Friday, February 12, 2016

U of Alberta writers-in-residence interviews: Maria Campbell (1979-80)

For the sake of the fortieth anniversary of the writer-in-residence program (the longest lasting of its kind in Canada) at the University of Alberta, I have taken it upon myself to interview as many former University of Alberta writers-in-residence as possible [see the ongoing list of writers, as well as information on the upcoming anniversary event, here]. See the link to the entire series of interviews (updating weekly) here.

Maria Campbell is a writer, playwright, and teacher. She started her career in 1973 when she published her first book, Halfbreed. That book has become a literary classic and continues to be one of the most widely taught texts in Canadian literature. She has also published six other books, the most recent is, Stories of The Road Allowance People.

Maria Campbell’s first professional play, Flight, was the first all-Aboriginal theatre production in Canada. Flight brought modern dance, storytelling, and drama together with traditional Aboriginal practices. She went on to write and direct other plays among them Jessica, which received the Chalmers Award for Best New Canadian play and toured internationally. In 1984, she co-founded a film and video production company with her brother and daughter. With this company, she produced and directed seven documentaries and produced with CTV, Canada’s first weekly Aboriginal television series “My Partners, My People.”

She has received numerous awards, including the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Gabriel Dumont Order of Merit, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. The Chalmers Award for best new play, and a national Dora Mavore Award for playwriting. She has been inducted into the Saskatchewan Theatre Hall of Fame and in 2004 she was awarded the Molson Prize by Canada Council for the Arts. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2008.

Maria is retired from the University of Saskatchewan, Departments of Native Studies and English where she taught Native Studies, Creative Writing and Drama. She is currently the Elder in Virtual Residence at the Centre for World Indigenous Knowledge and Research, Athabasca University and the Cultural Advisor at the College of Law, University of Saskatchewan. She holds four honorary doctorate degrees and has served as writer and playwright in residence at numerous universities, public libraries, and theatres. She has also served as a Stanley Knowles Scholar at the University of Brandon. She is currently finishing a Trudeau Fellowship with the University of Ottawa.

She has worked as a volunteer with women and children in crisis for over forty years and is co-founder of a halfway house for women in Edmonton. Maria’s home, until recently, was a safe house for women and youth.

She was writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta during the 1979-80 academic year.

Q: When you began your residency, you’d published a small handful of books over the previous decade. Where did you feel you were in your writing? What did the opportunity mean to you?

A: Well first of all I was surprised to be asked as I didn’t believe I was a writer, at least not a writer like yourself or the other people who had served before me and after. As you said in your question, I had “only published a small handful of books over a decade.” One thinks of A Writer-in-Residence as someone with a good solid reputation as a writer and with a large body of work. I was none of those things. I was however the first Aboriginal Writer-in- Residence so I believed that was one of the reasons I was invited and it was in part, one of the reasons I accepted. I have said this before and will say it again, I have never really thought of myself as a writer, I am a community worker and writing is one of the many tools I have been given to do my work. I am very grateful for that gift as it has made it possible for me to speak to issues that I believed and still believe are important in this country. No one knew very much about Halfbreeds or the politically correct term Metis, until my first book. Halfbreed opened the doors I needed to talk about the dispossession of Aboriginal people and the violence perpetuated against them, especially against Aboriginal women and children. However, I was not a trained or skilled writer but I did know the power of storytelling and writing. I had great respect for it and continue to respect it. It is that power that has given me light and hope from my earliest life. I love books and I love writers. The residency also gave me a year to think about what I wanted to do, how I was going to do it and to start some new projects. It was the first time in my life I didn’t have to be ducking and dodging bill collectors or wondering how I was going to afford groceries. I had a year of miyo pimachihowin, which in my language means a good life, free of worry. I had never had that before. I thank the late Jack McClelland for publishing me and by that act opening the door to a different place. I also thank the University of Alberta for inviting me to be their first Aboriginal Writer-in-Residence. We can say what we want about universities but they are respected places of learning and by their invitation to me they acknowledged that what I had to say and what I had to offer was of some consequence. Thank you rob for giving me this opportunity to say that.

