Jacqueline Valencia is a Toronto-based poet and critic. Jacqueline is a senior literary editor of The Rusty Toque and a CWILA board member. Her debut collection There's No Escape Out Of Time will be out with Insomniac Press Spring 2016.
1 - How did your first
book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your
previous? How does it feel different?
I think it was 2008 when I
decided to gather up some of the poems I'd written for the past few
years and self-publish a chapbook with them. I called it Tristise. I'd
say it changed my life because before then I'd sporadically submitted
poems, but the rejection got to me and then I suffered many years of
writer's block. The time came where I felt like I needed to shake myself
I'd say it changed my life because I haven't
stopped writing and/or submitting every day since then. It's been a long
road to getting my work out there in publications, but it's been worth
it. My new book, There's No Escape Out Of Time (Insomniac Press, 2016)
will be my first full poetry collection. It's comparable to Tristise
because it is back towards feeling rather than technique, but it feels
more raw because I'm writing about very confessional stuff in it.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
of the women in my mother's family write or have written poetry. My
grandmother Ruby is constantly reciting new things whenever I visit her.
As in, "Grandma! We're just watching television. Can we just watch the
show without you praising how miraculous the sky look in it right now?
I'm kidding. I don't stop her because she is my grandmother after all.
mother's greatest gift to me has been a library card. My first trip was
to the library-mobile and I took out a Raggedy Ann and Andy book and a
book interpretation of Disney's Alice In Wonderland. My mom's English
was still a bit rusty so she'd read a bit of it and expand upon it by
retelling parts of the movie. Eventually she had me read the whole to
her and I remember one night writing some of my thoughts down on how I
wanted to be Alice. They were in point form, but from that I created my
first poem without knowing it. School rhymes and songs always stuck with
me and I'd write them down and make my own versions.
feels like an extension of that though. I'm still trying to parse what
the difference is between poetry and fiction in my writing.
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 procrastinate a lot. I drink too much
coffee. Also, I probably drink too much, but I don't think it helps.
Booze, while not a muter of truths, it isn't a motivator.
I actually have several things due right now. They'll get done, I swear.
only time I really put my foot down is when I have deadline or when
inspiration takes me over. I find my greatest strengths for pushing
myself are when I'm working through a crisis or need to react out loud
in some way. I'm a horrible editor of my own work. I have no patience
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?
event or something I've seen provokes a poem in me. It will also ferment
for a while in my mind before I set it down to paper and when I do,
it's in my moleskine without any context whatsoever.
I work from
smaller ideas and build a book, poem, or essay from there. I once wrote
a poem about erotic clowning just because I wrote "There was a clown
and a lobster. Erotic?" Don't ask. I don't even know. Pass the coffee.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
used to hate readings, but for some reason or another my readings have
taken on a stand up comedian format. Sometimes I introduce props. Andy Kaufman is huge influence on me when it comes to public speaking in any
way. His ability to take an audience somewhere completely unexpected is
something I hope to cultivate and acquire. I guess, it has to do with
the defense mechanism whereupon I'd rather self-deprecate than elucidate
anything to do with the poem itself.
I currently looking for a good mime routine to bring to my repertoire.
- 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 struggle with the idea that
language is unique to everyone, that colours look different to everyone,
therefore there aren't enough words out there to describe the universal
experience of every day. That and the fact that I'm using and thinking
in a language by my ancestor's colonizers is a huge concern for me. I
rarely think in Spanish and even Spanish is a colonizing language to the
people my parents' came from.
Right now I'm trying to learn
some of the methods the people in my parents' family have used language
and what was there evolution with the Spanish language and how my brain
processes Spanish versus English.
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?
The role of the
writer is to report. No matter what a writer writes about, they are
journalist of sorts first and foremost. You can be a reporter of your
own ideas and your own expressions, but even our minds are foreign to
us. Using language is like have a universal translator like in Star
Trek. We don't know exactly how it works, but we use oral and written
language everyday as if it was a part of us since birth. Was it? Where
did the rest of our expressions go when we started writing? What are our
hands doing? What are our faces doing?
