Thursday, March 26, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Yvonne Blomer

Yvonne Blomer’s most recent collection of poems is As if a Raven (Palimpsest Press, 2014). Her first book, a broken mirror, fallen leaf was short listed for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Since 2009, Yvonne has been the Artistic Director of Planet Earth Poetry, a weekly reading series in Victoria, BC. In 2014 she became Victoria’s fourth Poet Laureate.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book came out in 2006, titled a broken mirror, fallen leaf. I got the first copies the day before my son was born, so my life changed with that book but in ways beyond the book.

a broken mirror, fallen leaf was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert and I was utterly surprised by that, so in that way I think I gained something, perhaps encouragement or courage, because of that unexpected recognition.

Anyway, the book was my first, and one needs a first in order to get to the second and third which were piling up behind me.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Through an interest in the play of language over narrative or story. Narrative and story can also be in poetry, but language and line, metaphor, image and play are what drew and still draw me 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?
My first and most recent books are contained either by place or theme, so they each provided a space within which I was writing. With my first book, I began writing as I was experiencing life in Japan through journaling. As if a Raven, my most recent book, started as my dissertation thesis, so I had to have a project, and I wanted a series of poems that were linked, but I didn’t know how they would be linked when I started.

As far as drafts of poems, anything is possible and they begin in a myriad of ways.  Sometimes a poem in a first draft with few edits, sometimes notes, or the first few lines are on paper and I carry them around and build, sometimes the first few lines and I stall and return.

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?
My second book was made of poems that built over time and then I looked at them together and drew on common themes. As if a Raven was built over time as a book and I’m beginning a new project which is the same…it is a question or a series of questions so the writing that comes out will likely be linked. That said, there are always those free poems that just appear and they build into their own something.

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

I enjoy doing public readings and enjoy attending readings and lectures by writers. Readings provide food for thought, or fertilizer for future poems.  Touring a book of poems and working on new writing at the same time is tricky to juggle. Even a five minute appearance at a festival takes a lot of energy to prepare for. I take it seriously, it is a performance, and part of the job so it takes focus, time and energy.

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?
Yes, I do. I’m not sure what the current questions are but as a newly appointed Poet Laureate I’m concerned with how politics and poetry can merge and work for real change. Naively I want to use poetry to protect the Pacific Ocean. I think poetry is not simply image but image married to idea. The poet is concerned with/obsessed with/ has a question about something that leads to the images. Those images lead back to the concern or question and hopefully to some thought, an opening of thought and understanding in the writer and reader.

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?
This question carries on from the previous a little. I think a writer should draw attention to – a thought, idea, concern. A writer can open a door for readers. They also entertain, bring beauty, and bring attention to the moments of life.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both. That engagement and back-and-forth on the poems or the order of the poems is vital to the end product and is part of the process. Engaging with an editor is another step in the process of making it as close to finished. It is often a deeper engagement because it is the last step in the process so there is more or a different kind of pressure on the writer, me, and the poems, to be their best.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Mark what you love in a poem with a highlighter and see what you have. I tend to mark what I don’t like. Focusing on what is working allows you to highlight the positive parts of the poem, even if it is just one line, and build from there. Also at Whistler Writers Festival last fall, Sue Goyette mentioned that she was allowing herself to take a break. It was superb to hear that. I was touring a lot and trying to write and feeling pretty worn out.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to creative non-fiction to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I think it is not that easy. I feel like I bring poetry with me into nonfiction, which is fine, except sometimes I want to write a “true” essay, or in my mind I think I do, and then I begin writing and it leans toward the lyric.  For many many years I’ve been working on a travel memoir, but not consistently until the last year and a half. I was letting myself get pulled to poetry projects and in order to finish this memoir, I needed to allow myself to refuse poetry for a while. Now as I’m getting closer to being finished, and beginning to write more poetry, I’m finding my lines are long and narrative so am trying to pull myself back toward the poetry. One way of helping to do this was I took a one day workshop on form poetry with Kate Braid offered through Wordstorm in Nanaimo. Just spending a day working on forms helped remind me of what I know, and push that different way of organizing my thoughts  and words back to the foreground. 

