Friday, September 30, 2022

TtD supplement #225 : five questions for Barry McKinnon

Barry McKinnon was born in 1944 in Calgary Alberta, where he grew up.  In 1965, after two years at Mount Royal College, he went to Sir George Williams University in Montreal and took poetry courses with Irving Layton. He graduated in 1967 with a B.A. degree. In 1969, he graduated with an M.A. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and was hired that same year to teach English at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George where he has lived and worked ever since. His chapbook, G o n e  S o u t h, his second from above/ground press, appeared not that long ago.

An excerpt of his poem “The Field” appears in the thirty-fourth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “The Field.”

A: I wrote a version of from the field several years ago, designed and printed 2 copies with a photograph of the McKinnon field and farm house;  this is the view from the family farm-gate looking east.  

I gave a copy to my friend at the time, Ken Belford, and waited for a reply; we’d meet for coffee often to talk poetry and poetics, and swap stories abt the writers we knew.   He sd he was reading the poem slowly and carefully, but I heard no further comment from him.  I call this the Duke Ellington approach – to give neither criticism nor praise and to let said silence leave the writer (or musician) to make an awkward measure of their own skill and worth .  I decided that there was something wrong with the poem (scattered, obscure, drifting and meaningless in a bad way – and what Ezra Pound might call “ a work of second intensity”.  Years later I opened the file, re read the piece and decided that it was salvageable with much editing work ahead.  I decided the original opening line abt veering off a contemporary freeway & the sudden jump to my memories of growing up in the 1950’s, was a mistake. Removing that first line gave me reason to continue the hard slog into the memories and images that formed my early view of the world:  school detentions, 10  years old selling xmas cards in July, paper routes thru winter snow, tap dancing lessons, hauling and selling manure in high school,  trips to the farm in spring, the flooded fields, my grandparent’s rooming house, the care and wisdom of my mother, the drunk men on the farm “busted like Indians” etc etc.  The details and my reflections, unlike the literal list here, are given meaning by the gaps, and fragmentations - a boy’s raw and direct thought with sparse narrative detail.   The emotion comes from a sense of isolation, humiliation, and fear, and exaltations in that prairie landscape. I had, as Robert Creeley once wrote,  “a small boys notion of doing good” as a kind of prerequisite to be taken into the family fold.

relief was dirt/  sage & meadow lark
A note on typography:  I wrote some sections in italic as a visual/tonal/rhythmic shift - to set them apart as lyrical riffs in a quieter voice:

wheat gum, crocus, a  22 gun, - pussy willow, cat tail, in the east slough mud wading for ducks in bright wind and light had meaning  in a multiple compilation  & complex of  


no word we had

when sensed in weakness that all was gone my mother said this happens to the strong -

hod carriers, paper boys selling Xmas cards in July – the family ledger of all
we did defined us in the backroads we had to take thru the impending field

Otherwise, the whole poem can be found under New Archives, at barrymckinnon.com.

Added note:

Hod Carrier:  I remember my father calling us hod carriers.  My brother and I had a 1947 Fargo truck that we used to haul and sell manure. Later I found that Hod Carriers are laborers who haul bricks in a 3-sided box on their shoulders. We hauled manure – hod carriers of another sort.  

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

A: This is an interesting question. I would usually suspect the term “other work” to mean “new work”, but since I’m again in a long silent stretch – i.e. no new work - my current project is to revise I Wanted to Say Something – a poem written in 1971  (51 years ago!) chronicling my grandparent’s migration from Michigan to the Alberta prairie in 1908.

My revisions are partly based on new detail in my deceased grandfather’s 1978 oral memoir when he was 90 years old in The Wheatland Lodge in Strathmore, Alberta.  I transcribed his account many years after I wrote the poem and found information that amplifies his original stories, and clarifies some of the queries I had at the time of writing. The project now is to add, delete, and expand details (including the addition of a few lost photographs not included in the 2 published versions).  How to get the story right when two memories are transcribing the past?  

I was making internal corrections at the time of writing in 1971, but purposely left them in the text; for instance, in one picture of my grandfather and a child standing in a field of oats  (I ask, is it my mother/ or  my aunt?).  Later in the poem, after finding out it was my aunt Dorothy, I write, “finally/here is your aunt”.  

