5 Questions with Kerry Clare

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IFOA: What are the main themes you wanted to explore in Mitzi Bytes?

Kerry Clare: The idea of a woman who finds out people are reading her blog who aren’t necessarily her intended audience, to put it delicately, turned up in a story I wrote a long time ago, and that idea preoccupied me for a long time after. At some point I made a connection between this idea and the children’s novel Harriet the Spy (which itself explores some mature and complicated themes), in which Harriet writes nasty things about her friends and classmates in her notebook, and then her notebook falls into the wrong hands. I realized that an homage to Harriet the Spy would give me the framework I needed to write my novel, and that the idea of my character not knowing who’d found her out would inject the story with some necessary and urgent plot.

IFOA: Marissa Stapley, bestselling author of Mating for Life,  has called Mitzi Bytes ‘provocative’. What makes this story provocative?

Kerry Clare: Mitzi Bytes is provocative because (like Harriet the Spy) it’s part of a fine literary tradition of books whose protagonist doesn’t learn her lesson and change at the end. It’s not a tidy book, and all this is less common and more controversial than one might expect. The last few months in particular have shown me that we live in a world in which women can be so reviled for the fact of their gender, and so I think it’s more important than ever to tell stories of people resisting narrow notions of how women should be.

IFOA: For the last 15 years you have been blogging about books, experiences, family and the world. You have said that blogging “is about showing one’s work, being open to and curious about the world…”. What advice would you have given your heroine when she first started blogging?

Kerry Clare: I’m not sure she would have needed my advice, or that anybody does, for that matter. Because the point of blogging is to be blazing a trail, which is what Sarah was doing when she started her blog in 1999, and she was just one of a handful of people who were doing that then. And she did it really well, which is why she built up a huge audience without even intending to do so—she was just telling her stories. Maybe I would advise her not to keep her online self and actual self so divided—I think blogs are best approached with a spirit of openness. But then again she was writing about blowjobs in taxicabs and sex with ventriloquists—her blog was much more interesting than mine has ever been—so perhaps that advice might not apply to her!

kerry-clare_credit_tracey-nolanIFOA: Who is Mitzi, who is Sarah? Can these two “identities” exist in the same realm?

Kerry Clare: This is the central question of the novel, I think, and the answer is: of course they can! Only on stupidly provocative magazine covers do women have to decide between being one thing or another. In real life, we’re all lots of things. We contain multitudes. And while negotiating these can be tricky, it also keeps the world interesting. It keeps us human too.

IFOA: What’s most exciting about having your debut novel published?

Kerry Clare: As a ridiculously avid reader, it’s been thrilling to learn about the process of bringing a book into the world, and all of the people who are part of that process. Production editors, proofreaders, and copyeditors are now superheroes to me, and I’ve been lucky to work with people who are so good at what they do. I am also excited to start visiting bookstores and festivals, because these are my favourite places to be. And finally, to know that people out there are actually reading this story I sat down and wrote three summers ago. It’s the very best thing, and such a great privilege.


 Kerry Clare and Rebecca Rosenblum talk about love, loss and what it means to bear witness with Amy Jones on May 10 at IFOA Weekly. Join them as they discuss the lives of women looking for the truth. Sheniz Janmohamed will host.

Information and tickets, here!

 

 

 

 

5 Questions with Rebecca Rosenblum

IFOA: What are some of the main themes you explore in So Much Love?

Rosenblum: Stories and how they change depending on who is telling them, from where in time they are being told—present tense, recent past, long in the past. And love, in all its variations, from parent-child to friendship to romantic, from poisonous and violent to pure and tender. Love is a lot more various and complex than we give it credit for, much more than just the embrace at the end of the romantic comedy. So even though this is a book with two acts of violence at its centre, it is also truly about love and how it goes both right and wrong.

IFOA: In an interview with Kerry Clare you said that “So Much Love was born from undergraduate discussions about poet Gwendolyn MacEwen“.  Can you tell us more about that?

rosenblum-rebecca-credit-mark-raynes-robertsRosenblum: MacEwen was the spark for me because the way we talked about her life in an undergraduate poetry class seemed just really close to how we talk about her poetry, as if her personal tragedies were another kind of art we could explore and evaluate. Of course, biography is always part of the picture when we study artists—you can’t really avoid it—but I felt like this was somewhat different than how we talked about male writers, and I wanted to explore that difference and my discomfort with it. That exploration followed a really long and circuitous path to get to the character of Julianna Ohlin in  So Much Love, but MacEwen was the originating spark. The second thread—of a young woman who goes missing and what happens to her—came from a similar place of wondering how life stories get put together and by who, who gets to tell that story.

