5 Questions with David Bradford

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We asked David Bradford five questions about writing as we gear up for the launch of The Unpublished City collection on June 22.

IFOA: Why do you write?

David Bradford: I think Elizabeth Gilbert once said she writes because otherwise, she’d chew her own arm off; or something like that. There’s too much in here, and I need to channel it through something kind of healthy and writing has worked out in that regard.

But beyond that, my writing comes from the same urge behind most repetitions (mine anyway): to convince that the way I think is real.

IFOA: What are some of the themes that you explore in your writing? Why

Bradford: I really value just doing the day in, day out practice thing, and I’m happiest just following my more reflexive readings within it.

However, my work often deals in the fleshiness of words invested in what I think of as a non-linguistic end (i.e., making any sense of things), and the faith built into and out of that. That is, some things cannot be known, or explained. But then we all put words to them anyway. Words are slippery from the get-go, but we still go about trying to be known by them.

If there’s a place I return to, it’s the life that comes out of performing, that largely unresolvable discrepancy; the frontispiece liminality of any practice, to me, worth its salt. Within that scope, themes I return to include complications of identities, partnerships and totalizing cultural spaces.

IFOA: What are some of the genre you explore in your work?

Bradford: I primarily write poetry, but I’ve also grown into playing with lyrical essay and new narrative elements in my work. For instance, an upcoming chapbook of mine with Blank Cheque Press is a winding, gushing monograph about novelist Nell Zink.

IFOA: Who is your favourite author, poet or writer?

Bradford: My favourite poet as a reader right now: Allison Titus. My favourite poet as a poet: maybe Mary Ruefle or Fred Moten.

IFOA: What inspires you?

Bradford: I’m currently working on finishing up a shape-shifty poetry manuscript concerned with what the various strategies for making sense of the world via something as contrary to it as poetry may look like. It’s something like my attempt at a personal ontology of uncertainties. It deals in trauma, totalities of knowledge, community, and sex. It’s all over the place.


David Bradford. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA. David Bradford is an MFA candidate at the University of Guelph and leads the Slo-Po group reading series. His work has appeared in a variety of places, including Lemon Hound and Prairie Fire, and his latest chapbook, Call Out (Knife|Fork|Book), is forthcoming in 2017.

Bradford is one of the authors featured in The Unpublished City: a collection of works by Toronto’s emerging literary talents. IFOA and BookThug invite you to the collection’s release on June 22 at 7:30 PM as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series.

For more information, click here!

5 Questions with Canisia Lubrin

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We asked Canisia Lubrin five questions about writing as we gear up for the launch of The Unpublished City collection on June 22.

IFOA: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Canisia Lubrin: Staying curious and open to “inspiration” from anywhere is important to me. I suppose this means that I value how the facts of life, things as they are—imperfect, worthy, enervating, senseless, the full range—offer an abundance of descriptive impulses that send me slipping into many imaginary spaces.

Once I can recognize a descriptive escape-route into a subject, I will follow nearly every clue down its road, usually the more challenging the better.

IFOA: What’s the story that you have to write no matter what (at some point in your life)?

Lubrin: Stories that I end up writing are carried around with me until I can feel and trust their wholeness. In that sense, the story isn’t named and claimed until I write some draft of it. Some doubt in me—as much as I’d like to offer an absolute answer—toward the very act of naming and claiming that very thing is keeping me from offering a more concrete response.

I’d like to think that every story I write is part of the larger “story” that I absolutely must tell. Perhaps I’m just doing so interstitially because of the forms of storytelling that currently exist. I’d offer that each part of that story is given its own name and identity, much the same way as the arm’s identity differs from that of the head and torso even though these are all parts, ostensibly, of the same body.

IFOA: Where do you write? Is there a specific place you do your writing?

Lubrin: I think I can write almost anywhere as long as the space isn’t moving. I suffer terrible motion sickness. I’m always after the feeling though. Feeling that lets me break into a heightened attention to the craft and the subject of the work. Place can do that for me but not always. What is clear is that my intention is rarely ever a big factor: I may want to spend an hour in the forest or by the river or in an alley or on the beach because I feel something of the place will open up a kind of knowing in me.