Q: What do you feel your time as writer-in-residence at University of Alberta allowed you to explore in your work? Were you working on anything specific while there, or was it more of an opportunity to expand your repertoire?

A: I began translating Stories of the Road Allowance People while I was in residence. This was very important work for me and would probably not have been done if I were not there. It gave me the time to reflect on how I wanted to translate the stories and how once they were translated, to present them. As I said earlier, people knew very little about Halfbreeds or Metis and for sure they knew nothing about Road Allowance People. How could I give that history without going outside the story. You know like let the people and their stories do that. It was a very difficult process, translation is hard work. it requires you to go deep deep inside yourself and forces you to think and re-think stuff you thought was okay. I guess I could say it was another stage in my own decolonization. I finished two stories while I was in residence but it was the beginning of the long journey of putting that book together.  It didn't get published until 1995. I was also beginning my work with Paul Thompson of Theatre Passe Muraille and the late Linda Griffiths. The outcome of that work was the play Jessica and later, The Book of Jessica. Yeah I would say my residency was a springboard for all that. Expand my repertoire? I don’t know. I’m not sure what that means, if it means it helped me to find new tools then yes it certainly did that.

Q: How did you engage with students and the community during your residency? Were there any encounters that stood out?

A: I had a lovely office in Humanities that overlooked the river. I am certain I am not imagining that room because I remember being quite overwhelmed when I was alone and sitting at my desk for the first time looking out that window at the river. I was a writer at a university and I was expected to work with new and aspiring writers pretty heavy stuff. The person who stands out most for me was Mary Howse. She was an established poet and very good. She was one of my first visitors and I am sure she does not know how much she boasted my confidence by showing me her work and talking to me as a peer.  I don't know if I ever helped her but I do know she certainly helped me and I think of her often when I am sitting at the computer working. Students visited my office, some came with poems, short stories and I remember one coming in with a huge manuscript. I am sure it was at least 500 pages. I often wonder if she ever published it. I did read the whole thing and I found it interesting and parts of it really funny. I was invited to schools and spoke to many  elementary and high school students. I was also invited to community events to do readings and speak. One of the events was held at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre. It was hosted by the elders who greeted me with a lot of love and many stories. They were so kind and generous in their support. I also facilitated writing workshops which I found intimidating until Margaret Lawrence gave me a typed list of instructions and the ring she said she wore when she wrote Stone Angel. I would hold the list of instructions high so everybody could see them, show them the brass ring I was wearing and tell them the story of Margaret’s gifts to me and to the workshop. People were inspired and the workshops were very successful. Margaret laughed when I told her what I was doing. She also gave me a copy of the single, Long Black Veil, I think the singer was Johnny Cash. It was her favorite song at the time and she had several versions recorded by different singers. I sent her a copy of Fustukian’s version. He was a local recording artist. She loved it and told me to use it at the next workshop. I did and everyone wrote tragic stories about love gone very wrong.  I have always been amazed and moved at how much people love hearing and sharing stories and how good they all are once they forget about the stereotypes they have of writers and writing.

Q: Given the fact that you aren’t an Alberta writer, were you influenced at all by the landscape, or the writing or writers you interacted with while in Edmonton? What was your sense of the literary community?

A: I had lived in Edmonton for many years already when I was offered the residency. Three of my children were born in Alberta so for me it was home. The landscape around Edmonton is also very similar to my birth home in Saskatchewan and my first languages are Cree and Michif and Edmonton is the territory of the Cree/ Michif people. My family had travelled back and forth and lived on this land and landscape for centuries. I also come from and grew up with oral traditions. My nokoms, grandmothers, were storytellers as was my father so my territory and its life force were/are so imbedded I can’t imagine not ever writing from that place.

