Monday, February 14, 2022

TtD supplement #208 : seven questions for Lillian Nećakov

Lillian Nećakov is the author of six books of poetry, numerous chapbooks, broadsides and leaflets. Her new book il virus was published in April 2021 by Anvil Press (A Feed Dog Book). In 2016, her chapbook The Lake Contains an Emergency Room was shortlisted for bpNichol chapbook award. During the 1980s she ran a micro press called “The Surrealist Poets Gardening Association” and sold her books on Toronto’s Yonge Street. She ran the Boneshaker Reading series from 2010-2020. She lives in Toronto and just might be working on a new book.

Her poems “How to Walk a Dog,” “Grocery Shopping on Compassion Road,” “Muskoka Weekly” and “About a Book” appear in the thirty-second issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “How to Walk a Dog,” “Grocery Shopping on Compassion Road,” “Muskoka Weekly” and “About a Book.”

A: The first 3 poems are part of a series I have been working on. I started with this constraint; every poem had to respond to or use as its catalyst a “How To…” manual. For example I wrote “How to Walk a Dog” after “How to Solve Physics Problems”, “Grocery Shopping… after “How to be Compassionate” and “Muskoka Weekly” after “How to Be a Canadian”.

I love these kinds of challenges. I love moving outside my immediate self, looking at things from say, a scientific point of view and then bringing it back to a particular moment or event that is relevant to me. When I was writing “How to Walk a Dog”, I was thinking how do I reconcile instantaneous velocity with walking my dog, how does this formula pertain to me, in this specific moment in time?

“About a Book” was written after I went to a dear friend’s book launch. A sentimental poem about missing someone with a bit of nostalgia mixed in.  

Q: How do these pieces compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I think the difference is in the process. These pieces (excluding “About a Book”) were very deliberate, they all had a similar starting point and intent. It took me much longer to work on these pieces, since I was relying on found material (the “How To” books).  I would search out books from the public library and in some cases had to wait for the books to arrive at my local library branch. Sometimes I didn’t relate to the books, or they weren't what I thought they’d be, or they might be too technical or too flippant. So the process was very different from how I normally work.

In terms of how these pieces compare in theme to my other current work, they do overlap somewhat. Even though I was sometimes working in response to texts that were outside my field of interest or didn’t “fit” with what I am usually drawn to, I somehow managed to write my way back to myself. If that makes sense?

Q: Is “intent:” a common starting-point for how your poems emerge? How does a poem, or grouping of poems, begin?

A: No, most times it is not. More often than not, for me, a poem begins with a headline, a scene in a film, a broken robin’s egg, a visit to the emergency room with one of my kids, a scent, a snippet of overheard conversation, a memory, a walk with my dog, a nightmare, a death, a birth, anything really. What I am most excited about is how/where the poem ends. Where you begin and where you end are often two very different places. The big themes, if you want to call them that, are always there, in your subconscious, and even though you begin with a line about a magnolia tree or your son’s broken clavicle, that’s not what the poem is ultimately about, that’s not where you end up. I don’t usually sit down and think, okay, today I’m going to write a piece about climate change, or my father’s funeral. Those things might become woven into the landscape of the poem as I write. The journey is what I find so satisfying and sometimes I end up surprising myself.

Q: With six published collections and numerous chapbooks under your belt, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I definitely feel that I have a much wider lens and I don’t take myself as seriously. Not that I don’t take my work seriously, I’m just no longer that brooding, angst-ridden young poet. I can approach my work with a sense of humor and move past my own ego. The Chilean poet Nicanor Parra said, “it’s when you lose your sense of humor that you begin to reach for your pistol”. As a result, I think my work is more expansive, much deeper and hopefully more accessible.

I’ve done a lot more collaborative writing in the last few years which has included quite a bit of visual stuff. That has really opened a lot of doors for me and given me confidence to experiment more. Now, when I write, I feel like I’m creating community, I’m not writing in a vacuum. I hope I’m headed in the right direction!

Q: What kinds of collaborations have you been engaged in?

A: Prior to the pandemic, Jim Smith, Nicholas Power and I would try and get together about every 2 months or so and spend the afternoon writing together. We would use found material in both English and other languages (print, sound, visual) as a starting point and just go from there.

Most recently, Gary Barwin and I worked on a collaborative poem, duck eats yeast, quacks, explodes; man loses eye that turned into a book which Guernica is publishing in 2022. It was so much fun to work on and it took me on a wild literary journey.

Here is a short synopsis of the book:
“duck eats yeast, quacks, explodes; man loses eye is a book that traverses the 'big' questions through literary shenanigans, exploding ducks and mathematical equations. It celebrates the strange and surprising beauty of language and thinking”.
Q: You referenced this a bit earlier, but how has your collaborative work affected the ways in which you approach your solo work?

A: There is definitely a lot less self-doubt. A shift occurs when you let in other voices, boundaries are expanded, you start to work across differences in language, vocabulary, and theme and that extends to solo writing. There is always that sense that I am part of something bigger and that is very comforting.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I go through different phases. Currently I am reading Marieke Lucas Rujneveld, Ocean Vuong, Joy Harjo and Juan Felipe Herrera. I always return to Charles Olson, Charles Simic and Octavio Paz.

1 comment:

  1. " The big themes, if you want to call them that, are always there, in your subconscious, and even though you begin with a line about a magnolia tree or your son’s broken clavicle, that’s not what the poem is ultimately about, that’s not where you end up." Cdn't agree more heartily. Good to see someone 'return[ing] to Charles Olson....' We cd use a lil' more of that!