But, more and more, I am learning to trust that my impulses and motivations for writing rarely ever come from a place of knowing, but from my need to question things that confound me. I’m after discovery.

IFOA: If you could ask your favourite author a question, what would it be?

Lubrin: What is the one thing you know now that you wished you knew when you first started writing?

IFOA: What are you writing now?

Lubrin: There’s no shortage of writing for me right now: I’ve just finished editing my first poetry collection and my first novel as well as a collection of short stories currently take up most of my writing time.


Canisia Lubrin. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA.Canisia Lubrin serves on the editorial board of the Humber Literary Review and on the advisory board of the Ontario Book Publishers Organization. She completed an MFA in fiction at Guelph-Humber and is the author of the poetry collection, Voodoo Hypothesis, forthcoming this fall from Wolsak & Wynn.

Lubrin is one of the authors featured in The Unpublished City: a collection of works by Toronto’s emerging literary talents. IFOA and BookThug invite you to the collection’s release on June 22 at 7:30 PM as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series.

For more information, click here!

5 Questions with Catherine Graham

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We asked Catherine Graham five questions about her latest novel, Quarry; the 80s in southern Ontario and juggling writing projects for her book launch on June 1 courtesy of IFOA’s Toronto Lit Up.

IFOA: Quarry is your debut novel. Tell us a little bit about the different creative processes you went through while writing your first novel?

Catherine Graham: As a poet, writing prose was a very different experience for me. With poetry, I work with fragments, images and often incomplete thoughts to give the reader space to develop their own interpretation. Prose, on the other hand, demanded expansion. It was a place to round out thoughts and images by building scenes and bringing them to life through character, description and dialogue.

The image of a coiled spring comes to mind when I think of the difference between the two—compact for poetry, stretched for prose.

When writing Quarry, I started with poems I’d already written and then wrote bridges of prose between them. I liken the process to learning how to ride a bicycle—the poems were my training wheels. Once I felt confident enough with the prose, I could let the poems go. Looking back now I see how I was trying to transition myself from one form to another.

IFOA: The story is set in 1980’s southern Ontario. The title is Quarry. What’s the significance of “place” in the story?

Graham: The central image in the novel is a water-filled limestone quarry. At its edge, sits the bungalow in which Caitlin Maharg and her parents live. As the story builds, the quarry serves as metaphor for Caitlin’s journey. Layers of stone, watery depths and seasonal changes all connect to the complexities of her inner and outer lives and often mirror what’s happening to her.

IFOA: I understand you grew up beside a water-filled limestone quarry and like Caitlin Maharg, you lost your parents at a tender age. Is Quarry more fact than fiction?

Graham: Yes, like the protagonist in Quarry, Caitlin Maharg, I too lost my parents as a quarry-cover-jpeg-2teen/young adult. Even a cursory glance at my life story will reveal many of the same touch points that anchor my novel. Some have asked if this story is autobiographical. The answer is—it’s complicated. While Caitlin Maharg and I share many experiences, the novel is certainly not an autobiography.

Of all the characters in the book, the two most true to life are Caitlin’s parents: Donald Maharg and Mary Ellen (Rusty) Maharg. Their portrayals more or less accurately depict my own parents, including their first names. This was purposeful as I saw the book as a tribute to their lives, a way of keeping them alive, having lost them before I could know them as people and not just as parents. The novel was a way to mark the places they once held in this world like fossils in a limestone quarry.

The rest is largely fictionalized. Although, as with most novels, certain living people may see themselves as characters. I share many of the experiences of my protagonist—working as a lifeguard, selling bus tours in Niagara Falls, attending university and struggling with body image issues.

Quarry contains elements of my life but Caitlin’s story is not mine and neither is my story hers. I hope readers will take the book as a whole unto itself and won’t be concerned with what’s real and what isn’t. Besides, what is the truth? As Caitlin Maharg discovers: All of life is a bend of the truth, the curve in the question mark.

IFOA: You are also launching a poetry collection in the fall. Were you writing Quarry and The Celery Forest at the same time? How easy was it to switch back and forth between genres?

Graham: I had to concentrate on each genre separately. I carved out writing space for both to avoid switching back and forth. My editors—Alexandra Leggat of Two Wolves Press for Quarry and Paul Vermeersch of Wolsak & Wynn for The Celery Forest—are happy with the results. I respect them both so much that their affirmations gave me comfort. It was time to let these two manuscripts go. It just happened to be during the same year.