I don’t think I was influenced by the writing or writers but I was certainly inspired by the writing and the writers. I was also encouraged and supported by those I knew, among them W.O Mitchell and Rudy Wiebe who both had great respect for Indigenous storytelling. My sense of the literary community was its richness and excitement. I was fortunate to be in Edmonton when I was because it was an exciting place. Art, theatre, music, literature, film, it was all happening there at the time and with a Minister of Culture who loved and supported it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

ottawater: Ottawa's annual poetry pdf journal / 12th issue now online!

Ottawa’s annual pdf poetry journal
edited by rob mclennan
www.ottawater.com

The twelfth issue of ottawater is now online, featuring new writing by Sylvia Adams, Susan J. Atkinson, John Barton, Frances Boyle, Stephen Brockwell, Carellin Brooks, Sara Cassidy, George Elliott Clarke, Anita Dolman, nina jane drystek, Claire Farley, Mark Frutkin, jesslyn gagno, Shoshannah Ganz, Jenna Jarvis, Ben Ladouceur, Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Karen Massey, Robin McLachlen, Colin Morton, Peter Norman, Julia Polyck-O’Neill, Roland Prevost, Tim Mook Sang, Lesley Strutt, D.S. Stymeist, Anne Marie Todkill, Deanna Young and Changming Yuan. Artwork by: Alysha Farling, Anna Griffiths, Anna J. Eyler, Erin Robertson, Gail Bourgeois, Jeff McIntyre, Nichola Feldman-Kiss, Patrice Stanley, Sarah Dobbin, Susan Roston, and Verbal.

Founded to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa, Canada's glorious capital city, "ottawater," and its chemical formula/logo "O2(H2O)," is a poetry annual produced exclusively on-line, in both readable and printable pdf formats, and found at http://www.ottawater.com. An anthology focusing on Ottawa poets and poetics, its first issue appeared in January 2005, 150 years after old Bytown became the City of Ottawa.

All previous issues remain archived on the site as well. Thanks to designer Tanya Sprowl, the ottawa international writers festival, and Randy Woods at non-linear creations for their continuing support.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Corinne Wasilewski

Corinne Wasilewski was born and raised in Woodstock, New Brunswick but now makes her home in Sarnia, where she works as an occupational therapist. Her short stories have appeared in Front & Centre, The Windsor Review, The Nashwaak Review and The Battered Suitcase. Live from the Underground is her first novel. An early version of the manuscript was awarded the WFNB's David Adams Richards Prize in 2012.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Live from the Underground is my first book. So far the only change is I’m meeting cool people who love reading and writing at least as much as I do. Where have you people been my whole life?

I’m also tending a blog and a Facebook page out of a sense of duty to the work. I’m an introvert to the extreme and have shunned social media as a rule.  

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Actually I came to non-fiction first. I was always a writer – a writer of letters and a keeper of journals and diaries.  As a girl, I maintained correspondence with a good twelve or fifteen pen pals at any one time. I was super-analytical (still am) and had a tendency to obsess on the meaning of life, always harassing my friends for the answers. As an adult I eventually realized there are no answers – at least not the cut-and-dried variety I searched for in my youth. I also realized that fiction is a wonderful vehicle for exploring the answers to my questions. 

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I just dive in head first. I am not one of those writers who plans ahead. I don’t develop a plot outline or character sketches. I have no idea how the story will end. I’m working things out as I go along. I travel down roads that turn into dead ends. I drop characters and pick up new ones. I do a gazillion rewrites. I don’t know what the answer is so how can I map it out ahead of time? Chances are the final version will bear a slim resemblance to the first draft, absolutely no resemblance in the case of Live from the Underground.  The writing generally comes quickly, but, the finished product come slowly because of all the rewrites. Live from the Underground took me ten years to write.

4 - Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I know exactly what I’m working on from the get-go. If I’m looking to explore a question that has been plaguing me for years, then the piece is definitely a novel. To be honest, my short stories were only a way for me to get my foot in the door of the publishing world. I don’t particularly enjoy writing them. I love reading short stories, though. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love readings. I love reading. To me, readings are separate from the creative process – they’re more like sales and marketing. That being said, theoretically readings provide an opportunity to meet new people, possibly creative types who might spark my own creative process.   

