Five Questions with… Jeff Latosik

Jeff Latosik, author of Safely Home Pacific Western and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

IFOA: You wrote your latest book of poetry, Safely Home Pacific Western, in a style commonly reserved for patents and invention. Why did you choose to present your work in this way?Latosik, Jeff

Jeff Latosik: Certainly in the second poem of the book, I used the format and style of a patent to create a somewhat longer poem. A lot of that stuff is, I think, just sort of having this idea (hey, a poem about a patent seems like it might work… has anyone done it in the last few years… no? let’s go!) and then diving in and letting the poem sort of write itself in the discovery of the subject matter, etc.

The question for me eventually became not how to use these kinds of specialized discourses to create poemssomething done quite a bitbut how to stop using them. I can assure you I went entirely too far in trying to conceive of poems from patents, and there are one or two where I probably went too far in the direction of patent as opposed to poem (they aren’t in the book).

Of course, a poem can be anything, but I find that sometimes I know a poem’s not working because it’s trying to lean too hard on some other thing. So, actually, much of the book was in fact trying not to present this work.

 IFOA: This is your second collection of poetry. How do you feel your process has changed since your first?

 Latosik: Okay, I’ll sort of go along with what I’ve said above.

There was a lot more research that went into this book. But I learned something. I learned that, for me, no amount of research gets you into a poem, and—in many ways—the more research I did sometimes the farther away from a poem I got.

I understand this is just my “wiring” (a funny phrase, and probably not worth taking too seriously as much is based on the circumstantial in matters of forming a personality) and that many prefer to see a poem as a kind of trans-disciplinary space. It doesn’t work for me.

IFOA: You previously taught writing at Humber College. What is the most important advice you shared with your students?

865-8_LATOSIK_COMPS.inddLatosik: I might say this: be hard on your lines. I do notice that, often, even the most free-form and associative kind of writing that comes up in a workshop, a writer still wants to do something. It doesn’t have to be I want to write this poem or I think the reader is so-and-so, but they may want the line to have a certain kind of effect, may be thinking of a certain writer when they do, or they may not want a certain kind of confusion to be present.

And actually most writers I wouldn’t even put here; I would say that there’s still an overwhelming desire to put the reader somewhere, have a certain clarity wring through in the poem, structure the poem in a way that brings out its strengths, etc. And these are things that can still, even now, and maybe especially now, be done.

But you have to look at your own poem with the same skepticism you save for others. You have to be open to completely reworking it from the ground up until it works.

IFOA: What daily activity most inspires your work?

Latosik: Taking the bus/streetcar. Even the subway. Just being on a moving vehicle.

Jeff Latosik is the author of Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, a poetry collection that won the 2011 Trillium Award and was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert and Relit awards. His work has been published widely in Canada in magazines such as The Walrus, Maisonneuve and the Literary Review of Canada. He is also the winner of This Magazine’s Great Literary Hunt and the P.K. Page Founder’s Award. He teaches English at the University of Toronto. Latosik presents Safely Home Pacific Western. Using the wily language of patent and invention, this collection peers deep into the notion of personal and communal progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you currently reading?

 

Jack Underwood’s Happiness and A.E. Stallings’ Hapax for poetry.

 

I’m reading a book called Knowledge and its Limits as well by Timothy Williamson. Williamson got into an interesting discussion/debate with Alex Rosenberg about naturalism (the view that science is the best route to knowledge) in the NYT. I won’t go into it here, but Rosenberg is an interesting thinker whose views have quite provocative implications for the arts and for poetry (and everything else). But he also offers windows into thinking about these pursuits in new ways.

Five Questions with… Denise Mina

Denise Mina, author of Blood, Salt, Water 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 23. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Your latest novel, Blood, Salt, Water, comes out this month October. Can you tell us a bit about it?Denise Mina

Denise Mina: It is set in Helensburgh, a small, very beautiful Scottish seaside town. Iain Fraser has killed a woman to pay a debt  but breaths in her last breath. He becomes convinced that her soul is inside him and he will have to make peace with her somehow.

