Saturday, March 19, 2011

12 or 20 (second series) questions: with Laurie Fuhr

Laurie Fuhr [photo: Messagio Galore III, Calgary by ryan fitzpatrick] has lived in Cold Lake, Germany, Ottawa, and Winnipeg, but now lives in Calgary, where she is Managing Editor of filling Station Magazine. Her work has been published in various Canadian periodicals and anthologies, usually with colons in their titles, most recently Rogue Stimulus: The Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament (Mansfield Press 2010) and Leonard Cohen: You’re Our Man (Foundation for Public Poetry 2009). Her most recent chapbook is night flying: Cold Lake Poems (Pooka Press 2009).

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

Technically, I feel like I had three first chapbooks. My first first chapbook was self-published in only 10 copies or so, printed out painstakingly on an inkjet printer, one side of a ½ piece of paper at a time. It was called Newsprint Butterflies, and I got my boyfriend Pat to draw a picture for the cover. If you could judge a book by its cover, then it was beautiful, but I’m sure the poems weren’t great.

My second first chapbook was a bunch of surreal love poems I’d written in bed while spaced on codeine after I’d gotten my appendix out; there was only one copy, which went to the same boyfriend who I felt in my delirium had saved my life by calling for help, and the deal was that it was his and I didn’t even get to keep a copy. His best friend took pleasure in telling me that he’d burned it after we broke up. In response, before the love of my life got married just one year later, I papered his neighbourhood with a poem I’d written for him. That experience could have been life changing; first, because it was a crazy act of poetry that I hadn’t known I’d had in me til then, and second, that most of my poetry since has been like underwater communications with past or unrequited love(rs). I’ve lost that a little bit in adulthood, done my best, but it’s been hard to rewire.. I still write the most under romantic duress.

When I received my first real chapbook by an actual established micropress (above/ground), I thought, now I’ve really gotten somewhere! Now I had something of my own to leave on the tables at the Royal Oak like a guerilla poetry activist, and I got to be the one signing copies. I fully  believed I was a great poet and that I would publish my first small press spine book in the next couple of years, not wait until I’m 30 or so like the other poets. I’m 31 now and I was wrong. I seemed to spend all my 20s just trying to survive, it took many broke years before I finally even had my hands on my own computer. At first, I let myself be drawn into my Ottawa friends’ bohemian lifestyle on purpose because it had a kind of Beat appeal for writing, but later, those choices plus bad luck created the circumstances that forced me to move back to Mom & Dad’s.

Since those early works, my poetry has changed for sure. Despite my surrounds in Calgary, amongst these very experimental writers they’re breeding like rabbits in the English labs of U of C, I just haven’t had the heart to go far in that direction. If I suddenly thought of some super awesome concept no one else had, maybe I would, but for the most part I find concept poetry disappointing, the poetry that comes out of the concepts is usually not as good as the concepts themselves. At the same time, I really respect the work experimental writers are doing. I do believe experimentation is absolutely essential to the growth and continuation of Canadian lit and to lit anywhere. I read what they do with excitement and awe. It’s just that in the end, what I really hope to find when I feel the urge to go looking for poetry on bookshelves is poetry that I can personally connect with, usually those revelations that come out of creative and original metaphors and similes. When they’re not cliché, they’re the blueprints to thought, and the best poems don’t completely show you all their plans – they leave some walls and windows out and force you to fill in the blanks yourself, so that you’re having a similar eureka to what the poet had the moment they thought of the poem. So with those ideals in mind, that’s what I hope can happen for people when they’re reading the writing I do lately.

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

Well, truthfully I did write stories first when I was really little; I remember I wrote a haunted house story, probably ripping off every cliché Halloween creature story front left and centre like a Grade 4 JK Rowling, and my teacher made a big deal out of it and told my parents they thought I was onto something. Naturally, they decided to encourage an interest in figure skating.

When I think about it, I came to poetry several times before it stuck. I wrote a couple of little poems when I was a little kid too, eight or so, mostly as an excuse to type on the Commodore 64 with two fingers and to print things out on the noisy dot matrix printer, they were poems about saving wild horses and spooky Celtic sounding junk.

Poetry started in me again later on when I was looking at an anthology of poetry at my best Cold Lake skating friend’s house during a visit to her new place in Sackville, NS, when I was fourteen I think. She saw I was interested and gave me a little flowered notebook with a note in it that she believed in me, by far the sweetest thing anyone had ever done, especially since my own family were very emotionally inexpressive, at least in nice ways. My first notebook poem was about disappointment that the sea at Peggy’s Cove when I was visiting didn’t fill me with inspiration like it did for people in books, but I guess it did in a way.  

