Thursday, May 28, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Madhur Anand

Madhur Anand’s poetry has appeared in literary magazines across North America and in The Shape of Content: Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science (AK Peters/CRC Press, 2008). She co-edited Regreen: New Canadian Ecological Poetry (Scrivener Press, 2009). A New Index For Predicting Catastrophes (McClelland and Stewart, 2015) is her first full-length poetry collection. Anand completed her PhD in theoretical ecology at Western University and is currently Full Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph. She lives in Guelph with her husband and three young children.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The only big change I’ve noticed is that lately I am much less obsessed with reading and writing poetry and a little more obsessed with reading and writing prose. 

The most recently written poems in the book arose out of a forced, but necessary, confrontation with my own scientific research. I seemed to have avoided doing that for a long time, but I’m glad I finally did it.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
As I have elaborated on elsewhere [], I got hooked on poetry when I discovered it was a way to inject a perpendicular mode of being and thinking into my life’s dominant, and sometimes predictable, course. Though I enjoyed fiction and non-fiction very much, they seemed either too acute or too obtuse at the time for this particular purpose.

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?
The writing is sometimes quick and sometimes slow. First drafts are almost never in their final shape. Some methods of writing, perhaps because of the extremely concentrated focus or constraint they demand (such as with ‘found’ poems, villanelles, and sestinas), can lead to almost final first drafts.

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?
A thought, a concept, a memory, a theory, striking language -- all usually in reference to beauty, loss or fascination. My first book was a combination of poems written over many years, but there were common themes (biology, complexity, critical transitions). In the process of editing, and after choosing my title, many new poems were inspired. So, in the end, it was a bit of both.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I haven’t done very many public readings, so I don’t know yet. I certainly find it enjoyable and inspiring to attend readings by other poets.

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 am concerned, perhaps preoccupied, with the relationship between science and poetry. We don’t have a sufficient theory to explain this relationship. I am also concerned with the role of constraint in poetry. A large number of the poems in the book are written in syllabics. Though obviously intentional and strictly self-enforced, I don’t fully understand how this kind of constraint works, and the need for it, fundamentally. My book also has a couple of villanelles and several found poems. These are other forms of constraint, and some of them have been written about in fascinating ways (see for example the essay entitled “Life Forms: Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina” and “DNA Structure” in the book Unified Fields edited by Janine Rogers). But I want my understanding of this to go beyond metaphor.

The questions I am trying to answer in my poems are the same questions that appear on the NASA poster hanging in my little boy’s bedroom: “Life: What is it? Where is it? How do we find it?” NASA is still asking these questions, and I think we all should be too, constantly.

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?

“Writer” is such a broad category; all writers won’t have the same role. Poets are still (as Shelley once articulated) the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’. This ‘legislation’ is not only restricted to human-human interactions but potentially many other undiscovered laws of the universe.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I’ve loved every editor I have worked with (and there were many). Dionne Brand, poetry board member at M&S had the job of doing the final edit of my book, and what she asked of me, what we did together was marvelous and well, essential.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Read this:” [insert any brilliant work of poetry or prose that I have not yet heard of here].

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?
I have no daily writing routine. I have a full-time job as a professor of ecology and three young children. I write when I can. I have more of a yearly routine. Every year I try to do at least one intensive thing for my writing such as a retreat or a workshop.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Better writing (that is, I read). Or I go for a walk.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
North Indian spices. Smoke from making chapatis because we don’t have a range hood. Johnson & Johnson baby lotion. Vick’s Vapour Rub.

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?
I think that most of the time books come from other books. Many other forms (disciplines) influence my work, but most of all, science.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
At the back of my book you’ll find the names of all the writers who have indirectly or directly mentored or helped my work in some significant way  It’s a very long list that includes Don McKayPaul Vermeersch and Phil Hall. These individuals, and their works have been influential. As for other writings, it’s harder to say. There are so many. But an early influential event was picking up a copy of Robyn Sarah’s book The Touchstone at Paragraphe Bookstore in Montreal when I was just starting to take my writing seriously over 15 years ago. I would visit bookshops in every city I travelled to (mostly to give scientific talks) and pick one or two poetry books from among the selection offered. That was my poetry education. I was also influenced early on by the work of Wislawa Szymborska. I have subscribed continuously to Poetry magazine since 2003. I love that magazine, and it has helped to expose me to a diversity of contemporary writing.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Publish a second book of creative writing.

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?

Given that I have the two professions I adore most, am committed to, and am constantly reinventing, plus a rather full family life, I can’t even imagine any other occupation. When I was 17, I turned down an offer from McMaster University to do an undergraduate degree in their highly coveted “Arts and Science” program. I choose pure science at Western instead. But I always wondered about that path not taken. I am thrilled that I did not end up having to make the choice between art and science in my life.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The love of it.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
A Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond. The last great film was probably something from years ago such as The Five Obstructions by Lars von Trier. I can’t recall any more recent films worth mentioning right now (sorry, great films!).

19 - What are you currently working on?

I am working on numerous things in my scientific profession -- see


I’m also helping to raise 3 kids and piecing together various sets of ideas and materials for what could be my next creative writing project (or not).

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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