IFOA: You also write for the graphic novel series Hellblazer. How did this come about?

Mina: I read Hellblazer and so when DC Comics contacted me and asked me if I would like to write it, I assumed it was my friends playing a joke. Several swear emails later I realized that it was indeed DC Comics and the offer was real.

IFOA: How would you describe your creative process?

Mina: Chaotic, badly organized, un-eco-friendly and tea-fuelled.

IFOA: Where do you most love to write?Mina, Blood, Salt, Water

Mina:  On airplanes. Not that I do most of my writing on airplanes, but long journeys used to do work feel as if I’m cheating time. It’s delicious. Also, no one can phone or email me when I’m flying.

IFOA: Do you have a favourite crime writer you can recommend to our readers?

Mina: Patricia Highsmith, Christoffer Carlsson, Don Winslow, Ian Rankin, Val McDermidlove them all!

Denise Mina is the author of The Red Road, Gods and Beasts, The Dead Hour and The End of the Wasp Season, among others. She is the recipient of the John Creasey Memorial Award for best first crime novel and the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland. Mina presents Blood, Salt, Water, the unflinching and masterfully plotted fifth novel in her Alex Morrow series, in which a missing persons case leads the detective to investigate the dark underbelly of a seemingly peaceful seaside town.

Five Questions with… Benjamin Percy

Benjamin Percy, author of The Dead Lands 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 October 24 event. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: What inspired you to write your new novel, a post-apocalyptic re-interpretation of the Lewis and Clark expedition?

Benjamin Percy: I grew up in Oregon, and my mother is a hobby historian obsessed with Lewis and Clark. We visited Fort Clatsop so many times we should have had a punch card. We attended the bicentennial and snapped photos in front of the giant covered wagon. We stopped at historical markers and suffered through impromptu lectures on why the expedition was the greatest adventure story in American history. I read their journals, read Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage. I had a deep well of information to draw from, and originally I thought I might hammer out a non-fiction project.Percy, Benjamin (c) Jennifer Percy

I would recreate their passage—that was the idea—pedaling and paddling and hiking, joined by friends and family. A modern-day adventure. And a reflection on how I grew up, which was rather wild, gifted with a freedom kids don’t have today.

An editor heard about this idea—unofficially, at a bar—and bid on it alongside my novel, Red Moon. I hadn’t up to that point figured out the logistics or really talked it over with my wife. When we crunched the numbers—the time and money it would take—we decided it wasn’t the best choice. My kids were young and I’d have to step away from the teaching position I held at the time.

So I decided to make some stuff up instead.

Historical novels about the Corps of Discovery have been done, and done well, so I decided on a fresh angle. Post-apocalyptic Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark 2.0. Which made the story fresh and perilous once more. Not just a story resigned to the archives of history, but a revisionary future in which our nation hangs in the balance.

IFOA: In the event of an actual apocalypse, what would be in your survival kit?

Percy: I could list off the usual suspects—knife, water filter, plant guide, good boots and socks—but that would be boring. So let’s say trampoline, crayons, kittens, Twinkies and bourbon.

IFOA: Do you see similarities between the current state of America and the one described in The Dead Lands?

Percy: I’m always channeling cultural anxieties in my work. You can read The Dead Lands and get caught up in the thrill ride alone. But if you look deeper, you can see a cracked version of our world. Is it about environmental degradation? The swelling divide between the 1% and the rest of the population? American imperialism? Yes.

IFOA: How has your upbringing in the high desert of Oregon influenced your work?

Percy, The Dead LandsPercy: I moved around a lot as a kid, but central Oregon is where I lived longest—on several acres of sage and juniper. That kind of isolation was great training ground for a novelist. I had no one to play with, so I read. Several books a week. And when I wasn’t reading—or doing chores—I was caught up in my imagination, dreaming myself into a knight, a jedi, a cowboy, an adventuring archaeologist.

The high desert backdrop has also influenced the stage of my fiction. So much of it takes place out West. That’s the place I know best. The geography, history, politics, culture, myths. Maybe one day I’ll set a novel in the Midwest, but right now I still feel like I have a tourist’s perspective on the region.

