Warren Clements, author of Bird Doggerel and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.
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IFOA: Tell us a bit about birding.
Warren Clements: Birding is a step up from bird-watching in its seriousness of purpose. Birders may travel hundreds and thousands of miles to see and record the sighting of species of birds they have not previously observed in the wild. My partner, Sandra, for instance, has a life list of more than 1,600 birds (and counting). The trouble with birding is that one needs to wake up early and travel to such delicious locations as sewage lagoons to stand the best chance of seeing the desired creatures. This explains why Sandra is a birder and I am not. I hear about the great speckled double-spotted lesser grosbeak at second hand, and feed the details into my verse.
IFOA: Bird Doggerel is your first book of poetry. How did the experience of writing it differ from that of your previous projects?
Clements: The joy of writing doggerel lies in solving puzzles. I set myself a tricky metre or unusual rhyme scheme and figure out how to say what I wish to say within those constraints. In a way, the structure is liberating. Of several lines that may occur, only one may fit the strait-jacket I have imposed upon myself, so I don’t need to spend time anguishing over the lines I have rejected. When I wrote editorials for The Globe and Mail—my main day job for three decades—there was a puzzle in how best to frame the argument and make points, but I spent a great deal of time working on the form the writing would take.
IFOA: You had a long-running comic strip in The Globe and Mail called Nestlings. Which comic strips do you read for pleasure?
Clements: Of the strips that are running today, I particularly enjoy Pooch Cafe, Dilbert, Mutts, Bizarro, Speed Bump and (until The Globe axed them) Fisher and Pooch Cafe. It’s heartening to see so many Canadians in the comic-strip business (e.g. Tina’s Groove, Betty, Between Friends, Pooch Cafe). I turn regularly to books of earlier comic strips: Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Krazy Kat, King Aroo, Pogo, L’il Abner, Rip Kirby, Bringing Up Father (for the amazing early art)—the list goes on. Britain’s Private Eye magazine has a smart strip called Celeb, by the team that used to write and draw the social comedy strip Alex.
IFOA: What do you enjoy most about reading to a live audience?
Clements: The chief element is the thrill of connecting with people, and trying to read in a way that will elicit their enjoyment. Often a simple inflection can mean a difference between getting a laugh and not getting a laugh. It’s a tightrope walk for me every time, and that’s both the scary and rewarding part.
IFOA: Finish this sentence: What surprises me most is….
Clements: …how closely the bird world echoes the human world in its behaviour, and vice versa.
Warren Clements is a writer and sat on the editorial board of The Globe and Mail for many years. He will be reading from his debut collection of poetry with authors Louise Doughty, Charlotte Grimshaw and Lisa Moore on November 2 at 11am.