Five Questions with Chris Hedges

Hedges, Chris

IFOA: Can you tell us a bit more about what you will be discussing at your keynote address: The Price of Truth in Journalism in a Post-Fact World at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference at IFOA?

Chris Hedges: The decline of print as a medium to impart information has given primacy to the image, and therefore the skillful manipulation of emotion.  The electronic mediums that impart images eschew complexity and nuance.  They speak in easily digestible cliches and replace information and fact with entertainment and spectacle. This is the template for all forms of totalitarianism, including our corporate totalitarianism.

IFOA: You currently teach prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey. What is your favourite and least favourite part of this role?

Chris Hedges: My favorite part is teaching brilliant students with a deep hunger to learn. My least favorite part is dealing with the prison administration.

IFOA: You speak English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Latin and Ancient Greek. Is there another language you would like to learn?

Chris Hedges: Russian.

IFOA: Can you describe your time as a foreign correspondent in fewer than 10 words?

Chris Hedges: A study in human depravity and violence.

IFOA: Foreign correspondent, author, professor, ordained minister. What’s next for you?

Chris Hedges: That’s enough.


See Chris Hedges deliver the keynote address at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference.

Get your tickets here.

5 Questions with Naomi Guttman

Guttman, Naomi

IFOA: Where did you draw inspiration from to write your latest collection?

Naomi: I spent a brief time in my twenties studying music, for which I had very little talent. They say that for writers all experience is grist, so I guess that the beginnings of writing about music and musicians go back to that time. I’ve always been interested in food and in the past dozen years as I’ve created courses on food and participated in conferences on food, I’ve met a wide array of people who are also interested in food, with eating it, researching it, and writing about it.

Needless to say, those of us obsessed with food are in many ways hedonists, and Donny is a character who embodies the Dionysian qualities that stress life’s sensory pleasures, including food. You might say that I created Ari as an ascetic counterweight. Their “opera,” or song, is a conversation I have with myself every day: do I indulge in the pleasures of the world as they are given to me, especially those of food, or do I choose restraint in the recognition that the planet’s resources are in fact dwindling under population and environmental pressures?

IFOA: What is your writing process?

Naomi: It’s very slow. With this book I began by setting myself the goal of writing prosy blocks of poetry, 10 lines per poem. At first I wanted to capture each character’s point of view, via an omniscient narrative voice. Because I wanted to tell a story, eventually I had to figure out how to create more dramatic poems rather than simply meditative ones. I also realized that I wanted to do more formal experimentation, and that took some time to develop. I teach, so the book was written in fits and starts, mostly over summers. I’d say it took about 4 years to complete the manuscript, and another year or so to polish it.

IFOA: If you could collaborate with any writer, who would it be and why?

Naomi: I’d love to collaborate with a composer and a librettist, perhaps using “Donny & Ari” as the basis of a contemporary opera. I’m also very interested in the personal documentary and would love to collaborate with Alan Berliner, or someone like that. But most writers are solitary types, so it’s hard to imagine it happening.

IFOA: What are some of the subjects aspiring authors explore in your creative writing classes? Do you have advice for them about finding inspiration?

Naomi: Young people, naturally, gravitate to writing about what they know. I often begin a course with childhood memories, important places, and dreams as sources for their writing (I have them read Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”); at the same time, I want them to turn the usual advice on its head: as the writer Brett Lott said, “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” I ask students to consider the mystery, the gaps between what they think they know and what they actually know.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Naomi: I’m working on a personal documentary in video. I don’t know that it will ever be of a quality that I’d want to show the world, but I’m enjoying the exercise of putting visual material, recorded voices, and music in relationship to one another. I’m also working on some personal essays. I’m still writing poems, but I haven’t zeroed in on collecting a new manuscript, though I believe that if I looked at my notebooks, I might be able to see the beginnings of another volume of poems.


See Naomi read live at Brick Books’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 25th at 7:30pm.

Five Questions with…Carolyn Smart

Smart, Carolyn

IFOA: What inspired you to write Careen?

Carolyn: For the past few years I have been interested in writing the unrevealed truths behind certain historical figures. Reading a recent biography of the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, I learned that their lasting fame was based on one set of staged photographs left behind in a getaway, and a 1967 Arthur Penn film that to a large degree invented their story. I was drawn to tell the more realistic tale: the hardscrabble existence of two young people with absolutely nothing to lose in Depression-era Texas, an area and time with which I have a personal connection: my maternal grandfather was a failed gun-runner who died in penury in Laredo.

