitt Gallery in Vancouver, an artist-run centre. I like to organize and plan, and enjoy large-scale, collaborative endeavours…so for now this seems to be a good job. I sometimes think it would be exciting to invent and market a new product—I have a design for hot-water-bottle slippers, for those with chronically cold feet, that I would love to find some investors to help support.

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

Unlike most things, writing just came easy… I never really decided to become a writer at any point, but knew it was something I could do. As a child, I had a good friend who would join me in composing the most nonsensical and hilarious written routines. At the age of nine or ten, the two of us were creating fictional newspapers and Playboy magazines, and were writing pages and pages of stuff that would entertain us for hours.

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

I really enjoyed a few of the Rita McBride collaboratory novels: Naked Came the ****, Future Ways, Crime Ways and Heart Ways. The last great film I saw was Herzog’s Grizzly Man…what a film!

19 - What are you currently working on?

A collection of interlocking ghost stories, based loosely on Scandinavian folklore, where the protagonist is a ghost—an absence—that never actually appears in the story.

1 comment:

Elie said...

Great interview-- Thanks! I just found Corner Pieces at the Word and gave it to a friend, but read the first couple of sections beforehand.

I'd like to get in touch with the author to talk about John Hejduk (and the architecture of books)-- there's an architecture PhD candidate at McGill writing on Hejduk who had some intriguing things to say about him.