Friday, October 23, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Angela Hibbs

Angela Hibbs's first book is Passport (2006). Her poems have appeared in such journals asThe Antigonish Review, Exile, Fireweed, Matrix, and CV2. She was born in Newfoundland and has recently moved to Toronto. She holds a Master of Arts in English Literature from Concordia University.

photo credit Rob Kingston

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 did my first chapbook for a class in my undergrad (shout out to Dave McGimpsey). I was 21. I got to use images that are otherwise too expensive for any small press publisher to use; that was nice. My first book, Passport, scared me. I would look at it and know that it was an object with an ISBN number and a public life and it was a feeling of lack of control. My second book is almost exclusively imaginary whereas my first was largely based in autobiography. My earlier work was more wild and spontaneous, a little flashier. Recent work is not subdued but it is more steady-handed. It was about learning to conceive of a book length project and about selecting what went well together and was a very important lesson.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I often write narrative poetry, which is likely a reflection of my inability to answer the question "and then" "and then". Also, I like the control that lineation allows me to have with the reader's breath and pacing. I don’t actually read all that much non-fiction other than True Crime and biography, so it would not be a likely genre for me to start using. I wrote and directed a few plays in undergrad. I realized I wanted to work alone.

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?

I rarely write more than one or two pieces a week, and then those may not have a very strong chance of survival. I generally write say 20 lines and cut them down to 10 and maybe add a few that are clearer to the point once I myself see what the point is other than, I like the sound of these words or I like this subject/ character. First drafts may be close to the line length I will end up with. My recent long poem went through 3 major re-writes where it was alternately prose poetry, blank verse and now its current shape which is more located in the way it sounds when it is read, this was Paul Vermeersch's editorial suggestion and I like how it worked. Going through many options in terms of shape was great in terms of cutting extraneous bits or less strong bits.

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?

I write short pieces but know that they will become a book. I know that there will be an overriding theme which will make me choose 80ish pages that stand as a book; that are unified but also varied. Books don't scream their themes and to me theme is more an editor's and academic's idea that is talked a lot about in poetry as, to a large extent, we apply for grants based on themes. But the themes essentially are sex and death, right? Those are the Oxo cubes of the arts? From that there are the infinite riffs that are what is actually interesting.

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

I feel like readings are a bit opposite to being a writer. Writing is solitary and controlled; a performance can only have one of those qualities. Writing is a private performance. Readings are okay, they are mostly clustered around a book coming out. Reading is nice if you are sharing, but the spirit of sharing can often be lost in the competitive spirit and clique-iness of readings. Before I published Passport, I didn't like doing readings because I felt like everyone else had a book. Now I have 2 books but it is not as legitimizing as I thought it would be.

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?
I thought the current question was if you can taste the difference between starbucks and starbucks instant? My questions are just what do I want to write? What interests me? I feel like the type of questions we face in writing we don't really want to answer... we just want to keep on writing.

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?
Oh, I know this one, "the unacknowledged legislator of the world" right? or "to forge within the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race" and/or to make sure there is always celery in the fridge? Mordechai Richler said something like, nobody asked us to be writers, we all volunteered, so I think I should be humble and grateful that I have the time and luxury to be a writer.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
An editor, in my experience, is my closest reader, it is a pleasure and an honour to be subjected to an analytical eye that wants to improve without making your voice a little clone of their own.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Writing is a marathon. Jealousy is a fake emotion.

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?
Morning is when I write new stuff. Other new stuff may happen, but morning is when I sit down and think about writing. I am fresh in the morning.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The paintings of Francis Bacon, films of Catherine Deneuve, photos by Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, and Mina Loy.

12 - What do you really want?
To go on a date with Alec Baldwin.

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?
as above

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
David McGimpsey, Rob Allen, Jason Camlot, Paul Vermeersch, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Mina Loy, Dorothy Parker, Lorrie Moore, Ken Babstock, Karen Solie, Shakespeare, Martin Amis, Lynn Crosbie, Nathaniel G. Moore, Sachiko Murakami, Don DeLillo, Evelyn Waugh, JD Salinger.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Be a man, so my mom can have a son and, more selfishly, so I can take it like a man.

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?
Professions do not really appeal to me. Imagining professions is what I like. If I had a talent for it, I'd like to be a painter or a singer. Doing nails appeals to me but I think that is because of Polanski's Repulsion.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The privacy and solitude appeal to me.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Great book: The New Layman's Almanac by Jacob McArthur Mooney
Great film: Tetro by FF Coppola

19 - What are you currently working on?
My third book's working title is Bacon Porn, it is about things that people like but think are bad for them, about that holier than thou space and what that pleasure means.

12 or 20 questions (second series);


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