Anyway, later still in high school poetry, came for me again in the form of the school’s only hippie, who pretty much insisted I be his friend, even though I was trying to be cool and hang out with the preppy girls despite their vacuity -- I was determined not to be an outcast as I’d been in junior high, Cold Lake, where the kids decided since I had a German last name and moved there from Germany I must be a Nazi. Armour the hippie rescued me from prepdom, he lived 2 doors down, and we’d sit in his basement listening to early metal records or obscure classic rock while we’d both write something for about an hour and then show it to each other. His basement had a weird smell, probably eau de unwashed hippie plus the curbside furniture he and his Mom used to find (I honestly just caught the scent of it again as I was writing). Soon, he and I stumbled into a café in Ottawa one night and came across a Dusty Owl reading, so that we learned there was a lit community. A handsome old guy handed us flyers and told us to come to things. I’m now a bit older than that old guy was, and I’m the one handing out the flyers.

However, I’ve been writing more songs, short fiction, and creative non-fiction now than I ever did before, moreso than poetry.. for some reason, I really like writing when I’m in motion, like on a Greyhound Bus going through all the odd little towns on the way up to visit my parents in Cold Lake. On a bus trip like that, you’re not obligated to do anything but ride it, you can’t distract yourself with guilt about needing to do the dishes. Also, I think the constant motion of the scenery in your eyes reflects somewhat into the way your brain works, it can keep your thoughts in motion too. I filled half my notebook on my way to Cold Lake at Christmas, a lot of it about the scary Edmonton terminal and goings-on there.

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?

In Calgary, I know people who can do research and sit down at a desk and write an entire book of poems. I’ve wanted to do that; for awhile I was researching the world of lightning survivors, they have this annual conference in the States, and survivors get all these weird symptoms, I thought there should be a book of poetry about that. It’s really fascinating, but I look at research notes I’ve made and they don’t inspire me in a way I can use. Poetry comes to me differently. The process is that I need to have an open mind at all times and sort of have the idea of poetry at the back of it, and I need to carry a notebook. And then I’ll see things and hear things throughout the day that will trigger some thought or line or two, and I’ll write it down. I guess in that way it comes quickly, at least once it’s happening. The city of Ottawa really inspired me more than anywhere else has, I loved to float around all day just being a poet and carrying my guitar around, observing things and meeting people, staring up at Gothic architecture, and I filled countless notebooks. In Calgary, under adult stress and doing administrative dayjobs, it’s been much harder to do a lot of writing.

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?

Never a book from the beginning, so far. About those lines that come on location usually, sometimes I let that first line coax a poem out of me right then and there, if I’ve got time. More often these days I’m on my way to work or somewhere and I can’t get it down, so I find myself with a collection of first lines later which can usually be sewn together into a poem that somehow ends up looking pretty seamless. Personally, more an answer to the end of question 3, I feel that there is no creative hand and editing hand that need to be kept separate, as people like to say; there’s creativity in the editing hand too, at least for me. It’s a usable skill when trying out Plunderverse; I’m a bit of a collagist at times, and similarly, it’s fun to find all my favourite lines in someone’s book and make a poem out of it. I did that with Natalee Caple’s Fall 2010 poetry book, The Semiconducting Dictionary (Our Strindberg), and wrote a song using that method for the first time, all made out of sutured together lines that made a kind of sense together when put in a very specific order. One of the bands I’m in performed it at her Calgary book launch, and unfortunately for the other music I’ve written, it’s probably my best. Still, while it’s fun, I get that it’s not exactly mine because the words are someone else’s. I’ve been so busy with filling Station the past few years, the last sort of ms project I had together were my Cold Lake poems, written over the two years I spent there as an adult after leaving Ottawa.

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

Lately I’m the one arranging the readings, so I don’t do a lot of them since I don’t like the way it looks if I schedule myself in; occasionally I’m asked, and I’m happy to do them, but usually people forget to ask me cause they think of me as an organizer more than a poet I think. This year, I’m hoping to pass on the fS torch to just the right candidate and do a lot more of my own writing again. It’s hard to be too many things at once really well, even though they’re related. I’m starting to think Aristotle was right, that you can only really do one thing well in your life. This is only sinking in after I tried to do everything I’m capable at once these past few years, organizing and editing and writing and operating grants and bands and relationship and friends and work work work, and suddenly went from a happy caffeine junky to just about having a nervous breakdown. My nervous system betrayed me once I had betrayed it. Anyway, more readings one day soon I hope.

