We asked Nicholas Power five questions about how travel and music play a role in his new collection, Melancholy Scientist. You can find him at IFOA 2017.
IFOA: What inspired you to write Melancholy Scientist?
Nicholas Power: The title poem was an attempt to bring together several related fragments of personal writing and to revisit a more balanced notion of melancholy as distinct from the real issue of depression.
The book as whole came together in a similar way. It’s a collection of related poems, put together in an intuitive order, from published and unpublished writing. In the four temperaments, melancholy is one of quiet reflection. The scientist element reflects my ongoing interest in many fields of science and also the conviction that poetry is news that stays news (Ezra Pound) so it better get its facts right!
IFOA: Melancholy Scientist is about making music. Was there any specific music you listened to while writing?
Power: I wrote acoustics while the players were improvising their completely original jazz; Bill’s Hands was written out of close listening to the pianist Bill Evans; blues, being practiced by an anonymous guitar player while I walked my dog, drifts into the poem music.
Music for these poems is more ambient or purposeful like that—I don’t usually play music in the background while I work.
Power: Boathouse is a favourite of mine because of the process involved in writing it. I was trying to learn from the American poet, Jack Gilbert, on how to write a certain type of poem.
Mine has nine coherent sentences in fourteen lines often with periods in the middle of the line. Definitely not a sonnet! I started out with over sixty lines written in the place where the boathouse stands on the edge of Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan. Writing is editing!
IFOA: The poems travel around the world in the book. Any particular reason you chose those specific places?
Power: I travelled to Last Mountain Lake every summer for ten years to visit family and had time to write. I went with my son when he was sixteen to Ireland and Amsterdam; I wanted to connect with the real Ireland after imagining myself there for years. I wanted to visit Cuba without being a tourist and stayed in Guanabo, an hour from downtown Havana. The angel poems and centered and wandering come out of virtual travel with an Atlas, the internet and the drawings of a dancer at work.
IFOA: What are you reading now?
Power: Death or Canada: The Irish Famine Migration to Toronto, 1847 by Mark G. McGowan as research for poems in support of Ireland Park Foundation’s work to memorialize the presence of the Irish in Toronto. Poets I’ve read recently: Jordan Abel, Ryszard Kapuściński, Philip Levine, Lillian Necakov, Sandra Ridley, Jim Smith and Maxamed Cabdille Xasan.
Nicholas Power is a founding member of the Meet the Presses literary collective, and has performed with the storytelling duo The Wordweavers and the sound poetry ensemble Alexander’s Dark Band. As part of the River Poets (Maureen Harris, Maureen Hynes and more) he has read along the Don, the Humber, lost rivers and wild places. He has been published by Teksteditions (Melancholy Scientist and The Boneshaker Anthology), Underwhich Editions(wells), The Writing Space (a modest device), FindorCreate (a wrinkle in the mind) and Battered Press (No Poems). He has been editing and publishing with his own Gesture Press for 30 years.