re: verbs (Bareback editions) and a chapbook ionlylikeitwhenitrhymes, Robert Swereda is a member of the Filling Station collective. He studied creative writing at Capilano University in Vancouver. Other work has been published by The Puritan, ditch, West Coast Line, The Incongruous Quarterly, steel bananas, The Capilano Review, Enpipe Line and Poetry Is Dead.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Change my life? Although the recognition feels nice and maybe my ego got a boost, I didn`t exactly win the lottery. My work has been getting more and more visual. I`ve been experimenting with forming sculptures with text, collages, investigating dead languages such as Latin and Futhark and playing with translation. These new adventures don`t feel so different than what I`ve done in the past, I`m just expanding my palette.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
From my late teens and on I`ve been interested in metaphysics and through that I found Robin Skelton, who published a few volumes on Paganism and many books of poetry. Fiction I have dabbled in a little but never felt confident enough to try to publish it yet. I find there is so much more room for experimentation with poetry.
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?
When I first started writing, everything spewed out of me rapidly. As some years have gone by, the process has really slowed down. I guess when I was new to writing I wanted to try any type of writing prompt that was available to me. Each piece takes a different amount of time to be realized. I`ll have an idea in my head, but it may need time to brew in my brain before it`s ready to transfer to paper. Maybe I don`t try to edit and revise as much as I should, I like my writing to have a rawness to it.
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?
Sometimes they`re like “ AH-HA!!” moments, when I`m not even thinking of writing and some new idea will spark. Other times I see an idea I want to try out just to see what happens. That`s how my Flarf chapbook I only like it when it rhymes happened. Other times I want to use techniques from other mediums and figure out a way to use it poetically like, "Arpeggios on Leo Brouwer" in my book re: verbs. My attention span is quite short, so my pieces are also. Though I feel that the section of my book "b)rainstorms" could have been something book length.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I`m a terrible performer. I get too nervous, I hate using microphones and hearing myself through the speakers. Since my work is more visual, I think that performance is more a way to promote myself it doesn`t really aid my writing. I do feel public readings are important though. There have been a few books I read through and the text alone didn`t do it for me. Then I got to see the author live and I came out with a better understanding of how they wanted their work to be interpreted.
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?
Answering questions, no. Raising questions, yes. I`m just here to make a big mess.
I`m interested in the flexibility of language, especially English. How nouns can flip to verbs and back again, how one word can have several meanings. I demonstrate this in "Arpeggios on Leo Brouwer" in my book, and in a piece called "signature move" http://horselesspress.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/hlr12.pdf
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 wish writers, especially poets were more celebrated in North America. I spend Canadian winters in Latin America, When I tell people I meet in Canada that I write poetry, I get responses like “uh, that`s....interesting” or they assume I`m writing traditional poetry, or they might know something of the Beat Generation. When I tell people from Latin countries the same thing, it`s like I`m some rock star. They`re more curious and excited and ask a billion questions.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Honestly, I don`t have much experience. When Bareback Press was putting my book together, the editing was only for space and layout, which didn`t affect the pieces so much.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I had the opportunity to interview the Peruvian poet Tulio Mora, and I asked if he had any advice for younger writers: I would tell them to be intransigent, rebellious, self-demanding, to avoid lying to themselves, to take any feedback with disbelief, especially if they start receiving praise. Those who care about the comments and reviews that appear in newspapers are not poets. A poet is the one who transcribes how the world shivers at our survival.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to photography to visual art)? What do you see as the appeal?
Poetry is actually the last medium I`ve attempted. In my mid 20`s I was really into painting. I`ve played guitar and wrote music for a long while now. http://soundcloud.com/burntumber Also photography and video collage. Usually I focus my attention on just one of these for a short time until I change direction on to the next. But really they`re no different from each other. A paintbrush, a guitar, a pen, a laptop, a camera – they`re just tools for one humungous job I`m getting done.
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 can`t say I have one. When I have an idea, I either plough away at it right then and there, or let it steep in my head for awhile. I used to keep a writing book, now I do most of my writing on my laptop. I`ll have scraps of paper for a few notes. I find it useful to try writing in different places, cafes, laundromats, malls, buses. In my house, or outside.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I just try to forget about it. And that never works. I distract myself with other things, and then something will eventually pop in my head. I`ve tried to force myself to write on a few occasions and didn`t care for the outcome. In my case, writing just needs to happen.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Alfalfa and cough syrup.
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 mentioned music before. Some other pieces, their layouts were stolen from patterns in abstract visual art, geometry, architecture.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Probably like most 20-something males I went through the Beat phase. I was more into WSB and Brion Gysins practice of majik through the arts. I found the San Fransisco Beats getting entwined with hippies and Buddhism to be kind of flakey. The paintings of Cy Twobly always fascinated me, and I stole from him for my more visual work for sure.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Tell you about the last time I ate a pear. Paragliding.
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?
Most likely visual arts.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I do plenty of other things, as mentioned before. I just found the writing community a little more welcoming. So my energies have been focused in that direction for the past few years.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
On Seeing and Noticing – Alain de Botton. Not the last film I saw but, Gummo ( Harmony Korine) reminds me of my growing up in rural Alberta.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A manuscript of visual poetry and Flarf, as well as a gluten free cook book.
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