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don’t have any global questions. My questions are deeply personal and only of relevance to me.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think the role varies depending on the writer. For me, fiction writing is like a spiritual practice. What I mean is, in well written fiction the reader connects with the characters. In order to create characters the reader cares about, the writer must see them with empathy. She must draw them with a compassionate eye and she must avoid judging them. That’s the spiritual practice for me…suspending judgment and cultivating compassion.

In terms of the larger culture -- and here’s a radical thought – maybe it’s not the book that matters. Maybe the impact lies in the writing process and the way it transforms the individual writer.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I am very open to any feedback that might improve the quality of my writing.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I interviewed Alden Nowlan, who is probably New Brunswick’s best loved poet, for a major English project in grade 12. He told me an effective writer must learn to distinguish what she genuinely feels about something from the way in which she thinks the people around her expect her to feel. This, it turns out, has been the challenge of my life.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short story to novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
I don’t seem to have a problem moving between short stories and novels, but, I much prefer novels. Novels give me the time and freedom to penetrate the many layers of a story and are great for analytical types like me.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I write best first thing in the morning. I get up at 5:30 am in order to get in thirty or forty-five minutes of writing before I leave for work.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
My writing rarely gets stalled. On the off chance it does, a good night’s sleep usually does the trick.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Homemade baked beans and brown bread, of course!

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I tend to shut out the emotional side of life so any situation that causes me emotional turmoil is good fodder for a story. Not quite what you’re looking for, but, this is the truth as it pertains to me.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I love the way Lynn Coady walks that fine line between tragedy and comedy as well as the honesty and vulnerability she shows in her work. I think she is a courageous writer. I would like to be the same.

I love Stuart Ross’ sense of humour and am inspired by his commitment to community, the small press and the written word. I like the way he has stayed true to himself through the years.  

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to speak Polish fluently.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would be involved in North Atlantic right whale rescue. I would work on a disentanglement team that frees whales from fishing gear. People that do this type of work are superheroes to me.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Writing is an obsession for me -- reading and writing both obsessions from the time I was young. Apparently my maiden name ‘Schriver’ means ‘writer’ in German. How’s that for cool? It’s my super-analytical personality that drives me to write (and read).  I love to explore different points of view and understand a subject from all sides.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I watch very few films, but, I saw American Beauty for the first time back in the summer and it left an impression. I read great books all the time (check out my goodreads page). All Quiet on the Western Front is the latest.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a novel that explores the influence of mothers on daughters through multiple generations. So far, it’s going much faster than Live from the Underground did.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, February 08, 2016

Announcing the 2016 Hillary Gravendyk Prize (co-judged by rob mclennan,

Announcing the 2016 Hillary Gravendyk Prize, Sponsored by the Inlandia Institute

One National and one Regional Winner will each be awarded $1000 and book publication, and additional books may be chosen for publication by the editors.

The Hillary Gravendyk Prize
is an open poetry book competition for all [American resident] writers regardless of the number of previously published poetry collections. The manuscript page limit is 48 - 100 pages, and the press invites all styles and forms of poetry. Only electronic submissions accepted via Inlandia’s Submittable portal. Entries must be received online by April 30, 2016 at midnight Pacific Standard Time. Reading fee is $20. The winners will be announced late Summer/Fall 2016, for publication in 2017.

HILLARY GRAVENDYK (1979-2014) was a beloved poet living and teaching in Southern California’s “Inland Empire” region. She wrote the acclaimed poetry book, HARM from Omnidawn Publishing (2012) and the poetry collection The Naturalist (Anchiote Press, 2008). A native of Washington State, she was an admired Assistant Professor of English at Pomona College in Claremont, CA. Her poetry has appeared widely in journals such as American Letters & Commentary, The Bellingham Review, The Colorado Review, The Eleventh Muse, Fourteen Hills, MARY, 1913: A Journal of Forms, Octopus Magazine, Tarpaulin Sky and Sugar House Review. She was awarded a 2015 Pushcart Prize for her poem "Your Ghost," which appeared in the Pushcart Prize Anthology. She leaves behind many devoted colleagues, friends, family and beautiful poems. Hillary Gravendyk passed away on May 10, 2014 after a long illness. This contest has been established in her memory.

