Sunday, September 20, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Pearl Pirie

Pearl Pirie has poems in the chapbooks: Pent Up (AngelHouse Press, 2009), Oath in the Boathouse (above/ground 2008) and Whack of Clouds (AngelHouse Press 2008). She has several active blogs including pesbo for poetry, Humanyms for general life, 40 Word Year for processing moments and people who have shaped her, and where her sock monkey has a blog. She's also doing a series of interviews with haiku poets at

1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? bOATHouse (Oath in the Boathouse) got me on track for collating more threads of poems. And the first question out of anyone's mouth when they ask what I do and I say write, is for them to ask, had anything published? It's nice to have something to pull out or trade.

I think the distribution means people who wouldn't have seen what I write normally got to see. I'm used to people I've never met knowing my words years before me since I've been online for 15 years or so and was met at conferences of my previous life by people who read my articles and editorials and knew me by name and work. But it's different for it being poems.

How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? Each thing feels the same, as in necessary fun, but looks outwardly different.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? By foot. As the used bookstore clerk said -- rolling his eyes at me as I beelined to the section again -- "there are things in the world other than poetry you know."

Like the loophole of poetry. It doesn't have to answer to categories of fiction or not. It's amoral.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? I'm continuously starting. Does your writing intitially 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? Yes and yes. No and yes. Poetry not usually, and fiction and non- fiction, yes.

4 - Where does a (poem or piece of fiction) usually begin for you? There's no usual. Although when I'm overtired, my eyes read in a checkmark -- the gaze drops a line down for a word then continues right and goes up 2 lines. That resulting confusion of a sentence has started some ideas.

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? Yes.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? It helps. I can't say I enjoy, but it's good practice to 1. do something until you stop fearing it, 2. continue until you're good at it and then 3. you're in a position to say if you like it or not. I'm sometimes near step 3 unless I stop for a while, and then I go back to step 1.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? I'm trying more to ask questions.

What do you even think the current questions are? What am I omitting? Supporting? Just how classcentric is this? How much I can indulge myself in tangental leaps and still have people follow me or wish to? What resonates? With whom? Whose values am I encouraging? What's the subtext of this? What can I upend? Where, in theory, would I put my pen? What opportunity cost am I missing by talking about this instead? Do I need to write this? Who would have a tadpole's hope in hell of understanding this? Am I beating a living horse? When there's a weal is there a way? What leaks around the edges? Is that extraneous but interesting enough to pay for its piece of line real estate? What fails to resonate? If Y could never read this, how would I write if differently? What am I Taking Too Seriously? Is poetry the best detour route to get across town? Am I still having fun? Will this be filtered as gendered? Is this content for conversation instead? Or essay? How did that come back to my father? Where did I put that paper now? How did I manage to see religion there? How can this be simpler but not simplistic? Is it in my coat? What does this presume? What would my logic be for where I would put my bag? Is this a responsible thing to set out into the world?

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? Anyone can point past short-sightedly proprietary ideas to the big picture, but a writer may have a less divided attention and invest more energies towards communicating well. A writer is the (hopefully) informed observer/researcher, curator/broadcaster, instigator/ irritator, and conscience who can say something in a way so another can respond, yes, exactly!

A writer should self-train to observe astutely, think carefully, play fully, become skilled at engaging people to live critically, lead people into their own hearts, away from isolation. That done, scheduled for Monday *afternoon*....

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? It has to be easier than working with the inner editor. She's so crabby. Nothing pleases.

A particular outside editor helps until I internalize what s/he would say and then I need to swap to a new brain to pick.

Do writing groups help? I think mentoring helps. Other points of view help. Outside eyes with different experiences can catch things. For 10 years so so I've tended to be in 2-5 workshop circles at any given time. When everyone is coming from the same place, there's no stretch. It's most helpful when people don't get one another, when someone completely misses someone else's point and then I have to respond and reparse what I think the person was trying to express in the poem and how. I've started to think I'm better at giving crits and taking them than I am at writing poems these days.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? John Cage said, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to critical/creative non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal? As pi. I like pi.

