Claire Lacey currently lives in the UK. She holds an MA in English from the University of Calgary and a BA from York University. Her first book, Twin Tongues, won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Her work has also appeared in Dandelion, The Windsor Review, and Filling Station.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
As my first book was a seven year project that I started as an undergraduate student. It was my way of discoursing with ideas and texts that I came into contact with during that time - from online forums discussing racism and sexism to poetry to academic texts on second language pedagogy and sociology. I felt that in many ways these texts that were occupying separate spheres were asking to be in direct conversation with one another, and poetry was my way of seeing those conversations unfold. While my first book is a way of understanding my own role and implication in colonialism, my more recent work deals with my own experience of a concussion - a traumatic brain injury that has caused me to change the way I interact and relate with and to the world. I still am exploring questions of identity and trauma, but now I am performing the work of my own healing.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I recently moved, and I came across a notebook from when I was 10 or so. I found protest poems about saving the environment. I have always been drawn to language, seen it as a set of Lego to play with. I think poetry lets me play more with language and sound, and lets me dig into the gaps between genres (like digging ants out from the cracks in the sidewalk). I also write fiction, and science writing was how I earned my living for quite some time.
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?
The very unsatisfying answer is: it depends. Some of my writing happens very quickly, and sometimes it's a laborious process to get it where I want. Sometimes a first draft is pretty close to the finished product, and other times it is hardly recognizable between draft one and draft twenty-five. I don't have a reliable process of writing because I need lots of time to think and process precisely what it is I am trying to say. I do take lots of notes, particularly when I am in the midst of a project, and I return to my notes often. My notes tend to meander between what I am currently reading, watching, interesting conversations I overhear, and what I am writing. Usually, the most productive moments come from the junctions between subjects, between seemingly disparate materials.
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?
A poem usually begins aloud. I talk to myself, often as I am walking. If it sticks, I write it down. Sometimes these little bits coalesce into a piece. I tend to start with short bits that start circling around a theme then grow into a larger project; I was lucky in that this happened before I hit the grant-writing/university processes that want to fund projects.
With Twin Tongues I realized I was working on a book after about a year. Other times I have set out to write a book only to become entirely dissatisfied and throw out the manuscript. For me, I think when I am trying to produce a book I get too caught up with trying to write a book, while the real and interesting work is happening almost behind my own back.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I really enjoy doing readings and performances. It is another type of creative process for me, and often an opportunity for collaboration with other writers and performers. In fact, my current project is built out of an audio diary I kept during the early stages of recovery from a serious concussion. Readings can give a new texture to work, providing new layers to a written piece or giving voice to a provisional, site-specific experience. I think it is as important to produce temporary artwork as something published, which we tend to think of as more permanent.
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?
Yes, Twin Tongues draws heavily from a number of different theoretical concerns around language, colonization, race, privilege, appropriation, and the politics of pedagogy. On a very fundamental level, it is looking at how history interacts with identity, and how good intentions can still result in harmful practices. The ethics of language, and even of being, are unresolved, and constantly in transition. How do I live and inhabit an identity that is inherently intertwined with a colonial culture? How do I find my language beautiful and simultaneously know that it is a tool for oppression? Twin Tongues was always doomed to failure, because it tries to answer questions about language and appropriation from a perspective that, even though I have done my best to resist, engages in appropriation and comes from a position of privilege. It is a book written about Papua New Guinea by a white, middle class Canadian woman. I struggled with the question of whether I should even finish the text at times, but to me, documenting this negotiation was more important than trying to create a book that contained any answers.
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?
Writers are always necessarily immersed in their own culture. I think the best writers reveal facets of culture that have not been thoroughly interrogated, and provoke questions about whether or not those facets are still relevant or worthwhile. In this way, writers, like other artists, can help us understand how we live, and question whether or not it is right to live that way. Writers don't have the answers more or less than anyone else does, but they are like the slow motion replay on a hockey game - it sure can help determine whether or not the puck has crossed the line.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I have been very lucky in my editors. Twin Tongues was my Master's thesis, and so I had the benefit of defending it to a thesis committee, and receiving the feedback of two amazing writers and one visual artist before I even submitted for publication. My friend kevin mcpherson eckhoff also did a thorough and insightful edit for me, and then Jon Paul Fiorentino was a generous editor. An outside editor provides eyes that are fresh, that can determine whether or not the text is working the way it should...sometimes after being so involved in a poem for years it can be hard to see the big picture, or your mind remembers something that was removed a few drafts ago. So working with an outside editor, for me, is an essential and enjoyable part of the process.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Think of the trees. It is a piece of advice that Robert Majzels gives his creative writing students. So now I think before I print: is this worth killing a tree for?
10 - 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 have a routine. When I have a deadline, I tend to set dates with myself so I have 3-4 hour chunks of time to think and work, but that could be at home, at the library, at a cafe, wherever.
Right now my typical day begins slowly, because I have a number of mental focus and neck rehab exercises I do at the beginning of every day. I don't tend to really get going until 10am...which makes me feel really old sometimes as I go to bed around 10 each night as well.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When I get stuck, I shower. It allows me to step away and get physically grounded. If that's not enough, a walk outside will do the trick. I find that returning to my own body tends to renew my mental energy, and pull me away from the glitches of abstraction that can stop the writing process.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
13 - 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?
My work tends to reflect whatever influences are in my environment. When I worked for a neurosurgeon, my work was fed by the processes of science and medicine that surrounded me. When I worked in a gym, I started to pull from anatomical language. I draw a lot from the city and landscape that I inhabit as well.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
NourbeSe Philip and Dionne Brand both have huge influences on my work, and they are writers I often return to. Margaret Christakos and her Influency salon in many ways shaped the poet I am today. Then there are the poets that I play with: Kathleen Brown, Indra Singh, keven mcpherson eckhoff, jake kennedy, Stephanie Davis, and others...people who keep my thinking and writing fresh and vital and joyous.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a science fiction novel. Write dialogue for a video game. Write music.
16 - 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'd really like to try voice acting. I think it would be really interesting to be the voice of an animated character. I also think I would be pretty good at reading audio books.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I have done a lot of other things. I had a career as a strength and conditioning coach, I was a roller derby athlete. No matter what else I do, I also write. It suits my tendencies to overthink everything and allows me to exercise my staircase wit.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I am reading a lot of science fiction and horror right now, and I've been into Octavia Butler and Philip K Dick. I also recently finished Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis, which is striking and heartbreaking and politically relevant.
Before I left Canada (and gave away all my books) I reread Shannon Maguire's fur(l) parachute, which I think is a stunning book, the kind of book I almost wish I had written first, except then I wouldn't have had the pleasure of reading it.
I tend to run behind the times on films, but I saw Luc Besson's Angel-A a few weeks ago, and I appreciated it for its meditation on self-worth and self-respect, even as I question whether or not I agree with its take on love and sacrifice...
19 - What are you currently working on?
I am accumulating material and thought around my concussion and healing. Right now I am deciding whether it wants to be poetry or fiction or non-fiction or an entirely performative text. It hasn't entirely settled into a shape that feels right, because I have not yet settled into a shape that feels like myself.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;