IFOA:
How does So Much Love differ from anything you have written before?

Rosenblum: It’s a novel, as opposed to a collection of short stories. My first book, Once, was mainly unlinked stories and my second, The Big Dream, followed a loose arc, but both were made up of stories written as stand alone pieces and intended to be read either by themselves or in the context of each other, whatever the reader chose. There was a version of So Much Love that was written that way too, but linked short stories is a very elliptical form, with a lot of gaps for the reader, skips in time, and less of a solid arc or build in action, much less a resolution or ending—and the stories in So Much Love really needed to take a reader through a plotline with these characters and arrive at a conclusion. I just didn’t know how to do that It was really my editor, Anita Chong, who helped me take my linked collection and build a structure and fill in the gaps in plot until it became a real novel, which it truly always should have been. That was a very steep learning curve for me, and I needed a lot of help from Anita, but it was really gratifying to see the book grow into itself.

IFOA: What have you learned about yourself by writing this book?

rosenblum-so-much-loveRosenblum: That I’m better than I thought, but still no where near good enough. I had attempted to write the stories in So Much Love a couple times over the 15 years prior to it actually being published, and I wasn’t able to even properly envision the project until about 2011. That history of failure made me really humble going in a third time to try again. Which is good, because even though this third try was successful in the sense that I wrote the book I wanted to in the end, there was so much failure over the six years it took to get there, so much getting things wrong and throwing them out, so much going back to the voices of women who had been through experiences like Catherine did and trying again to honour them and not feeling I was getting it right. It was a devastating process in many ways, but a story like this was never one I was going to feel completely comfortable with, and that’s fine—no writer should feel comfortable or confident writing about trauma. There’s always more to say—in another few months, I’ll probably think of another angle I could have taken, another chapter to add that would have been illuminating.I accept that I wrote the best book I could, and I’m proud of it, but I know it isn’t perfect. Cracks are how the light gets in.

IFOA: Do you feel there are now more female voices in Canadian literature than there were when you started writing?

Rosenblum: I have had the great advantage of always being surrounded by wonderful and inspiring female writers—in my classes at the University of Toronto Creative Writing Masters, in the Toronto Women’s Writing Salon, in the online sphere, every time I walk into a bookstore. I’m not sure if there are more than there used to be, because I’ve always been so attuned to what the women are saying and writing. There are plenty of male writers I admire as well, of course, but I do seem to have encountered a lot of women so far, and they have been a great and generous community for me.


Rebecca Rosenblum and Kerry Clare talk about love, loss and what it means to bear witness with Amy Jones on May 10 at IFOA Weekly. Join them as they discuss the lives of women looking for the truth. Sheniz Janmohamed will host.

Information and tickets, here!

Book Club Notes: April

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For the month of April we are delighted to welcome author Cordelia Strube to lead our Book Club! She invites us to read Kate Caley’s How You Were Born. Here is why she chose this book.


I hadn’t read Kate Caley’s work before pulling How You Were Born from a box, one of ten or so boxes delivered to me as a juror for the Trillium Book Award.  Jury duty in the literary world expands the margins of writers’ minds because we are forced to read books that we might not otherwise have noticed, not because the books aren’t good but because we haven’t heard about them.  An independent publisher as outstanding as Pedlar Press does not have a publicity punch equal to that of corporate-powered Random House.  Jurors are given the opportunity to see beyond the packaging and promo and assess books from all publishers, large and small, that meet the award’s submission guidelines. get-to-know-them-first-how-you-were-born-short-stories-by-kate-cayley_alu_blogfeatured

Testing the pulse of each literary work, we diligently wend our way through the big name authors, best sellers and award winners as well as the emerging or lesser known ones.  Occasionally we are gobsmacked by a book so masterful that we write it down immediately in felt marker, alongside the penciled titles.  Kate Caley’s collection How You Were Born was such a marvel for me.  Two years later, her stories Boys and The Fetch continue to linger in my imagination.  Her skill as a playwright is richly evident in her use of dialogue.  Characters are revealed through behaviours and their use of settings, enabling us to learn about Caley’s worlds as her characters move through them.  Her use of specific, animate detail never slows the narrative and eases us into the complexity of the human condition.  With grace and pathos, Caley teases out unexpected insights, connections, dark secrets and moments of transcendence.

