5 Questions with Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter

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Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter are four 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?

Julie Cameron Gray:  I look for poems that have a seed of familiarity, where I recognize an emotion or a moment as so completely true that I feel like it has happened to me, even if I know it hasn’t.

David Goldstein: An immodest love of language.

John Nyman: The first thing I look for is the poet’s willingness to do something unexpected, even unsanctioned. After that I look for a kind of unusual wisdom, poems that gradually depart from the worlds they are born to while also bringing me closer to my own experiences.

Lisa Richter: Emotional punch, honesty, truth, beauty, self-discovery, surprise, and vulnerability. I love poems that are simultaneously accessible but multi-layered, that upon close reading or re-reading, invite multiple interpretations, vibrate on different frequencies.

IFOA: What do you love most about writing poetry?

Julie Cameron Gray: I love the intricate machinery. Poems are never just words on a page- they are complex devices with each word a moving part. Editing a poem is trying to get the machine to run perfectly- tweaking and replacing, cutting and re-engineering. Sometimes you end up with something wonderful that is very different than what you set out to make.

David Goldstein: The way it opens me to the vocabulary of others.

John Nyman: It’s an exercise in urging my freest impulses to bloom.

Lisa Richter: First, what I don’t love: sitting down to write, and feeling stuck. Sometimes you just need to give your conscious mind a break and send it out for coffee. Some of my strongest, or perhaps I should say, most successful poems have started this way. I also have a slightly masochistic love of the revising process, sometimes it’s in the editing room that the magic really happens. Being a perfectionist, of course, can be a trap: the hardest thing in the world sometimes is to stop tinkering with a poem, let it breathe, and walk away.

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

Julie Cameron Gray: Oh, such an impossible question! I’d have a different answer every time you ask. I think right now I’d say Gwendolyn MacEwen, but if you asked me in an hour, I would probably say Yeats. Wait, does Virginia Woolf count as a poet? Her imagery is so finely distilled I feel like she might.

David Goldstein: Dickinson Rilke Celan. That’s one poet, right?

John Nyman: This is a cruel question. But I think I’d have to answer Erin Mouré, especially if I’m allowed to include her many quasi-pseudonyms and (of course!) her translations. I think her writing, at various points, does almost everything I really love in literature: it’s bold and sharp, it’s experimental, it charges headfirst into political and philosophical arguments, and it immerses me in strange and dense thickets of language; yet it’s also expressive, exuberant, and all kinds of emotional, and speaks candidly about the basic elements of life.

Lisa Richter: Ah, the dreaded desert island question. After giving this a lot of thought, I wouldn’t necessarily choose a poet whom I’d actually call a favourite—Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, Leonard Cohen, Mark Doty, or Phyllis Webb, to name a few—but one that I want to understand better and learn more about, whose work has fascinated me for years: T.S. Eliot. The breadth and depth of Eliot’s work, the musicality of his language, and richness of his intertextuality make him the perfect desert island poet, one whose work has many layers, but can be appreciated on a surface, sensory level as well.


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IFOA: What inspires you?

Julie Cameron Gray: Everything. Mistakes, anxiety, the human theater of our daily lives. The heartbreaking reality of our mundane. We live in a technologically advanced age in one of the best countries in the world and yet we are often miserable, and creators of our own misery. I find that endlessly fascinating.

David Goldstein: The way the everyday stumbles into art without noticing.

John Nyman: Most thoroughly, critical theory and the larger philosophical tradition. Poetry, for me, is a close cousin of the kind of language we use to think through the world and do justice to the truth of things. I’m also a very systematic thinker, even artistically, so I’m turned on by complex conceptual mechanisms.Other inspirations include, in no particular order, video games, fine art, hip-hop, houseplants, and life’s incongruities.

Lisa Richter: Art, architecture, language, cities, music, large bodies of water, documentaries, graffiti, desert landscapes, long road trips and bus rides watching the scenery go by, the seasons (especially spring), tarot cards, Greek and Roman mythology, Women who Run with the Wolves, grassroots social movements and environmental activism, community, feminism,acts of courage, random acts of kindness, imperfections, people being their flawed, authentic selves, being in love.

