Thursday, April 28, 2022

TtD supplement #213 : eight questions for Cecilia Stuart

Cecilia Stuart is the author of HOUNDS (above/ground press 2020) and Mudroom (Anchorage Press 2018, with Adrian Kiva). Her poems have appeared in Plenitude, Bad Dog, PRISM international and elsewhere. She lives in Tkaronto/Toronto with her partner.

Her poem “UPPERCUT” appears in the thirty-third issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “UPPERCUT.”

A: When COVID first hit in 2020, I was living in Halifax and my partner was back home in Toronto. In the early months when we couldn’t travel, I felt so overwhelmed and sad not knowing when we’d be able to see each other again. We’d talk on Facetime every day, but I feel skeptical about most forms of digital communication. I think it’s really hard to have meaningful encounters in spaces that are built to commodify our attention—and having to be so reliant on these forms of communication was also getting me down. This poem reflects on some of the anxieties I was feeling about emotional closeness across distance and the difficulty of conveying meaning through digital space. At that time I also lived near the Halifax Harbour, and when everything was shut down I took a lot of comfort in going on long walks to look at the water and the fog. For probably the first time I felt like I was really embedded in and paying close attention to my natural surroundings. So in UPPERCUT I’m reflecting on that relationship and its communicative structures as well, and trying to think about those two experiences alongside one another.

Q: How does this piece compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Well, right now I’m taking a long break from writing, but in general I’d say that most of my poetry is similar to this piece in that the ideas/images aren’t clearly connected to one another, and the result is (hopefully) fairly fragmentary. Usually I’ll start with a couple of images that have some tangential connection to whatever I’m going through at the time of writing—or even something from a song or book or whatever I’ve been enjoying lately. Then I just sort of patch them together, come up with connectors and play with the aural qualities of the result. Most of the time the resulting poem doesn’t have an obvious tie to my starting point, but I like the way this process helps me to experiment and just get absorbed in the words. I’m not very tied to meaning, and I think that comes through in this poem and many other poems I’ve written.

Q: What prompted this break from writing?

A: The last couple of years have really worn down my body and brain. I have limited energy and I try to use most of it on taking good care of my mental and physical health. And when I am doing creative work I’m usually practicing working with textiles, which is new to me.

Q: How does your work with textiles relate, if at all, to your writing?

A: That’s something I hope to explore more in the future. They're both influenced by my connections to my family and my love of material objects. I have always seen my writing as a tactile process, so I think that there is a lot of opportunity to experiment with their linkages.

Q: You mention you are currently on a break from writing. Have you written much since the publication of HOUNDS? Have you noticed a shift in your writing since the publication of either of your chapbooks?

A: My first chapbook was very different from the rest of my writing because I was working with a collaborator on a very specific prompt—the process we agreed on forced me to focus in on specific ideas, feelings, images etc and took me down a different path than I’d usually take myself. My second chapbook HOUNDS was looser and more characteristic of my writing style. I wanted it to be very rambling. Since I wrote those poems I’ve become more interested in visual poetry and working with combinations of image and text. I’ve been experimenting a little but have not shared much yet. It feels like a natural continuation of the prose work I've been doing for the past few years, so I’m excited to see where that takes me.

Q: Have you any particular models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? Have you any particular authors or works in the back of your head as you write?

A: I don’t have any specific models in mind. When I was in school I read quite a bit of avant garde and visual writing, which definitely informs my conception of what poetry can be and do, but I’m trying to approach this process without any expectations so I can just see what comes out. I’m mainly inspired by things I come across in my day-to-day life—songs, tv shows, shows at galleries in my neighbourhood, etc etc. I also get a lot of inspiration from rave posters. I also read Michael DeForge’s graphic novel Heaven No Hell last year and that was really generative for me!

Q: What is it that engaging aspects of visual poetry allows or provides for your work that might not be possible otherwise?

A: I don’t know that it might not be possible otherwise, but I’d say that right now I’m feeling very image- and motion-oriented and I’m finding that experiments with visual poetry help me feel more grounded and on the earth as I move through life. I’ve been taking a lot of comfort in making and working with physical objects (eg. fabrics, candles, meals) lately and the visual writing feels at home with that desire. Primarily textual work feels a bit too cerebral for me right now—I would rather look at bright colours and cool lines. I still love to read beautiful poetry though!

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

A: Hmm, there are so many, but the ones that come to mind are Anne Carson’s red doc, Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk, Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip and The Weather, Gail Scott’s Heroine and John Thompson’s ghazals.

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