5 Questions with Majlinda Bashllari, Amanda Earl, Patricia Keeny, Jennifer LoveGrove, Nicholas Power and Dane Swan

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Majlinda Bashllari, Amanda Earl, Patricia Keeny, Jennifer LoveGrove, Nicholas Power and Dane Swan are six of the 20 participating poets competing in the Poetry NOW: Battle of the Bards. IFOA asked them about writing poetry and where they find their inspiration.

Want to hear them read live on March 29th? Event info, here!


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IFOA: What do you look for when reading poetry?

Majlinda Bashllari: New territories, striking images, brave figures of speech. Poetry is the highest form of human knowledge and the first exploratory tool of new realities. Through imagination and intuition, it enters in the darkest and most unknown macro and micro zones of the universe and opens up the ways for other forms of knowledge such as the philosophy, the exact sciences and technology to thrive and succeed.

Amanda Earl: I try not to look for anything. My mind’s open. Most recently I’ve been reading Lisa Robertson’s “3 Summers” and “Cinema of the Present.” I enjoy the intensity and sensuality of her imagery, the humour and play in her writing, the way she poses questions rather than answers them. In general I like poetry that is whimsical, imperfect, awkward and humble, connects with me in some way, and leads to more exploration.

Patricia Keeney: To go where I haven’t been.

Jennifer LoveGrove: I value the unexpected,  whether that’s in the language, the imagery, or conceptual concerns, I look for inventive ways these elements have been engaged and structured in a poem. I like to be surprised,  unsettled, destabilized by poetry.

Nicholas Power: I look for play in the form and tension in the line. I like to read poetry that somehow goes beyond the limits of the one writing it. I also enjoy the poet’s particular leaps, their sense of rhythm, and their understanding of poetic tradition without conformity. I look for poetry that isn’t simply about something, poetry that is something.

Dane Swan: Soul. When reading poetry I look for soul. If a poem has life, or is dirty, grimy and honest it will usually pique my interest. I’m not particularly interested in antiseptic writing that even an immature child can imitate. Poetry needs to have an energy that pulls the reader along. If the poem is dense, or is technically a lot to take in, as well as soulful, even better. Poetry is best when you’re driven to read it more than once.

IFOA: What do you love most about writing poetry?

Majlinda Bashllari: The hope that you can bring to life some good lines. When poetry is good, it turns into something bigger than the culture it springs from. Writing poetry is a challenge. Each time you sit and start a new poem, you realize that previous experiences mean very little or nothing at all. The fear of being repetitive, shallow, outdated is part of the process. You might become a master of the structure and lexicon, but could easily fail to give the right message. Timing is also another challenge even though we are taught to believe that poetry is timeless.

Amanda Earl: I like that I’m not beholden to convention. There are so many styles of poetry and no one style is the right one. This leaves the genre open to the possibilities of being broken (open).

Patricia Keeney: Going where I haven’t been.

Jennifer LoveGrove: Editing. I love best that stage of making a poem come together, when it finally begins to coalesce after a series of relentless tweaks and alterations – changing a word, a line break, a comma, deleting, rearranging, expanding, paring- until intuitively I know I’ve got it.

Nicholas Power: The surprises.

Dane Swan: I’m not sure love is the right word. Mind you, I’m not sure I even understand the word love. I’m simply personally driven to write. Whether people consider me a writer, or not, I’ll continue to write in some way, shape or form.

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IFOA: If you could only read one poet’s work for the rest of your life who would it be?

Majlinda Bashllari: The Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska. One of the finest poets of all times. Her poetry embraces the wisdom of old and new times; she can see through the core of human nature. It’s a unique school for everyone who aspires to write about almost anything.

Amanda Earl: Anne Carson.  She always surprises. (But I’d like to mention Lisa Robertson again, also Mary Ruefle, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Anne Sexton.)

Patricia Keeney: Ted Hughes

Jennifer LoveGrove: Right now, it would be Kim Hyesoon. Her work contains much of what I prioritize: strange, disturbing neo-surrealist imagery and logic, feminism, the grotesque, emotional confrontation. Her poems surprise, amaze and excite me.

Nicholas Power: Jack Gilbert (The Great Fires, The Dance Most of All, Refusing Heaven)

Dane Swan: Probably Langston Hughes

IFOA: What inspires you?

Majlinda Bashllari: Human resilience. The ability to start fresh. Also Greek and Roman mythology has been a great source of inspiration for me.