                                             and here, is it my mother/or  my aunt ?
        hidden in the grass, the oats
              her shoulders

                                   (who gave this life to me ?

the legacy:  pictures/and ignorance  and love
to look back

I was also unsure of the cause death of my grandparent’s baby.  Was my original line, “a baby dies from bad milk” really the improbable cause as I remember it being told?  Not being sure, I changed the line to “a baby dies” in the revised 2nd edition (Red Deer College Press, 1990).  Here is my grandfather’s account that now indicates the change I have to make in the new web version of the poem. A version of “bad milk” goes back in. 
Our first boy Clare was born in 1910.  When he was 14 months old, Jessie was in     the hospital with a pregnancy.  I took him over the Philip’s but the Phillip’s cows     got out and were gone two or three days.

Their first milk when they came back didn’t agree with Clare and he was soon a very     sick boy.  Dr. Salmon said he would have to get to the hospital immediately, so I     took him on the train carrying him on a pillow.  We took a taxi from the station to     the hospital.  The hospital wasn’t able to save him and the next morning he died.
I might place some of this new material in footnotes or an addendum where I can expand his experiences: i.e. his 5 year court case and loss to the J.I. Case company, his orphan and work experience as a child labourer, family survival during the flu epidemic in 1917, and his other remembrances re. the 30’s drought etc. etc. 

Either way, I’m trying not to alter the poem’s overall balance by over-filling these gaps and therefore, lapsing into a longer prose narrative that risks losing the energy of what’s implied / what’s unsaid.  
And yes, there is a direct comparison between from The Field and I Wanted to Say Something. Both poems share subject matter and the memory of growing up in the late 40’s and 1950’s in Calgary and the prairie farm at Strangmure 40 miles east.  I’m still going back to those roots /that particular space and time.     

Added note:  My friend Brian Fawcett, who recently died, was an intelligent, harsh and great editor.  When he first read I Wanted to Say Something his one comment that sticks with we was that he was interested in how I as writer was “struggling with sentimentality” – that risk a writer takes when writing about complex family issues that might end in euphemism or cliché. As Wallace Stevens sd, to this effect:  sentimentality is the failure of emotion. This truth should be a consideration of any writing that is generated by what otherwise is deeply felt but shallowly described.

Only emotion endures

Ezra Pound

Q: Given the length and breadth of your publishing history, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: In the long run that gets shorter at this point in my life – I have to guess where the work will go.  Where it came from is easier to determine.  In my writing, each poem informs and projects a way to the next.  In between, however, there is the continual need and necessary study of poetry and its various approaches - and to keep learning from the influential poets I’ve been attracted to.

To go back, my early work in the 1960’s - as is the case for most poets of my generation - comes from a lyric urge.  Young writers don’t tend to write epics, though their lives might seem large and dramatic enough to make the brash W.C. William’s pronouncement: I am a poet, I am a poet!  I stand reaffirmed!. The shame comes later. 

In 1970 I wrote my first long poem, I Wanted to Say Something – a poem that more or less set the form for work to come.  The poem opened a large space to write in - my grandparent’s pioneer history on the prairie – 61 pages with old photos, transcribed stories, and the early family memories of growing up in an urban and rural landscape of the late 40’s early 50’s. 

Moving to Prince George in 1969 was a crucial move in terms of developing a poetic to match the harsh and often abrasive industrial context I found myself in.  So much for the lyric poet, as Brian Fawcett might say, “moonily looking into space” while the house you’re in (as happened in the Giscombe mill town in the early 70’s) gets literally bulldozed over- night.  Prince George became one of my muses and opened a new range to include politics, economics, geography – a complex mixed landscape of dark and light.  My inspirators at this point were Brian Fawcett who preceded me in Prince George, my friend and colleague John Harris, and the visiting American poet Paul “Red” Shuttleworth (also one of the great characters in my life - pro baseball player, college teacher, play write, and now at the age of 77, started a boxing career with two wins in his two first fights).  

The long poems that followed went in several directions generated by various subjects/conditions:  Arrhythmia (heart fibrillations), a sex series written every 7 years, various “traumatic monologues” (as one woman called them) dealing with authoritarian management systems during stormy teaching years, love and the threat of its loss, drinking in down and out dives, the students who fed me many lines in Pulp Log:  I am writing this so Barry McKinnon will understand ...  I wasn’t talking, only moving lips.