How You Were Born well deserved the Trillium Book Award.


Strube, Cordelia _by Mark Raynes RobertsCordelia Strube is an accomplished playwright and the author of nine critically acclaimed novels, including Alex & Zee, Teaching Pigs to Sing, and Lemon. Winner of the CBC literary competition and a Toronto Arts Foundation Award, she has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. A two-time finalist for ACTRA’s Nellie Award celebrating excellence in Canadian broadcasting, she is also a three-time nominee for the ReLit Award. Her latest work On The Shores Of Darkness, There Is Light won the City of Toronto Book Award.

5 Questions with Sarah de Leeuw

Sarah de Leeuw, award-winning researcher and creative writer, answers IFOA’s 5 Questions about her new work Where it Hurts.  Sarah will be in Toronto on April 12th for an in-depth interview with Ariel Smith, Executive Director of imagineNATIVE.

Find more info here!


IFOA: Missing geographies and people, how do we talk about those who are lost, but not forgotten?

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Sarah de Leeuw: With great care. With compassion. With an understanding about the sociocultural and historical contexts and powers that have produced hierarchies of worth, that have produced and positioned some people and places as mattering more (or conversely less) than others and that, consequently, result in attention being paid to certain entities/subjects/people/sites while ignoring so many others.

With that said, I think it’s imperative to note that for the people who inhabit the bodies, families, communities and geographies that are actively maligned and sidelined, that are deemed to ‘not matter’ or that are overlooked and forgotten, there is SO OFTEN a tremendous sense of worth, of resilience, and of value, love, caring and connection. In so many ways, that’s the confusing thing: those of us who inhabit places of the margin (and certainly even here there exists hierarchies – as a settler woman, I occupy spaces of privilege and power not offered to others —Indigenous women— who live and work in rural remote or northern geographies) understand ourselves and our spaces as having value – yet we are devalued in normative discourses, in the gridlines of power that are circulated beyond and without us. I think we want to see ourselves, to take up space, to be heard. We are confident we are worth more than a writing-off. So I think we have to write ourselves back in, in part by talking about the missing and the forgotten, the overlooked and dismissed. I can say that is what I devote a lot of my writing to doing. I by no means have the ability (or right!) to tell all stories – butI  hope by telling mine, new possibilities for more and different stories might be availed.

IFOA: Why did you choose to write creative nonfiction to tell your stories?

Sarah de Leeuw: As I’ve mentioned in other places, I think creative (or literary) non-fiction has always occupied a kind of ‘outsider’ genre status in writing, a kind of in-betweenness, a balancing of multiple worlds with different expectations and constraints and conventions. There is an energy in that uncertain status, in the edge. The genre itself is thus especially well-suited, in my mind, to documenting people and places on the margins, those with marginal status in circuits of power . I also genuinely believe that ‘fact’ (for what that word is worth, given I don’t really believe in any ultimate, singular, or universal truth) is often as exciting as ‘fiction’ – and I do feel that something rich and resonant can arise when a writer puts literary traditions (word and sound experimentation, metaphor, rhythm, etc.) to work in the service of (re)telling or illuminating “real life” people or events.

where-it-hurts-final-cover_rgbIFOA: Do you incorporate your academic research, if at all, in your creative nonfiction work?

Sarah de Leeuw: In so far as I enjoy undertaking research, including interviews or archival research or doing searches of literature or data bases, to inform my creative non-ficiotn then, yes, I suppose I do integrate some of the ‘tools’ of the more ‘academic trade’ into my creative writing. Also, I’d say very broadly that ALL my writing work (creative or academic) is preoccupied with some kind of aim toward social justice (and I don’t have any firm summary of what the end goal of that might be!) that tries to unsettle taken-for-granted disparities and inequalities. With that said, my academic and research scholarship really has a much different look and feel than my creative work – and I think it’s also destined for different audiences and markets! What is interesting, however, is that I think in the last 5-7 years, academics and scholars are increasingly taking an interest in the methods and methodologies of creative practitioners. I can only hope that interest doesn’t become predatory!

IFOA: Is there some kind of catharsis in Where It Hurts?