Contest judges: rob mclennan and Megan Gravendyk-Estrella

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan [photo credit: Stephen Brockwell] currently lives in Ottawa, where he has now lived for more than half his life. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories,(Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, Touch the Donkey and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater. In 2015, he became Interviews Editor over at Queen Mob’s Teahouse. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

Megan Gravendyk-Estrella is a Registered Psychiatric Nurse and Poet. Megan is a two time winner of the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the author of the Seattle Young Playwrights prize winning short play "Good Evening Mrs.Gerfella". Megan lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, Jose and his daughter, Sofia. Hillary and Megan wrote together their entire lives and most recently attended the Napa Valley Writers Workshop. Prior to Hillary's passing, the sister's work-shopped poetry and short fiction together, including many poems in Hillary's book, Harm.

The details:

One contest, two prizes, each award is granted publication and $1000: All entrants will be considered for the National Prize, and entrants who currently reside in Inland Southern California, the “Inland Empire,” will also be considered for the Regional Prize (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, and any non-coastal Southern California area, from Death Valley in the northernmost region to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the southernmost). If you believe you reside in an area that falls within the I.E., please select the “Yes, I reside in the I.E.” checkbox on the Submittable form, or if you’re not sure, please contact the Inlandia Institute at Inlandia@InlandiaInstitute.org.) In addition, the editors may select one or more additional books for publication.

Eligibility: Any resident of the United States of America or its territories may enter the contest, with the exception of colleagues, students, and close friends or family of the judge(s). Additionally, anyone who currently serves or has served in the past two years on any Inlandia Institute committee, its Advisory Council, its Board of Directors, or is a close family member of one of the above, is not eligible.

Manuscript Requirements:
Please submit 48-100 pages of poetry through our Submittable portal as a .doc, .docx, or .pdf. ***Submissions will be read blind, so do not include any contact information on the manuscript itself.*** Do not include a cover page, and do not attach an acknowledgements page. No revisions to the manuscript are allowed while the contest is running; however, if your manuscript is selected for publication, revisions may be submitted at that time. Please use a standard 11 or 12 point font. If there is a significant amount of non-standard formatting, please submit as a PDF to ensure formatting remains intact. Individual poems may have been published in journals, anthologies, chapbooks, etc., but the collection as a whole must be unpublished.

Submission fee: $20 per manuscript. Multiple submissions accepted but a separate entry fee is required for each manuscript submitted. Simultaneous submissions also accepted. If accepted elsewhere, please formally withdraw your manuscript from consideration via the Submittable portal.

Each winner will receive $1000, 20 copies of their book, and a standard book contract.

The manuscripts will be screened by MFA students from University of California Riverside and California State University San Bernardino.

The Inlandia Institute
is a literary nonprofit and publishing house based in Inland Southern California dedicated to celebrating the region in word, image, and sound. In 2014, Vital Signs, a collection of poetry and photographs by Juan Delgado and Thomas McGovern, received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. In 2015, the Inaugural Hillary Gravendyk Prizes were awarded to Kenji Liu for Map of an Onion (National) and Angela Penaredondo (Regional).

