Saturday, June 09, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Curtis LeBlanc

Curtis LeBlanc is a poet and writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. His debut collection, Little Wild, was published by Nightwood Editions in April 2018. His poems have won the Readers' Choice Award in Arc's Poem of the Year competition, Honorable Mention in the Margaret Reid Poetry Contest, and have been shortlisted for The Walrus Poetry Prize and CV2's Young Buck Poetry Prize. More of his work has appeared in Geist, The Rusty Toque, Prairie Fire, EVENT, The Literary Review of Canada, Eighteen Bridges, CV2, The Malahat Review and others.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

As of writing this, I’ve only just received my very first book-length collection, Little Wild (Nightwood Editions), in the mail yesterday. I opened the box up and then immediately closed it. I needed some time before I met that book for the first time. In January 2017, I released a chapbook with Anstruther Press and that was just as cool, but different somehow. I guess that difference is probably rooted in the length of each collection and the time it took to write them.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I started writing songs when I was 13 and I still write them occasionally. I would sit in my bedroom with a notebook and my guitar and just scream my head off. At some point, when I was about 16, I decided I would try to write the words without the music, as a sort of challenge to myself. I wrote poems casually for years, but I’d say my poetry really took off at the beginning of my MFA.

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?

Usually, I’ll sit down with an idea and—if I’m lucky that day—a rough first draft will just sort of spill out of me. After that, it’s weeks or months of sporadic editing. I often work with a sort of internalized rhythm and that can make the editing process pretty lengthy, trying to get all the beats to fall just right.

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’m definitely an author of shorter pieces that end up coming together to make a book. The stand-alone catharsis and impact of a single song was what appealed to me in the first place when I started writing and that definitely extended to poetry.

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

I do enjoy doing readings. My writing life is a very social one, in that I like to hang out with my writer friends a lot and we talk about what we’re working on. There are a lot of great readings happening regularly in Vancouver and I’m incredibly grateful for them. The community here is amazing.

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?

One theme that often seems to come up in my work is “toxic masculinity”. I grew up very much at odds with the kind of person I was expected to be as a boy and a young man and that’s something I try to make sense of and explore in my work. In my poems, part of my goal is to try and capture the cognitive dissonance and emotional turmoil of constantly being pressured to be the kind of person I was fundamentally opposed to becoming.

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?

I think a lot of a society’s beliefs are shaped by the culture it consumes, so if there are systems of thought that I want to change—and there are—then I think that contributing to “culture” is an essential way to influence that change. This probably isn’t true for everyone, but I feel it’s my responsibility as a writer to contribute to creating the world that I want to live in. It’s the work that I want to do.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I find it essential. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some tremendous editors and peers, in school and in publishing, and my poems are absolutely better for it. To me, that level of engagement and response is a great gift I’m being given by those individuals.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Be gracious.

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’ve been out of school for about a year now and writing has been harder to come by than when I had the time and space an MFA granted me. The ideal writing day for me begins after coffee and some internet stuff—usually Twitter and some Edmonton Oilers-related content. After that, I’ll write for hopefully a few solid hours, until I hit that burn-out point.

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

I seem to solve all my most difficult writing problems in the bathtub.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

That smell when the air is so cold your nostrils freeze a little—if you can even call it a smell.

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?

A lot of my work comes from memory. Does that count? I’m definitely also guilty of writing my share of nature poems.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

My partner, Mallory Tater, constantly blows my mind with her poems. I rely so much on the work of my friends, who I love dearly; Shaun Robinson, Kayla Czaga, Selina Boan, Megan Jones, Ellie Sawatzky, Dom Bernier-Cormier all come immediately to mind. Recently, I’ve been reading and rereading the work of Eduardo C. Corral, Raoul Fernandes, Bianca Stone, Karen Solie, Philip Levine, Matthew Dickman, Chen Chen. There’s so much amazing poetry being written these days.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Make a movie.

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?

It really does feel like I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else, but I also teach and I really do love it. So long as I can combine something like teaching with my writing, I’m a happy camper. If things had unfolded a little differently and I had been a different person in my formative years, I might have taken up the LeBlanc family occupation and become an engineer.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

It was the only thing I ever really liked doing. I was listening to all these songs and connecting with the words so profoundly. I thought that if I could do that for someone else, that would be a worthwhile pursuit.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I’m in love with Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird. I’m coming across so many great books all the time these days—right now it’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I’m working on more poems that I hope will make up a second collection. I’m also doing some edits on a novel manuscript that was my MFA thesis, and have an idea for a second novel percolating right now. I always like to have lots on the go! It’s what makes me most productive.

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