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Monday, November 30, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Peter Jaeger

Peter Jaeger teaches poetry and literary theory at Roehampton University, in London, England . His work includes the poetry collections Power Lawn (Toronto: Coach House, 1999), Eckhart Cars (Cambridge: Salt 2004), Prop (Salt 2007), and Rapid Eye Movement (Hastings: Reality Street 2009), as well as a critical study on contemporary poetics, entitled ABC of Reading TRG: Steve McCaffery, bpNichol, and the Toronto Research Group (Vancouver: Talonbooks 2000). He currently divides his time between London and rural Somerset, where he lives with his family.


1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I’m not sure if my first book changed my life much at all. I remained a grad student, and continued writing in the various forms that I practiced before publication. My new work seems to be more planned out in advance, while my earliest published work was less planned out from the beginning.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?


Poetry seemed a way to work through certain processes of thinking that were not available through more conventional narrative patterns.


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?

I usually make notes, though I am not sure how copious they are. Projects tend to be ongoing, and don’t really arrive at their destination immediately. It is very rare for me to have a first draft that appears close to its final published form, with the exception of Prop (Cambridge: Salt 2007) which was mainly written while travelling in Asia.

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?

Usually I compose for the book, or for major sections of a book. For example, Eckhart Cars (Cambridge: Salt 2004) has something like 18 chapters, each of which is formally distinct from the others, while Prop is a single serial poem, and Rapid Eye Movement (Hastings: Reality Street, 2009) is also a relatively unified piece in its conception.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?


London poetry audiences have expanded over the past few years—both in size and interest, so reading there recently has been enjoyable. It helps to have an audience who is at least familiar with the context in which the work circulates. So I guess it depends on the venue and audience.


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’m not sure what you mean by theoretical concerns in this context, exactly—I guess if one has read, considered, and evaluated streams of contemporary theory or philosophy, these streams are bound to surface in the work somehow. At times I have produced work with a specific theoretical model in mind—for example, some of the pieces in Eckhart Cars were directly influenced by Jacques Lacan’s writings on the “fading subject.” I feel particularly drawn to poetry with foregrounds some kind of intelligent interface with political critique—Jeff Derksen’s writing is exemplary for this approach, though there are of course so many more.

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?

Dickens said a writer should “make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.” I would add: make them think, but not necessarily in ways they normally use to process information. The fact that poetry is so under-read in our culture (as opposed to supermarket novels) seems to indicate a lack of willingness to engage with anything other than literature as escapism. William Gaddis’ novel Agape Agape is certainly worth reading with this lack in mind.

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

In my experience, work needs to go to the publisher almost entirely ready for publication. However, editors have been useful in picking up on minor glitches here and there, and have sometimes made very useful suggestions about textual organization and design.

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

Try to maintain a sense of gratitude. And sometimes you just have to go on your nerve.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?

This is a question that comes up frequently in the university context, where I research, write, and teach literature, writing, poetics, and theory. The appeal of moving between or among genres, or of producing cross-generic texts, is that writing in various genres enables one to foreground method, and to question assumptions about method for specific genres. This practice also calls into question the reification of disciplinary boundaries, and de-stabilizes normative views about what constitutes “good writing.”

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?

Ideally, I work in the morning. While writing my book on the Toronto Research Group, for example, I woke up every day and wrote intensely, completing a couple of pages before lunch. Then I took the afternoon and evening off. Prop, on the other hand, was written mainly while travelling, where it was difficult to maintain a constant, disciplined practice.

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

The library!

13 - What do you really want?

“Why can’t we all just get along?”

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?

All of the above, in one form or another, although I do feel particularly drawn to the visual arts. It never ceases to surprise me how far the “high-street” poetries lag behind visual art discourses in their conceptual development. As Ron Silliman said, “they write like the 20th century never happened.”

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

I seem to be far more drawn to North American poetry than English poetry, even though I live and work in the UK. A list of my personal, all-time most “important” writers would probably stem from three very diverse sources: (1) John Cage, whose work I was introduced to as a student at the Ontario College of Art in the early 1980s; (2) Philip Whalen, whose idea of writing as a “continuous nerve movie” still holds importance for me (and perhaps Whalen’s approach has some relevance to my “life outside” work as well); and (3) bpNichol and Steve McCaffery, whose work as collaborators and as individual writers (although very different) opened up so many new avenues for exploration.

