Five Questions with… Stevie Howell

Stevie Howell, author of ^^^^^^ [Sharps] and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see her on October 30 at #IFOA36. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Please tell us a bit about your debut book of poetry, ^^^^^^[Sharps].

© Neil Harrison

© Neil Harrison

Stevie Howell: Sharps is my first book of poetry and emerged indirectly out of working in a hospital and beginning to study psychology. Those experiences gave me the tools to look at my life and issues around gender, class, trauma, faith and death.

I think of the book as grounded in the living city, but influenced by myth. It draws some inspiration from The Last Unicorn, in which the unicorn protagonist had to hide in female form to get her work done. It also draws inspiration from ancient Egyptian mythology of the afterlifefor example, the concept of ma’at, in which, when you die, your heart is weighed against a feather. A heavy heart, it was said, would be fed to a lion-hippo-crocodile hybrid. I write to try and prevent that!

 IFOA: You said in an interview with The Toronto Quarterly that you don’t write often. Does your poetry come from random bursts of creativity? Do you always have a pen and paper on hand?

Howell: I tend not to write often but I do edit lines in my head, so that might have a similar effect in the end. I’m in the camp that tends to think that whatever lasts without form might be worth eventual shaping, and that, in the meantime, if it gets lost it wasn’t worth keeping. I find that if I write things down too soon or incompletely they have no energy. They’re like weak tea.

IFOA: You listed Morrissey of The Smiths as an influence for your poetry and said that he broadened your knowledge of literary references and awareness of poets. Is there a particular Smiths song you identify with most?

Howell: I wish I hadn’t said that! Because I was talking about when I was 12 years old in suburbia and totally bullied, and I’m not nostalgic about those times or what got me through them. If pressed I’d say the song “Stretch Out and Wait,” which is their least Smiths-like song, probably.Howell, ^^^^^^

A more enduring influence would be something like The World According to Garp, which I found at the library around the same age. I was so drawn to the protagonist’s name. The librarian had a fake pearl bead safety chain on her glasses and looked down at me and said, “Don’t you think this is a little too MATURE for you?” And I started sweating because I was really invested in getting it. So I said quickly, “It’s for my Mom.”

I hope I’ll never forget how rapt I was by that book. It wasn’t about someone else who was equally miserable somewhere else (i.e., The Smiths). It was imaginative and full of compassion, sincere and absurdeverything I felt life was and hoped writing could be. I’d say that book is still a favourite song.

IFOA: You also study psychology. Is there a link between psychology and poetry?

Howell: There’s probably a link between everything, but for me, out of professional necessity, I have to keep these two worlds pretty discrete. I tend to turn to psychology to understand others, and turn to poetry to understand me.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Howell: Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Oliver Sacks’ On the Move, Phil Hall’s The Small Nouns Crying Faith, Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent and Nick Flynn’s My Feelings (I am writing my answers from Provincetown, MA, where I am taking a class with him).

Stevie Howell’s poetry and criticism have appeared in publications such as The Walrus, Maisonneuve, The Globe and Mail and National Post. Her poems have been finalists for the 2013 Montreal International Poetry Prize and the 2012 Walrus Poetry Prize. She is from Scarborough and studies psychology. Howell presents ^^^^^^ [Sharps]¸ which was published to critical acclaim in 2014 and shortlisted for the 2015 Gerald Lampert Award. Emergencies, faith, truancy and poverty intersect in this wry debut.

Five Questions with… Assaf Gavron

Assaf Gavron, author of The Hilltop and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to his event on October 25. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Tell us a bit about The Hilltop.

Assaf Gavron: The Hilltop is my fifth novel and seventh book (there is a short story collection and a falafel review collection too). I consider it my best and most ambitious work, it is a “big” novel in many aspectssize, depth, subject matter, plot and more. I spent five years working on it, during which I traveled extensively across the West Bank (normally a foreign territory for me, as a left-wing Tel-Avivi) trying to get the right “feel” of the place and the settlers who occupy it. I hope I managed to capture and convey something of that feel, in all its complex madness of violence, passion and absurdities. It is nice to see it received so warmly and intelligently around the world, despite its explosive subject matter. Gavron, Assaf (c) Fana Feng

IFOA: How closely does the novel reflect your own upbringing in a small village near Jerusalem?

Gavron: Not much, actually. The village I grew up in is on the other side of Jerusalem, to its west, which is very different to the settlements of the West Bank to its East, North and South. My upbringing was very far from the religious and political zeal of the settlements. Having said that, the landscape is not unfamiliar, and the small village mentality is not too far removed. However, the kibbutz section of the novel is more closely based on my personal experiences as a teenager who visited a kibbutz in Galilee frequently.