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Montana Ray, (guns & butter)




      (smoking)

                                                              (embarrassing) (as it is) (can’t help dragging
                           ur sexuality to breakfast) (words come out sleazy) (can’t get ur eggs
          over-easy) (w/out a snort from the proprietress) (& see how polite old men’s
        eyes pop) (as they walk by the open window) (where u
      write) (I provoke) (I endure) (it’s not my fault)
     (he’s out there                        w/ a handgun)
   (& a busy intra-                    familial torturing
  plan) (these things happen) (bc
 they’re accepted) (in this milieu)
(from middle school) (we lay
blame on spaghetti straps) (bc
men like big guns, like big tits)

New York poet, translator and scholar Montana Ray’s striking first full-length poetry collection is (guns & butter) (Argos Books, 2015), a collection of concrete poems alternating between the shape of a gun with the occasional recipe. Composing poems in the familiar shapes of a handgun, Ray’s poems write out a culture of guns and gun violence, especially one that also connects sex and male violence to gun culture, composing a direct critique of what has become entirely too prevalent in North American culture. She also utilizes an intriguing use of parenthesis, holding together her short, accumulated phrases together, almost afraid that, without being held together, they might bleed and spill out across the page. As the poem “(when u broke the protective order)” begins: “(I became a walking statistic) (walking to & fro / the precinct) (telling anyone who’d listen) (my x moved to the nabe) (from 3 states / away) (to stare me down) [.]” In an interview conducted by Emily Brandt, posted in May 2015 at Weird Sister, Ray writes:

A lot of the language is sourced, so in the first poem I wrote for the book, the lines just cohered together in the shape of the gun. I’ve said this elsewhere, but the first poem I wrote in that shape is the first poem in the book. I’d received a text from my babysitter that said, “I might be late. A gun war is on.” Or a slightly less poetic version of that sentence. And I walked out to do my laundry with Ami; and some guy on the street was like, “You can touch it,” and then when I came home—I used to live in front of a tattoo parlor, I still live in the same place but the tattoo parlor has moved, and it’s now a fancy restaurant—one of the tattoo guys there, who I had a little crush on, he’d just gotten a new tattoo on his leg that was Billy the Kid’s gun. I was like, “Do you like guns?” And he said, “I like Billy the Kid.” So basically half of the language in the poem is sourced from one day’s interactions. I was also thinking about art, how you see guns on necklaces and on bags. The appropriation of that shape is done by designers of all sorts, and I wanted to do that for poetry.

Her poems are thick with fear, frustration, determination and resolve, and she writes on pregnancy, motherhood and the body, sex and violence (and male sexual violence), domestic matters, human closeness and serial isolation, and a culture of family, neighbours and recipes, alternating between what heals and restores, and what so easily threatens to destroy. Throughout all of this, much of the book is anchored in the immediate, as she writes to open the poem “(moonchild)”: “(don’t give up on him) (take the moon) (we created it from / our sorrow) (& it hangs in there) (I lug him upstairs) (I make soup) (call the home- / opath on Thanksgiving) (the exterminator on Xmas morn.) (perform the necessary / exorcisms) [.]” Further in the same interview with Emily Brandt, they discuss the book’s alternating elements of nourishment and violence:

EB: The book felt very nourishing, like a meal, in part because of the visual elements. There’s also so much narrative and so much rich language. As a writer, you’re creating this form and moving through it so beautifully and challenging so many of our ideas of what a mother is, what a child is, what violence is, what nonviolence is, what a book of poems can do. I had a student who was wearing to school yesterday this t-shirt that had a blonde woman in her underwear pointing a gun at whoever. I said to him, “I’m kind of offended” and he said, “It’s about power though. This is about power.” So I said, “Yeah well, her mouth is open, she’s naked,” and he was like, “But she’s got some power.” So then I showed him your book and he flipped through it and read a little of it and handed it back to me and said, “Miss, it’s the same thing.” So how is this book not the same thing as his shirt? Or is it?

MR: That’s the best question I think I’ve ever been asked. I think there is probably some sort of relationship there because I feel like the book does glamorize violence. It doesn’t show you how fucking fucked up it actually is, and it can’t because it’s a representation. It’s about a play therapy kind of world. But the book isn’t really selling anything. Because it’s outside of the pop culture market, maybe it gets away with some stuff that otherwise it would be more accountable for. But I think the whole book is about that, about film. There is a poem in there about a woman—“(una pistola) (bajo el vestido)”—in front of a camera with her shirt undone holding a machine gun on an album cover, and the complexities of that situation. Because she also has a gun below her slip for at night when she’s in bed for her pinché lover, uncle, guardian. So there is this duality of a glamorous vision of a woman with a gun during the daytime on an album cover, versus the threat of actual violence and a woman using a gun as self-projection against male sexual aggression.