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 questions I think I’m answering while I’m writing a poem are, is this the right word to go right here? Does it mean right, sound right, feel right, does it fit what it feels like I’m trying to say in the way I want to say it? Sounds pretty basic I’m sure, but all other questions are put aside until I’m looking at it later. At that point, I can ask the piece all kinds of questions, but it just sits there mutely, being what it is. Maybe that’s part of why it’s hard to get them into book form unless they’re attached to some particular place that lends itself as a theme.

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 writes, physically, but beyond that what they’re doing is generating new ideas constantly. They are imagination factories. In all other fields, you need to be an expert at something else, for example, a scientist had better be good at physically manipulating the junk in the petrie dish with the little tiny tweezers, and that junk has go to behave in a certain way to make his hypothesis into a theory, and then the theory needs testing. There are all of these physical factors that delay coming to conclusions. The writer is unfettered by any of that. As long as he or she can find the right words, they can cause anything the world can do to happen on a page and see what that’s like. From there, others can take those ideas and see what can be made concrete, but those concrete actions are happening after the ideas, the ideas don’t depend on them. If it wasn’t for writers, I don’t think we’d have a lot of the technology we use every day, or very many of the movies we like to watch for entertainment, or the Constitution and Human Rights act that govern our society (or are supposed to), we wouldn’t have cars or airplanes if someone hadn’t thought of it and written it down first. These are great big concrete examples though; imagine the repercussions on the harder to see, optically elusive world of human thought, of philosophy and psychology and everything we use to see the world. If it wasn’t for writers, we wouldn’t have eyes, just blank windows.  

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

Although I don’t believe I’ve found the right editor for me yet, I’m convinced that finding the right editor for one’s work is key. Because of filling Station, I’ve had people ask me to look at their manuscripts. But if their work isn’t connecting in some way with the work that I do, I feel like I’m not the best person for the job, and also, the right editor should not be a friend, repeat, should not be a friend, which is hard when the writing community is so small. Feeling that to be the case, I’ve friendlied up to far too many writers who could have been my editors. So now, the task is to read and find someone whose work aligns in some way with my own and who I don’t know yet, and who is a good editor, and see if they’ll look at my work. I think it’s good advice for any writer out there. You just can’t get a useful, objective sense of your work from someone you’re pals with, or from someone whose work is much much different from yours.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

The best piece of advice is one that I’ve been telling writers and musicians ever since it’s occurred to me, so that it’s even come back around my way from someone who forgot I was the one who’d told it to them, and that way I can say I’ve received it. I was watching Anne-Marie MacDonald on TV once talking about how divine inspiration hits her over the head and she just writes a whole book. That same week, I heard another interview with a writer who claimed she didn’t know where her ideas came from and felt there was a spooky outside force, and that this made writers special people who can be the conduits for those forces. I call bullshit. There are too many musicians and writers I’ve come across that buy into that stuff and they can’t write anything, they’ve got permanent writers block because they’re waiting for divine inspiration to come knocking on their door. But the secret is to write anyway, because you just can’t imagine what it is that’s going to come out of you until it’s coming out. Trust yourself and write and write, and you learn somehow, and that’s how you get good over time.

Also, advice to former self from future self: There’s no God, there’s no heaven, and even the people who will remember you are all going to die, until there’s no one left to remember you or anyone you love. A moment of time is less than a speck, and an era, maybe a grain in the history of the world. Even if you publish a much-loved book that’s the case, so that egotistical making-your-mark on the world stuff doesn’t fly. You might as well do whatever you can to make yourself feel better about the inevitability of these facts, and if it’s writing, you might as well try. Oh, and while you’re at it, try to quit feeling like a victim despite believing all of this, and don’t get depressed, it doesn’t help anyone to like you better.

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?

