Christine McNair's first book Conflict was published by BookThug in 2012. She works as a book conservator in Ottawa and is one of four hosts for CKCU Lit Landscapes. She was shortlisted for the 2011 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.
1- How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It didn’t. It’s nice to have a book on the shelf that’s mine. I like the physicality of book on shelf and enjoy clucking over the misnomered ‘perfect’ binding (o signature my signature don’t fail me now). I like the weird texturality of the plasticized paper and its compressed pout of semi-square. Hmm, wrong kind of feel-up? My work evolves in the hand.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I write fiction and non-fiction but it’s different. Those genres require more space than the day job allows. Which is an excuse (of course). I torment myself with romanticized ideas about writers working all day every day and then peeling novels from themselves in juicy rinds. Poetry allows for intense burst of focused attention that is easier for me to sustain in the short term. And it scratches a different itch than prose.
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?
It usually comes quickly in annoyingly frantic bursts that lather up my head. If my writing comes slowly that’s often an indicator that I’m stuck or avoiding something. Or maybe it just hasn’t germinated long enough. I need enough time to mull things over in the back of my mind before they pretend coherence. Drafts tend to be fairly close to their final shape but I cannibalize some of my mad notes to produce something less raggedy.
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 don’t know this about myself yet. I’m currently writing to ‘projects’ but not sure that’s how I work. I think it depends. Conflict came together as a distinct whole with a few poems that were added later because they fit the overall arc. But I didn’t set out to write it that way. I started with the idea of one long(ish) poem which bred other explorations.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I don’t like doing readings but think it’s important. I read my lines aloud when I’m alone. I think it helps you get the taste of the line. I think it’s worthwhile to be a good reader. And I lied. I do like readings or at least the reading itself. I like the moment of reading your work aloud to an attuned audience but not the build-up prior or the shaky legged clamber off stage.
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?
Depends what you mean by this. Yes, no, maybe so? I’m writing for the sake of it. Because I think there’s value in doing that. Above and beyond the self-centred ‘I’. There are few answers in life or art and to proclaim otherwise is laughable. It’s an absurd beautiful chaotic mess.
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?
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich One, Poor One, Beggar One, Thief.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. Editor of one kind or another. Distance and murder protocols for darlings.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to sound poetry)? What do you see as the appeal?
They each have different functions and purpose. They feel the same to me so I like switching between them. Poetry feels vital and brutal. Fiction is a weaving. The sound poetry (which I only read, i.e., it was other people’s work) was a physical and mental challenge. I like variety.
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 don’t keep one. I probably should but I’m overscheduled. Wake up, pet the cat, eat breakfast, say goodbye husband, drive to day job, buy coffee, DAY JOB, drive home from day job, say hello to husband, pet the cat, dinner, [randomisation here: radio show, bookbinders’ guild meeting, letterpress group meeting, television, autoharp, attending a reading, friends, family, reading a book, yoga, gym, writing, flailing at the stove], pet the cat, bed. Writing threaded in there somewhere if I’m lucky.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Other people’s books. The senses. Mindful inattention.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Tar, chlorine, cut grass, dead leaves, bleach. Poisons. This question is questionably nostalgic.
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?
A wide yes. Music, art, day job, science.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
At my other work -- Szirmai’s The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbindings. It’s stellar.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
More travel. Finish the damn novel. Dip my hands in all the oceans.
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 have another occupation and it fits me very well. Book conservation is a good match for my interests and temperament. I did really want to be an astronaut. Space Camp!
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It’s the only thing that’s ever felt essential.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I liked Steven Heighton’s book of short stories. And I’ll Drown my Book: conceptual writing by women. The last film I enjoyed was probably Silver Linings Playbook.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A novel that has been dragging at the heels. My second poetry manuscript. Some poems for Apt 9 press. Planning out some letterpress projects for my Pearl Press (tentatively ever so tentatively).
[Christine McNair reads at VERSeFest in Ottawa on March 17, 2013; check here for other upcoming tour dates in Regina, Calgary, St. Catharine's, Vancouver, Hamilton and other places]
12 or 20 (second series) questions;