Friday, February 05, 2016

U of Alberta writers-in-residence interviews: Fred Wah (1988-89)



For the sake of the fortieth anniversary of the writer-in-residence program (the longest lasting of its kind in Canada) at the University of Alberta, I have taken it upon myself to interview as many former University of Alberta writers-in-residence as possible [see the ongoing list of writers, as well as information on the upcoming anniversary event, here]. See the link to the entire series of interviews (updating weekly) here.

Fred Wah was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan in 1939, but he grew up in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. He studied music and English literature at the University of British Columbia in the early 1960's where he was one of the founding editors of the poetry newsletter TISH. After graduate work in literature and linguistics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and the State University of New York at Buffalo, he returned to the Kootenays in the late 1960’s where he taught at Selkirk College and was the founding coordinator of the writing program at David Thompson University Centre. He retired from the University of Calgary in 2003 and now lives in Vancouver. He has been editorially involved with a number of literary magazines over the years, such as Open Letter and West Coast Line. His work has been awarded the Governor General’s Award, Alberta’s Stephanson Award for Poetry and Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Fiction, the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Writing on Canadian Literature, and B.C.’s Dorothy Livesay Prize for Poetry. He was Parliamentary Poet Laureate 2011-2013 and he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2013. He has published over 20 books of poetry and prose. Recent books include Sentenced to Light, his collaborations with visual artists, is a door, a series of poems about hybridity, and a selected, The False Laws of Narrative, edited by Louis Cabri. A recent collaboration, High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese, An Interactive Poem, is available online (http://highmuckamuck.ca/). His current project involves the Columbia River. Scree: The Collected Earlier Poems, 1962-1991 was published by Talonbooks in the fall of 2015.

He was writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta during the 1988-89 academic year.

Q: When you began your residency, you’d been publishing books for nearly two decades. Where did you feel you were in your writing? What did the opportunity mean to you?

A: 88-89, 25 years ago. Dredge. Most remembered: Pauline picking me up at airport September 26 after flight from Vancouver and telling me that bp had died during his operation the previous day. That was pretty hard. beep and I had taught together that summer in Red Deer where had egged me on to try writing some prose. “Start with the Pulp 3-day novel contest” he said. First thing I did in Edmonton was that, on Labour Day weekend. Managed about 60 pages of what later became the biofiction Diamond Grill. I remember Rudy Wiebe’s startled expression on the Tuesday morning when I told him that I’d written a novel over the weekend. That year was a transition year for us, from B.C. to Alberta, since I had accepted a job at the University of Calgary to begin the summer of ’89. I was intrigued by the sudden shift in our lives, from rural to urban, from the Kootenays to the prairies, from a very local address to a more academic discourse. And the year free of teaching and exploring writer-in-residence connections was invigorating. We had access to a wonderful community of intellectuals with whom we socialized and collaborated, a writing community that included astute artists like Doug Barbour, Greg Hollingshead, and Janice Williamson. The Salmon Rushdie affair blew up that fall and my writing around that engaged me with faculty in Graphic Arts like Peter Bartl and Jorge Frascara. At the time, I felt my writing attentions were moving in a number of directions. I was also becoming quite involved in the Writers Union and the growing interest in and awareness of race, supplemented through intense coffee yaks with Myrna Kostash. While I still felt grounded in a geographical sensibility in my poetry, I was trying to apprehend the possibilities of writing prose and prose-poetry through working on Diamond Grill and being able to play with some visual artists. The opportunity of the residency was, for me, a welcome opportunity to explore new forms and ideas and relish the energy of an intelligent and vibrant community.