Sarah de Leeuw: What an interesting and engaging question. The honest answer is: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I shy away from complicated issues being tidily wrapped up. I think the action of “closure” allows for the (mis)conception that we can ‘move on’ – I think (especially non-Indigenous) Canadians, especially in this time of Truth and Reconciliation, in this time of Idle No More or Standing Rock (in the USA) want a comforting sense that there’s a happy ending, that we’re headed toward some kind of conclusion, that soon there will be some relief or release – or, put in the manner of your question, that we’ll have a catharsis. I’m not sure we deserve that right now. Or even that it would productive, enlivening. I think there is too much to be done. I don’t want to despair and I hope my writing never results in a closing down (I know sometimes people say my essays are downers – but hope there can also be found in them the humour and resilience that I also try hard to document and celebrate) . I hope my writing, by being open–ended (and perhaps not very cathartic) behaves more like a calling, an invitation, for more attention to be paid to the missing, the forgotten, the overlooked.

IFOA: What are you working on now?

Sarah de Leeuw: On the creative writing side, I recently completed a new book of poetry (Outside, America) that I’m shopping around. Perhaps more interestingly, however (well, at least to my mind!), I’m working away, still in infancy stages, on a long poem about growing up on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). Haida Gwaii is a (somewhat problematically, I think) romanticized place especially by non-Haida people (of course if you’re Haida, it makes sense to love your traditional homeland and territory!). The islands have a long and fascinating geological, ecological and anthropological history. I am excited to juxtapose those histories against my own somewhat inconsequential (except not to me!) childhood and adolescence. I’m also working on a variety of academic papers and texts on colonialism, humanities in medicine and geography, and the determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health.

5 Questions with Majlinda Bashllari, Amanda Earl, Patricia Keeny, Jennifer LoveGrove, Nicholas Power and Dane Swan

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Majlinda Bashllari, Amanda Earl, Patricia Keeny, Jennifer LoveGrove, Nicholas Power and Dane Swan are six of the 20 participating poets competing in the Poetry NOW: Battle of the Bards. IFOA asked them about writing poetry and where they find their inspiration.

Want to hear them read live on March 29th? Event info, here!


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IFOA: What do you look for when reading poetry?

Majlinda Bashllari: New territories, striking images, brave figures of speech. Poetry is the highest form of human knowledge and the first exploratory tool of new realities. Through imagination and intuition, it enters in the darkest and most unknown macro and micro zones of the universe and opens up the ways for other forms of knowledge such as the philosophy, the exact sciences and technology to thrive and succeed.

Amanda Earl: I try not to look for anything. My mind’s open. Most recently I’ve been reading Lisa Robertson’s “3 Summers” and “Cinema of the Present.” I enjoy the intensity and sensuality of her imagery, the humour and play in her writing, the way she poses questions rather than answers them. In general I like poetry that is whimsical, imperfect, awkward and humble, connects with me in some way, and leads to more exploration.

Patricia Keeney: To go where I haven’t been.

Jennifer LoveGrove: I value the unexpected,  whether that’s in the language, the imagery, or conceptual concerns, I look for inventive ways these elements have been engaged and structured in a poem. I like to be surprised,  unsettled, destabilized by poetry.

Nicholas Power: I look for play in the form and tension in the line. I like to read poetry that somehow goes beyond the limits of the one writing it. I also enjoy the poet’s particular leaps, their sense of rhythm, and their understanding of poetic tradition without conformity. I look for poetry that isn’t simply about something, poetry that is something.

Dane Swan: Soul. When reading poetry I look for soul. If a poem has life, or is dirty, grimy and honest it will usually pique my interest. I’m not particularly interested in antiseptic writing that even an immature child can imitate. Poetry needs to have an energy that pulls the reader along. If the poem is dense, or is technically a lot to take in, as well as soulful, even better. Poetry is best when you’re driven to read it more than once.

IFOA: What do you love most about writing poetry?

Majlinda Bashllari: The hope that you can bring to life some good lines. When poetry is good, it turns into something bigger than the culture it springs from. Writing poetry is a challenge. Each time you sit and start a new poem, you realize that previous experiences mean very little or nothing at all. The fear of being repetitive, shallow, outdated is part of the process. You might become a master of the structure and lexicon, but could easily fail to give the right message. Timing is also another challenge even though we are taught to believe that poetry is timeless.

Amanda Earl: I like that I’m not beholden to convention. There are so many styles of poetry and no one style is the right one. This leaves the genre open to the possibilities of being broken (open).

Patricia Keeney: Going where I haven’t been.