Other aspects, as I look back, are the long poems I wrote when I was a foreigner in foreign places. I didn’t travel a lot, but when I did, new measures of the world, if lucky, appeared.  I remember Al Purdy saying that he had to travel in order to keep writing.  Thus we get his North of Summer poems and many poems that refer to places he’s been.  Likewise, my initial banal/quotidian notebook entries while in Bolivia and Peru, became the long poem Bolivia/Peru after we were mugged in Lima.  I had to assess this traumatic experience in terms of what a young Peruvian waiter said to us:  In life there is good. In life there is bad. Overall, you end up being glad for these experiences and what they teach - and the writing they might produce.

Likewise, I spent long stretches in California and Arizona and over 5 years wrote the series Gone South recently published as a chap book in rob mclennan’s above/ground press series.  

Always, the prompts of place and circumstance.

Where is it all headed?  I go long stretches not writing and cannot predict the situations that produce it.  One of Robert Creeley’s last books Life & Death gives the most generalized sense of subject and condition at this point in my life.  Then there is W.B. Yeats:

Horseman pass by, cast a cold eye ...

until something more can be said.  

Q: What particular works can’t you help but return to?  

A: Here’s a paragraph from my essay did you real all these books:

Anyone with a working library (writers, teachers, scholars and researchers) develops diverse ways to read depending on immediate requirements.  Some books I need as reference sources, some I skimmed or partially read and then shelved for later reading, some I knew would take a lifetime to read and reread and that I’d have to return to for both work, knowledge and pleasure (William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Emily Dickenson, et. al.), some I had to read for exams and term papers in college and because of that pressure didn’t really absorb their total weight, beauty or importance.  In the last three years, however, I began a project to reread every word of the books I earlier found long, intimidating and difficult: Joyce’s Ulysses, The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, The Inferno, Moby Dick and Louis Zukosvsky’s epic “A” - and a stack of others also sit on the “to read” list.  

As I grow older I sometimes think of culling the whole thing down to one six-foot shelf.  On other days to grab only those few to fill a hobo’s knapsack.  But given my habit, it’s more so, that for now - I’ll keep em all! –  these friends, and measures as source for inspiration.

What thou lovest well remains/ the rest is dross.  

(Ezra Pound, Canto 81)

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

A: This is a photo of one book shelf of 5 in my study.  It contains biographies, poetry anthologies, 2 shelves of Canadian poetry, and 2 shelves of American poetry.

Early on I was reading the City Lights Books from San Francisco: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti et.al. – and various other books I’d get from Evelyn De Mille’s independent bookshop in the centre of downtown on First Street and 7th Avenue, I was also inspired to write after hearing T.S. Eliot read on CBC radio.  I had no clue about what he was saying, but the rhythm and seriousness captured me and I brashly thought: I can do this too! Apropos of Eliot’s formal and religious tone, I was reading Norman Mailer’s Deaths for the Ladies (and Other Disasters) – quick, quirky, funny poems as reactions pricking at the social world. I can do this too!  My other important reading source was the Safeway Dictionary that came in cheap installments with grocery purchases (a dollar a section, I think). My mom would bring the various sections (grouped ABC...DEF...etc) home with our groceries, and I would then slot them into its huge fake leather covered three ring binder that would grow and expand over the months – finally to XYZ and its full bulk of six or eight inches. I would open the dictionary randomly, read daily with fascination - this world of words defined to become a prime source for reference and energy in one’s writing. 

My first year college English teacher, Bill Wilson, commented that the poems I submitted to him were Byronesque, whereupon I signed out every book by Lord Byron, including the biographies and stories of Mad Jack, gun running in Greece, and other salacious accounts of the wild and dangerous life of being a poet.  I learned much in Byron’s’ rush of couplets but, in this case, the galloping form was not for me: I went back to read more from the open-verse Beats.

I think it’s interesting that you use the word “reenergize” which assumes work in a kind of stasis that requires outside literary prompts.  I remember brash young poets announcing that they would not read other poets for fear of infecting their “personal style” or endangering some kind of ontological integrity. Once I suggested to one young poet that she should read Charles Olson apropos of something she sd about her own work.  Her response:  “nobody can tell me what to fucking read!” That was the end of that! So many geniuses so easily forgotten.  For the serious others who enter the threshold and open door to that place where there are no half measures or compromises – there is only the real work of writing, reading and infinite study ahead.