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

Live in a simple but roomy house on one of the southern Gulf Islands in BC with my family, where I would have more time to work and to watch my kids grow up around eagles, whales, big trees etc., and where I would buy a vintage (1960s Ford or GM) four-wheel-drive-pick-up truck that functioned perfectly, so we could get up into the snowy mountains nearby in winter, where we would snowshoe and drink hot chocolate.

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 would like to have been a scuba diving instructor or a virtuoso classical cellist or a friendly monk.

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

I used to paint, but I found that the titles of my paintings were the most interesting part of them, so I just concentrated on writing extended titles.

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

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, because it is at once highly intelligent and deeply moving. Jeff Hilson’s Bird Bird is a wonderful little chapbook. I don’t watch films nearly enough anymore, and can’t remember the last one I thought was truly great…I guess Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man is one of my favourite films.

20 - What are you currently working on?


I am currently collaborating with a Japanese-British artist named Kaz on a video installation about globalization and travel. I am also in the process of completing a book-length project about subjectivity and the proper name, entitled The Persons, which I hope to have published in the near future. An article on Jeff Derksen’s poetics is coming soon in Canadian Literature, and an article on Fred Wah’s ecopoetics is also forthcoming in The Journal of Postcolonial Writing.


12 or 20 questions (second series);

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Muskwa Assemblage, Don McKay

In August of 2006, a group of artists working in different media, and out of a variety of traditions, assembled in the Muskwa-Kechika wilderness of northern British Columbia. This “art-camp” was organized and managed by Donna Kane and Wayne Sawchuk as a way to direct aesthetic attention to an area—one of the very few—in which a wild ecosystem remains virtually intact.

What follows is my response, presented in a form which, so I hope, fits both the region and the experience.

And so begins poet Don McKay’s most recent collection of poetry, The Muskwa Assemblage (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2008), a small notebook-like assemblage of pieces that bleed back and forth from poetry into prose and, as the press release tells us, “is about settling into this lack of parameters, writing down and crossing out attempts to define that which goes on happily without definition.”


Its fang bit me, left this

cherishable scar.

I left bits of paper

under rock, lichens, burnt stumps

bearing words of eloquent

awkwardness. Fumbling

for a gesture,

Thinking of Han Shan’s biodegradable

graffiti. Mist/

mountain. Mountain/

mist:

listen.


For some time now, McKay’s “pastoral” explorations have been sinking deeper into the earth, bleeding the explorations of the surface deeper down, writing cultural, geographic and environmental concerns and repercussions as early as his classic Long Sault (London ON: Applegarth Follies, 1975), sinking further down to stone through his Deactivated West 100 (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2005), and now this series of explorations on a relatively-untouched part of northern British Columbia. Writing out figures in prose, McKay has always worked around a series of gestures, writing his more recent poetry collections more obviously like full-length essays, wrapping themselves in gesture around what it is he’s finally getting at.


Rapt, sitting on a rock by the shore,

watching the caribou in my binoculars luxuriously

browse across the bay, when something fierce

and shrill scuttles over my foot—yikes! I

drop the binoculars, fumble in my knapsack

for the bird guide, fall off the rock (Han-shan

chortling in the wings) into the water while the

unidentified sandpiper scurries on, leaving

a trail of delicate x’s in the sand.


Apart from some design elements of the book itself—small typographic collages based on the book’s title spread throughout that seem more distracting and even inappropriate than anything that might add to the text—this is a lovely little book, but perhaps too little. One gets the sense that McKay is wrapping himself, through these small fragments and gestures, through and around a particular idea, and, if the book writes exploration like an essay, it is one that feels unfinished. Where is the rest of the argument, the remainder of his talk? As lovely a little book as this is, McKay’s The Muskwa Assemblage feels as though it is incomplete; it feels as though it is part of something larger, something else, that I can only home is still to come. Or is this only meant to exist as a small, temporal gesture? Considering McKay’s body of work to date, even the measured weight of his writing here feels slighter than usual. There must be more, somewhere, building up, in other corners. There has to be.

Wilderness. So overwritten it should probably be granted a reprieve from definition, maybe even a lengthy sabbatical from speech. Nevertheless, let me write down that something speaks inside us, something we feel called upon to name, to say sublime, or wilderness or mystery. Some resonance reaches inside us to an uninhabited place. Uninhabited? There is, says Simone Weil, an impersonal part of the soul. I think something like that part must be the place where the wilderness resonates, where we sense ourselves to be, not masters of creation, not technological wunderkinds, but beings among beings. It is a sense that carries us farther than any humanism, farther than art. It may be experienced as astonishment; it may come tinged with terror. See how lucky we are, how blessed, to inhabit a planet of such infinite complexity; but also—and perhaps simultaneously—see how anonymous we are among these species and genera, how little the scope of our lives in the immensity of deep time.