Wishing I had a writing routine, again I carry a notebook around with me and write things down as they come, or else I open a Word file at work when no one’s watching so I can get a few lines out as they occur. A day for me lately is just too busy. It begins by getting up, getting ready as fast as possible while looking presentable and professional like the other girls in the office, a little cleavage (courtesy) but not too much (professionalism), and then I go get the bus, I only have a short bus ride so I’ve barely caught my breath by the time I get to work, no writing usually there, and then I’m sitting for hours doing up spreadsheets and using weird programs to draw weird reports full of jargon that someone somewhere cares about, and phone calls for my manager who’s somehow never at her desk, and people from my department come to my desk asking for rubber thumbs… lunch comes, it’s just a half an hour, enough time to walk around a bit and stretch my atrophying  legs, notice once more the wishing well with the sign that you’re not allowed to put any pennies in since the chlorine corrodes them, and it’s back to my cubicle.. the end of the day comes, I bus back home, change my clothes, eat something quick, get on another bus, because tonight’s the reading and I should be there if I expect anyone else to go, or else it’s band practice, or else I’m doing door for someone, or else I’m going to visit my boyfriend’s family who like to party in a chips and pop sort of way…

Actually, at this very moment I’m out of work, and come to think of it, I’m pretty glad! But after almost two months of being out of work, applying and genuinely trying but somehow with the economy or whatever not getting the job, I feel like I’m still working through the stress aftershock of my lifestyle. Plus, it’s grant time, so I’ve got to get through that. But after, in a couple of weeks from now, I just might have time and stress relief enough to read and to write! Hopefully by then I won’t be employed… for the first time in my life I’ve got Employment Insurance, hallelujah.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Reading is very key for me. I need to read a lot, and I need to discover new writing that really excites me. Somehow out of the act of discovering the screw that turns in the new poems, the ability to make poetic connections in my brain gets turned the right way again too. What comes out as a result won’t have anything to do with what I’ve just read, but it comes out.

12 - What did your favourite teacher teach you?

My favourite teacher taught me to play Stairway to Heaven before I knew what any of the notes or chords were called. More than Stairway, what this taught me was to just dive in and figure out the technical stuff later.

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?

I did a bit of nature inspired writing up in Cold Lake, bumming around the Provincial Park, but it’s not my best.. I love music, but it’s music with lyrics I love, so I’m not inspired to say something different when I’m listening to it, it makes me want to sing along. Science is really interesting, but what I’ve tried to write from looking at amazing articles in Discover Magazine for example have produced horrendous and cold Chris Dewdney nightmares of  verse. Visual art, on the other hand – sometimes that does it for me. My favorite piece I’ve written was at a student art installation, part of a student exhibition at Calgary’s Alberta College of Art & Design (ACAD). Meags Fitzgerald created a room completely out of different methods of fibre and textile art that replicated the room she had been born in. Her mother had birthed her right on the master bedroom’s king sized bed, and there had been pictures. It was a complete room, you could walk in, very pink, and there were embroidered hockey cards on the felt dresser, even woven pop bottles on the night stand. It gave me the idea that as a baby being born, if the first thing Meags felt was the fabric of the bed, the baby’s interpretation could have been that everything it could see was also made out of similar, and that although Meags couldn’t have remembered that, subconsciously it could have somehow informed the work. Weird idea I know, but it inspired a poem I liked quite a bit, which I wrote in her Guest Book and never saw again. I recommend looking up Meags online, really amazing stuff. 

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

Life outside my writing work is that awful dayjob stuff I was describing, and there’s barely enough room in it to fit me into it, let alone books. When I’m reading I’m thankfully transported within my true self, my writing work self. While I love a lot of poetry, writers who always inspire me to write when I read them are Karen Solie, Evie Christie, Carolyn Forche, and Anne Michaels (though I’ve read her work too much, it doesn’t work quite as well anymore). Particularly, the work of French writers in translation seems to get me going, some not all, Brossard over Moure for sure. Brossard has more heart, I can’t outgrow the want of that. Also, when I read your work I tend to read a whole book in one sitting and then I absolutely need to write, I think it’s something about the patterns of the words that get into my head and make my own poetry want to respond. Thank goodness you’ve got a lot of books, keep them coming!

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

The other night, I dreamed I was covered in artistic body paint of really vibrant colours in the blue and red palettes, but basically I was walking around naked. It’s something I haven’t done yet in real life, and wouldn’t, but it felt pretty sexy. I’m thinking I should start a burlesque troupe for girls with miniscule breasts, but then again, I’ve got a lot on the go as it is.

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?