In Montréal I met the painter, poet, Roy Kiyooka via Milly Risdevedt, an aspiring young painter who posed nude for Roy’s evening classes.  Milly invited me to the class to meet Roy, and as a young curious poet, I happily and expectantly went.  Roy was a sage, a small and skinny man with a Fu Manchu moustache and long pointed beard. Initially, his tacit demeanor scared me a bit as he quietly roamed the room to watch the students painting landscapes or sketching Milly in her stationary pose. I followed Roy from easel to easel; what initially interested me most was a tape of Robert Creeley reading that filled the studio background while Roy voiced insightful, laconic comments with his occasional and indescribable high cosmic laugh.  

One student was working on a painting of a man on a wharf watching a passing steam ship. To give a lesson on perspective Roy stroked his beard and said,” Thaaat booaat is going to hiiit his heead”!  So it is that whatever hours that student spent on the wharf, they were now for naught.  I think the sketches of nude Milly got either little praise or comment, or worse: complete silence.  For me, it was an auspicious beginning – the privilege to hear abt Roy’s friend Robert Creeley, and to read Roy’s copy of For Love as evidence of great poetry by a writer I would begin to follow for a lifetime.

My poetry professor at the time, Irving Layton, also knew Robert Creeley; they had an extensive correspondence and friendship; Creeley published one of Layton’s books, In the Midst of My Fever, via his Divers Press in Majorca.  I was now entering an interesting firing range as a young poet:  Kiyooka’s praise for Creeley and Layton’s too-easy dismissal of his old friend as a “paranoid mumbler”.  This was a big lesson in how poets reveal their personal judgments and aesthetic measures for a young poet to consider. 

Over the years I came to Creeley’s defense more than once by quoting his poems and essays.    For instance, my friend Al Purdy did not like Creeley’s poetry, Olson and the Black Mountain poets and was very suspicious of their influence on Canadian writing (i.e. particularly the Tish group in Vancouver).  After Al read to a sluggish class of afternoon high school students in Prince George, we went downtown for thrift –book shopping and beer.  Al was quiet and surly.  I asked him what was wrong.  He sd that his reading was awful; the students didn’t like him – and for a great Canadian poet, he was experiencing, what I thought, a big silent ego let down.    I sd Al: “whenever I know what others think of me, I’m plunged into loneliness”.  Al’s scowl disappeared and he bellowed out, “ did you just say that?  Who the hell sd that? Robert Creeley! I said.  Goddamn! Do you have his address? I want to write him a letter - a letter, I assumed, to compliment the depth of Creeley’s accuracy in describing a complex personal event in a very short poem.   

I’ve been mostly happy in this kind of personal contact with many poets who share some sense of the wonder, the beauty and the surrounding political miasma:  we’ve seen and yakked for hours about the Vancouver wars, the Prince George poetry wars, those suspect in their career moves, the politics and controversies of writers who get grants and residencies, gender, age and race issues with ideological agendas, the fights between street poets and university academics, and the proclamations of the new to supplant the old - AND in all of this, to recognize the poets for clinging to their paddles and who have thus, survived.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

TtD supplement #224 : seven questions for Monica Mody

Monica Mody is the author of Kala Pani (1913 Press), the forthcoming Bright Parallel (Copper Coin), and three chapbooks including Ordinary Annals (above/ground). Her poems have appeared in anthologies including The Penguin Book of Indian Poets, Future Library: Contemporary Indian Writing, The Red River Book of Poetry of Dissent, and &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing. Her poetry also appears in Poetry International, Indian Quarterly, Almost Island, Boston Review, and other lit magazines. She has been a recipient of the Sparks Prize Fellowship (Notre Dame), the Zora Neale Hurston Award (Naropa), and a Toto Award for Creative Writing. Monica was born in Ranchi, India, and currently lives in San Francisco—Ohlone territory.

Her poems “Mouthfuls,” “Spirit of Regeneration,” “Alchemy” and “In Situ” appear in the thirty-fourth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the “Mouthfuls,” “Spirit of Regeneration,” “Alchemy” and “In Situ.”

A: I happened upon “Mouthfuls” when I opened an old fellowship application packet earlier this year. I didn’t remember receiving it, revising it. I have a habit of putting away poem drafts in a folder to come back to later, and when I go back to those drafts, they sometimes surprise me—but this was not a draft. It felt like it had arrived almost fully. This made “Mouthfuls” a gift.

