Wednesday, June 08, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Patrick Connors

Patrick Connors [photo credit: Linda Kooluris Dobbs] first chapbook, Scarborough Songs, was released by Lyricalmyrical Press in 2013, and charted on the Toronto Poetry Map.

Other publication credits include: Spadina Literary Review; Tamaracks; and Tending the Fire, released last spring by the League of Canadian Poets.

His first full collection, The Other Life, is newly released by Mosaic Press.

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

Scarborough Songs legitimized my decades-long dream of being a writer. I am extremely grateful to Luciano Iacobelli of Lyricalmyrical Press for giving me that opportunity, especially since nobody else would have touched me with a ten-foot pole at that point. The Other Life is when I became an author. When Howard Aster and Mosaic Press accepted my work, it was a rite of passage. It took me several years and many attempts to get it right. I hope my next full collection doesn’t take as long, but if so, it will be worth it. It’s about being more professional, more complete, in something I have always been passionate about.

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

I wrote short stories from a very young age. For the most part, I thought poetry was not cool enough for me to pursue or appreciate, unless it originated from Neil Peart, Muhammad Ali, or King David. However, a poetic sensibility always came through in my stories, my sense of humour, and my viewpoint on life. Poetry became the embodiment of my personal struggle when I was a tweenager, as seen in my piece, “My Father the Poet” (page 40 of The Other Life), and then when I went through profound personal crises in my thirties.

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 most recent poem, “Violet”, took me about 20 hours to write. I sometimes get lucky and blessed enough to have this happen, this sort of “struck by lightning” experience. Most of the time, it takes me about 3 weeks to write a poem, or 4 to write two related pieces, or 6 to write a suite. In those 3 or more weeks, there will be sleepless nights, endless revisions, and the feeling that the work is crap and I should give up on it. That’s how I usually realize it’s worthwhile and that I should pursue it. The real challenge is to make those pieces seem as relatively simple as “Violet” was to bring to completion.

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 am definitely an author of short pieces with the idea of having them eventually contribute to a larger whole. I have focussed on writing more multi-page poems as I work on my next collection. The poem “Killdeer”, written by Phil Hall, inspired me to not cheat anyone who might want to read my work by feeling the need to cut myself short. I am hoping this spring to write a poem two-thirds as long and half as good as “Killdeer”. If successful, I will be pretty close to having another manuscript to submit. 

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

I love public readings (We met at Pivot). I miss them more than pretty much anything since the pandemic, except perhaps volunteer work. I love the community of like-minded people with a common interest. I love the exchange of ideas. I love the opportunity to share a little piece of myself with an audience. I have curated and hosted many events over the years, I relish being invited to feature at different series, and I get a real kick out of doing open mics from time to time, as well.

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 hope to answer the question of how we belong, how we fit in together while being unique. We have become compartmentalized and generalized and also very alone. I think we have these problems more than ever, not just because of Covid, but because of the widening gap between rich and poor, the proliferation of technology, the decreased value of labour. More than ever, there is an emphasis on “us” vs. “them” without really knowing who “us” are, and that we are all one.

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?

It's dangerous, and also limiting, to say artists SHOULD play a role in progressive movements, just as it is dangerous to say artists should NOT play a role in such movements. However, art gives a tremendous opportunity to give a counter-cultural voice, a check and balance on the establishment, and a means to aspire to something better. Poetry which is well constructed, with clarity and depth of thought, but also speaks to everyday people without talking down to them, is the quest for ultimate good, a noble attempt for the human race as a whole to evolve.

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

I became a better writer and a better man while working with Mick Burrs, God rest his dear soul. Terry Barker kicked my ass and forced me to make The Other Life better. So, both, definitely!

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

A poem I wrote last year, “Finding Myself”, begins with the following epigram by Lawrence Ferlinghetti: ‘Strive to change the world in such a way that there's no further need to be a dissident.’

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 am terrible at keeping a routine. I write when the muse beckons me, when something in the world or inside myself forces me to write as a visceral response. I don’t think there will ever be a time when I am able to work on my writing every day. I guess that means I will never become the best writer I can be.

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

I read scripture every day. I also keep Poets of Contemporary Canada 1960-1970 and Poetry as Insurgent Art close to my bed, which is almost like reading scripture. When I get stalled, I get really angry until I am not, and then break through the block.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Turkey Stew with dumplings.

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 as writers, as artists, we have to allow ourselves to be informed and moved by everything, but to keep an internal locus of influence at all times.

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

I am a People's Poet in the tradition of Souster, Purdy and Acorn. But the activity which forms my ethos as a writer is participating in social-justice-themed community-centered programs. Whether it's serving dinner to folks with insecure housing, or helping people teach themselves to read and write - that's the stuff of poetry!

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

Get married, have kids, and start a semi-regular reading series.

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?

I want to transition from being a telemarketer to the not-for-profit sector before I am of retirement age. I could never not be a writer; I know because I have tried.

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

My knees were completely gone by the time I hit 14, so I wasn’t going to become the next Darryl Sittler or Wayne Gretzky - which I wouldn’t have in any case. Even if I had played at the university level or gone pro overseas, at some point I would have stopped becoming a better hockey player. I will never stop becoming a better writer. I will never stop growing.

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

I am really enjoying Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo. I am not sure it is a great book, but it is awakening a certain undefinable awareness which is usually hibernating this time of year. The last truly great book of poetry I read is the Selected Poems of Denise Levertov, an experience I shared with a dear friend through Zoom meetings during the first decade of the pandemic.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I just submitted a chapbook to the Rattle contest. This will be the basis for my next manuscript, which has the working title Worth the Wait.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

1 comment:

Mansour Noorbakhsh said...

Patrick Connors is a wonderful poet. I am honoured for having his poetry translated into Farsi and presented it in Persian Radio poetry program.