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? An eye-opener of 80% cocoa or thereabouts, then I have the luxury of flexibility. I write and read or edit from the time I wake until I tire.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? If I have any sense (and I do sometimes) switch gears to editing, walking, visiting, or do something hands-on instead for a while. Or reading what I don't understand or think I can do better to prove myself wrong in both cases.

13 - If there was a fire, what's the first thing you'd grab? My wits. They're here somewhere...I just saw them. Drat. ]

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? a) Local English, marked forms of English that don't get translated to page as "valid". I want to curate these. I want to integrate that elements that are usually apart. b) Scrabble. Letter combinations that could be words, words that wouldn't come together normally. c) Nature, movement. Like tobogganing. The first inspired poem I wrote as a kid was needing to capture the experience in words. I had a paper and pencil in my snowsuit but my snow-packed mittens made my fingers too cold to work so I had to run inside, pour hot tap water over them and lay on the nearest convenient floor to put those words down then.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? The rich community of Ottawa writers is essential. The amount of exposure to ideas in this city is astounding. A novel workshop by Joanne Proulx was the most recent goldmine.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? Learn to sit up straight and remember to stretch every hour or so at least. Keep a few manuscripts out there circulating. Finish up all the projects on the back burner to clean off the stove and begin new things. Oh, and make that Christmas cake. The fruit has been marinating for 18 months or so now...

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? To be a statistician is tempting.

Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? I've worked at a bookstore, at a candy store, on a farm, at restaurants, volunteered in conferences, been an editor. I taught for 10 years. I was making book structured things as soon as I could draw. I've wondered what closing options through literacy has done to me. If I were born somewhere with blocked access, what path would have happened? Would all the words be rerouted thru visual and spatial and I would be a folk architect? Or would I have gravitated to being a storyteller instead? Or would I teach and talk where ever however? Would my fingers have become nimble with crafts and expression would be in carpets? Would I have become a clothing designer?

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? Being born where and when kids and especially girls were to be not heard or seen (go play in the bush), and in a rural neighbourhood where I was the youngest, cloistered off into where books are revered, I was going to be a forester, a missionary monk, or a reader. And you know what happens to avid readers...

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? Funny how "great book" collocates to an intimidating "Great Book" but "great film" collocates to "such a great film, man!"

I'll start with easier first where I refer to my imdb list of the 186 films I've seen. The Five Obstructions (2003) (a process film of remaking his old film with different sets of constraints), Nothing But a Man (1964) (beautifully acted and important story), Adams æbler (2005) (for the psychological space), A Day Without a Mexican (2004) (for the interesting premise and how it played out and how the short film version of 1998 used various accents and then the polished version erased the variety of regions) or Call Me Troy (2007) (for an important overview of one man as a filter for U.S. history).

I have been wildly happy with these books (in no particular order) over the last while: Etcetera and Otherwise by Sean Stanley (Tightrope Books, 2008), Area of Fog by Joseph Massey (2009), konkrete poesie anthogie by eugen gomringer, (universal-bibliothek, reprint 1980), Touch to Affliction by Nathalie Stephens (Coach House, 2006), Once by Rebecca Rosenblum (Biblioasis, 2008), Determined by Aperture by Shannon Tharp (fewer and further press, 2008), The Real Made Up by Stephen Brockwell (ECW, 2007), and Lorine Neidecker, Collected Works (University of California Press, 2002) and the last issue (and I do mean last, it's going on hiatus) :( Noon: journal of the short poem.

20 - What are you currently working on? A series of corpus search poems. And a novel to restart from the beginning. And there's this grid poem that's resisted me for months I keep tapping away at. Going back thru a manuscript of definition-based pieces. Trying to cleave a chapbook length out the train series. And finding where I put my camera cable. Again.

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