Thursday, March 31, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jacqueline Valencia

Jacqueline Valencia is a Toronto-based poet and critic. Jacqueline is a senior literary editor of The Rusty Toque and a CWILA board member. Her debut collection There's No Escape Out Of Time will be out with Insomniac Press Spring 2016.

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 think it was 2008 when I decided to gather up some of the poems I'd written for the past few years and self-publish a chapbook with them. I called it Tristise. I'd say it changed my life because before then I'd sporadically submitted poems, but the rejection got to me and then I suffered many years of writer's block. The time came where I felt like I needed to shake myself into action.

I'd say it changed my life because I haven't stopped writing and/or submitting every day since then. It's been a long road to getting my work out there in publications, but it's been worth it. My new book, There's No Escape Out Of Time (Insomniac Press, 2016) will be my first full poetry collection. It's comparable to Tristise because it is back towards feeling rather than technique, but it feels more raw because I'm writing about very confessional stuff in it.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Most of the women in my mother's family write or have written poetry. My grandmother Ruby is constantly reciting new things whenever I visit her. As in, "Grandma! We're just watching television. Can we just watch the show without you praising how miraculous the sky look in it right now? Geez."

I'm kidding. I don't stop her because she is my grandmother after all.

My mother's greatest gift to me has been a library card. My first trip was to the library-mobile and I took out a Raggedy Ann and Andy book and a  book interpretation of Disney's Alice In Wonderland. My mom's English was still a bit rusty so she'd read a bit of it and expand upon it by retelling parts of the movie. Eventually she had me read the whole to her and I remember one night writing some of my thoughts down on how I wanted to be Alice. They were in point form, but from that I created my first poem without knowing it. School rhymes and songs always stuck with me and I'd write them down and make my own versions.

Fiction feels like an extension of that though. I'm still trying to parse what the difference is between poetry and fiction in my writing.

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 procrastinate a lot. I drink too much coffee. Also, I probably drink too much, but I don't think it helps. Booze, while not a muter of truths, it isn't a motivator.

I actually have several things due right now. They'll get done, I swear.

The only time I really put my foot down is when I have deadline or when inspiration takes me over. I find my greatest strengths for pushing myself are when I'm working through a crisis or need to react out loud in some way. I'm a horrible editor of my own work. I have no patience with myself.

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?
Usually an event or something I've seen provokes a poem in me. It will also ferment for a while in my mind before I set it down to paper and when I do, it's in my moleskine without any context whatsoever.

I work from smaller ideas and build a book, poem, or essay from there. I once wrote a poem about erotic clowning just because I wrote "There was a clown and a lobster. Erotic?" Don't ask. I don't even know. Pass the coffee.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I used to hate readings, but for some reason or another my readings have taken on a stand up comedian format. Sometimes I introduce props. Andy Kaufman is huge influence on me when it comes to public speaking in any way. His ability to take an audience somewhere completely unexpected is something I hope to cultivate and acquire. I guess, it has to do with the defense mechanism whereupon I'd rather self-deprecate than elucidate anything to do with the poem itself.

I currently looking for a good mime routine to bring to my repertoire.

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 struggle with the idea that language is unique to everyone, that colours look different to everyone, therefore there aren't enough words out there to describe the universal experience of every day. That and the fact that I'm using and thinking in a language by my ancestor's colonizers is a huge concern for me. I rarely think in Spanish and even Spanish is a colonizing language to the people my parents' came from.

Right now I'm trying to learn some of the methods the people in my parents' family have used language and what was there evolution with the Spanish language and how my brain processes Spanish versus English.

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?
The role of the writer is to report. No matter what a writer writes about, they are journalist of sorts first and foremost. You can be a reporter of your own ideas and your own expressions, but even our minds are foreign to us. Using language is like have a universal translator like in Star Trek. We don't know exactly how it works, but we use oral and written language everyday as if it was a part of us since birth. Was it? Where did the rest of our expressions go when we started writing? What are our hands doing? What are our faces doing?