“Spirit of Regeneration” was written as an invocatory poem for the summer solstice ritual marking Earth Activist Training’s 20th anniversary and the 70th birthday of its founder, permaculture teacher Starhawk, in June 2021.

I wrote “Alchemy” in January 2022 when I was asked to write a haiku about ‘myself’ in a non-literary community.

“In Situ” is one of the poems in an emergent series steered by my inquiry as an immigrant in the United States.

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

A: Some of my other recent poems have been interested in remythologizing South Asian mythic figures such as the yoginis or the river/goddess Sarasvati, who governs speech and music, among other things. (You can watch/listen to the poem “Sarasvati” here.) There are somewhat different concerns at play in that series of poems—decolonial feminine concerns, stemming from the particular South Asian histories of colonial modernity and nationalist patriarchy. And, the four poems in Touch the Donkey—with their interest in language and its music, belonging/not belonging, the confluence of earth-based spirituality and nondual ethic—certainly traverse and play on similar ground.  

Q: You say you put drafts away in folders to return to later. Does that suggest you work on multiple pieces simultaneously, setting some poems aside when you get stuck, and returning to prior drafts to see if fresh eyes make the difference?

A: It’s more about separating the generative phase from the revision phase. I often generate much more than I take to completion—but it’s nice to have the ‘raw material.’ As a transdisciplinary practitioner, I don’t work only on poems—when I do, and yes, if I get stuck, it often helps to set aside the poem for a few hours or few days—sometimes longer—so that the poem can find the breathing space and resolution it needs.  

Q: I’m curious about your interdisciplinary approach: how separate are the various practices through which you work? Do you see your practice as a series of discrete, or even interconnected, threads, or all part of a single, ongoing, singular practice? And how does your work in one form impact upon your work in another?

A: These practices are indeed interconnected—even though each of them emerged at different points and out of different imperatives in my evolutionary trajectory. More and more, I see my work as listening to the pulse of the sacred and bringing it into form. “The sacred”—for me, comprises the earth and kin networks she anchors; breath and womb and body; beginnings and endings; the small and the vast and the dark and the light; ancestral and spirit-realms; pilgrimages across waters or dimensional spaces; laughter and grief; communal and personal sovereignty; restorying pasts and patterns that exclude or extract; continuity of wisdom and the process of change. I don’t see living as being outside the purview of art—living is a practice of the sacred too. Out of chaos into form.

Q: With one collection published and one that will be published soon, and three chapbooks, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I’d say the books variously track my engagement with formations of identity, explorations in language and genre and embodied consciousness, reclamation of ancestral and motherline memories, contouring of the intersections of earth/spirit/dissolution.

I hope my work continues to take up and grow more capable in the task of reshaping reality!

Q: Do you have any models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? Are there any particular writers or works in the back of your head as you write?

A: Hmm, I have a resistance to the idea of “models” at this juncture in my writing/life. I don’t have other writers or works at the back of my head as I attempt to write. I have urgings and intensities. These could be ideas. Images. Visions. Emergent knowings that arrive as language.

I wonder, on this literary map we are etching as I/we write, what is the song that will guide us to the precipice, and then invite us to take another step? What comes after we take that step? What could source and shape my/our writing that has not come before—at least not a past that traps us in pre-existing models.

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

A: Poets who come to writing as frequency, sound, language of bedazzlement & revelation. To name just a few: Lal Ded, Kabir, Joy Harjo, Cecilia Vicuña, Raul Zurita, Emily Dickinson, Federico Garcia Lorca, Diane di Prima, Agha Shahid Ali. The spirit of their writing leaps across the printed word.

Friday, September 2, 2022

TtD supplement #223 : seven questions for Jade Wallace

Jade Wallace’s poetry and fiction have appeared in journals including Canadian Literature, This Magazine, The Stockholm Review, and Hermine. Wallace is the reviews editor for CAROUSEL and co-founder of the collaborative writing entity MA|DE, and has a debut full-length poetry collection, Love Is A Place But You Cannot Live There, forthcoming from Guernica Editions in 2023. Stay in touch: jadewallace.ca

Their poems “Everywhere Else,” “Fun City,” “The Population of Caput Mundi,” “Taking the Greatest City in the World,” “Leaving Gotham,” and “Epistemology after New York” appear in the thirty-fourth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Everywhere Else,” “Fun City,” “The Population of Caput Mundi,” “Taking the Greatest City in the World,” “Leaving Gotham,” and “Epistemology after New York.”