IFOA: Was there a book that made you want to be a writer? Gavron, The Hilltop

Gavron: My favourite book growing up was Huckleberry Finn, but I am not sure I was thinking much about writing when I read it. It was probably more in my early 20s, when I read contemporary novels like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, that I thought about having a go at it myself.

IFOA: What are you reading right now that you can recommend to our readers?

Gavron: I am currently two-thirds into The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I find totally compelling. Before that I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, which I thought was brilliant.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: “When I’m not writing, you can find me…”

Gavron: Tinkering with my English Fantasy Soccer team, which I play in a league with a few other writers, when I should be really taking care of my two daughters screaming at each other behind my back.

Assaf Gavron is the author of seven books, and his fiction has been translated into 10 languages. He has won the Israeli Prime Minister’s Creative Award for Authors, the Buch für die Stadt in Germany and the Prix Courrier International in France. The son of English immigrants, he grew up in a small village near Jerusalem and currently lives in Tel Aviv. Gavron presents his Bernstein Prizewinning novel, The Hilltop, which grapples with one of the most charged geo-political issues of our time and skewers the complex, often absurd reality of life in Israel.

 

Five Questions with… Brecken Hancock

Brecken Hancock, author of Broom Broom and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to her event on October 24. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: You described the development of Broom Broom, your debut collection of poetry, as mysterious. Now that the book is complete, can you reflect on the process for us?SONY DSC

Brecken Hancock: I wrote bad poems for years before settling into the rhythm of what would become Broom Broom. At the time that I was stuck working on weak pieces, there was no guarantee that I would ever emerge on the professional side of apprenticeship. I wasn’t certain that the work would ever move beyond imitation, sentimentality, tedium. A kind of madness drove me—and so I kept on. I wrote bad poems until finally I wrote some poems that didn’t seem so terrible. It’s still mysterious. I don’t think it could ever be anything but. The most miraculous part is that, after I decided I liked the work enough to share it, readers validated that decision and the work resonated beyond myself. That’s been an immense gift.

IFOA: Broom Broom includes many different poetic forms (haiku, sonnet, etc.). Is there a form you prefer over the others?

Hancock: Form, in general, excites me. I like working with traditional forms and I also appreciate poetry’s invitation to invent form. My attraction to poetry stems from its power to shape shift, but the wide-open possibilities can be intimidating too. Sometimes playing with form is fun (that’s usually when I know things are coming together in a productive way) and it can also be exhausting and overwhelming (that’s usually when I know I’m forcing the issue and need to leave the piece for a while). Sometimes a poem’s form announces itself immediately, in those initial stages when I’m experimenting with an idea. And sometimes work sits on my computer in various shapes for months or even years, waiting to settle into a comfortable container. For me, poetry-as-practice looks a lot like wrestling with form—there isn’t one form I prefer over the others because each poem’s shape is integral to its being and each piece flourishes on its own terms.

IFOA: Name a writer who has had a significant influence on your work.Hancock, Broom Broom

Hancock: Elsewhere I’ve mentioned writers whose aesthetics inspire me: Ilove Susan Holbrook’s comedic genius, C.D. Wright’s laser attention, Brenda Shaughnessy’s heartbreaking self-analysis, Lisa Jarnot’s blinding rhymes, Suzanne Buffam’s philosophical levers, Kay Ryan’s precision and Inger Christensen’s blow-the-doors-off excess. But I haven’t talked much about the importance of real-world relationships and friendships. It was crucial to have other poets in my life who pushed me to do better and gave frank responses to the pieces I was producing over the years. Jeramy Dodds is especially indispensable, and we often work really closely together, editing each others work as it progresses. It was important to have a voice I trust responding in real time. I both harnessed his opinion and pushed back against it—moments of accord and resistance playing equally vital roles in the final shape of the poems and of the book.

IFOA: You are the interviews editor for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts and the reviews editor for Arc Poetry Magazine. Would you say working these full-time jobs help or hinder your writing?

Hancock: Community is vital to writing for me. Both CWILA and Arc were valuable to my practice and I cultivated relationships in those communities that continue to be important to me as a writer and as a human being. That said, I’ve had to step away from both editorial roles this year because I had a baby and time necessarily became more limited. I see more volunteer work in my future when I learn the balance necessary to manage writing life, parenthood and the 95 job where I earn money to live.

IFOA: You did incredibly well at the Trillium awards, winning the English-language poetry prize. What’s next for you?

