Five Questions with… Madhur Anand

Madhur Anand, author of A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets her event April 9. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your debut poetry collection, A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes.

Anand, Madhur (c) Karen Whylie, Coyote Photos

Madhur Anand: The title refers to critical transitions from complex systems theory. These occur when a small perturbation causes a big change and leads a system to a different place, a surprising place or a catastrophe. They are also known as tipping points.

Scientists are developing indices to predict when a system is about to undergo such a transition. Some are concerned that critical transitions are difficult to adapt to. But in many systems with nonlinear feedbacks, these kinds of transitions are inevitable. My book examines transitions in human-environment systems at many levels (e.g. individuals, families, societies). These may be represented by surprising changes in, for example, identity, displacement or relationships.

Recent research suggests that a “critical slowing down” in dynamics can be an early warning for such transitions.The system takes longer and longer to recover from small perturbations. This critical slowing down, these expanding moments, weeks, months or years, might be an opportunity for closer and closer observation of a recovery process and for learning. Poetry can emerge from this.

This is just one way to read my debut book of poems. Other descriptions are on the back cover. And that’s Doryanthes excelsa (‘exceptional spear-like flower’) on the front cover.

Anand, A New Index for Predicting CatastrophesIFOA: You hold a PhD in theoretical ecology and currently work at the University of Guelph as a Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences. How does your poetry tear down the dichotomy between science and art?

Anand: That there is science in art and art in science we’ve known for a long time. The fact that my title refers to a scientific phenomenon is one way to combine art and science, but that’s just the beginning. To “tear down” (or as I would put it more subtly, dissolve) the dichotomy, science and art must be shown to have a dual nature, to be bistable (to borrow again from complex systems science terminology).

Here is one example of how I think science and art co-exist in my book. Thirteen poems are composed from the text of 13 of my scientific articles. These poems take on new lifebecome seemingly independent entities (though they are not)and a surprising thing happens. I am an environmental scientist but not always an environmentalist; an ecologist but not an eco-warrior. Yet the process of extracting poems from my science (ranging from evolutionary biology, to theoretical ecology, to biodiversity and conservation) led in every instance to sociopolitical poems I did not realize were in me.

I invite the reader to think about other ways in which art and science co-exist in my book and in general. Please let me know what you think.

When did you first start writing poetry and why?

The Key to the Fields

Figure 1: “The Key to the Fields” by René Magritte

Anand: I wrote my first poem during the last year of my PhD work some time in 1996. I was immersed in equations and complexity theory and computer simulations of old-field succession. I spent entire days, sometimes weeks, alone in a lab. One summer day I walked over to the window and stared at the framed horse-chestnut tree surrounded by lawn. When I returned to my computer, I wrote my first poem. You’ll find seven of those (unpublishable) poems actually appearing as the preface to seven chapters of bound thesis. My supervisor encouraged me to put them there when I told him what was happening.

At the time, and still today, poetry is a way in which I am able to inject a perfectly perpendicular mode of being and thinking into my life’s dominant (scientific), and sometimes predictable, course. Maybe poems are my little critical transitions (see Figure 1). Maybe I do it to practice dealing with catastrophes, maybe to avoid burnout. But then I think poetry is more than just therapy. Maybe it’s simply to perceive the world in other dimensions, to experience the full richness of human experience.

IFOA: What inspires your writing?

Anand: Great writing. The right mentor. A phrase, memory or idea that doesn’t go away. Human-environment systems. Children. Plants. Travel. Beauty. Games. Heritage. Discovery. Loss. Symmetry. Asymmetry. Congruence. Incongruence. Freedom. Constraint.

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

Anand: Your readers should probably read poetry. Right now I am reading prose: The Book of Nature by Ruskin Bond (Penguin Books India). I’ve been wanting to read more work by Indian writers lately. He writes fiction and non-fiction (memoir) based on the small town (now the big city) of Dehra Dun, where my mother lived from adolescence to marriage. Here are some lines from his introductory remarks: “Nature doesn’t promise you anythingan after life, rewards for good behaviour, protection from enemies, wealth, happiness, progeny, all the things that humans desire and pray for. No, nature does not promise these things. Nature is a reward in itself.”

Madhur Anand’s poetry has appeared in literary magazines across North America and in the anthology The Shape of Content: Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science. She completed her PhD in theoretical ecology at Western University and is currently a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph. Anand presents a reading from her debut collection, A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes, as part of the McClelland & Stewart Poetry Night on April 9.

Five Questions with… Liz Howard

Liz Howard, author of Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets her event April 9. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your debut poetry collection, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent.Liz Howard

Liz Howard: It is a riot of interconnected poems bound in one book. It has no gods or masters and yet simultaneously so many appear. It is about beauty, pleasure, horror, Anishinaabe cosmology, ecology, neuroscience, feminism, Western philosophy, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath and John Keats. It is my profound gift to anyone who chooses to entertain it.

IFOA: How has your upbringing in Northern Ontario influenced your work?