Friday, November 27, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Mark Sinnett

I grew up in Oxford, England, and moved to Canada in 1980. I've written two collections of poetry, The Landing (which won the Lampert) and Some Late Adventure of the Feelings (which won nothing, but which is better), a collection of stories, Bull, and two novels, The Border Guards (shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award) and now The Carnivore. I live in Kingston with Sam, and our wonderful kids Lucian and Willa.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book was The Landing, a collection of poetry. I don't think I left the house without a copy of that book stashed somewhere on my person for about a year. There's no denying the power of that first publication. The validation it seems to represent. And it does change the way your friends look at you, I think. "'Writer" isn't just some idle, fantastic claim you make for yourself, it becomes something you can actually put on your passport. So yes, it's a moment that changes everything, even though you come to realise quite soon that it's changed nothing at all. You're still broke, you're still struggling. That book did well, as far as a collection of poetry can do well, but a dozen years later I'm still trying to earn out the advance, which was only a few hundred bucks. It's not a lucrative business.

The new book, The Carnivore, was just as exciting. It's a serious literary novel (my last was a thriller), it's hardcover, it's beautiful to look at, the reviews have been mostly very good. It feels different because I know what to expect, I know how quickly books fade from attention. But it's different also because I'm better now. It's a good book, I feel it deserves attention. With that first book of poems I had no idea. I trusted every word written about the book. This time it's different. The Quill slammed it and that reviewer was dead wrong. I know it. A bad review becomes a frustration rather than a hammer blow. And later notices have backed me up. I also do other work now to pay the mortgage etc and I'm not as consumed by the writer's life. It makes me an easier person to live with. A happier guy.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

The fabulous poet Victor Coleman was writer-in-residence at Queen's back in the mid-eighties and I think everyone in his class was a poet. I don't think any of us even considered writing prose. He's a very cool man and I think we all wanted to produce something he would appreciate. When I look back I wrote a lot of awful poems back then, but he encouraged and indulged us and guided us. It was a heady time. I have some very fond memories of those years, even the rejection slips were something you could pin to your chest.

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?

It takes me a long time to get going. Mostly I write prose now. Next will be another novel but I think it will be months before I put pen to paper. It's all in my head for now. I'm trying simply to decide if there's a good story in X, a publishable book in Y. I'm trying to decide what point of view I want to write from, where I want to set the book, how much of my own experience to put in there, how much of a research project I want. Slowly these questions will separate some of the wheat from the chaff and then I'll start to jot things down. Maybe run something by my partner, or my editor, Michael Holmes. Then, once, I've decided, I'll write notes for a few weeks, try to get a handle on the story. Once I start a first draft I can expect to write about 1500 to 2000 words per day. So two or three months and I have something to work with. That first draft will look nothing like the finished book. I think Michael and I went through a dozen drafts of The Carnivore.

4 - Where does a poem or 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?

With prose, it's always a book from the very beginning. I'm not a collage artist. And I start at the beginning and work through to the end. I read somewhere that Michael Ondaatje writes sections for a novel with no idea where they will fit into the finished book. I'm not like that.

Poems are different. I can fiddle with lines and images for months, and a poem can change direction many times, material can be scrounged from many sources. But as I said, I don't write much poetry these days and that's a sadness for me. The last really good poems I wrote were around the birth of my son, and none of those have seen the light of day yet. I need another half a book, or perhaps I should work on a chapbook of those. I became a bit discouraged by something another poet did, or didn't do, a long time ago, and I've never quite gotten over it. I moved away from the form rather than face it head-on. Which is terrifically vague of me, and so unfair, but that's all I'll say.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I really enjoy readings. More and more, in fact. Some of that has to do with believing the work will stand up to scrutiny. And I guess I like the attention it gets for the book, and maybe for me too. I don't want to toil away forever in obscurity. Having people know who I am, and saying positive things about me, takes me one step closer to being able to concentrate full-time on the writing again. A reading is bald-faced promotion, I know, but if you take it seriously, it's also an art show. I think it can be real entertainment. Not enough writers take this part of it seriously. Most readings are boring and if the writing is good that's a real shame.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kind of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

As I get older I become more interested in how to construct a narrative that is capable of immersing the reader totally. And so I do study voice and characterization and plot etc more seriously than I used to. James Wood's The Art of Fiction (I think that's the title) is a marvelous primer for that sort of thing. I am experimenting all the time, but I'm not as interested in experimental prose as I used to be.