Amanda Earl: A good kiss, the forbidden, new lovers, my husband’s Sunday crepes, meandering conversations with dear friends over a pot of strong tea, solitary walks downtown early mornings in the cold spring air, drinking a peaty whiskey and listening to Nine Inch Nails while soaking in the tub, Agnès Varda’s film, “Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (the Gleaners and I), Hélène Cixous’ “firstdays of the year,” Djuna Barnes, “Nightwood,” the music of Tom Waits, gin, the stark bone white of Georgia O’Keefe’s desert paintings, the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, dark eyes in the paintings of Leonora Carrington, the green of Max Ernst’s paintings, tangled gardens, broken glass, candour and integrity, quirky lingo, tall, handsome men, wearing red, saying no, saying yes.

Patricia Keeney: Life.

Jennifer LoveGrove: Other poets’ work. And life, especially the bad parts.

Nicholas Power: What inspires me as a writer are (to use Gerard Manley Hopkins list) All things counter, original, spare strange; found phrases and objects, quantum physics, paradoxes, particularities of gesture, tone and humour, literary non-fiction and science writing, poets and writers who have stayed with the struggle to advance the art form over time.

Dane Swan: What doesn’t inspire me? I’m inspired by everyone and everything I meet. The skill is in culling my inspirations; understanding which are worthy of sharing, and when to share each inspiration.

IFOA: What is one thing you have learned about yourself from writing your most recent collection?

Majlinda Bashllari: I am hard to please. (j/k!)

Amanda Earl: I learned that I love to do research, especially concerning the 20s and 30s. For “Kiki,” which is inspired and informed by artists and unbridled creative and licentious acts that took place in Montparnasse between the Wars, I read a lot of books and saw silent films, listened to music and watched a few documentaries about the era. I am still fascinated with that time period and continue to learn as much as I can about the personalities of that time and the work they produced.

Patricia Keeney: That the imaginative adventure never stops.

Jennifer LoveGrove: That the more I record and note my dreams, the more and better I remember them.

Nicholas Power: I feel that my work as a writer, especially in the form of poetry, where I freely associate through a wide range of source materials, has helped my receptivity in general. I also feel that this solitary work has helped me learn to sit with uncertainty, with imperfection and incompleteness.I’m also seeing how much I like to edit, in a positive way but also to rewrite, mess with, deviate from given texts.

Dane Swan: I’m not sure that I learned anything from A Mingus Lullaby. There’s a fair amount of research behind the collection, but I was more confirming what I already knew about Mingus. Technically, I merely put to practice concepts that I learned in the editing stages of Bending the Continuum with Elana Wolfe. I certainly didn’t come out of the experience writing this book as if it was spiritual — it’s a book. It’s a really good book. But, it’s just a book. Part of being a writer is becoming a good observer of others. The best way to hone that skill, is to initially observe yourself. A writer shouldn’t be suddenly surprised about themselves during the writing process. That’s a romanticized idea of how writing works. I’m constantly learning.

5 Questions with Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter

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Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter are four of the 20 participating poets competing in the Poetry NOW:  Battle of the Bards. IFOA asked them about writing poetry and where they find their inspiration.

Want to hear them read live on March 29th? Event info, here!


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IFOA: What do you look for when reading poetry?

Julie Cameron Gray:  I look for poems that have a seed of familiarity, where I recognize an emotion or a moment as so completely true that I feel like it has happened to me, even if I know it hasn’t.

David Goldstein: An immodest love of language.

John Nyman: The first thing I look for is the poet’s willingness to do something unexpected, even unsanctioned. After that I look for a kind of unusual wisdom, poems that gradually depart from the worlds they are born to while also bringing me closer to my own experiences.

Lisa Richter: Emotional punch, honesty, truth, beauty, self-discovery, surprise, and vulnerability. I love poems that are simultaneously accessible but multi-layered, that upon close reading or re-reading, invite multiple interpretations, vibrate on different frequencies.

IFOA: What do you love most about writing poetry?

Julie Cameron Gray: I love the intricate machinery. Poems are never just words on a page- they are complex devices with each word a moving part. Editing a poem is trying to get the machine to run perfectly- tweaking and replacing, cutting and re-engineering. Sometimes you end up with something wonderful that is very different than what you set out to make.

David Goldstein: The way it opens me to the vocabulary of others.

John Nyman: It’s an exercise in urging my freest impulses to bloom.

