Wednesday, June 10, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Sandra Ridley

Fond of sitting on stairs and rainy days, Sandra Ridley’s first manuscript of poetry, Downwinders, won the 2008 Alfred G. Bailey Prize. Part of this collection, Lift: Ghazals for C. was published as an art chapbook by JackPine Press. Her second collection, Post-Apothecary, was a finalist for the 2009 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.

1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Not sure that it did, but getting the call from JackPine was definitely exciting. First time I saw their chapbooks, I fell totally in love with the press and their support of artist/writer collaborations. Hadn’t been writing that long when they accepted my submission, so was privileged to be in such good company. Felt like my writing was valued. Bought bubbly.

Recent work? I’ve been playing with overlaying images and like-minded sound-based words, trying to develop a looser, not quite so linear, narrative. Which seems different to me than earlier work. Less constrained.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

If I ever had interest in writing non-fiction, I lost it in academia. As for fiction, in a way I didn’t have a choice in the matter – it never occurred to me. My writing started as small handfuls of short lines. The lines and poems lengthened. And the more I think about writing a long poem, a book-length long poem, the more it feels I’m approaching fiction. Lines are wrapping around. What’s happening?

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?

Difficult to say. For me, projects overlap and inform each other. Extend. I’m planning and researching a second one before I’ve finished the first. Ideas tend to come quickly, some workable, most not. But the work also gets stuck quickly too – and first drafts take a very long time. I’m always considering and reconsidering how I can best do what it is I want to do. Second guessing. My new manuscript Post-Apothecary is structured by forays into ideas of sickness, seclusion and disorientation. How can this stuff be represented on the page? Can I write in a way that a reader could feel any of that? Probably not, but I’ll try. And I do take far too many notes.

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?

With an image or juxtaposition of images. Odd pairings of words and phrases. Unexpected connections are generative for me, and one reason why I love doing background research. Never know what’ll be dug up. I have lots of stray poems, but for the most part, I work toward a longer serial. I like writing with the idea of a trajectory of atmosphere in mind, say poems building toward a mood, rather than a specific narrative arc.

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

I’m somewhat introverted and don’t naturally enjoy reading in public, but it does make the writing stronger. Suddenly painfully aware of what isn’t working. It might be a fixable thing like having the ‘wrong’ word or rhythm or sound pairing, or it might be that the poem just isn’t working at all. I’d much rather be in the audience than be the one reading. I do enjoy listening to writers who read their work well. It’s an art.

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?

Nope. Not sure. And not sure.

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?

Tough questions, rob. I think a writer should write – and if all goes gangbusters, a reader is somehow altered. But maybe at base level, the role of the writer shouldn’t be any different than the role of anyone else – it would be nice if everyone put their best effort into making life more livable.

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

I appreciate having outside editors – most are writer-friends of mine, whose work I respect. For me, it’s essential to have their perspective and objectivity. Fresh eyes. Savvy editors see what’s missing. Well, they see what needs to be there, and what doesn’t – and can motivate a writer to push their language or larger structure.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

“To reveal all is to end the story. To conceal all is to fail to begin the story.” Robert Kroetsch.

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?

When not freelancing, I have a simple order of operations. Get out of bed, turn on the laptop, make coffee, stare at the screen, shuffle paper, walk the dog, eat when necessary, daydream, read, read, read. If a day goes by without me doing something active towards a writing project, I get real cranky.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Other people’s books, random pickings from library stacks, long walks outside, films at the ByTowne Cinema. Generally, contact with something unfamiliar.

12 - What fairy tale character do you resonate with most?

Hansel or Gretel. Take your pick. Both abandoned in a dark forest, dropping breadcrumbs but getting lost anyways, being lured by candy, then taken and locked up by a child-eating witch. Need I say more? Wait, how did it end?

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?

The environment surrounding, for sure. Woods, fields, cityscape. When I was doing research for Post-Apothecary, I snuck into the grounds of Fort San, a TB sanitarium in Saskatchewan, and hung around the abandoned buildings. It’s been closed for years, but, for what’s worth, I tried to experience the environment as much as I could, for the short time I was there. And I went back. Place is important – it sets tone and atmosphere, generates image, and carries its own language. For me, it informs the whole process of writing.

Old photos and ephemera. I love digging through boxes in archives.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Both contemporaries and not-so-contemporary writers influence me and it’s important to recognize that. Here’s an incomplete list: Amanda Earl, Christine McNair, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouré, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Hunter S. Thompson, Jennifer Londry, Jennifer Still, John Thompson, jw curry, Margaret Christakos, Michael Blouin, Michael Ondaatje, Nicole Brossard, and Robert Kroetsch.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Surf and collaborate with another writer on a book-length work. Tell me they’re not mutually exclusive.

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?

A photographer. A beer slinger at the local pub. Still tempted by both, so who knows? Is The Manx hiring?

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I’d be writing no matter what else – seems essential to me.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Films. Bladerunner and Gus Van Zant’s Gerry. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen both, this year alone. Books. Poetry? Finally added George Bowering’s Kerrisdale Elegies to my shelf. Fiction? Nicole Brossard’s Mauve Desert. I keep going back to it. And Michael Blouin’s Chase and Haven. For god’s sakes, someone give him an award for that.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Besides this? A Canadian road trip poem. (Yes, another Canadian road trip poem. And it’s a long one at that.) A novena. And edits on Post-Apothecary.

12 or 20 questions archive (second series);

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