Oral and written language are translators of the inner workings of brain. The current job of the writer is to strip it to the basics and figure out how the hell we can get to the root of those inner workings.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I love every editor I've ever worked with. I wish book publishers or journal publishers would put the name of the editor on the front of the book or on the article beside the author's. They're part of a collective voice in how we transmit our voices to the world.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Liz Worth once said to me, "Write your truth. Write it now and don't edit it until it's done." I know it sounds cliché, but it works. Liz is a good friends and one of the most important writers in Toronto, if not the world, that I read and listen to.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?

I love writing about film and books. I love finding connections because if you meditate on two things long enough, you'll find everything connects somehow. Everything is always influencing everything else, especially in art. Poetry is no different than critical prose because it's a commentary on expression or on situations. You can separate a work from an analysis of it, but you can not keep poetry from being ingested and analyzed. That's what it's there for.

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?
I used to have no writing routine, but lately I've setting aside time in the day. I've felt it necessary for novel writing.

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

Conceptual writing or rewriting texts. They could be anything, like a receipt, a piece of mail, a book (hi James Joyce), or a poem. From there I'll find myself cutting it up or using a word or phrase and I get unblocked that way. Experimental writing moves me to create something if my mind is blank.

Of course, I find conceptual writing to be like any other type of writing, and in the right and now, it is very necessary for experimentation to be a part of a poet's work. Even with the continual controversies in poetry with lyric versus conceptual, it's all experimental. It's how you use it to decolonize or reveal truths that is important.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Blue Power laundry bar soap. My mom used to scrub stuff before putting it in the laundry and the scent is huge in the outdoor laundry patios in Colombia. I keep a bar in the bathroom for stains and such.

And petrichor. I learned that word the other day. Petrichor is the smell of earth after rain. It reminds me of love for some reason and there's not greater home than love.

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?

Music influences my writing a lot. My dad used to be a dj and after that I became a dj and I play music constantly at home. Nature inspires me as well during my runs or cycling. Riding or running through Leslie Spit at 6am to watch the sunrise over the lake is probably one of the greatest things someone in Toronto can do to get inspired.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
James Joyce is huge, but I talk and write about him all the time. As well as, Anne Sexton and Mary Shelley. Science fiction fantasy has been an escape for me in the past, but it's only recently I've tried my hand at writing it. Robert E. Howard's Conan The Barbarian series and Larry Niven's Ringworld series have both been high up there for me in terms of importance. Oh and comic books. Too many to list.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Complete the novel I'm currently writing and getting it published. Climb Mount Everest, which I would never attempt to do because I have kids and can't die. I love watching documentaries or films on Everest climbers. I might go to the base camp one day though. I'd also like to do indoor skydiving because I've always wanted to fly to Superman or surf like the Silver Surfer.

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?
a) A spy.

b) An international spy.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Reading. I've been writing in my journal since I was a kid because of reading and don't know how to think in anything, but words.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I've felt speechless about Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts for a while now. When I finished reading it I was just so impressed I couldn't find the words to say how good it was. There's reading-writing modes: either you read something so good you want to write an essay on it, or you read something so good, and wonder if there's someone else who has read it so you could just rejoice in the afterglow of it.

As for film, there are lot of films that I've thought were pretty good this year, but nothing that has blown me away. I think the latest has been Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa. It's a short animated film that hit me right in the gut. I mean, Kaufman has a way of articulating the embarrassing parts of our psyche, especially as a depressive. Some of us live entire worlds inside our brains and Kaufman captures that sense of disconnect and isolation like very few directors out there. The fact that the film animated gets forgotten and even in the middle of the most despairing moments in the film, there is a tiny sense of hope to grab onto.

I love when artists hold no bars back when it comes to the black dog. Kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight, as the Bruce Cockburn song goes.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I'm putting together the Toronto Poetry Talks: Racism and Sexism in the Craft ( and I'm writing my first novel set in Toronto. It's a fantasy occult feminist future of sorts.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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