Hancock: My policy has always been to say yes to everything. Sometimes this means life is pretty hectic when things cluster into a flurry of tight deadlines. Since the Trillium—which has been life-changing, humbling, exciting, thrilling, incredible—I’ve continued to say yes to almost everything. Perhaps that will have to change if time management becomes impossible, but I love traveling, classroom visits, readings and service work, including writing reviews, so I’m going to continue to try to do as much as I can while also being a mom and working on my next book, which is a collection of creative essays.

Brecken Hancock’s poetry, essays, interviews and reviews have appeared in Lemon Hound, The Globe & Mail, Hazlitt, Studies in Canadian Literature, and the website Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. Hancock presents her first book of poems, Broom Broom, a collection that perverts the rational, safe parts of the world to extoll and absorb the sweep of human history. Broom Broom is the 2015 Trillium Book Award for Poetry winner.

#IFOA36 Promo Day

Tweet to WIN!
#IFOA36 Promo Day: October 20, 2015

 

Celebrate IFOA by tweeting or instagraming your best IFOA photo with our Festival Book Cam, available on our new app! Download the app on Blackberry (Z10 and Legacy), Android or iOS platforms.

The photo could be of one of our IFOA authors, you reading your favourite IFOA 36 book or something else–the more creative, the better. Tweet or instagram your photos throughout the day on Tuesday, October 20 for a chance to win the ultimate IFOA Golden Ticket: 2 tickets to an IFOA event of your choice (excluding the PEN Benefit) + an invitation to our exclusive Welcome Party, where you can rub elbows with some of today’s coolest authors.

Be sure to hashtag your tweets on Tuesday and throughout the Festival using #IFOA36. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and on Instagram!

Five Questions with… Tim Conley

Tim Conley, author of Dance Moves of the Near Future and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to his event on October 24. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your new collection of 24 short stories, Dance Moves of the Near Future.Conley, Tim (c) TK

Tim Conley: I’m never entirely comfortable using the word “stories” to characterize much of what’s in Dance Moves, and generally find “fiction” a more elastic term, but readers may and will call these things what they like. However, I am interested in storytelling, and at least a few of the items in Dance Moves are, I think, studies of how stories get shaped and transmitted. Apart from that I can say the book has a commencement address to a graduating class, an inter-dimensional abduction, a security guard who likes to pass his nights naked before the paintings in the art gallery where he works, some questionable flame rites and a levitating egg.

IFOA: The stories in this collection all share a sense of dark humour. Where does this come from?

Conley: At the time of this writing, the Doomsday Clock (created and maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) is set at three minutes to midnight. Party hats on, everybody, and noise-makers at the ready.

IFOA: Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Conley: If I felt unqualified to answer the previous question, at this one I must declare outright incompetence. And too there is the magician’s wariness at the possibility of revealing the rabbit’s pedigree. But another way of not exactly answering this question is to say I write because I have to, I write because the voices at night keep talking and I don’t know what else to do at this point but write it all down.

IFOA: How do your collections first take shape?

Conley: Slowly. Individual fictions may come very quickly indeed but a collection, as an architecture, always very gradually. Variety and variation (not at all the same thing) are my point and counterpoint. And I have to surprise myself, on some level, otherwise it’s no fun.

IFOA: What is the best thing you’ve read in the past six months?

Conley: “Best” is too hard to determine. Ali Smith’s How to Be Both and Graham Greene’s In Search of a Character were both memorable, each in their own way. Recently I’ve been reading The Tale of the Heike, in Helen McCullough’s translation. As dense with historical detail (especially matters of royal lineage) as it is with those glancing metaphors of so much Japanese song and poetry, it is told in discreet sections, tasty little scenes and vignettes. A yet longer reading pleasure that I have just begun: Count Harry Kessler’s diaries. Well read and well travelled, this cosmopolitan sans pareil does not merely have a social circle but a wildly unconfined social vector, whose trajectory manages to connect with just about anybody one might dream about knowing from the late 19th century through the rise of modernism. Cocteau, Rilke, Matisse, Sarah Bernhardt, Nietzsche, Degas, Josephine Baker, Ravel, Granville-Barker, Virginia Woolf, Renoir, Stravinsky, Thomas Mann, holy smokes already, holy smokes! And his prose, his perceptions are both acute, both delightful.

Tim Conley is the author of the poetry collections One False Move and Burning City: Poems of Metropolitan Modernity and the short story collection Nothing Could be Further: Thirty Stories. He has also published widely on Joyce, Nabokov and other topics in 20th-century literature. He teaches English at Brock University. Conley presents his latest collection,Dance Moves of the Near Future, with stories marked by precise and engaging prose, dark humour and a demented imagination.

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