IFOA: What is the hardest part about writing poetry that resembles dialogue?

Carolyn: I wanted the poems to have recognizable and distinct voices, to be revealing information but also working as rhythmic language; I wanted lyricism and narrative linked. And for this book I took the leap to write in dialect, which to me felt revolutionary.

IFOA: What piece of advice do you give to aspiring authors in your creative writing classes?

Carolyn: I encourage emerging writers to avoid self-censorship, to edit thoroughly, and to remember why you write: because you love it.

IFOA: What are you reading now?

Carolyn: I am reading “Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)” by Eileen Myles, also “Speedboat” by Renata Adler. I just finished “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” by Ocean Vuong and “Bluets” by Maggie Nelson.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Carolyn: I’m writing poems about all kinds of different things, in lots of different forms. I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but I’m open to anything.


See Carolyn read live at Brick Books’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 25th at 7:30pm.

Five Questions with…Matt Rader

Matt Rader, the author of Desecrations, and a Toronto Lit Up participant answered our five questions.

©Ron Pogue

 IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry.

Matt: This is a collection celebrating in the ruins, listening for music in a room of silent instruments. It has a heavy title and the poems sometimes try to look dark places in the eye–colonialism, failing health, banishment–but these are mostly love poems, the kind of love that persists when there’s no longer any reason to love except that you want to.

IFOA: You’re an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, as well. Have you found teaching creative writing has affected your own writing at all?

Matt: I’m constantly humbled by the brilliance, fearlessness, and vigour of the people I encounter in my work. Trying to support other people to develop their relationship with their own imagination is baffling and mind-blowing. It has given me an even deeper and more profound respect for my teachers. I hope it has made my writing more open. These answers feel a little more ethereal than I intend them.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?

Matt: Michael Longley and Larry Levis have been twin influences throughout the writing of these poems. Elizabeth Bishop and Gwendolyn Brooks are two others I return to again and again. Everyone in Canada should read Russell Thornton. Maggie Nelson changed my life.

IFOA: Where is your ideal place to write?

Matt: I don’t have an ideal place: it depends on the project. Some of Desecrations was written in a farmhouse in the Irish Midlands and I loved it because I woke in the morning, made coffee, wrote, read, walked the fields, and talk to no one.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Matt: It’s too early to tell.  As Frank O’Hara, one of the resident ghosts of Desecrations, once wrote: “Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible.”


Five Questions with…Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney, author of Don’t Be Interesting, and a Toronto Lit Up participant answered IFOA’s Five Questions.

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry.
Jacob: Sure. Don’t be Interesting is a very loosely-thematic collection. When it does stoop to having a theme, though, it’s about the future: both the current future and all the historical examples of future, futures, and futurisms from about the beginning of the 20th Century onward. It’s also (more sneakily) a book about being a new parent.

IFOA: You’re a literary critic as well as a poet – do you find this makes you more critical of your own work, as well as the work of your peers?
Jacob: I don’t know if it makes me more critical. Being a critic and being “critical” in the contemporary sense of the term aren’t as closely entwined as the etymology would have it. I would say that it makes it easier for me to read my work as an other would. I think that’s the muscle most exercised by writing about writing: being able to move from how something reads to me to how it might have read to its author, and back. This is a good skill to work on for an author because it’s helpful to have that polyphony available to help you imagine how someone who doesn’t share your brain might process a work.

IFOA: How important is for you to curate the Pivot Reading series and host bi-weekly at the Steady in Toronto?
Jacob: I think everyone who wants to participate in the insider economy of public poetry, by publishing or reading published work, owes a debt to the community that helped grunt it into being. It is not enough to just gift the world your beautiful words and your great brain. Everyone should have to serve. How they do that is up to them: mentorship, reviewing, teaching, hosting, grant-writing, paid and unpaid work. But everyone should get out and push the bus up the hill a bit. And running Pivot is how I choose to push.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?
Jacob: I’m going to stick close and pick newish Canadian poets with books out last year. I think Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent was great. I thought Eva H.D.’s Rotten Perfect Mouth was great too. Lucas Crawford’s Sideshow Concessions was a lot of fun. I’ll go off-theme and pick a non-debut collection I felt was wonderful too, in John Wall Barger’s The Book of Festus.

IFOA:  What’s next for you?
Jacob: I’m going to go to sleep early and get up for work tomorrow. I’m reading through Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World and those are keeping me busy. I started writing a novel in 2007, which is also the year the novel is set. Maybe one day I will finish it and it will be published as historical fiction.

McArthur Mooney, Jacob (c) Elyse Friedman

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