IFOA: What was the best piece of writing you read in the past year?

Percy: Tough one. Maybe A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara or Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I’ll also throw out an endorsement for Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, which I’m re-reading. It’s extraordinarily smart, and its analysis and craft lessons apply to every storyteller, every reader and viewer, no matter if they’ve never read a comic in their life.

Benjamin Percy is the author of the novels Red Moon and The Wilding, and two short story collections, Refresh, Refresh and The Language of Elk. His writing has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Time and elsewhere. His honours include the Pushcart Prize, an NEA grant, the Plimpton Prize for Fiction and a Whiting Award. Raised in the high desert of central Oregon, he lives in Minnesota. Percy presents his new thriller, The Dead Lands, a post-apocalyptic re-imagining of the Lewis and Clark saga, in which a super flu and nuclear fallout have made a husk of the world we know.

 

Five Questions with… Damian Rogers

Damian Rogers, author of Dear Leader 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 October 27. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Tell us about your new poetry collection, Dear Leader.Rogers, Damian

Damian Rogers: I wrote Dear Leader over a pretty intense stretch of my life, after my mother had been diagnosed with frontal-lobe dementia and during the years that I decided to start my own family. I’ve always been interested in oppositional forms of consciousness—what I started to call “non-consensual reality” when faced with the solidity of my mother’s delusions—as well as doomed utopian communities, the search for transcendence through group or private worship, occult forms of information, paranoia, conspiracy theories, the attempt to elevate the self through gestures of resistance. My mother raised me to have a rich inner life, and this book explores all of these preoccupations as a way of capturing the atmosphere of disordered thinking. Maybe I was trying to find some beauty in the violence of cognitive failure, to imagine an alternate landscape for my mother to inhabit.

IFOA: When did you first start writing poetry and why?

Rogers: I don’t remember when I started to write poetry. It seems like it was something I always did. My grandmother and my mother were both big fans of poetry and they encouraged me in this direction. My grandmother used to quote bits of Shakespeare and Dorothy Parker around the house and I’d try to write poignant one-liners, earnest clichés that just made my mother laugh. I wrote reams of stuff on notebook paper as an adolescent that I would love to read again—I’m sure it was hilarious—but at some point it all got lost. When I was about 12 years old, I gave an oral report in my English class on Lawrence Ferlinghetti, my favorite poet at the time. It was a little controversial, I think. My mother had photocopied poems she chose for me out of a classic early-70s anthology called From Beowulf to Beatles and I would carry these around in a folder, I loved them so much. When I went to university at 17, the first thing I did was start taking writing workshops and I basically never stopped.

IFOA: How has your writing process developed and changed?

Rogers: It took me a long time to find the confidence to be honest. I’ll spend the rest of my life struggling to be better.

IFOA: Who are some favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?Rogers, Dear Leader

Rogers: I love the poet Hoa Nguyen, who has been living in Toronto for about four years now. She has a very clear vision of who she is as a poet within the context of her own poetic lineage that I find inspiring. Wave Books recently published a selection of her early work called Red Juice; they also published her most recent collection, As Long As Trees Last. Her poems have such a distinct, individual life force in them. Claudia Rankine’s most recent book, Citizen, blew me away. I think Matthea Harvey has a magical mind, and I especially love the work she did with miniatures and erasure in her last book, If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? There are these great American women poets with astonishing bodies of work, like Joanne Kyger and Alice Notley, Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer, Eileen Myles. The Indigenous Canadian writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is doing beautiful genre-crossing work that is challenging and fierce. Suzanne Buffam is wonderful, sharp, wry. I’ve been reading Baudelaire’s essays over and over for a writing project of my own, so he’s on my desk all the time. Shane Book’s Congotronic is fantastic. I love Robin Blaser, Jerome Rothenberg. Sina Queyras and Karen Solie. I’m all over the place these days with my reading.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Rogers: I’m currently doing research for a memoir about my mother. I’m also working on my next collection of poetry. I think the less said about unfinished work the better.