Howard: During my undergraduate studies in cognitive neuroscience, I was always fascinated by the fact that the same brain structure, the hippocampus, is in some way responsible both for a person’s ability to navigate spatially and for the creation and recollection of memories. I have always had this sense that the shape of my interior, memory-based world is that of the boreal forest. It is a filter through which everything passes. It is the framework of my childhood, my adolescence, my absence. The geography, the jack pine, the cedar, the wildlife, the rivers, the lakes are so intricately a part of me even though I now live in Toronto. The work I do is frequently written through the ecology of Northern Ontario but also with an eye to the experience of urbanization. What I have always found compelling is the fact that part of the genetic information within me was also carried within the bodies of ancestors who lived in Ontario well before European contact. Via the machinations of politics and industry I was very nearly a person of First Nations heritage entirely assimilated. My poetry is gesture against being erased.

Howard, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking TentIFOA: What do you love most about poetry as a literary form?

Howard: Its blissful danger.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Howard: Indigena Awry by Marie Annharte Baker, Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Titanic by Cecilia Corrigan, Strangeland by Tracey Emin and The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. I’m also enjoying rereading Lisa Robertson’s prose work in Nilling and Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Howard: I’m continuing work on a book-length poetic project that aims to rewrite Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha (there is a preview of this work in the current book). I’m writing a catalogue essay for Vasiliki Sifostratoudaki, an exceptional visual and text-based artist working in Europe. There is also a presence forming in my notes and thoughts that may become a larger prose work. I look forward to reigniting the reading series AvantGarden and welcoming you all to our exquisite, peculiar and stimulating evenings.

Liz Howard’s poetry has appeared in Canadian literary journals such as The Capilano Review, The Puritan and Matrix Magazine. Her chapbook Skullambient was a finalist for the 2012 bpNichol Chapbook Award. Howard presents a reading from her debut collection, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, as part of the McClelland & Stewart Poetry Night on April 9.

Creative Catalysts

From the IFOA vaults, a round table from 2007 with Giller Prize-winning author Will Ferguson, bestselling crime writer Peter Robinson, 2015 RBC Taylor Prize nominee M.G. Vassanji and Governor General Award-winning author Richard B. Wright. They discuss what they’re reading in a panel entitled “Creative Catalysts.” Canadian writer Randy Boyagoda moderates.

Five Questions with… Cassidy McFadzean

Cassidy McFadzean, author of Hacker Packer and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets her event April 9. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your debut poetry collection, Hacker Packer.McFadzean, Cassidy (c) Credence McFadzean

Cassidy McFadzean: Hacker Packer is a collection of lyric poems written from 2010 or so up until last summer. Through the formal elements of these poems, I’m interested in exploring sound and structure, and the book includes sonnets, rhyming couplets, mock Old English riddles, as well as poems written in persona. Many of these poems are concerned with the strangeness of being in a world where I feel ancient mythology is yoked together with contemporary pop culture. I’m very interested in using humour in my poems, as well as thinking about the spaces that women inhabit, and the appropriating lens of a poet writing about the visual arts.

IFOA: Where do you find inspiration for your poetry?

McFadzean: I write a lot about places I’ve travelled, as well as works of art I’ve encountered either firsthand or online. Visiting Europe for the first time in 2012 was hugely important to my poetry. I’m still not completely over the experience of taking iPad pictures of ancient Greek artifacts, or viewing the sculptures of Rodin while construction workers used machinery outside. When I’m not travelling, I find inspiration in the everyday experiences of living in inner-city Regina, hiking in “nature” or reading a bizarre Wikipedia page.

IFOA: You studied at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. What was that experience like?

McFadzean, Hacker PackerMcFadzean: Being at Iowa is like living in a community of funny, brilliant people all working toward similar artistic goals. I’m just finishing up my last semester, and it still feels very surreal to live in a place where I can’t leave the apartment without running into another poet. Sometimes as an artist I find myself having to justify decisions in my life, but at Iowa, people instantly understand why you might work a low-paying job so you’ll have more time to write, or why you might stay indoors all weekend to finish a poem. The workshop has also exposed me to a lot of great writers I might have not otherwise encountered—either through poetry readings, seminars I’ve taken, or just word of mouth— and for that I’ll always be grateful.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets whose work you’d recommend to our readers?

McFadzean: I’m amazed by the recent debuts of several Canadian poets who are doing compelling work with form and voice. I would strongly recommend Stevie Howell’s [sharps], Brecken Hancock’s Broom Broom, Kerry-Lee Powell’s Inheritance and Suzannah Showler’s Failure To Thrive.

IFOA: What are you working on now?

McFadzean: I’m working on my second collection of poems, Drolleries, which includes work written during my last year at Iowa, my experiences travelling and camping in Iceland in the summer of 2014 and aswath ofekphrastic poems, including a four-page piece written about the medieval Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters in New York.

Cassidy McFadzean’s poems have appeared in magazines across Canada. In 2012, she published a chapbook, Farwell, and in 2013 she was a finalist for the CBC Poetry Prize and the Walrus Poetry Prize. McFadzean presents a reading from her debut collection, Hacker Packer, as part of the McClelland & Stewart Poetry Night on April 9.

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