Jamie Sharpe’s first book of poetry, Animal Husbandry Today, is now out from ECW Press. His writing and art has appeared in magazines throughout Canada and the U.S. He is the chief editor of the Associative Press (http://www.theassociativepress.com), a literary and arts journal, printed annually.
1 - How did your first book change your life?
There’s a relief in letting poems go. I’m no longer compelled to tinker with them or find a place they can reside. Life goes on pretty much the same, but I’m free to focus elsewhere. Maybe the book will allow for new opportunities? Maybe not. I’m happy the work is out there.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I’ve published some short fiction and non-fiction also. What form a piece takes is largely intuitive. The boundaries of poetry and prose have become pretty indistinct to me.
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 think of myself as a slow but steady writer. Animal Husbandry Today represents about five years of work (others might see this as steadily slow).
Most meaningful edits happen pretty close to a poem’s conception. Once something sits for too long I find it less malleable. Months (or years) later I’ll still chip away at work, but the changes are small: a moved comma or erased word.
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?
Often poems come to me in the form of experiments: what happens when I take idea “A” and mash it with “B”? Other times I explore overheard phrases, lines from books, scraps from life. More than once a poem has spontaneously materialized, complete in my mind, while I shower.
Although my poems are composed as autonomous entities, once corralled together they share a (sometimes frightening) similitude—like family members gathered around Thanksgiving dinner.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings aren’t part of my creative process. From the oral history tradition onward, through people like Ginsberg to modern Slam, a lot of poetry demands to be heard. Then there’s poetry made for the page. I want my work to exist disembodied from me. Instead of doing a reading I’d much prefer something akin to a gallery opening with poetry broadsides taped to the wall.
My hesitancy around readings stems from shortcomings: I have trouble following the spoken word (have to read work myself for full appreciation) & I’m too anxious when doing a reading to enjoy it.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work?
Sometimes I want poetry to be wonderfully useless in the way I imagine yoga is. When was the last time you Downward Facing Dog-ed at work? The pose is ridiculous. If only I could make a ridiculous poem that stretched the brain, allowing for a slightly greater range of potential thought.
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?
A writer’s job is to write: to be a cartographer of thought. What direction, if any, people then take with the writing is beyond control.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I feel very fortunate to have been published by ECW. ECW had both in-house and external editors scour my work, making it a better collection than I could on my own.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Two pieces of advice come to mind, especially when taken in conjunction. The comic illustrator, Wallace Wood, remarked, “never draw what you can copy, never copy what you can trace, never trace what you can cut.” Dean Young said, “your genius is your error.” I try to rip everyone off but, in my enthusiastic haste, create my own thing.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (writing to art)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s the same genre to me. I approach whatever medium I’m working in through poetry. I see my visual art as poems. My prose aspires to poetry. I try to sweep floors with a poetic flourish.
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 build my days around coffee, vibrating words from the keyboard with caffeine.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I’m not too concerned with output. Writing is a way for me to process life as needed. I’m not in the poem manufacturing business. There are no quotas to reach. That said, I find reading outside my usual sphere often prompts new work.
13 – What fragrance reminds you of home?
Since my wife returned from India our place smells like a bazaar. Somehow cumin or green cardamom works its way into most meals.
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?
Everything is fair game; open season began yesterday.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Too many to list. I’ve been reading a lot of Lydia Davis lately.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Spend autumn in the Maritimes. Play a World Series of Poker event.
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?
One of my notable traits is I’m incapable of boredom. Because of this I’m well suited to repetitive tasks. I spent a fall happily picking grapes (unfortunately this isn’t a viable career in Whitehorse—their aren’t many grape varietals that thrive under two feet of snow).
I was close to completing the Master of Teaching program at the University of Calgary and still spend most summers as an English as a second language instructor.
Growing up, I worked in a lot of record stores. How’s the music industry doing these days?
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing was/is a compulsion, not a rationalized decision.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Books: Craig Boyko’s Psychology and Other Stories (prose); Ben Mirov's Hider Roser (poetry).
Films: Chinatown & Network (Faye Dunaway!).
20 - What are you currently working on?
There’s always lots of things on the go: my MFA; a series of visual poems, similar to the images in Animal Husbandry Today, designed to stand without accompanying text; a novella; a chapbook of poems, all six lines or less, entitled Uncomfortable Glances, Insignificant Men.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;