I set challenges for myself. With this book I wanted to try to write half the book in the first person from a woman's point of view, for instance. Could I pull that off? Could I write in that person's voice when she is in her twenties and then make her believable when she's in her seventies? Would I lose the reader by alternating between her voice and her husband's every few pages? Would the reader pick sides and end up bored half the time? So there are these risks I take. Hurdles I want to put in front of myself.

But the two paragraphs above are at odds with each other, I realise. I want to write immersive prose but also set myself challenges and put obstacles in the way, I said. Perhaps the way I reconcile those ideas is by seeing each book as a preparation for the next. I take what I have learned from this book -- about my own capabilities and shortcomings, as well as the readers' willingness to indulge me -- and apply them to the next project. One day I'll write the world's perfect dream.

I've also been reading lately about the different ways we read when we read from a computer screen or some sort of e-reader. I'm concerned about what those devices will do to our ways of reading, and to the choices we will make, but there's nothing yet that makes me want to change the way I write. I think writing for an audience, or for a device, is the surest way I know to abject failure.

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?

I don't, in most instances, think the writer has much of a role. If any person with a voice chooses not to speak out in the presence of atrocity, or horror, or simple injustice, then I think that represents a failure. But that sentiment doesn't just apply to writers. There's nothing special about us. And I don't really want the airwaves to be filled with the wafflings of bad writers either.

I think in retrospect we will see that writers reflect the concerns of the world in their art, just as films do (all the UFO flicks in the 50s, etc), but you can't bring that knowledge to bear on the work. The only responsibility a writer has is to his/her own work. If it's no good, make it better.

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

I've worked with Michael Holmes on three books now and it's always been a delight.We're good friends too, and that helps. But I trust him. He cares about the work and so I want to hear what he has to say. I hang on his every word. The book is his as well as mine.

I had a different sort of experience with another of my books and that made the process much less enjoyable. There are turns in that book that mystify me to this day. I allowed myself to lose control, to lose sight of what was important. I didn't in the end feel as if I'd written my own book. And at other places in the same book I feel I was allowed to get away with crappy writing.

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

I have to think about this one.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

There is more money in prose, of course, and I won't deny that that is part of the appeal. If I'm going to labour for a few years on a project I'd like to get reimbursed for that work. And there is a readership for prose that just isn't there for poetry.

These are shallow, awful answers. But they do go into the mix. I think I might be better at prose. I enjoy them equally, but as I said earlier I lost a bit of interest in the publication of my poetry a while back and while I hope that will change, for now I'm happy to concentrate on the next novel. I know there are others who can keep doing both very well. Steven Heighton springs to mind. He has another amazing novel coming out next spring as well as a collection of poetry that I am convince will turn out to be quite formidable. I don't know how he does that. I don't have enough time to get dressed some mornings, let alone ponder for three days the perfect rhyme. And I'm not being facetious here. I think we desperately need men and women crafting awesome poems. They create the light we need to see. I believe that.

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?

Right now I don't have a writing routine. The Carnivore is out and I'm still reading from that, responding to questions about that book. I also sell real estate full time now, and so there's not much time left over. In the new year my plan is to carve out three or four hours a day (or night) to draft the next book. When I am writing I usually get down to it by nine or ten in the morning, then fiddle around with emails and news sites for a while. But eventually I'll hit my stride and go for three more hours or so. Then I think about whatever I've made for the rest of the day and night, then start again. Because of the real estate job and the two small children I have now, I think this next project will get written to a much more random schedule. That frightens and excites me.

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

I don't tend to stall, once I've got the engine running. I do head down a lot of blind alleys, but I'm okay with that. When I was writing The Carnivore I was offered a house on Martha's Vineyard for a couple of weeks. I wrote my heart out but barely a word made it into the book. It was heartbreaking because the time was so precious and the place so lovely. But you know, it's a better book because I was able to digress and then rein the book in again. (There's a lot of metaphor mixing going on here, so I'm going to stop. That happens when I tire I think. I lean on metaphor and florid prose that doesn't impress anyone very much).

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

As a kid growing up in England I had a gym teacher who would have us run by a pig farm every week, and I've never forgotten that smell or that ritual. I have a strong nostalgic attachment to those times, but it's not the most poetic of reminiscences, is it?

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?