A: These six are, for me, old poems, written in spring 2016, after my mother and I actually did take a train trip to New York City. It was the first time either of us had been there. Unlike the poems I write now, these are very much autobiographical, and they are very honest, possibly too honest, because someone who read them recently suggested they have a certain ‘meanness’ about them. Maybe they do; maybe I do. But I will say in my defense: I love my mother, and New York is probably a fine city, it’s just overall too big and slick of a city for me. (Though, as you can probably tell from the titles of poems, I did have fun with New York’s lively nicknames.)

These six poems are part of a longer sequence of poems about the trip my mother and I took to New York, “Cynic’s Guidebook,” which is a section of my debut poetry collection, Love Is a Place but You Cannot Live There, forthcoming from Guernica Editions in 2023. Like other poems from the section and the book as a whole, these poems play with psychogeography, which, not to go on too long a tangent, is an artistic and sometimes academic mode of exploration that tries to see locales through the lenses of defamiliarization and desire, rather than familiarity and capital. Psychogeography is an approach that obviously has its limitations, and I try to navigate both the possibilities and constraints of psychogeography in these poems.

Q: I’m curious about this, as you suggest, rare foray into the autobiographical. Is this a direction you see yourself working further in, or was this simply a specific burst, prompted by this particular trip?

A: The autobiographical is a mode that used to be my default for many years and has now become a rarity. I used it most during my adolescence and my twenties when my interior landscape and my place in the world often felt mysterious and uncertain to me. Writing autobiographical poetry was a way for me to both investigate and start to establish myself. Implicitly, my autobiographical writing was answering questions like: What are the narratives I use for myself when I sit alone and assess my life? How do they compare to the narratives others have ascribed to me? You’ll see this mode at work throughout Love Is a Place but You Cannot Live There, when it comes out. The poems in the book often manifest a persistent dialogic tension between the speaker (me) and other people I interact with. I don’t mean tension here in a negative way; it’s simply an observation. Recognizing tension can lead to insight, I find, if you can then parse the forces that are creating the feeling of tension.

Then my life quieted down a lot around the age of thirty. Home, partner, career. I’d picked my purple figs, as Plath might say. It was the most stability I’d had since leaving my childhood home. (Of course, such stability is always in part illusory, but prior to that I couldn’t even sustain the illusion.) I suppose my life became pleasantly routine, which meant that I no longer felt compelled to endlessly interrogate my perceptions, and instead increasingly turned outside of myself. My second poetry manuscript, for example, which is now substantially complete, is about how we define and value labour. Inevitably there’s a lot of me in it, but the poems are not about me. I don’t think that such a move toward the external is inherently either good or bad, it’s simply what's more interesting to me now.

Q: I’m curious about your referencing Sylvia Plath. Her work was obviously autobiographical, pushing deep into the confessional. Do you see this strain of your work as confessional? What other poets or writing do you feel influenced this particular direction?

A: When I reflect back on it, my poetry was probably guided by the autofiction I was reading at the time, which accounts for the autobiographical and narrative impulses. (It also probably explains why I wasn’t overly invested in having my poetry look or sound like PoetryTM; I was more interested in the content of the ideas than the form they took.) Whether my work from that period counts as confessional is a question I can only answer ambivalently. I suppose it was partly confessional, in the sense that the work, even now, feels personal and intimate, and often tinged by a blush of shame, like any good confession. But at the same time, the version of me that appears in the poems of Love Is a Place but You Cannot Live There spends an awful lot of time asking questions of, or observing, other people in the poems, which is rather the opposite of confession. This inclination toward a more social and dialogic mode of poetry was influenced by a couple of writers who, like me, grew up among the orchards of Niagara: James Millhaven and Terry Trowbridge. I’m still affected by their approaches to poetry, even if, on a superficial level, our poetry looks more dissimilar these days than it used to.

Q: With your full-length debut forthcoming, and your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work heading?

