Monday, November 01, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with David Dowker

David Dowker was born in Kingston, Ontario but has lived most of his life in Toronto. He was editor of the on-line journal The Alterran Poetry Assemblage (which is archived at

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

The publication of Machine Language hasn’t changed anything in my life, as far as I can tell. My most recent work is probably not that much different from my previous work – perhaps more of a distillation than presentation.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
The impulse to poetry, I think, arose from the childhood habit of scribbling in little notebooks, mostly emblematic or coded bits of a scientific nature, not to mention the writing of songs from an early age. Then the two Dylans (Thomas and Bob) kind of cemented things.

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?

The writing varies, depending on nothing in particular it seems. There may be pages of tiny notes, mostly in the “margins,” with the poem gradually emerging in the middle of the page (or eventually being filled with more micro-scrawls), or sometimes a draft may even appear relatively complete. Now, though, more often than not, the writing is done entirely on the computer (with notes and variants at the bottom and/or the right side of the page).

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?

A poem usually begins with a phrase or sentence. As the work progresses it soon becomes apparent whether it stands on its own or is part of a larger work (which, for more years than I care to admit, meant whether or not it was part of Machine Language).

There are always exceptions, of course, and complications. Ma nt i s, being a work of erasure, was conceived of as a book from the beginning. The poem Machine Language at one time included sections which now appear as “individual poems” in the book Machine Language, although I think it is probably more useful to consider the book as one long poem. Virtualis, the collaboration with Christine Stewart, has been open-ended and exceptional from the start, but essentially a “long work.” The blog, Time-Sensitive Material (, which I began this past summer, is also meant to be considered as an on-going poem composed of many individual sections (with interruptions).

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’ve actually only done two brief readings, both this past spring – one as part of a launch with Karen Mac Cormack and Steve McCaffery (, and the other as part of the BookThug spring launch ( I quite enjoyed them, all in all and notwithstanding the anxieties involved.

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?

Any theoretical concerns in my writing are purely coincidental. I can’t say that I’m actually trying to answer any questions with my work. I might say that I’m seeing where the language takes me (or, perhaps, where the “old words” get me).

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?

The writer must be a writer, that is: write. The writer as individual in “larger culture” likely assumes many roles, and how much of an influence the “writer function” plays in each varies.

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

I’ve only really actively worked with one editor, Jay MillAr at BookThug, and that was an entirely enjoyable experience, quintessentially non-difficult.

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

One perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception.” (Edward Dahlberg by way of Charles Olson)

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 have no set writing routine. A typical day (Monday to Friday) begins with getting ready for “the job.”

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

Truth be told, my writing is in an almost permanent state of being stalled, but I suppose that I mostly turn to music for inspiration.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Jasmine still reminds me of home, although the plant has unfortunately been gone for some time.

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?

Music and science have most definitely influenced my work.

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

The writings of William S. Burroughs, Samuel R. Delany, Charles Olson, Susan Howe and Christopher Dewdney (to name but a handful) have all been important for my work.

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

I would like to write a novel eventually.

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?

I think that computer programmer or songwriter might have been other possible occupations.

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

I’m not really sure that there is any opposition. It is more a matter of emphasis and timing.

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

The last truly great book I read was Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. The last film I saw was Inception by Christopher Nolan – it was certainly quite good, but I’d have to see it again to assess its greatness.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on the blog-poem Time-Sensitive Material and, intermittent as it is, the collaboration (Virtualis) with Christine Stewart.

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