Tuesday, September 02, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Leah Horlick

Leah Horlick is a writer and poet from Saskatoon. A 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry, her writing has appeared in So To Speak, Canadian Dimension, GRAIN, Poetry is Dead, Plenitude, Force Field: 75 Women Poets of British Columbia, and on Autostraddle. Her first collection of poetry, Riot Lung (Thistledown Press, 2012) was shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award and a Saskatchewan Book Award, and a second collection, For Your Own Good, is scheduled for spring 2015 with Caitlin Press. She currently lives on unceded Coast Salish territories in Vancouver, where she co-curates the city’s only queer and anti-oppressive reading series.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
            When Alison Roth Cooley and I made wreckoning, with JackPine Press, it was a process of learning to make a beautiful object and a collaborative work out of a beautiful friendship. We were so *in* each part of the process -- Alison made the ink, we soaked the paper by hand, and bound the books ourselves in her attic. Combined with the thrill of getting an ISBN and having a launch, it felt like we really had made the book. 
             In a lot of ways, Riot Lung was felt very solitary and significant, and something about the object coming through the publisher felt like being taken seriously in a different way. I was so fortunate to have been supported by a network of many women reviewing the book -- in Room, in Arc, in Herizons, and on Autostraddle, and that was a gift in the recent climate of sexism and reviewing in Canada.
            Looking back, the poems in Riot Lung are these little yard lights that say "I'm here, too! Look!" and to have those framed within a book was a real dream. My new work is much more about an emotional landscape, and trying to light that particular path.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
            As a personality, I tend to really fixate -- on images, on sounds, on little chunks of narrative -- and poetry is my favourite way to recreate that fixation and share it as a moment on the page or in performance. I have a hard time creating enough of an arc to write fiction that would satisfy me as a reader, and as for nonfiction -- I need the mask of poetry as a genre because so much of my work draws on personal experience. In many ways, I feel like my poetry is a particular kind of nonfiction organized around stanzas and line breaks.

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?
            My process tends to shift -- I used to write very quickly and edit in a way that was more like playing Jenga -- what can I remove without the poem collapsing? After my MFA, I'm much more of a glacier.  I read and re-read. Poems take a long time. Editing is about whittling things all the way down to the bones.

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?
            Riot Lung was very much a collection -- this little string of fires that had been sort of burning away since I was a kid. My most recent manuscript was the first time I'd played with narrative from the beginning. It was exhausting and I loved it. It was like there was another poem waiting behind each draft that I finished; little nesting dolls of poems.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
             Readings are very much a part of my process. I have to read out loud to make sense of my drafts, and since so much of my writing is about being within and outside of communities. A lot of times I feel like the act of reading the poem out loud -- for audiences to see it as part of my body and out of my voice -- is just as much a part of the poem.
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?
            How do you make art that contributes to collective processes?
            What's worth salvaging from the canon?
            How do you create something beautiful out of trauma and grief?
            Can we dream up something new while telling each other stories about the past?      Is this any good? 

7 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
            "To tell is to resist." Wonderful quote -- it's the epigraph from a graphic novel called Killing Velasquez by Philippe Girard, though I can't remember the original speaker.

8 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
            There needs to be walks and tea and a lot of time, a lot of reading, and not very much talking.
9 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

10 - 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?
            Other occupations I have attempted, almost all in support of writing: tour guide, juice barista, burlesque dancer, children's bookseller, retail doormat, and transcription monkey.

11 - What are you currently working on?
            Polishing up the manuscript I developed during my MFA. Co-organizing a reading series. Sunbathing. Tending to my emergent cat allergies. Living the dream.

12 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
            Compulsion, adrenaline, introversion, and love.

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