Wednesday, July 16, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with andrea bennett

andrea bennett's debut book of poetry is Canoodlers (Nightwood, 2014), which follows the growth and class leaps of a townie tomboy from Hamilton, Ontario. andrea's writing has been published in magazines across North America, including Maisonneuve, Geist, and Grain, and her poetry has been anthologized in books from McGraw-Hill Ryerson and Ooligan Press. In 2013, her nonfiction received an honourable mention in the Politics and Public Interest category at the National Magazine Awards.

1 - How did your first book change your life?
Canoodlers is my first book. I'm not sure how much it has changed my life, yet -- I'm just stoked to have a book out in the world. I don't have any perspective on what that means, yet.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I do write fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry, actually, but I'll stick to poetry here: I like to write poetry because the speaker of the poem is always some iteration of myself -- usually some puffed-up Walt Whitman-y version, and it's freeing to live there for a moment.

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 took about four years to write Canoodlers. Some of the poems appear in the book almost exactly as I wrote them on the day I wrote them, and others went through several drafts. Usually, when I write a poem, I've been thinking about a situation or a feeling for a little while, and then some concrete image or phrase drops out of the sky and I sit and write (or stand with my phone, keying into a draft email) as quickly as possible. Mean per poem draft one pen-in-hand time estimate: 17 minutes. 

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've noticed that a lot of poets tend to choose a sort of poem-project for their second books, and it's tempting to do that, but I tend to write short pieces, yes, and figure out the cohesive part or narrative part later on. Though I do have a feeling I know what ground my second collection will cover. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I like reading. I get very nervous beforehand, but once I'm on stage, in front of people, I like it up there. For me, it's a completely different skill-set than writing, or editing; it's not part of my creative process. My creative process happens beforehand, and then I have to summon up the nerve to inhabit the voice I've written on 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?
I studied English literature as part of my undergraduate degree, and I read a bunch of theory, and I still read some theory, but not so much. What I'm looking for as a reader and a human being is new insight and new perspectives; maybe these come from theory, and maybe they come from novels, or good conversation. (Here's a question, though: why on earth does psychoanalytic theory still have legs?)

If I'm concerned by theoretical anything when I'm writing, it's probably rhetorical strategies. I am fascinated with the way speech expresses interpersonal power dynamics, etc. I am also personally invested in documenting townie Hamiltonian speech patterns for posterity, because that is where I'm from.

The current questions? I think the questions for poetry are the same as the in-general questions. The political and social and cultural and religious questions. Also, formally, what comes next? And, how do I participate in conversations about Canadian poetries without picking a side?

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 don't think there is a given writer's role, necessarily. Some writers find themselves in a spot where they want to speak publicly, and they have the platform to do that. A traditional platform, I mean. And that has to do with talent and insightfulness and perseverance, but it also has to do with structural power and privilege. And then there are untraditional platforms, like Twitter or Tumblr and, well, just starting your own blog, and other talented, insightful writers find audiences there. Long story short: the role of a writer can be to research and write about issues of public concern. A writer can be a public figure.

Or, a writer can write poetry on their liveaboard in the Burrard harbour in Vancouver, and that can be their role: writing good poems from their small corner of the world.

Or, something in-between.

I would like to say that the role of a writer is to be on the side of justice, but lots of awful people write books. Like Rush Limbaugh. He even won a *Children's Book Award*, for goodness sakes.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I sincerely love working with good editors: they are your best readers. They push you to do better, and they see new things about your work, and they cut what needs to be cut. <3 br="" editors.="">
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I think the best thing that a writer can do is to celebrate their successes, really feel them. Buy a bottle of bubbly, and spend a day enjoying the hard work that has finally paid off, and find a couple supportive friends, and do whatever it is you do to personally celebrate. (Because I don't know about you, but I certainly let myself feel all the rejections.)

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I love writing nonfiction! Who knew? I never realized that I could choose to write the kinds of things I liked reading in Harper's and The Walrus and Maisonneuve. I wrote my first feature in 2011. It began as a project for a class I took at UBC. Now, nonfiction features are arguably my favourite things to write. I read a lot and I care about politics and culture and religion, and I have that maybe-I'm-an-awful-person attraction to exploring conflict and injustice. So that's the appeal for me, there.

Poetry is a compulsion, which is probably why it is my first genre. I'd write it even if no one read it or published it. I have no clue why.

Fiction is my weakest genre, and the hardest for me. Mostly because you really have to live inside a story to tell it, and it's hard to find the time to do that, and it's the genre where I miss my MFA workshops most acutely.

I don't consciously move between genres… when I have an idea for something new, it comes two by two with its genre.

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 have absolutely no routine whatsoever :/. Some days I will write for hours and feel obsessed with my subject and resent my day job. I tend to be a better writer when I'm earning my rent money as an editor -- it's like the writing gears are already well-lubed (not a gross metaphor at all). That is not currently the case, so I steal whatever time I can. (I so miss being a full-time editor. Can you imagine a better job? I can't.)

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
If I'm feeling sad and uncreative and I can't write, I do the brunt work that goes into researching and writing non-fiction instead -- access to information requests, database searches, interview transcriptions. To stop feeling sad and uncreative, I get some exercise in a place that has trees and/or ocean.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of cigarette smoke + my mother's perfume (Calvin Klein Eternity).

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?
Exercise: swimming, cycling, running. Being physically present in my body influences my work, and I liken various aspects of writing to various aspects of training for those things when I'm searching for metaphors.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Four writers: Kim Fu, Alice Munro, Ted Berrigan, Marilyn Hacker.

Four books: Michael Winter's The Death of Donna Whalen, Fred Wah's Diamond Grill, Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, Miriam Toew's A Complicated Kindness.

Four articles: Ted Conover's "The Way of All Flesh," Marci McDonald's "Stephen Harper and the Theocons," David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Really Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," Lawrence Wright's "Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology."

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Get married, live on a boat, have a kid, own a hammock, read in the hammock. Feel like I'm the best at something, even if it's just for a minute.

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 would probably have been a lawyer. I wrote the LSAT and everything, but lost my nerve. I figured that if I couldn't stomach the thought of the debt I'd take on to get the degree, then my heart wasn't really in it.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Books were the way I learned about people and the world when I was a kid. Writing was a natural extension -- I couldn't communicate with my peers in person at school, so I communicated with my imagined peers through writing.

But I had a bit of an unstable childhood, so honestly my world of occupational possibilities was not terribly wide at first, because I was petrified of taking risks, particularly economic risks. So I never thought I'd be a writer. I thought I'd work in communications, or whatever, but then I couldn't do that, I just couldn't, I had to get out and take the risk after all.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I came to Miriam Toew's A Complicated Kindness kind of late, just a few months ago, and I loved it. Out more recently, I think Tash Aw's Five Star Billionaire and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah are both great books. I also recently (re)watched two great (but not new by any means) films: Errol Morris's The Fog of War, and Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I'm currently working on a piece about Mormon missionary experiences with Kim Fu (, and another piece about the impacts of LNG development on communities in Northeastern BC. And a piece about heading to the Creation Science Museum in Alberta last summer at the precise time the southern part of the province was flooding. I've also been writing prose poems. Mostly about my partner, Will, and the particular but general strangeness of falling in love with someone.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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