Before writing, I had a couple of near misses when it comes to other occupations. I wanted to be an Olympic figure skater really badly, it wasn’t the artistry that attracted me but the athleticism and wanting to push boundaries and do crazy new stunts, but it turned out I have a bum hip and my body wouldn’t cooperate when it was time to learn the big jumps. If it had, I’d probably be doing that, maybe not Olympic but close, I was really fearless and not lacking in determination and ambition. Since then, I’ve tried to do pretty much everything that I’ve wanted to do simultaneously – writing, playing guitar, playing bass, singing, writing articles for the paper, events management, etc. What’s there to fear when at least your body can’t betray you in those activities? Not unless I get carpal tunnel anyway. Who knows where I’d be if I had more resources and could have afforded to finish school back at Carleton, and/or had better grades, if I had not become a hippie n’er do well in my last year of high school, skipping class to read Howl cover to cover at the Rideau Street Chapters. If I had gotten into my chosen program, I would have become a journalist, which isn’t so far from creative writing at its best - the articles I’ve written about bands and shows have been pretty creative. But what if I had unlimited resources.. hmm. I think I would have tried to become a fighter pilot. There were a few women pilots on the Cold Lake air base with nicknames like Voodoo Zombie that I thought were pretty awesome. Though, at one point I was determined to start a female NHL, after a particularly good floor hockey sesh. So far, despite the skating and mad floor hockey skills, I haven’t had a chance to actually play hockey. I’ll wager wanting to play hockey is more of a national sport statistically than actually playing hockey.

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

I think what’s kept me writing through periods of self-doubt and despair has been loyalty and respect for those who have inspired me, in a way. There’s no better story in my life than the one where I had no passion and no direction, and was really pretty miserable, and this person, Armour, befriended me and gave me the keys to this world where you can make anything you can think of happen on a page, and the laws of physics, or of the lower middle class, or of your parents’ interpretation of the world don’t matter. It’s something no one can take away from me, it’s something I can afford on any budget, it’s something portable I can bring with me, I can use it to escape from people or to connect with people who don’t know I love them. What could be better than writing?   

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

Right now I’m finishing Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott.  For the first third of the book, it was okay, but I didn’t think the writing was Giller worthy. But what happens with the main character hooked me in hard; she has nothing, gains everything she didn’t know she was missing, and then loses everything again, partly because of something that was done to her, but mostly through her own reactions to that, behaving as a tragically disappointed person. It is so emotionally gripping and resonant, I can’t stand it. I’ve only got about 30 pages to go. 

The last great film was a fairly obscure Sarah Polley movie called My Life Without Me. In it, a young woman learns she has terminal cancer, but she doesn’t want to tell anyone. She goes to a diner and makes a secret list of everything she wants to do in the next few months before she dies, and she secretly goes out to accomplish those things. She doesn’t even tell her mother. It’s got to be one of the most emotionally turbulent films I’ve ever seen, it’s gorgeous, and I had to look up one of the obscure songs on the soundtrack, called "Sometime Later" by Alpha.

19 - What are you currently working on?

filling Station’s operating grant for Canada Council. We lost our funding, even though we’d heard from other mags that they’re not supposed to be able to completely cut it. Magazines aren’t selling well enough, the grantors want small mags to go digital so they don’t have to pay the printing bills anymore, but that can’t happen immediately, it takes manpower and funds to transition, and time to transition those subscribers who can be, and attract new ones. Grantors on two levels also hated our Visual Poetry issue, well it was just one feature in one issue and we put it on the cover. The juries felt it was fair to compare visual poetry created by poets for poetic effect with the work of trained, pro visual artists found in other arts magazines. This was part of what inspired our Visual Poetry Mock Trial back in January, Gary Barwin’s been talking about it on his blog. Anyway, fingers crossed – if we don’t get it this round we’re in serious kaka.

Oh, you meant my work? The most recent thing I’ve written was a story set in Ottawa for the Broken Pencil Indie Writers Death Match with the perhaps inauspicious title of Cocaine Wayne and vs. Neon Sam: Or, the Return of Mafia Charlie. I found part of it in my papers up in Cold Lake from ages ago and decided to edit it and finish it, but I ended up not submitting it, it got a bit long and out of control. Still, I had the great experience of being carried away with it for hours, completely oblivious to time, much like I have been with these 12 or 20 questions. It has me excited to try writing more short fiction. I really like the work writers like Ian Orti and Mike Spry have been doing lately, Snare’s been publishing interesting things.

1 comment:

Managing Editor said...

Thanks rob! I was thinking someone should 12 or 20 you, and then Derek 10'd you.. excellent! fS has a new site coming really soon, we'll be sending round Lucky Seven questions to folks - you won't be immune to the luck.