IFOA: You also teach creative writing at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. What is the ultimate advice you give the emerging writers you mentor about the stories they write?

Graham: I tell them to make time for writing, even if it’s five minutes a day. Try and keep some kind of connection to the writing life to avoid resistance. It’s easy to tell yourself: I’ll write tomorrow. And then tomorrow turns into a week, a month, a year.

In terms of their overall writing journey, I encourage them to keep learning the craft. Read more, take more courses, join a writing circle or work alone. Keep writing, reading and learning.


Catherine Graham. Two Wolves Press. Quarry. Catherine Graham is the author of five acclaimed poetry collections including Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects; a finalist for the Raymond Souster Poetry Award and the CAA Poetry Award. She received an Excellence in Teaching Award at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies where she teaches creative writing. She was also the winner of the IFOA’s Poetry NOW. While living in Northern Ireland, Graham completed an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies around the world. Quarry is her first novel.

IFOA and Two Wolves Press invite you to the release of Quarry on June 1 at 7PM as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series. Mary Lou Finlay, radio and television journalist, will interview Graham at the launch.

For more information, click here!

5 Questions with Sanchari Sur

We asked Sanchari Sur five questions about writing as we gear up for the launch of The Unpublished City collection on June 22.

Sanchari Sur. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA.IFOA: Why do you write?

Sanchari Sur: I am not quite sure. I have tried to give up writing for a long time, convinced it was only this idea of grandeur that I was allowing myself to believe in. There is a certain bit of je ne sais quoi that accompanies the idea of being a writer.

But the stories wouldn’t stop coming, and writing was the only recourse.

IFOA: What are some of the themes that you explore in your writing? Why?

Sur: Again, I do not choose the stories (and by extension, the themes). However, I suppose some themes haunt my narratives like familiar ghostly encounters.

I am most interested in the idea of gender and sexuality as malleable concepts. The binary of masculinity and femininity is frankly quite boring, and slightly clichéd. Another theme that crops up a lot is the idea of negotiation of different parts of one’s identity such as race, class, age, caste, (dis)ability and so on; that is, navigating one’s spectrum of privileges and the lack thereof.

IFOA: What are some of the genres you explore in your work?

Sur: I started out writing poetry and genre fiction (mostly, horror), but it is literary fiction that I have gravitated towards time and again. Currently, apart from my academic work, it is writing short literary fiction that consumes my writing hours.

IFOA: Who is your favourite author, poet or writer?

Sur: The book that started it all was The God of Small Things. So, in that sense, I will forever be indebted to Arundhati Roy for turning me into a lit fic enthusiast. Reading her book (several times since I was fourteen) made/makes me think: if only I could write an ounce of what she has written…

IFOA: What inspires you?

Sur: Random things. Some of my stories are based on very real experiences and some are just by-products of the theory I have been reading for school at the moment. And some are based on news items I come across on CTV when I am doing my thirty minutes of cardio at the gym.

Mostly however, it is usually an image, or a scene, or even a feeling (or, as Sara Ahmed would say, an “affect”) that sticks to me, and haunts me for days until I give in and try to figure it out through writing.


Sanchari Sur is a feminist/anti-racist/sex-positive/genderqueer Canadian who was born in Calcutta, India. A doctoral student of Canlit at Wilfrid Laurier University and a curator of Balderdash Reading Series, her work has been published in Jaggery, The Feminist Wire, and Matrix.

Sur is one of the authors featured in The Unpublished City: a collection of works by Toronto’s emerging literary talents. IFOA and BookThug invite you to the collection’s release on June 22 at 7:30 PM as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series.

For more information, click here!

5 Questions with Doyali Islam

We asked Doyali Islam five questions about writing as we gear up for the launch of The Unpublished City collection on June 22.

Doyali Islam. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA.IFOA: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Doyali Islam: As a poet, lived experience—my own and that of others—is crucial to my work, but language is the mat to which I return.

To return to language is to resist in the most deft, complex and powerful way that I can. I like to think about existing language and its potential for poetic yield. I also like to invent words such as ‘geesturing’. (To ‘geesture’ is to gesture at geese!).