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

Julie Cameron Gray:
That I love exploring the same idea over multiple poems. Lady Crawford as a whole is an examination of personal identity, how we construct ourselves based on the choices we make, the things we do or do not do and how our actions (or lack thereof) define us. In the book I have a whole cast of characters other than Lady Crawford that I used to explore that theme, but the central character of Lady Crawford was the part of the collection I found the easiest to write. I think my next collection might be an entire examination of a particular story, each poem an exploration of a larger idea or poetic narrative, but we’ll see.

David Goldstein: How well I remember marigolds.

John Nyman: I think I’ve learned that even my most far-flung projects never escape the orbit of my style. No matter what I do, it’s always me doing it.

Lisa Richter: That I can finish what I started, and seeing a manuscript through to its completion. After so many years of dreaming of writing and publishing a full-length collection, I finally did it. It’s an incredible feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Club Notes: March

book-club-notes-bannerFor the month of March we are delighted to welcome author Catherine Graham to lead our Book Club! She has invited us to read Lynn Crosbie’s Life Is About Losing Everything. Graham tells us why she chose this book.

“Loneliness has attached itself to me like suction cups. I do not know what to do.”

                                                                                                                                   —Lynn Crosbie

Loss was the catalyst that led me to the writing life. My mother died during my first year at McMaster University, my father, the autumn of my last. Having lived through loss, it’s a subject I know all too well and one I’m drawn to as a reader. I find books on loss comforting, not depressing. When I saw the title of Lynn Crosbie’s book, I knew I had to read it.

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This book defies categorization. I admire its fierceness, emotional range, natural mix of poetry and prose and blend of biography and fantasy. It brings everything in, just like life. We eventually lose all we have, some of us earlier, some later, whether we like it or not. By confronting losses—examining them close up as Lynn does so beautifully in these short interconnected pieces—we can learn to survive them.

Voice drives the novel, not plot. Like poems in a poetry book each vignette works independently but becomes more as parts form a whole, a way of seeing, like mismatched scraps of fabric in a crazy quilt. Crosbie’s unconventionality, black humour, shifting tone and whimsicality create a world that’s raw and fresh, strong yet vulnerable. She sketches seven tumultuous years of her life in an unchronological manner and gives room for readers to move through each piece with their own thoughts and reflections.

Raunchy, dark, and oh so funny, Life Is About Losing Everything is packed with references I’m familiar with and places I’ve been to. I never know quite where her prose will take me. Each sentence is a fiery pleasure to read.

 


(c) Prosopon PhotographyCatherine Graham is the author of five poetry collections, including Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, a finalist for the Raymond Souster Poetry Award and the CAA Poetry Award. She received an Excellence In Teaching Award at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies where she teaches creative writing. She was also the winner of Poetry NOW 2014. Her sixth poetry collection will appear in 2017 as will her first novel, Quarry.

5 Questions with Sheila Sampath

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Sheila Sampath, writer, artist, educator and activist designer, is participating in our Valentine’s Day Twitter Chat. We had some questions about how she celebrates love on February 14th and year round!

If you need some guidance writing to your valentine, join us on Twitter between 12-1pm on February 14th to get some professional help.

IFOA: What advice do you have for someone struggling to write a love letter?

Sheila Sampath: Start with something small—where the stakes are lower. Try writing a letter to your favourite dress, bookshelf or armpit. Read it out loud and wait. Ask for feedback. Wait. Feel. When you’ve mastered this, move onto the neighbourhood cat or alpha-pigeon. Repeat. Work your way up to other humans.

IFOA: Did you write Valentines as a child? Do you still? sheila-7162

Sampath: Yes (to both questions), but rarely on Valentine’s Day.

IFOA: What is the most romantic book you have ever read?

Sampath: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz. The stories in the book really bring out the messiness and complexities of love, as we negotiate race, class and trauma, and link the acts of healing with love in a way that both breaks my heart and gives me hope.

IFOA: Roses, chocolates, candy, teddy bears. What do you prefer?

Sampath: None of these things. I want that figurine of the cat I pointed out in the window that one time and then completely forgot about but you remembered because it was a special moment. Or a mix-tape.

IFOA: If you had to pick just one poet to quote always who would it be?

Sampath: At this moment, Nayyirah Waheed.