Lisa Richter: First, what I don’t love: sitting down to write, and feeling stuck. Sometimes you just need to give your conscious mind a break and send it out for coffee. Some of my strongest, or perhaps I should say, most successful poems have started this way. I also have a slightly masochistic love of the revising process, sometimes it’s in the editing room that the magic really happens. Being a perfectionist, of course, can be a trap: the hardest thing in the world sometimes is to stop tinkering with a poem, let it breathe, and walk away.

IFOA: If you could only read one poet’s work for the rest of your life who would it be?

Julie Cameron Gray: Oh, such an impossible question! I’d have a different answer every time you ask. I think right now I’d say Gwendolyn MacEwen, but if you asked me in an hour, I would probably say Yeats. Wait, does Virginia Woolf count as a poet? Her imagery is so finely distilled I feel like she might.

David Goldstein: Dickinson Rilke Celan. That’s one poet, right?

John Nyman: This is a cruel question. But I think I’d have to answer Erin Mouré, especially if I’m allowed to include her many quasi-pseudonyms and (of course!) her translations. I think her writing, at various points, does almost everything I really love in literature: it’s bold and sharp, it’s experimental, it charges headfirst into political and philosophical arguments, and it immerses me in strange and dense thickets of language; yet it’s also expressive, exuberant, and all kinds of emotional, and speaks candidly about the basic elements of life.

Lisa Richter: Ah, the dreaded desert island question. After giving this a lot of thought, I wouldn’t necessarily choose a poet whom I’d actually call a favourite—Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, Leonard Cohen, Mark Doty, or Phyllis Webb, to name a few—but one that I want to understand better and learn more about, whose work has fascinated me for years: T.S. Eliot. The breadth and depth of Eliot’s work, the musicality of his language, and richness of his intertextuality make him the perfect desert island poet, one whose work has many layers, but can be appreciated on a surface, sensory level as well.


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IFOA: What inspires you?

Julie Cameron Gray: Everything. Mistakes, anxiety, the human theater of our daily lives. The heartbreaking reality of our mundane. We live in a technologically advanced age in one of the best countries in the world and yet we are often miserable, and creators of our own misery. I find that endlessly fascinating.

David Goldstein: The way the everyday stumbles into art without noticing.

John Nyman: Most thoroughly, critical theory and the larger philosophical tradition. Poetry, for me, is a close cousin of the kind of language we use to think through the world and do justice to the truth of things. I’m also a very systematic thinker, even artistically, so I’m turned on by complex conceptual mechanisms.Other inspirations include, in no particular order, video games, fine art, hip-hop, houseplants, and life’s incongruities.

Lisa Richter: Art, architecture, language, cities, music, large bodies of water, documentaries, graffiti, desert landscapes, long road trips and bus rides watching the scenery go by, the seasons (especially spring), tarot cards, Greek and Roman mythology, Women who Run with the Wolves, grassroots social movements and environmental activism, community, feminism,acts of courage, random acts of kindness, imperfections, people being their flawed, authentic selves, being in love.

IFOA: What is one thing you have learned about yourself from writing your most recent collection?

Julie Cameron Gray:
That I love exploring the same idea over multiple poems. Lady Crawford as a whole is an examination of personal identity, how we construct ourselves based on the choices we make, the things we do or do not do and how our actions (or lack thereof) define us. In the book I have a whole cast of characters other than Lady Crawford that I used to explore that theme, but the central character of Lady Crawford was the part of the collection I found the easiest to write. I think my next collection might be an entire examination of a particular story, each poem an exploration of a larger idea or poetic narrative, but we’ll see.

David Goldstein: How well I remember marigolds.

John Nyman: I think I’ve learned that even my most far-flung projects never escape the orbit of my style. No matter what I do, it’s always me doing it.

Lisa Richter: That I can finish what I started, and seeing a manuscript through to its completion. After so many years of dreaming of writing and publishing a full-length collection, I finally did it. It’s an incredible feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Questions with Sheila Sampath

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Sheila Sampath, writer, artist, educator and activist designer, is participating in our Valentine’s Day Twitter Chat. We had some questions about how she celebrates love on February 14th and year round!

If you need some guidance writing to your valentine, join us on Twitter between 12-1pm on February 14th to get some professional help.

IFOA: What advice do you have for someone struggling to write a love letter?

Sheila Sampath: Start with something small—where the stakes are lower. Try writing a letter to your favourite dress, bookshelf or armpit. Read it out loud and wait. Ask for feedback. Wait. Feel. When you’ve mastered this, move onto the neighbourhood cat or alpha-pigeon. Repeat. Work your way up to other humans.