A: The honest answer is that I’m not sure. Right now, I’m at or near completion on several projects that occupied me for the past few years: The Work Is Done When We Are Dead, my sophomore poetry manuscript; Anomia, my debut novel manuscript; and ZZOO, my debut collaborative poetry manuscript with MA|DE. While I was working on those projects, I had a quite clear sense of what I was doing and what I needed to occupy myself with to see the projects through. Once they are, hopefully, off in the world, I’ll still be at home, sitting with Echo Phenomena, a debut short fiction manuscript that I have a lot of drafted material for, but only a hazy vision of what the collection ought to be, and Petal Cipher, a third poetry manuscript that is, literally, nothing more than a title and three large envelopes full of paper scraps. So I suppose what I’ll be doing is making blueprints, looking at maps, sculpting clay, fumbling in the dark.

Q: I’m curious about your explorations through collaboration. What do you feel you are able to achieve through collaboration that might not have been possible otherwise?

A: I’ll speak to MA|DE specifically, as that’s been my longest-term collaboration, and the only collaborative partnership I’ve been in where the collaboration is treated as its own entity. MA|DE, as we like to say, has a ‘third voice.’ It’s something other, something more, than just a combination of my voice and my collaborator Mark Laliberte’s. We’ve been working steadily that way as MA|DE since 2018. Thus far we’ve published three chapbooks, written one full-length manuscript, and have started drafting two other full-length books as well. So we’ve done quite a bit of writing together, and we’re always testing out new approaches, and in that sense I see collaboration as an end in itself. It’s a mode of writing, like how fiction is a mode of writing; it has its own possibilities and challenges and it forces you to do particular kinds of problem-solving and develop certain skills as writer you might not have otherwise. That alone is worthwhile.

For me particularly, one of my limitations as a writer is that I can be quite narrow-minded. I need all the lines I write to make sense. I need to be able to explain them, at least to myself. I need to see a discernible flow of thought across the page. Mark is much more intuitive and, frankly, creative, than I am. He writes like he’s a wild vine, and I write like I’m a gardener. When we’re writing as MA|DE, we’re constantly navigating a space somewhere between those two tendencies. I have to become more expansive, he has to become more orderly. Our taste in poetry, likewise, often diverges, which is good. There are many influences and styles we each bring to bear on any individual poem, and it forces us to come up with unexpected workarounds to create a harmonious poem that we’re both satisfied with.

Q: I’m curious about the work of your second manuscript, speaking to how “we define and value labour.” When I think of “labour” articulated through poetry, I think of the strains of “work” poetry that manifested in those early days of the Kootenay School of Writing, through poets such as Tom Wayman, Phil Hall, Kate Braid, Peter Culley and Jeff Derksen, etcetera, or even some of more recent poets in the Philadelphia area, such as ryan eckes. How is this element presenting itself in your work?

A: When I was doing preliminary research about the poetry of work, these were some of the names that came up frequently! What I’ve noticed is that a lot of poetry collections about work focus on activities that are easily recognized as work. Consider for instance Braid’s Turning Left to the Ladies, which looks at construction work and carpentry done for pay, or the anthology Wayman edited, A Government Job at Last: An Anthology of Working Poems, which also explicitly focuses on paid work. Paid work is of course an important subject, but I wanted to consider it alongside other forms of work we do: identity construction, community-building, relationship maintenance. How do these forms of work compare? What lessons do we learn in one sphere of labour that we might bring to bear upon the others? I suppose what fascinates me is the rather sharp divide between the work we are forced to do to make a living, and the work we willingly undertake because we find it necessary, meaningful, fulfilling, even delightful, for its own sake. Could all our work one day be elevated, and made to transcend mere drudgery? These are the issues I’m tackling in The Work Is Done When We Are Dead and, as the title suggests, the urgency of the questions for me is related to the fact that labour of one kind or another is a lifelong requiement, pervading all of our days until we die.

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

A: There are definitely certain texts that continue to preoccupy me for years. Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Nella Larsen’s Passing, Sue Goyette’s The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl, and Hiromi Goto’s The Kappa Child would be good examples.

But for me, energy typically comes from reading new material, reading widely, and reading whatever interests me at a given time. Sometimes that’s a news article, sometimes it’s philosophy, sometimes it’s a cookbook. It doesn’t matter, really, whether it’s relevant to what I’m working on. Sometimes it’s better if it’s irrelevant, so the mind starts drawing unusual connections. What inspires me is surprising language and new information—in fact it needn’t even come in the form written material specifically (though that's my preferred medium). The radio, podcasts, TV shows, a line I overheard when walking past someone on the sidewalk, it all gets stored somewhere in memory and comes back later in unexpected ways. As long as I stay curious and stay informed so I have a full well to draw from, I can write.