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?

Well I have an 8 year old son. Once he’s at school, on an ideal day, I take a brisk walk around Cedar Hill Golf Course then head home to gather papers from the cluttered kitchen table and go out the back door to my studio. I stay there as long as I can, usually until 2 when I come back in to get ready to pick my son up. At some point between 10-2 I nip in for tea and a bowl of random snacks to crunch on. Crunchy food is good for writing (so says fiction writer Julie Paul).

On a more typical day, with Planet Earth Poetry and Poet Laureate duties there is a fair amount of emailing between gathering papers and laptop and getting out to the studio (where the wifi is weak).

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

A walk helps. Jumping around on-line further stalls me and shuts down the thinking self. Reading poems by Steven Price, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Meira Cook, Cornelia Hoogland, Iliya Kaminsky etc…helps too. Picking up a magazine like The Malahat, Arc, TNQ is always great to inspire.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Rain, earth, light fragrance of cherry blossoms/magnolia (spring in Victoria) The damp air.

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?
Everything influences my work. A question.  Students’ work. Prompts I give to students and their responses sometimes open a response in me. Books I’m reading. A passage or an entire book, for its tone or how the author approaches the subject. I feel like I’m a composting worm...I take anything and everything. Who knows where it might reappear years or days or minutes from now. I think that is part of the process. Art, science, a word, a walk, an animal (my dog), a scent.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I love reading fiction, mysteries, really good fiction, anything (even vampire stories) before bed. During the day I read nonfiction and poetry. I sometimes read poetry before bed, but it often over-stimulates me. A powerful nonfiction novel can be just as good as a book of fiction, but I love sinking into a novel. Right now I’m reading Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay, which is set in the Northwest Territories. I started it in the Yukon (when I was up there reading), so I have partly stayed north due to reading it. It is a wonderful story with sublime descriptions and a creepy/unsettled feeling throughout.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Work in translation. French and Japanese. Have my poems translated. Finish my travel memoir.

17 - 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?
Spy. Well, I doubt I would have been a great spy. Maybe a bicycle tour operator. When I first moved home from Japan I was beginning to start a cycling company called Pacific Pedals. My sister reminded me and encouraged me to keep at the writing, so I did. 

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
That is a tough one to answer. I’ve always loved writing, communicating with myself in the written word. I think that love lead to a desire to communicate in a larger way. I started with journalism courses at College and then took poetry with Patrick Lane at the University of Victoria a fair while ago. He scared me. Fear and passion are cousins to nerves and excitement.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Boundless by Kathleen Winter, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

I loved the film version of Wild, as well as The Lunch Box. I also loved Paddington my son’s new favourite.

20 - What are you currently working on?
Did I mention a memoir?

I am beginning a new project and ending (hopefully) an old one. I have been (re)reading Virginia Woolf and Gwendolyn MacEwen and reading about Janis Joplin. I watched part of the Downton Abbey series and began to wonder how we went from Pre-WWI and how women’s lives looked to creating Virginia Woolf and how we got to Joplin in the 1960s and where MacEwen and her genius came from and how it fits in. So I’m exploring female artists and how one led to the next and whether society can or does support genius in women. I’m doing this in poetry or lyric prose. I kind of hate to say I’m doing it as I’m so so so at the beginning. Truthfully, I’m reading a lot.

And I’m finishing a memoir set in Southeast Asia where my husband and I cycled for three months from Vietnam through Laos, Thailand and on to Malaysia.

And I’m a new Poet Laureate with Poetry Month fast approaching so feel more like an arts organizer (plus PEP) than a writer many days. I think that balance between writing time and planning events will get easier (I hope).

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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