Sandy has been published in various literary journals and was most recently anthologized in The Best Canadian Poems in 2011, published by Tightrope Books. Her first book Exploding Into Night published by Guernica Editions, was long-listed for the 2010 re-lit award and short-listed for the 2010 Governor General’s Award for poetry. Undark: An Oratorio was recently published this fall with Nightwood Editions.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Having my first book published was both thrilling and traumatizing. It certainly allowed me to crystallize the questions and concerns that I wanted to address through poetry. I think, in my case, I simply needed to write my way into a second project that addressed the questions I couldn’t answer in the first book. There was another manuscript I trashed entirely in the meantime. There was this sense with Exploding that I couldn’t get it right, no matter how hard I tried, and I struggled with that. This time around was sort of “ Try again. Fail again. Fail better” as Beckett would say. I’m hoping to fail better this time. To fail with more grace, if I can.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I think that poetry was always a natural language for me. Especially when I was younger, I saw huge freedom and potential in poetry to think through ideas in a dynamic way I was seduced instantly by the way language was used in poetry – how it could play on the page.
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 tend to write very slowly these days. I suffer through first drafts, and then put them away, and pull them back out again many times before I’m happy with them. I don’t really do any note taking, but there is certainly ‘mental note-taking’, which goes on for a copious amount of time prior to the ‘birth’ of the poem, if that counts.
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?
I’m not sure. So far, I’ve been drawn to book-length projects. I do enjoy having a sense of where I’m headed. Even then, I have to write individual pieces to see what will ‘happen’ in the manuscript. I’m never sure when a man with a gun will walk into the poem, and I want to be open to that. So I guess I’m writing books where I know the story, but not the plot? Does that make sense?
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
That’s an interesting question. I wouldn’t say they are part of my creative process, exactly. I don’t find them particularly generative. I enjoy giving readings, but sometimes I’m not sure how much I learn from them? What I really love is when hearing a work aloud can foster a dialogue between writers and readers. I’m always interested to know what people hear when they ‘hear’ a poem. I think that kind of feedback can be incredibly valuable.
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 like to let other people figure that out, otherwise where’s the fun? I like what E.B. White said after hearing a particularly academic review of Charlotte’s Web. When he took the stage (a bit dazed) he said, “it makes me realize how lucky I am (when I was writing the book) that I didn’t know what in the hell was going on.” I think I relate to that in my own work. I write very intuitively, and make connections between concepts, but I find they are never the same questions/connections that readers identify. I find that disconnect fascinating.
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?
I think the role of the writer should simply be to write good books. All acts of writing are political acts of translation and I think that is essential to our larger culture.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Coming from a theatre background, I am used to harsh criticism. I get excited to work with editors, to see the work through different eyes. For me, that is where the fine-tuning begins, and I find that very essential and rewarding. I was lucky to work with many fine editors on Undark and I enjoy hearing from different writers with different aesthetics.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“ Don’t be afraid to write from a place of insecurity.” I think young writers can get caught up in hiding what they don’t know. As I get older, I become more and more obsessed with what I don’t know, and I like to use that insecurity in my writing process. It’s not insecurity towards craft, but it is a way of working with a poem– insecurity as an approach to writing poetry, as a poetic disposition.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to theatre to opera librettos)? What do you see as the appeal?
I think it’s pretty seamless. I find libretto encompasses my favourite elements of theatre and poetry. Libretto exploits dramatic voice, and pairs it with the more sensual language of poetry. I find this ‘theatrical poetry’ very appealing.
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 usually set aside some time to write each day. I don’t have a routine, but I tend to work early in the morning and late at night.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
For me, reading widely is the key to writing well. I turn to all kinds of writing when I’m stuck. I read non-fiction, fiction, poetry, drama, science textbooks, news articles… basically whatever I can get my hands on. I also listen to music, bake, exercise, go out for dinner, exercise more. To me, it’s all part of the writing process.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Palmolive, rancid tobacco.
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 think music certainly influences my writing. I’m interested in how rhythm works, and I turn to music to imagine how a line of poetry could be imagined, or re-imagined. I’ve also done a series of collaborations with visual artists, including Blair Prentice, who designed the glow-in-the-dark cover of Undark. I find an aesthetic connection with visual art, and specifically black and white photography. There’s something in the awkward static-ness of old photographs that I find endlessly surprising.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I usually go on tangents, and become obsessed with particular writers. Lately I’ve been influenced by poets Robert Hass, James Tate, Simon Armitage, and Frederick Seidel. I’m also reading Lydia Davis, Lorrie Moore, and Gordon Lish. I try to make myself a reading list for the year and stick to it, but I’m constantly going off in new directions…
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’ve spent the last two years living in different parts of Canada, but I’d like to travel more in Europe in the United States. One day, I’d also like to try and write a novel.
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 find the natural world fascinating, and I’d love to be a scientist, but anyone who knows me would laugh at this. My math/science skills are completely non-existent.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
You can ask my old bosses, but I’m pretty sure it’s all I’m good for.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was a book called Suicide by French writer Edouard Leve. I found it striking not only as his final book, but also as an oblique public suicide note. I really loved the use of second person in the book also. The last great film was the A and E documentary The Imposter. I was absolutely stunned by it.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Currently I’m trying desperately to finish my doctoral degree and I’m also writing a series of poetic micro fictions about logic.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;