Jennifer LoveGrove: Editing. I love best that stage of making a poem come together, when it finally begins to coalesce after a series of relentless tweaks and alterations – changing a word, a line break, a comma, deleting, rearranging, expanding, paring- until intuitively I know I’ve got it.

Nicholas Power: The surprises.

Dane Swan: I’m not sure love is the right word. Mind you, I’m not sure I even understand the word love. I’m simply personally driven to write. Whether people consider me a writer, or not, I’ll continue to write in some way, shape or form.

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IFOA: If you could only read one poet’s work for the rest of your life who would it be?

Majlinda Bashllari: The Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska. One of the finest poets of all times. Her poetry embraces the wisdom of old and new times; she can see through the core of human nature. It’s a unique school for everyone who aspires to write about almost anything.

Amanda Earl: Anne Carson.  She always surprises. (But I’d like to mention Lisa Robertson again, also Mary Ruefle, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Anne Sexton.)

Patricia Keeney: Ted Hughes

Jennifer LoveGrove: Right now, it would be Kim Hyesoon. Her work contains much of what I prioritize: strange, disturbing neo-surrealist imagery and logic, feminism, the grotesque, emotional confrontation. Her poems surprise, amaze and excite me.

Nicholas Power: Jack Gilbert (The Great Fires, The Dance Most of All, Refusing Heaven)

Dane Swan: Probably Langston Hughes

IFOA: What inspires you?

Majlinda Bashllari: Human resilience. The ability to start fresh. Also Greek and Roman mythology has been a great source of inspiration for me.

Amanda Earl: A good kiss, the forbidden, new lovers, my husband’s Sunday crepes, meandering conversations with dear friends over a pot of strong tea, solitary walks downtown early mornings in the cold spring air, drinking a peaty whiskey and listening to Nine Inch Nails while soaking in the tub, Agnès Varda’s film, “Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (the Gleaners and I), Hélène Cixous’ “firstdays of the year,” Djuna Barnes, “Nightwood,” the music of Tom Waits, gin, the stark bone white of Georgia O’Keefe’s desert paintings, the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, dark eyes in the paintings of Leonora Carrington, the green of Max Ernst’s paintings, tangled gardens, broken glass, candour and integrity, quirky lingo, tall, handsome men, wearing red, saying no, saying yes.

Patricia Keeney: Life.

Jennifer LoveGrove: Other poets’ work. And life, especially the bad parts.

Nicholas Power: What inspires me as a writer are (to use Gerard Manley Hopkins list) All things counter, original, spare strange; found phrases and objects, quantum physics, paradoxes, particularities of gesture, tone and humour, literary non-fiction and science writing, poets and writers who have stayed with the struggle to advance the art form over time.

Dane Swan: What doesn’t inspire me? I’m inspired by everyone and everything I meet. The skill is in culling my inspirations; understanding which are worthy of sharing, and when to share each inspiration.

IFOA: What is one thing you have learned about yourself from writing your most recent collection?

Majlinda Bashllari: I am hard to please. (j/k!)

Amanda Earl: I learned that I love to do research, especially concerning the 20s and 30s. For “Kiki,” which is inspired and informed by artists and unbridled creative and licentious acts that took place in Montparnasse between the Wars, I read a lot of books and saw silent films, listened to music and watched a few documentaries about the era. I am still fascinated with that time period and continue to learn as much as I can about the personalities of that time and the work they produced.

Patricia Keeney: That the imaginative adventure never stops.

Jennifer LoveGrove: That the more I record and note my dreams, the more and better I remember them.

Nicholas Power: I feel that my work as a writer, especially in the form of poetry, where I freely associate through a wide range of source materials, has helped my receptivity in general. I also feel that this solitary work has helped me learn to sit with uncertainty, with imperfection and incompleteness.I’m also seeing how much I like to edit, in a positive way but also to rewrite, mess with, deviate from given texts.

Dane Swan: I’m not sure that I learned anything from A Mingus Lullaby. There’s a fair amount of research behind the collection, but I was more confirming what I already knew about Mingus. Technically, I merely put to practice concepts that I learned in the editing stages of Bending the Continuum with Elana Wolfe. I certainly didn’t come out of the experience writing this book as if it was spiritual — it’s a book. It’s a really good book. But, it’s just a book. Part of being a writer is becoming a good observer of others. The best way to hone that skill, is to initially observe yourself. A writer shouldn’t be suddenly surprised about themselves during the writing process. That’s a romanticized idea of how writing works. I’m constantly learning.

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