Dan MacIsaac’s Cries from the Ark, his debut collection of poetry, was published by Brick Books in September 2017. A trial lawyer and environmentalist, he served for ten years as a director on the board of UVIC’s Environmental Law Centre. His poetry, fiction and verse translations have been published in a wide variety of literary magazines, including The Malahat Review, Arc and Stand. In 2014, one of his poems received the Foley Prize from America Magazine. In 2015, his poem, “Sloth,” was short-listed for The Walrus Poetry Prize. His writer website is www.danmacisaac.com.
1 - How did your first book change your life?
It enabled me to call myself a poet.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
After much music and story-telling in my youth, it seemed natural to come to 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?
The first outpouring is quick. But I revise obsessively over months or even years. The first drafts are not false starts but getting to the finish line can be a marathon.
4 - Where does a poem or short story usually begin for you?
Most poems and stories begin in a quiet space, even in the eye of a storm. Often I can create that quiet space for myself in the midst of chaos as I grew in a large, boisterous family where bedlam could be the prevailing condition.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love engaging with an audience. Perhaps this comes from playing music in public since my childhood. Certainly, teaching and trial work reinforced my desire to connect, engage and persuade. Listening to and answering questions is particularly productive because I am responding to somebody else’s experience and point of view. Often, that insight from another person allows me to strengthen the work through thoughtful revision.
6 - What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
What are the stories of the Earth? What are the lyrics of the wind and the sea?
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture?
To be a witness and a whistleblower.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The objective eye and unbiased ear are essential.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Here are two to start with: Listen. Look.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to verse translation to short fiction)?
For me, the movement between genres seems natural as they are akin. Each genre is like the form of water at a particular point in the cycle.
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 write in the late evenings and on weekends because my law practice is very time-consuming.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When my new writing stalls, I work on the knots of an old piece. In the past, I would translate Spanish poetry into English verse in order to strike a creative spark.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
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?
Wilderness is my main muse followed by music in all its astonishing forms. In terms of visual art, my earliest influence was the French Impressionists with their focus on flow and light.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The writers and writings important for my work are too numerous to list here. Certainly, my life of community and family—as well as immersing in nature—bring meaning and purpose to the art.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go on an eco-tour of India with family.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be?
Study to be a full-time musician. I deeply admire my three family members whose life work is music.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing creatively is the most precise and evocative form of expression.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
One of the recent great poetry collections I read was Julia McCarthy’s superlative Return from Erebus. Deepa Mehta’s Water is a marvellous film.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Revising poems and setting some to music.