All of the above, yes. I actually read less than I used to. I see patterns everywhere now. The arrangment of tree limbs from trunk to tip is remarkably similar to the way blood flows into a kidney, for instance--from major artery into a thousand increasingly small capillaries; the blood blooms in the organ. And I think it's making those connections that is imprtant to the writing. Anything that makes me think, feel intensely, can be marshalled for inspiration. David is right of course, but I don't think he would claim that it was true every time. And you know, thinking on the fly here, I doubt that it is true for very many poems at all.

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

Michael Holmes. I've talked about him. But his own writing is marvelous. Steve Heighton. His last novel Afterlands might be the finest Canadian novel I've read. Period. A lot of post-war British writers: Amis and McEwen and Parks and Barnes. (I actually leaned on Julian Barnes "Talking it Over" for the structure of The Carnivore. Richard Ford. DeLillo, Ted Hughes. Older Ondaatje. All guys, I know and I'm sorry about that, but these are the names that float fastest to the surface.

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

Corny, but I need to travel more. I haven't seen nearly enough of the world. I don't want my children to be able to say the same thing.

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?

Well I sell houses now and I'm okay with that. I don't know if I ever expected to save the world, or rule it, and now I've found something that allows me to stay out of an office, and lets me listen to my music in a nice (not too big) car, and also to think freely and to pay my bills. It's really not a bad way to make a living if practiced with integrity and hard work. And I think I can carve out enough time soon to write another book as well. And I can't ask for much more than that. Or I can, but it'll just make me bitter and angry, and my partner has had enough of that from my years as a singleminded poet.

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

I don't know.

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

I'm reading Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City right now, and that's pretty great. As are poetry collections I have on the go by David O'Meara and by Damian Rogers. And I was talking yesterday to someone about Vinterberberg's The Celebration, which is a fantastic film, and the talk made me want to see that again soon. But I'm halfway through watching Star Trek and hey, that's pretty damn good too, in it's own way and on its own terms. It's not the answer a film major's supposed to give maybe, but there you have it.

20 - What are you currently working on?

As I said, I'm trying to decide what the next novel will be about. I've been thinking about a fictional tell-all. Reading about Andre Agassi's hair pieces and meth experiments has got me intrigued. Not so much about him but about what it is in us that craves so much these lurid details. Do these details have to be attached to a public figure, and stand in contrast to what we knew before the confessions, or can anyone create a wild history for themselves and have that catch the public's eye. Hmm. I don't know.

That or a real estate novel. But Richard Ford's books will put me to shame in that department and so I'll have to devise a new angle. I'm also editing a short story I quite like, and this interview has got me thinking again about those poems I wrote for my son, so I might go back to those too.

[Mark Sinnett reads in Ottawa on Saturday afternoon, 5pm, at the Manx Pub as part of the Plan 99 Reading Series]

12 or 20 questions (second series);

Thursday, November 26, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Lisa Pasold

Lisa Pasold has been thrown off a train in Belarus, been fed the world’s best pigeon pie in Marrakech, learned to polka at Danceland, and been cheated in the Venetian gambling halls of Ca’ Vendramin Calergi. She grew up in Montreal, which gave her the necessary jaywalking skills to survive as a journalist. Her first book, Weave, appeared in 2004 and was nominated for an Alberta Book Award; her second book of poetry is A Bad Year for Journalists, described as "critical, darkly funny and painstakingly lyrical" by The Globe and Mail. Her work has appeared in publications such as Billboard Magazine, The National Post, The Chicago Tribune, New American Writing, and Geist. Her first novel, Rats of Las Vegas, has just come out from Enfield & Wizenty.

1 - How did your first book change your life? My first book, Weave, came out with Frontenac House in Calgary & they make their poets feel like rock stars. Well, maybe not so much cocaine but still… How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? The new book, Rats of Las Vegas, is a novel (out with Winnipeg press Enfield & Wizenty) so the experience is really different with fiction. There’s much more pressure to sell books! But also, more bookshops are interested in carrying the book, there are more options for festivals & things, which is fun. On a day-to-day level, really the most noticeable difference is the new book is hardcover, which is much heavier to carry around than a bag full of poetry books!

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? Poetry seemed more flexible and more intuitive. I had taken writing classes and always had to write short stories, and I don’t like writing short stories. It isn’t a form that I have any talent for—maybe I’m too impatient for their subtlety. Poetry has always been immediately more attractive and playful and interesting to me. Also the spoken, shared aspect of poetry readings is very exciting. It’s a spur to work harder, to get into the community discussion.

