Jaime Forsythe is a poet, fiction writer, editor, and journalist. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including This Magazine, Geist, and The New Quarterly. She is a regular arts contributor to The Coast, and the editor of the fiction anthology Transits (Invisible Publishing). A graduate of the University of Guelph’s Creative Writing MFA program, she lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her first collection of poetry, Sympathy Loophole, was recently published by Mansfield Press.
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 was contributing editor for a book of short stories called Transits: Stories from In-Between, which was released by Invisible Publishing in 2007. This was a lot a of fun, but it was a different kind of role. Sympathy Loophole is being printed right now, so I’m not sure yet how it’s changed my life. I expect that many things will remain exactly the same, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I actually came to fiction first. I’ve been reading poetry for a long time, since I discovered William Carlos Williams, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, etc., during my undergrad, but writing it didn’t begin to click for me until about four years ago. I still read a lot of fiction, especially short stories, but poems are what come out and what I’m most obsessed with.
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’m a slow writer. I take a lot of handwritten notes, and over time piece these together into lines and stanzas. I enjoy the process of rewriting and editing, moving things around and throwing things out, so my final drafts tend to look much different from the initial idea.
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’m just following an image, or the sound of few words strung together that I can’t get out of my head. I like the idea of setting out to write a book from the beginning, but so far I’m only really able to think in terms of individual poems, one at a time.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I get nervous about readings, but I enjoy doing them for the social aspect. Beforehand I feel terrible, and then afterwards I have a beer and it’s fine.
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 think about and puzzle over the limits of language and communication, community, empathy, safety, illness, animals. But I don’t have any answers.
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?
To write well; to transport.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to journalism)? What do you see as the appeal?
I tend to work on poems and stories in separate chunks of time. There’s something about the constraint of the strict word count of journalism that I find appealing and sort of poem-like. And journalism gets me outside of my own brain and allows me to have conversations with visual artists and other interesting folks.
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 write in the morning when I can. My routine is pretty standard, I guess: walk dog, feed cats, make coffee, try to avoid email, stare at ceiling, repeat.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
If I can’t write, I read, ride my bike, meet a friend for coffee, go swimming, make a sandwich.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Wood stove, bacon, lilacs.
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 agree with David McFadden, and with all of the other things you mentioned. Some of my poems have been modeled after the odd phrasing in grammar and ESL workbooks, or found text in instruction manuals, stock phrases used in research experiments, scientific texts, etc.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Many, but in particular right now: Dara Wier, John Ashbery, Amy Hempel, Lorrie Moore, Kazuo Ishiguro, Tomas Transtromer, Louise Gluck, Karen Solie, Alice Munro. And the writers I’ve been lucky enough to study with, have conversations with, receive advice from.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
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’ve always had a number of occupations on the go because I don’t make a living from being a writer. While working on this book, I poured pints, served brunch, supervised exams, tutored kids and was a researcher in a speech laboratory. All of these things informed the poems in little ways. Sometimes I think I would have made things a lot easier on myself if I’d just become a teacher.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don’t really remember deciding to write, it’s just always been something I did, starting with illustrated cat stories in Grade 1 and evolving (slightly) from there.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently loved Monoceros by Suzette Mayr and Destroyer and Preserver by Matthew Rohrer. It’s been awhile since I saw a great film, but I’m not embarrassed to admit that I watched a lot of Friday Night Lights last weekend.
20 - What are you currently working on?
More poems and some short stories.
Jaime reads this coming week as part of Mansfield’s Spring 2012 Ontario Poetry Launch Tour: SUNDAY, APRIL 15, 2 PM, PARIS, ONTARIO, MONDAY, APRIL 16, 7:30 PM, TORONTO, TUESDAY, APRIL 17, 7:30 PM, KINGSTON and WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18, 7:30 PM, OTTAWA.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;