5 Questions with Daniel Scott Tysdal

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Daniel Scott Tysdal, author of Fauxccasional Poems, is participating in our Valentine’s Day Twitter Chat. We had some questions about how he celebrates love on February 14th and year round!

If you need some guidance writing to your valentine, join us on Twitter between 12-1pm on February 14th to get some professional help.

IFOA: What advice do you have for someone struggling to write a love letter?

Daniel Scott Tysdal: I’ve got two pieces of advice. One: be yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, be serious. Second: be particular. Don’t rely on platitudes and generalizations. Share favourite memories of your lover. Share your specific hopes for your future together. Share how these memories and hopes make you feel.

IFOA: Did you write Valentines as a child? Do you still? Tysdal, Daniel Scott

Tysdal: I still give Valentines to my one and only. On our first Valentine’s Day a decade ago, I gave her a phrenology bust. She was moved to tears. I was too anxious to enjoy Valentine’s Day when I was a kid. I was tormented by questions like: “Does an Optimus Prime Valentine that reads ‘You transform me’ truly and fully express my feelings for Amber?”

IFOA: What is the most romantic book you have ever read?

Tysdal: Don DeLillo’s Mao II.

IFOA: Roses, chocolates, candy, teddy bears. What do you prefer?

Tysdal: All of them. A candy filled chocolate teddy wearing a crown of roses. That’s my dream Valentine’s Day gift.

IFOA: If you had to pick just one poet to quote always who would it be?

Tysdal: For Valentine’s Day: Pablo Neruda. For always, it would be really cool to be able to quote a poet from the future, one writing two centuries from now. I would love to have a taste of what I’m going to miss.

5 Questions with Gary Barwin

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2016 Giller nominated author Gary Barwin is participating in our Valentine’s Day Twitter Chat. We had some questions about how he celebrates love on February 14th and year round!

If you need some help writing to your valentine, join us on Twitter between 12-1pm on February 14th to get some help from professionals.

IFOA: What advice do you have for someone struggling to write a love letter?

Gary Barwin: Though it might be impossible, I’d say try to think about the person you’re writing to rather than about yourself writing the letter. Imagine them reading the text and how they might respond. Also, it helps not to start with an empty page but with some element to bounce off. Start with an image, or a saying, or a form. Something material. I always tell my writing students that “the writing knows more than you do,” so if you have some writing to lead you, to guide you, it makes it easier and more fun. Also, mostly, try not to take it too seriously. You can be very “romantic,” “touching,” “intimate” and “genuine,” without being too serious.

IFOA: Did you write Valentines as a child? Do you still?Barwin, Gary

Barwin: As a young teen, I wrote a mushy heart-ton of love letters of every description. I don’t tend to write Valentines today. You know words, they’re so duplicitous, sneaky, and as easy to ride as a weasel with a golden saddle into the castle of inflated and platitudinous feelings. Also, my wife is inundated with enough of my words. So these days, I try to express our relationship through action and doing something nice. Also, I reckon, bringing her coffee and toast in bed throughout the year is better than some perfume-infused cardiac-ridden encarmined missive. We’re in this for the long haul!

IFOA: What is the most romantic book you have ever read?

Barwin: I think my favourite is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.

After hundreds of pages (and an entire lifetime) there is that final scene where the two older lovers are finally together on a boat floating forever on a river that can never dock. I find it intensely romantic to imagine my wife and I being old people together (though, likely when we are, I’ll rage against my aging body and the shortness of time…though maybe it’ll be a new and exciting pleasure to kiss without teeth…)

IFOA: Roses, chocolates, candy, teddy bears. What do you prefer?

Barwin: Books. Ok, books and whiskey. Ok, books, whiskey and chocolate. Oh! you mean for me to give…right…it’s not all about me…um…I like to give my wife (we’ve been together since I was 18) flowers, usually not roses, but something that feels like spring is almost here, something that feels filled with birdsong, sunshine, and… reproduction.

IFOA: If you had to pick just one poet to quote always who would it be?

Barwin: I think bpNichol is one of the greatest Canadian poets and, specifically, one of the greatest Canadian poets to write about love. It infuses much of his entire oeuvre. His work reflects a lifetime of devotion, intimacy, tenderness, and thoughtfulness to his partner and the life they shared together.

My favourite quote, a perfectly tweetable love poem:

every(all(toge(forever)ther)at once)thing)

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