Damian Rogers is from the Detroit area and now lives in Toronto, where she works as poetry editor of House of Anansi Press, poetry editor of The Walrus and as creative director of Poetry in Voice, a national recitation contest for Canadian high school students. Her first book of poems, Paper Radio, was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Rogers presents her latest poetry collection, Dear Leader, with poems that provide instructions for what to leave, what to take and what to fight.

 

 

Five Questions with… Anakana Schofield

Anakana Schofield, author of Martin John 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 October 28. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Your anticipated second novel, Martin John, expands on a character from your first novel, Malarky. Why did you decide to delve deeper into the character of Beirut?

© Tom Delamere

© Tom Delamere

Anakana Schofield: A conflation of circumstances led to this. The first was the cheeky insertion for pure devilment of a single footnote in Malarky that read “See Martin John – a footnote novel” not knowing whether or not I’d ever actually write that novel. I had material that I’d chucked out of Malarky, which initially was a parallel narrative of two mothers and sons.

Then came an urgency to respond to the plethora of reports of clerical sexual abuse during recent years, which I felt left me with no choice but to address some aspect of deviancy, somehow, in fiction.

I guess in both examples “response” was the impetus.

In Malarky, the Beirut/Martin John we met is an endearing man. In Martin John, Martin John has become something other. He departed or reversed (since we met him older in Malarky) very far from where we started with him.

IFOA: In addition to fiction, you also write essays and literary criticism. How are these different forms of writing connected?

Schofield: I’m a reader before I am a writer. My thinking on literature and reading towards what it is I want to write are very much informed by reading and writing criticism. I’m also over interested in very random topics, so essays and the blogs, which I pen for the London Review of Books, help me explore these curiosities. I’m fortunate to have editors who encourage and support my rambles.

IFOA: Your website lists reading, the weather, bird flu and labour history as some of your preoccupations. How do these interests inspire your writing?

Schofield: I suppose they are four quarters of a whole. Basically I have a hearty appetite for what most would consider entirely redundant information. There’s very little that I’m not curious about.

IFOA: If you could meet any author, living or dead, whom would it be?

Schofield, Martin JohnSchofield: I think Rosa Luxemburg. I would like to discuss her cold baths, high consumption of milk and fury with that printer in Paris described in her letters. Then we’d progress to the spindle statistics in Poland and she could educate me on Marxist matters. But mostly it’s the milk that intrigues me. Nietzsche went heavy on the milk. I haven’t checked, but did they both have bad acne?

I think one should be careful of meeting one’s heroes; they may disappoint and sadly are not the only person who ever understood you. They can be tired, short tempered and bad mannered. Apart from the ones who are lovely. All are best met on the page methinks.

For example, if I met Beckett, we would sit next to each other beside a coal shed on uncomfortable chairs and discuss the weather and possibly sigh a great deal. Essentially I don’t need to meet him because I’m perpetually sighing a great deal and have seen plenty coal sheds. Also he’d smoke, which would make me cough, then he’d offer me whiskey and my left kidney wouldn’t like that. It could be very awkward for us.

IFOA: What is the best compliment a reader can give you about your work?

Schofield: To read it or attempt to read it or to read widely. I’ve a few favourite readers: one wrote me a lovely email that said she was going for a walk to think about Our Woman. Another is Bill in Ohio and he took to Google Maps and did all kinds of additional research to understand Malarky. I also rather enjoy the very angry man who wrote invoking the mafia, hookers and my mother in one line. I’m quite acquainted with some of my readers through social media and they are splendidly intelligent, jovial and patiently answer my random queries on things like bad foot pain and weather reports.

Anakana Schofield won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and the Debut-Litzer Prize for Fiction in 2013 for her debut novel, Malarky, which was named on 16 Best Books of 2012 lists. She has lived in London and Dublin and presently resides in Vancouver. Schofield has contributed criticism and essays to the London Review of Books BlogThe Guardian,The Irish Times and The Globe and Mail. She presents Martin John, a footnote novel to Malarky that expands on the storyline of a character nicknamed Beirut.

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