As a human seeking to become ever more human, I am moved by friends who are both fantastic poets/writers as well as gentle-fierce, curious and intentional beings: Geffrey Davis, Stevie Howell, Sheniz Janmohamed, Sylvia Legris, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Roger Nash, Soraya Peerbaye, Pearl Pirie, Sanchari Sur, Kim Trainor, Phoebe Wang and Chuqiao Yang come to mind immediately, but there are more.

As for my home life, I take inspiration from minimalism. ‘Minimalism’ is a trendy word these days, but I don’t mean the term in a narrow way. It’s basically an intentional approach to living in which one clears away physical, mental and emotional clutter to distill that which is essential. Poetry-making is not so different.

IFOA: What’s the story that you have to write no matter what (at some point in your life)?

Islam: I don’t believe in having to write anything; only that which arises as urgent, and compelling enough to invest time, attention and energy into for the sake of intrinsic reward.

Furthermore, I only publish—make public—poems that I think are working and that might have value to others. (I say ‘working poems’ instead of ‘good poems’ because I am trying to avoid the pernicious language of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.)

IFOA: Where do you write? Is there a specific place you do your writing?

Islam: I can’t generate new material in a café or public space. It’s my cat-nature. I need a cozy and familiar environment to be able to work. I wear my bathrobe when I write at home – the stereotypical poet! Clothing irritates me and makes it hard to focus.

These days, I most often work on drafts at my desk which was gifted to me by a friend—thanks, Sue!—during my time in North Bay (summer 2012 – spring 2015). The desk is longer than I am tall and takes two strong people to move it anywhere. I have been minimizing my possessions over the past two years ever since undergoing marital separation and subsequent divorce, but I kept this functional and handsome object.

Today, as I was dusting it, I felt an unexpected joy—sense of epiphany—in the maintenance work. So now I think that maintenance can offer up its own kind of pleasure and reward – what it might mean to polish a cherished kettle until it shines. Then again, perhaps, my perspective reveals a certain amount of privilege.

I sometimes revise by hand. I can print and carry a draft in my purse and work on it while I wait for an appointment, or when I’m on the subway. (I never revise on the bus. I look out the window or listen to the street sounds.) However, I still save and number all of my drafts in Microsoft Word – for example, “site draft52”. For me, a poem usually requires between 25 and 100 drafts.

IFOA: If you could ask your favourite author a question, what would it be?

Islam: I don’t know. I do think it’s important to contribute to the literary landscape beyond one’s own poems whether it be through interviewing/moderating (asking direct questions), curating, reviewing, adjudicating, or editing. Also, I think we all need to be asking, “What is the most important question I can ask myself right now?”

IFOA: What are you writing now?

Islam: My current full-length poetry manuscript is heft and sing. I have been working on it since 2010 and the manuscript is almost complete.

As a collection, heft and sing is formally innovative and lyrical. It contains a section of ‘parallel poems’ – a poetic form that I invented in the summer of 2010 and have been working in since then. One of these ‘parallel poems’ is my contribution to The Unpublished City collection, “43rd parallel”.

The manuscript of heft and sing also contains my innovations on the traditional Shakespearean sonnet, in the form of my self-termed ‘split sonnets’ and ‘double sonnets’. The poem bhater mondo, which was nominated for the 2017 National Magazine Awards, is an example of my ‘split sonnets’.

As for my ‘double sonnets’, the poem susiya, published in Kenyon Review Online, is still one of my favourites as is the poem two burials which won Contemporary Verse 2’s 2015 Young Buck Poetry Prize for writers under 35.


Doyali Islam is the winner of Arc Poetry Magazine’s 2016 Poem of the Year Contest, and other poems can be found through CBC’s Sunday Edition, Kenyon Review Online and The Fiddlehead. Her current poetry manuscript is the formally-innovative and lyrical heft and sing, which contains her ‘split sonnets’, ‘double sonnets’, and ‘parallel poems’.

Islam is one of the authors featured in The Unpublished City: a collection of works by Toronto’s emerging literary talents. IFOA and BookThug invite you to the collection’s release on June 22 at 7:30 PM as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series.

For more information, click here!

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