How did you first come to poetry?
Very gradually. I’ve always written poetry on occasion, but my focus is more on fiction. That being said, I haven’t had a lot of luck publishing fiction yet. For me, reading Paul Celan in the original German was a formative experience because of the absolutely unique approach that he had to language—it was a kind of explosion from the inside of language and my favourite kinds of poetry do something like that.
How does a poem begin?
I wish I knew! Different poems start in different ways. If I’m writing in a more constraint-based mode, then there is usually a period of deciding on the constraint and working through or « harvesting » the language that is produced by the constraint at which point « writing the poem » becomes more of a mode of assembly. If I’m working on a poem in a more « lyric » mode, then I have to place myself in a headspace where I feel calm and centered, which right now seems to mean driving down to Bluffer’s Park in Scarborough and sitting on the beach or looking at Lake Ontario with a notebook or sometimes a laptop.
How did publishing your first chapbook change your writing?
Publishing my first chapbook—which was the vitamins of an alphabet published by above/ground press in 2016—changed the way I wrote because it made me aware of the close proximity between a draft and a published piece. Now, when I write I always imagine the words in « published form » so to speak. My poetic goal is to make word-sculptures or assemblages of language that are so precise that the changing of any word would destroy the poem. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve reached this goal because I always find moments that seem to demand reordering, reworking, and rewriting. I like it as a … perhaps impossible … goal.
Now that you’ve published a first full-length collection, is there a difference in how you approach a poem, or even a chapbook manuscript? What have the challenges been?
I used to write in an effort to get material out. Nowadays, I don’t feel that same push and I work more carefully and slowly.
Have you a daily schedule by which you work, or are you working to fit this in between other activities?
Before this pandemic era of 2020, I had a very rigid writing schedule that involved working in cafés, bars, and public spaces. I find it much harder to write in my living space so I trick myself by doing some writing in the garage with a pile of planks as a makeshift table, or in the backyard with a stool placed on top of a table to create a standing desk—I love writing at standing desks, which was part of the appeal of cafés for me—or I write on the floor. I keep trying to « change my perspective » or my overall physical placement in a space to keep a kind of « writing energy » alive. Some days though … there is no way to solve the problem of how to start writing. Also, I’m currently working on a collaborative poetry project with Fenn Stewart that has been very exciting. We’ll have to see what develops from that.
What are your favourite print or online literary journals?
Some of my favourite literary journals have closed down in recent years like Rampike and dANDelion. I still enjoy The Puritan, The Capilano Review, and Touch the Donkey. It’s hard to choose « favourites » because there are so many really great poetry magazines and journals in Canada.
Who are some of the writers you are reading lately that most excite you?
Some more recent poetry books that I’ve been enjoying are : Dani Spinosa’s visually amazing OO : Typewriter Poems (2019), Sonnet L’Abbé’s Sonnet’s Shakespeare (2019), Fred Moten’s The Little Edges (2015) and The Feel Trio (2014), and I’ve been re-reading kevin mcpherson eckhoff’s really wild Their Biography : an organism of relationships (2015). During the quarantining time (or « quarantime ») of the COVID-era, I’ve gotten around to reading some older works that have been very enjoyable, such as Blaise Cendrars’s The Astonished Man (1945), Gail Scott’s Heroine (1987), Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605 and 1615); Cormac McCarthy’s first two novels The Orchard Keeper (1965) and Outer Dark (1968), and Stefan Themerson’s Cardinal Pölätüo (1961). I’ve been reading some really interesting theory texts too, but I’ll keep this answer to the poetic and creative.