Oral and written
language are translators of the inner workings of brain. The current job
of the writer is to strip it to the basics and figure out how the hell
we can get to the root of those inner workings.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
love every editor I've ever worked with. I wish book publishers or
journal publishers would put the name of the editor on the front of the
book or on the article beside the author's. They're part of a collective
voice in how we transmit our voices to the world.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Liz Worth once said to me, "Write your truth. Write it now and don't edit
it until it's done." I know it sounds cliché, but it works. Liz is a
good friends and one of the most important writers in Toronto, if not
the world, that I read and listen to.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
love writing about film and books. I love finding connections because
if you meditate on two things long enough, you'll find everything
connects somehow. Everything is always influencing everything else,
especially in art. Poetry is no different than critical prose because
it's a commentary on expression or on situations. You can separate a
work from an analysis of it, but you can not keep poetry from being
ingested and analyzed. That's what it's there for.
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 used to have no writing routine, but lately I've setting aside time in the day. I've felt it necessary for novel writing.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
writing or rewriting texts. They could be anything, like a receipt, a
piece of mail, a book (hi James Joyce), or a poem. From there I'll find
myself cutting it up or using a word or phrase and I get unblocked that
way. Experimental writing moves me to create something if my mind is
Of course, I find conceptual writing to be like any other
type of writing, and in the right and now, it is very necessary for
experimentation to be a part of a poet's work. Even with the continual
controversies in poetry with lyric versus conceptual, it's all
experimental. It's how you use it to decolonize or reveal truths that is
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Power laundry bar soap. My mom used to scrub stuff before putting it in
the laundry and the scent is huge in the outdoor laundry patios in
Colombia. I keep a bar in the bathroom for stains and such.
petrichor. I learned that word the other day. Petrichor is the smell of
earth after rain. It reminds me of love for some reason and there's not
greater home than love.
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?
my writing a lot. My dad used to be a dj and after that I became a dj
and I play music constantly at home. Nature inspires me as well during
my runs or cycling. Riding or running through Leslie Spit at 6am to
watch the sunrise over the lake is probably one of the greatest things
someone in Toronto can do to get inspired.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
James Joyce is huge, but I talk and write about him all the time. As well as,
Anne Sexton and Mary Shelley. Science fiction fantasy has been an
escape for me in the past, but it's only recently I've tried my hand at
writing it. Robert E. Howard's Conan The Barbarian series and Larry Niven's Ringworld series have both been high up there for me in terms of
importance. Oh and comic books. Too many to list.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
the novel I'm currently writing and getting it published. Climb Mount
Everest, which I would never attempt to do because I have kids and can't
die. I love watching documentaries or films on Everest climbers. I
might go to the base camp one day though. I'd also like to do indoor
skydiving because I've always wanted to fly to Superman or surf like the
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?
a) A spy.
b) An international spy.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I've been writing in my journal since I was a kid because of reading
and don't know how to think in anything, but words.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
felt speechless about Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts for a while now.
When I finished reading it I was just so impressed I couldn't find the
words to say how good it was. There's reading-writing modes: either you
read something so good you want to write an essay on it, or you read
something so good, and wonder if there's someone else who has read it so
you could just rejoice in the afterglow of it.
As for film,
there are lot of films that I've thought were pretty good this year, but
nothing that has blown me away. I think the latest has been Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa. It's a short animated film that
hit me right in the gut. I mean, Kaufman has a way of articulating the
embarrassing parts of our psyche, especially as a depressive. Some of us
live entire worlds inside our brains and Kaufman captures that sense of
disconnect and isolation like very few directors out there. The fact
that the film animated gets forgotten and even in the middle of the most
despairing moments in the film, there is a tiny sense of hope to grab
I love when artists hold no bars back when it comes to the
black dog. Kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight, as the Bruce Cockburn song goes.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I'm putting together the Toronto Poetry Talks: Racism and Sexism in the Craft (http://torontopoetrytalks.wordpress.com) and I'm writing my first novel set in Toronto. It's a fantasy occult feminist future of sorts.
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