Monday, May 31, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Aaron Tucker

Aaron Tucker has had poems and reviews published in magazines across Canada and is currently working on a poetry project tentatively titled apartments, a portion of which was published by the Emergency Response Unit as a chapbook (recently shortlisted for the bpNichol Chapbook Award), and above/ground press. He also edits and contributes to the online review site He teaches and writes in Toronto.

1 - How did your first chapbook change your life?
It hasn’t really changed anything. It’s really nice to be able to hand my work to people and have them read it and discuss it with me but I’m always writing and publishing. I will say though that Leigh and Andrew made apartments a beautiful text – the cover, the interior and layout; it’s stunning.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
For a long time I wrote mainly fiction but over the last few years I’ve found myself writing more and more poetry and non-fiction (essays and reviews) mostly because I’ve felt more of a connection with poetry books I’ve read. I wrote apartments because I wanted to write like Lisa Robertson and Nathalie Stephens and talk about similar ideas surrounding cities and space that they were.

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’ve a relatively slow writer – I usually spend a lot of time reading and researching first, batting ideas around in my head. I surround myself with others’ books. Once I read enough to define a goal (or a question I want to answer) then I try and write something everyday; a lot of that “everyday-writing” is translation of notes and a lot of it is garbage that ultimately gets chucked.

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?
Similar answer to the one above. I really like the idea of the long work; the book that I always come back to is The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. I love the collaging of different forms and mediums and try to replicate that in my own work. Stuart Ross reopened the discussion of the long poem and while I agree with him in terms of “projects” becoming grant-bait, the books I love the most are connected, each poem in conversation, even narrative, with the other.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are very necessary. They provide the space for conversation to begin collaborations and relationships.

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?
The question I began apartments with was “How do people live in cities and not go crazy?” Growing up in very rural B.C. and then moving to Toronto, I was struck by how little space and language is afforded to individuals. I wondered how I would keep living in the city and still maintain a vocabulary that was uncorrupted by ubiquitous advertising, how I could carve out a gap to make a home when so many of the living spaces look the same and encroach on each other. On one hand there is something crushing and constant about this pressure but on the other, now that I’ve been here for 3+ years, I’ve realized these concerns and questions are also what makes me adore the city.

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?
Big question. Not sure what “writer” means – Writer of what? Where? I suppose I always tell my students to observe and from those observations, make an argument.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
An outside editor is essential. At least half of what I write the first time through is trash and I really value the people who have looked through my work and given me feedback. I’m such a sloppy first draft person that most of my time is spent in editing.

I would like to see more carefully and slowly edited books in Canada –as a reviewer, there is almost too much being published in Canada. This is causing houses, because they want funding, to spread their resources thinner and thinner and publish more and more. A book should probably take a year or so just in the editing process.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Don’t stop ‘till you get enough.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I see the two working hand in hand, especially with apartments and my newest work. I look at engaging poetry as making an argument both in form and content. I try to keep this in mind when I review books; to me, it’s less important whether I like a book or not (who cares what I think?) but rather how well did the book accomplish its goals. In this way, I find it useful in my own writing to always keep questions at the forefront and strive to answer them poetically.

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 try to read more than I write. I’ll usually spend most of my time writing looking at my notes and surrounding myself with other peoples’ books. From this initial cobbling, I try to read each poem out loud and edit, edit, edit.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
With this last work I just went outside with my Ipod and walked. The energy of certain streets in Toronto is revitalizing; I love Kensington on Pedestrian Sunday.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Cow shit. Every once and while it strikes me as a strange that if I was born and raised in Toronto I probably wouldn’t have seen a cow in a field more than 5 times.

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?
For apartments it was obviously architecture. I am less interested in actual buildings and more in how buildings mesh (or don’t mesh) together – architecture as context. The large gesture like the addition to the ROM or rebuilding of the AGO is interesting but ultimately those are landmarks. To me, it’s kind of silly that Toronto’s downtown core is built largely around a mall; I like wandering the side streets around Dundas Square ignoring the Eaton Center.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The list is very very long and I mentioned a number already. Additionally: Margaret Christakos, angela rawlings, Jordan Scott, Charles Olsen, Gertrude Stein, Rem Koolhaas, Jane Jacobs etc etc etc.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I have zero musical ability though I’m constantly listening to music. With that in mind I would like to be able to play “Mr. Green Genes.”

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 love teaching and I’m really happy I get to do that. Barring that, maybe a hand model.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Probably the Hardy Boys, then Fear Street & R.L. Stine, then Stephen King. I devoured books when I was young and it just seemed obvious that I would try and write my own. In the third grade our teacher made us keep journals and I turned mine into a 9 volume terror ride. 

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book: Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep – I re-read this recently. Stunning and weird. Movie: I saw Brazil a few nights ago. Also stunning and weird. 

20 - What are you currently working on?
A prose poetry project called under. I’m channelling my inner street preacher and describing the horrors of deep sea creatures.

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