Tyler Pennock is a two-spirit adoptee from a Cree and Métis family around the Lesser Slave Lake area of Alberta. They are a graduate of Guelph University’s Creative Writing MFA program. They currently live in Toronto, where they have worked as an educator and community worker for over ten years.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Taking the time to explore some of the concepts and difficulties in BONES was very helpful for me, though it didn't change me after it was completed - it's more like a record of a long journey. This definitely feels different from previous projects as it is a larger work, including things that I'd written decades ago, and recently.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I started writing when I was 8 or so, maybe younger. I remember completing a poetry collection, complete with drawings for a 5th grade english class, starting my love of the process. I wish I still had that. I remember drawing a border on every page, out of leaves ... Beyond that I've always loved the distilled nature of poetry, and the attention to spaces, pauses and structures to do what you hope.
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?
Writing poetry is a lot like writing essays for me in this regard: You can't really write something unless you've given yourself the appropriate amount of time to think about it, first. Some of my drafts - such as the title poem for bones, came in a couple of hours, others have taken over a decade. Don't let time fool you though - I spend a lot of time thinking about things before I write them down.
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?
All poems for me start as notes. I have a journal that includes short phrases and thoughts, as well as dreams. Those things eventually become poems or plays in time. I also keep a lot of notes in my phone. Some notes will stay in that form for years - long before I decide to write them. In terms of a project, I will conceive of one before I begin to write it, but as to which thoughts get included is often a mystery, at least until I write them. I usually will write a number of poems before I put them in any order. It's when the story comes out at me that I commit to a particular order.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Yes - poetry is a relationship - between yourself and the listener. Even if you are read by someone long after you move on, they have a voice that speaks your words to their mind. I don't like one-way readings, for many people it's a reminder of the way colonial societies treated our ancestors - as curiosities. I prefer to involve the audience in one way or another, and then use that to inform the work I present, or works I haven't yet completed. Readings can be one-sided, and I hate that.
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 question myself, always. There are deeply personal considerations around spirit and community that have to be addressed with every work I create. For some, including me - the things that I turn to are things we wouldn't normally reveal to others - even our partners or siblings. I will say that almost every work begins with the strong feeling that staying with old european ways (and the North American equivalent) of viewing the world is harmful. Very.
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?
We are witnesses. Like imperfect mirrors, we show what we see back to people. We never memorize or fully recreate - which allows us to uncover things that society has trained itself not to see.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It is difficult, but not because it is antagonistic - it isn't. Someone is looking very pointedly into some very deeply personal things for you. If they misunderstand, that hurts regardless of the cause. I will say that having an editor who is in the very least committed to respecting your worldview and place and culture is invaluable. Having a publisher offer to find an Indigenous editor for you is even more so.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Keep a notebook. Always.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
It comes with experience. I can write theatre, creative nonfiction, and I love them very much. But the collaboration in theatre is very different than in poetry, and it takes some getting used to. I still love it though. Aside from that, I do have difficulty writing short stories and fiction. I won't stop trying.
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?
At work - haha. My only routine is to change routines. I change spaces as well. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes, I don't. Sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes at night. My body rules those things. And if it doesn't want me to write ... it won't let me.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I usually delete the last few lines of what I'm working on. Often it is because I've ended the work unintentionally and I'm trying to make it last beyond that. This isn't just my practice, Lee Maracle taught me that one. Sometimes also it is best to walk away and return later.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of Autumn.
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 definitely informs my work. I imagine the creative process for musicians, and that inspires me to write.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Monkey Beach - Eden Robinson
The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative - Thomas King
When Fox is a Thousand - Larissa Lai
The Wizard of the Crow - Ngugi wa Thi'ongo
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Man With the Beautiful Eyes - Charles Bukowski
Imajica - Clive Barker
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Sing for a poetry audience.
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?
I"m a teacher right now. But if I wasn't interested in that, I'd have been a pilot probably. I like the work required.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It was so long ago. The very first thing I wrote was based on my parent's stories - or what I remembered of them. I wanted to recreate the wonder I'd had when listening to my Dad tell a good tale.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Under Heaven - Guy Gavriel Kay
Parasite - Bong Joon-Ho
20 - What are you currently working on?
Submissions for contests and other requests. I just finished another book and submitted it, BLOOD - for consideration. Soon I'll return to writing a play I've been working on, Starwatchers.
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