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? I write quickly but I throw away a lot. Every now and then, I keep some poem or length of prose more or less as it began, but usually I need to edit a lot. I write & rewrite & take about a third of the writing out. Then I rearrange what’s left. Feedback from other people is a life-saver, too; sometimes, taking new work to a reading can be a good spur to rewrite & make it better. Workshops are great. Just hashing through some work over beer with friends can also be really helpful. Doing research is often helpful too, though the facts don’t always surface in the final draft.

4 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Often just a phrase I overhear. 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’m better off pursuing a book-length idea with lots of fragments. That way, the bits & pieces eventually come together to form the bigger idea I had in mind. That process means I have a lot of large projects that are slowly accumulating, and others that I abandon after only a little bit of work.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Essential part of the process—you can immediately see what’s going over, what’s not. Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? Readings are wonderful—a way to connect to readers, to hear what they think, listen to other people’s stories. I love doing readings, even though they make me so nervous I can barely remember what I’ve said.

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 guess I’m trying to answer a pretty basic question—the “what is the point/is there any point?” question. Otherwise, I’m not very clearly motivated by theory. I just love the play of language.

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? Story-teller, a connector. A person who helps to keep our personal stories & histories & voices alive, who contributes to the ongoing conversation.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? BOTH!! Aren’t the things most worth doing, often the most difficult?

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? Jack Kerouac’s “Love your life.” Not that he exactly took his own advice.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to journalism)? Different kinds of voice seem to come naturally in different genres. And having different things to work on—an article or a poem or editing a piece of fiction—means that when I’m blocked on one thing, I can work on the other. What do you see as the appeal? I think different genres give us different ways of approaching ideas & stories. Kind of the way different languages offer new ways of thinking & communicating. At the moment, I’ve started work on a novel that has a lot in common with my poetry book, A Bad Year for Journalists. But the way the ideas are coming out is completely different & it’s giving me a new way to think about the problem of media & responsibility.

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? I get up and walk the dog. Then, on a good day, I can spend all morning at the computer, writing. Whenever possible, I push other work into the afternoon. I wish I wasn’t a morning person, but I really am. I like getting up when the sun’s just rising. The day feels so calm and possible. If I can’t write for very long, I still try to get a little bit done in the morning, even if it’s on a subway, writing in a little notebook. Otherwise it’s difficult to keep the writing head going forward.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? Walking the dog. Reading books that are sort of sideways related to the work. Going out to see a performance—theatre, dance, something alive and ephemeral.

13 - If there was a fire, what's the first thing you'd grab? My wedding ring, because a friend made it for us.

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? I find the outdoors does sneak into my work constantly, though I really am not a nature poet. And I usually work to music—a different soundtrack for every project. For Rats of Las Vegas, I listened to this wonderful strange album Eccentric Soul and Leonard Cohen, with some Paul Simon, The White Stripes, and of course, Sinatra. And live performance, it’s a very different kind of magic from writing, but it opens up my head.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? I have some trouble separating what’s important for work & what’s simply good for my life in general. Right now, I would say Anne Carson, Raymond Chandler, Philip Gourevitch, Michael Ondaatje, and a small dose of Ruskin.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? Oh, now there’s a long list there… I would really like to drink a lot more champagne, preferably travelling by train through a country I’ve never visited before, while interviewing people & sharing stories with them & writing more books…

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? Probably a radio journalist, that’s what I was planning to do when I was in university, but then I got distracted. Now, if I weren’t writing, I’d probably be in Paris working as a tour guide.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? I really like writing; I’ve wanted to do this since I was five or six. I don’t trust writers who “hate writing.” Why bother? Why not volunteer for a cause, save the whales or something? I write because it’s the best way I have to find out about the world, to connect with people, and I really believe that’s crucial for all of us: E.M. Forster’s “Only connect.”

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? I just finished Charles Wright’s Sestets, and Martha Baillie’s new novel The Incident Report—I love the form she’s used. And I’m nearly through reading Andrei Codrescu ‘s The Posthuman Dada Guide, which is razor-edge brilliant. In film, I just saw Where the Wild Things Are, nicely enigmatic & beautiful.

20 - What are you currently working on? A novel called Up to the Knee and a new collection of poems, partly about Marco Polo’s route through Afghanistan. It’s awfully difficult to describe a project before it’s finished…and might be bad luck, too!

[Lisa Pasold reads in Ottawa on Friday as part of the pre-ottawa small press book fair reading]

12 or 20 questions (second series);