Tuesday, November 21, 2023

TtD supplement #252 : seven questions for Andy Weaver

Andy Weaver’s fourth book of poetry, The Loom, is forthcoming from the University of Calgary Press. Recent publications are the chapbooks So/I (above/ground; longlisted for the 2022 Nelson Ball Prize) and Ligament/Ligature (Model Press). He teaches creative writing, contemporary poetry, and poetics at York University.

His poems “Still,” “Earworms and Eye Rhymes” and “The Language of Obsolescence” appear in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Still,” “Earworms and Eye Rhymes” and “The Language of Obsolescence.”

A: These three poems come from my forthcoming book, The Loom (U of Calgary Press), which is comprised of three long poems about becoming a father and raising two sons. These poems are from the third poem, “The Bridge,” which is written to/about my youngest son. Like many of the parts of the poems, these pieces meditate on the interrelationship of language and experience in relation to love, parenting, and identity.

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

A: I’ve been working over the last 7-8 years to reconnect more to lyric poetry. Starting out back in the 1990s, I was trained almost exclusively in lyric poetry. Then grad school exploded my understanding of poetry and I became really interested in experimental poetry. Over the years since, my work had moved away from lyric to a pretty abstract investigation of language and other abstractions—my third book, This, went pretty far in this direction. I’ve been working to move back closer to the lyric. At the same time, I’m not very comfortable with writing lyric poetry, and I find that discomfort interesting and productive. So these poems are part of my recent attempt to be more lyrical but without trusting all that much in the lyric I.

Q: What is it about writing lyric that makes you uncomfortable? And if you are uncomfortable, why not simply move into another direction entirely?

A: Lyric poetry doesn’t have to foreground the I, and it doesn’t have to be a veiled discussion of the writer’s personality/opinion—but I think it still often does both. I tend to like poetry that foregrounds ideas and investigation over emotions and certainty, and I generally think that the world has had enough of white straight men writing about the life of being a straight white man. So, the challenge of writing about the experience of becoming a parent was, for me, about trying to write something that was generalized and intellectualized but not completely abstract or cold. At first, the project wasn’t going to be lyric at all, but the poems were too dry and emotionless, so the lyric provided an access point back to emotion and actuality that the poems needed—but I have been trying to make sure that the poems don’t give in to emotion or personal actuality too much.

Q: Do you have any models for the kind of work you’re attempting?

A: When I first started the project, my guiding principle was trying to write something that combined John Ashbery and Robert Duncan—Ashbery’s refusal to really discuss anything directly with Duncan’s political interest and open use of his life (Duncan is my favourite poet, but I tend to like his politics and wordplay—his mysticism can go too far for me). The last few years, I’ve been reading a lot of Ann Lauterbach and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and I like how they write what I think of as meditative poems that never really say what they are meditating on. I think they manage to do that more deftly than I can—for better or worse, I find that I need to have some central idea or concern or experience to function as a kind of central spoke that structures the piece. For these poems, it’s parenting, love, and language.

Q: When I was first thinking overtly of composing parenting poems, I drew on work by poets such as Margaret Christakos, Pattie McCarthy, Rachel Zucker and Farid Matuk, among others. Have you any specific models for this kind of work?

A: I’ve read Christakos, McCarthy, and Zucker, but I didn’t have specific models. Originally, I thought of the poems as meditations on a specific type of love, rather than specifically parenting poems; I still tend to think of them that way, though there ended up being a lot more specifically “parenting” moments included than I expected there would be.

Q: You present the impression that you compose poems, and poetry manuscripts, as full-length projects. How did you land at this particular approach?

A: My last few projects have been book-length in scope, yes. At first, it was a challenge I set myself, to see if I could do it (the result was my third book, This), and I liked the opportunity to keep looking at an idea or issue from multiple perspectives. The Loom presented itself because I had kids, and I was fascinated by them but also by the change to myself and to my worldview by becoming a parent. Since that book has been completed a few years ago, I've mostly gone back to smaller poems that work individually.

Q: With three published books and another forthcoming, as well as your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I'm really not that sure how I’ve progressed as a writer. I’ve definitely progressed as a reader of poetry—I read much more widely now than I did years ago, and I hope that breadth has complicated my own writing and keeps it from settling into easy patterns. I think the lyric/experimental divide that has been in my work from the start is still there. I’d like to work to at least partially bridge that divide and find a more successful middle ground that incorporates aspects of both. At the same time, I also still want to write pieces that are more firmly one or the other. I have a few longer projects that are in progress, so I hope those will continue well. For the moment, at least, I like that I don’t really know how to categorize my writing.  

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

A: In my day job, I tend to focus on Black Mountain, especially Duncan, Creeley, Olson, and Cage. Those four seem to stay evergreen to me. I also love H.D., and perhaps surprisingly, Pablo Neruda.

I like to read Dianne Seuss, Maureen N. McLane, Jordan Abel, Erin Mouré, Dionne Brand. More recently, I’ve been going back multiple times to dip in and out of Helen Hajnoczky’s Frost and Pollen and Nicole Markotic’s After Beowulf, both of which are just confusingly excellent. But when my own writing is stalled, I tend to head to philosophy and literary criticism to kickstart my brain and get it back to focusing on language and its possibilities. 

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