IFOA: Did you write Valentines as a child? Do you still? sheila-7162

Sampath: Yes (to both questions), but rarely on Valentine’s Day.

IFOA: What is the most romantic book you have ever read?

Sampath: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz. The stories in the book really bring out the messiness and complexities of love, as we negotiate race, class and trauma, and link the acts of healing with love in a way that both breaks my heart and gives me hope.

IFOA: Roses, chocolates, candy, teddy bears. What do you prefer?

Sampath: None of these things. I want that figurine of the cat I pointed out in the window that one time and then completely forgot about but you remembered because it was a special moment. Or a mix-tape.

IFOA: If you had to pick just one poet to quote always who would it be?

Sampath: At this moment, Nayyirah Waheed.

Five Questions with…Matt Rader

Matt Rader, the author of Desecrations, and a Toronto Lit Up participant answered our five questions.

©Ron Pogue

 IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry.

Matt: This is a collection celebrating in the ruins, listening for music in a room of silent instruments. It has a heavy title and the poems sometimes try to look dark places in the eye–colonialism, failing health, banishment–but these are mostly love poems, the kind of love that persists when there’s no longer any reason to love except that you want to.

IFOA: You’re an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, as well. Have you found teaching creative writing has affected your own writing at all?

Matt: I’m constantly humbled by the brilliance, fearlessness, and vigour of the people I encounter in my work. Trying to support other people to develop their relationship with their own imagination is baffling and mind-blowing. It has given me an even deeper and more profound respect for my teachers. I hope it has made my writing more open. These answers feel a little more ethereal than I intend them.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?

Matt: Michael Longley and Larry Levis have been twin influences throughout the writing of these poems. Elizabeth Bishop and Gwendolyn Brooks are two others I return to again and again. Everyone in Canada should read Russell Thornton. Maggie Nelson changed my life.

IFOA: Where is your ideal place to write?

Matt: I don’t have an ideal place: it depends on the project. Some of Desecrations was written in a farmhouse in the Irish Midlands and I loved it because I woke in the morning, made coffee, wrote, read, walked the fields, and talk to no one.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Matt: It’s too early to tell.  As Frank O’Hara, one of the resident ghosts of Desecrations, once wrote: “Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible.”

 

Five Questions with…Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney, author of Don’t Be Interesting, and a Toronto Lit Up participant answered IFOA’s Five Questions.

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry.
Jacob: Sure. Don’t be Interesting is a very loosely-thematic collection. When it does stoop to having a theme, though, it’s about the future: both the current future and all the historical examples of future, futures, and futurisms from about the beginning of the 20th Century onward. It’s also (more sneakily) a book about being a new parent.

IFOA: You’re a literary critic as well as a poet – do you find this makes you more critical of your own work, as well as the work of your peers?
Jacob: I don’t know if it makes me more critical. Being a critic and being “critical” in the contemporary sense of the term aren’t as closely entwined as the etymology would have it. I would say that it makes it easier for me to read my work as an other would. I think that’s the muscle most exercised by writing about writing: being able to move from how something reads to me to how it might have read to its author, and back. This is a good skill to work on for an author because it’s helpful to have that polyphony available to help you imagine how someone who doesn’t share your brain might process a work.

IFOA: How important is for you to curate the Pivot Reading series and host bi-weekly at the Steady in Toronto?
Jacob: I think everyone who wants to participate in the insider economy of public poetry, by publishing or reading published work, owes a debt to the community that helped grunt it into being. It is not enough to just gift the world your beautiful words and your great brain. Everyone should have to serve. How they do that is up to them: mentorship, reviewing, teaching, hosting, grant-writing, paid and unpaid work. But everyone should get out and push the bus up the hill a bit. And running Pivot is how I choose to push.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?
Jacob: I’m going to stick close and pick newish Canadian poets with books out last year. I think Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent was great. I thought Eva H.D.’s Rotten Perfect Mouth was great too. Lucas Crawford’s Sideshow Concessions was a lot of fun. I’ll go off-theme and pick a non-debut collection I felt was wonderful too, in John Wall Barger’s The Book of Festus.

IFOA:  What’s next for you?
Jacob: I’m going to go to sleep early and get up for work tomorrow. I’m reading through Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World and those are keeping me busy. I started writing a novel in 2007, which is also the year the novel is set. Maybe one day I will finish it and it will be published as historical fiction.

McArthur Mooney, Jacob (c) Elyse Friedman

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