Friday, December 15, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Brandi Bird

Brandi Bird [photo credit: Heather Saluti] is an Indigiqueer Saulteaux, Cree, and Métis writer and editor from Treaty 1 territory. They currently live and learn on the land of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam peoples. Bird’s poems have been published in Catapult, The Puritan, Room Magazine, and others. They are a fourth year BFA student at the University of British Columbia, but their heart is always yearning for the prairies. 

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?

My first chapbook, I Am Still Too Much, published with Rahila’s Ghost Press in 2019, changed my life in so many beautiful ways. When I first signed the contract for my chapbook, I only had about five pages of usable work. I had to build the chapbook from the ground up and I learned so much about myself and my process. I also met some of my best friends through the editing process including my poet twin, Selina Boan (who edited the chapbook). We still edit each other’s work with a kindness and an honesty that I value with my whole heart. She wasn’t afraid to push me and still isn’t. My writing and editing process for my first full-length book, The All + Flesh, was different from my chapbook because I feel like my voice is more fully honed and isn’t concerned with what’s expected of me. I wrote what I wanted and for who I wanted.

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

I started writing poetry in 2016 after a very long break from it. I wrote as a child and adolescent and suddenly stopped at fifteen because I was more concerned with survival than creation. I picked poetry up again as an adult after getting my mind blown by reading Liz Howard’s The Infinite Citizen of The Shaking Tent. I decided to go back to school and took poetry classes at Douglas College where my instructor Liz Bachinsky told me I was a poet. One of the first poems I wrote is actually in The All + Flesh (2023). I think poetry makes sense to me because it is something that takes me places I can’t go with fiction or non-fiction (at least right now). It feels small and then explodes. It changes me.  

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 first book of poems is full of the work I’ve done over 3 years. I wrote a manuscript I shelved before The All + Flesh and I doubt it’ll see the light of day. My writing comes quickly when I’m in a routine and I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. I do take breaks from writing though because I find I get my best work done when I’m living too. I find restorative time to gather my thoughts essential but I have to remember that I have a return to routine to too. It’s a constant cycle of trying to measure my capacity especially since writing makes me feel alive when I can get it done. 

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?

The All + Flesh is a cumulative work. My next book is a “book” with a theme I’m very cognizant of. Even within a theme, a poem usually begins with an idea/prompt or maybe even just a word. I will often recycle metaphors and images in multiple places just to figure out where they best fit and then figure out how to untangle the mess I’ve made in the revision process. I have a lot of fun with first drafts and I’m not afraid to share first drafts with people because I truly believe they are something to be celebrated. 

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

I shake when I do readings. But I find them fun too. Like a horror movie. 

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’m very concerned with health and “wellness” cultures right now. We use health and wellness as punishing forces in society and they get tangled in the larger systems at play. They seem like structures we have to scale and I’m so tired of it. I touched on this theme a little in The All + Flesh but that book was more focused on physical pain as I wrote it when I was suffering from extreme nausea almost every day. My next project is a book concerned with the grief that comes with sickness/illness. 

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I think being a writer is being a storyteller. Having a storyteller around is great fun but I don’t think a storyteller is as useful as say a plumber or a midwife or a dishwasher. Stories teach us a great many things and maybe they teach us to be better people but I’m struggling with language and it’s limitations in the midst of the terrible grief I have felt recently.

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

Having an editor is essential for me. My editors made my book better than I ever could’ve imagined. Working on my own turns everything I have written into salt. I stare at it too long and I lose it.  

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

Write what’s true, not what’s beautiful. 

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 a morning writer. Not every day of course but I try to write at least two days a week. I revise more often than I write. Revision is great fun!

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

I go to my therapist because I’m usually afraid of something in my writing or in my life that is making it hard to write. I will also just let myself take a break sometimes and just live without the expectation of writing. That usually shakes it out of me. 

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Lilacs. My grandma and grandpa had lilacs on their property in East Selkirk, Manitoba and it’s my favourite smell in the world. 

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’m inspired by the land of course, especially the land I grew up on in Manitoba. But music is another big inspiration for me. I write exclusively to music with lyrics, usually the same song on repeat, until I tune it out and vibrate out of my body. I’m writing this interview to a song right now (MGMT’s “One Thing Left To Try”). 

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

Other Indigenous writers’ work is so important to me. Liz Howard and Jordan Abel are why I write today. I can’t express how much their books changed my life. 

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

I want to write a novel! 

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?

Once upon a time, I wanted to go to medical school and was pursuing a science degree. I wasn’t any good at it. I’m getting a Master of Fine Arts degree a.k.a delaying adulthood so I’ll let you know what I actually get up to when I finish!

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


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

Swan Feast by Natalie Eilbert. It’s research for my next book. And I saw Hot Rod recently and it’s possibly the best comedy I’ve ever seen. 

19 - What are you currently working on?

I have sixty pages of a new manuscript about eating disorders. They’re rough pages but I’m happy to have written them. I wrote them during a literal manic episode when I was sleeping between two and four hours a night and writing the rest of the time. I wouldn’t recommend this process but the words poured out of me. If I could’ve chosen between not having the pages and being well, I would’ve chosen that though!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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