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 poems—something done quite a bit—but 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?
Latosik: 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.