Friday, May 14, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Ann Shin

Ann Shin is a writer and filmmaker based in Toronto. Her writing is in magazines and publications in Canada and the US, including On a Bed of Rice, Anchor Books, and Geography of Encounters, Rowman and Little Press. Her latest book of poetry is The Last Thing Standing, by Mansfield Press. She is currently working on a novel and a book of poems called Belonging. A suite of poems from Belonging is being produced for broadcast by CBC radio this summer. Ann will be reading at the Art Bar Reading Series in Toronto, Tuesday May 25, 8pm

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Give it all away now, don’t save anything for later. Don’t save parts of yourself for your next project, don’t save that issue or idea that’s tugging at you. If it’s compelling for you now, write it down. Give it all up, and get it out there.

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?
For me a poem begins with an image, a phrase. It’s the crystallization of an inchoate sensibility. So the feeling itself is captured in this initial image, but I often don’t know what experiences and ideas are associated with this feeling. I discover them as I build lines and images and extend the initial phrase into a poem. I find themes start to make themselves known as I write poems, and the individual pieces group themselves into a book.

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

As a pent-up kid with lots of emotions but not a lot of outlet for it poetry was my outlet – poetry and playing the piano. These were the most direct ways I could express my feelings.

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

Augh! I find them nerve-wracking and almost hate to do them, but at the same time, I appreciate the generosity of attention and the feedback I receive at readings. It helps cut through the vast, shapeless time spent alone at the desk writing.

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?
There are many roles a writer can choose to take. Any role, no matter what aesthetic, involves taking a moral position. I’d say it’s the writer’s responsibility to be fully aware of the moral implications of their work. Aside from that, the door is wide open in terms of the writer’s role in larger culture. For me at my stage in life, I find the epic voice intriguing. Who says it’s impossible to pull it off in the 21st century when nations are comprised of many different cultures, which in turn are comprised of so many different sub groups? It spurs me, as a child of immigrants, to try and create a comprehensive portrait of the individual within their family, their country, and in the larger context of the world.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to film-making)? What do you see as the appeal?
For more than a decade I’ve been writing writing and directing documentaries/TV. It was always a bit of a struggle for me as these two vocations were divided with not much crossover. It’s only now that I’ve found a voice that will bridge the various media, including digital media. For instance, I’m working on a novel for which I’m also developing a documentary idea and on-line project.

13 - If there was a fire, what's the first thing you'd grab?
my kids, my partner, my laptop and hard drives, books by James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, Alain Robbe-Grillet

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 and film inspire me. Listening to Bach, or minimalist composers like Steve Reich or Terry Riley, always makes me think of structure. I listen for how motifs are varied and layered. An interestingly structured film will also inspire me. Film is a narrative art form with its own strong conventions and I’m always intrigued when a director works against convention in brilliant ways.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
the ‘Top Girls’ from a salon of women writers in Toronto including Diana Fitzgerald Bryden [see her 12 or 20 here], Karen Connelly [see her 12 or 20 here], Priscila Uppal [see her 12 or 20 here]

17 - What do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
a depressed suit. Or composer, in fact I’ve tried my hand at a number of electroacoustic compositions. Nietszche once said that ‘Without music, life would be an error.’ Music transports me in a way no other art form does, it’s a temporal experience that’s visceral, emotional and intellectual at the same time. It holds you in your emotions, even as it ‘takes you away.’

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The Law of Dreams, by Peter Behrens
Rachel Getting Married, by Jonathan Demme

20 - What are you currently working on?
a novel about a young man who escapes from North Korea and ends up in British Columbia. Also, a sound piece for CBC Radio, using poetry from my latest manuscript called ‘Belonging.’ In development: a documentary following 4 graffiti artists involved with, and an on-line interactive project with the National Film Board of Canada.

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