Q: Was this your first residency?

A: No. Daphne Marlatt and I shared a residency at the University of Manitoba 1982-83 (her in ‘82 and me in ‘83). And then I did SFU in 2004-05 (I think).


Thursday, February 04, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Matthew R. Loney



Matthew R. Loney is the author of That Savage Water (Exile Editions, 2014) – a collection of backpacker-themed short fiction. He was a finalist for the 2013 and 2014 Gloria Vanderbilt Short Fiction Award and his work has appeared in a range of North American publications, including the political short fiction anthology, Everything Is So Political. His book reviews have appeared in Plenitude, The Puritan, The Maple Tree Literary Supplement and Broken Pencil. He lives in Toronto.

www.matthewrloney.com Instagram and Twitter: @mattorero

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
This might sound unusual, but publishing my first book gave me permission to release my grip on “the dream” of becoming a writer. Having focused for so long on one goal – and challenging myself to see whether or not I could achieve it - I’m now able to see a gigantic and beautiful world of possibilities outside of literature. My new work has a different energy to it – less personal angst, more skillful observation of the way we live and connect. Overall, a nicer hot-tub to stew in.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
My early journals are mostly poetry but I quickly realized most were rubbish. Fiction is more forgiving. I grew up reading The Hardy Boys, The Famous Five and whole summers of R. L. Stein. It must have connected me with the pacing of fiction, how it could lead you along for a while, lure you, and then change course once you’ve become invested. Poetry can do similar things, but the game is shorter.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

So far everything has come quickly. Too quickly sometimes and I resent its bad timing. The novel I’m working on came to me so furiously that I was scared to lose it if I set it aside. Short stories have come with similar speed, out of the blue, but aren’t as disruptive to normal living. I have a difficult time altering anything major after the first draft is down but I’ve learned the hard way that first thoughts are not anything to show anyone, despite how connected you may feel to them. I think writing from notes is essential for a novel’s structure, but less so for a short story which I think can be more organic.

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Stories usually begin with an image or fragment of conversation that ripples out into a bigger world. My newest story came out of a series of Instagram photos a friend sent me. The fragmented chronology was too interesting to ignore. I like to think I begin writing where the story begins, but the feedback I get usually tells me that the story actually begins much later in the work.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Counter. I can’t imagine any writer who enjoys standing in front of a crowd and reading their work. It’s against everything in my character to drone out loud what’s meant to happen in the readers’ ear. That said, the applause at a reading is likely to be the most visceral feedback a writer will ever get from their work, so it’s a trade off.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I’m really interested in culture shock, culture clash and the way that technology can both bridge and obstruct the meeting of different worlds. Over the last ten years, the world became so interconnected, so bridgeable, but I don’t think the human psyche has been able to keep up with how best to approach it. Stylistically, my questions have been around how to invent and be original in an industry that is currently risk-averse. When readers get lazy, they turn into “the market” and so everything slides toward the predictable.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I’m of Ginsberg’s mind that the writer/poet is a kind of oracle, and not because it’s an identity that you seek out or strive for, but because it’s simply the way we observe the patterns of the world. But there is a reason oracles were confined to caves – they don’t always give desirable answers. We’re censored now more than ever – through political correctness, through funding, through “the market” – which means our role is being defined for us. I’d like for the writer to have more of a renegade role – more prophet, less profitable.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential because I make too many mistakes and have a bizarre sense of literary aesthetic that doesn’t always land on the reader the way I aim it to, but difficult because I’m stubborn and too precious of my own work.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
When I worked with Paul Quarrington in the last year of my M.A., he asked me, “What about this character would make a top actor/actress foam at the mouth to play this part?” I realized that much of what I had written was boring and stock as hell. I run each character I write through this criterion now.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Mental homeostasis is the appeal. Poetry and fiction cleanse different parts of me.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t have a routine because that sounds like I should do something the same way whether I’m feeling like it or not. If I’m enjoying a project, I’ll work on it any chance I get. If I’m procrastinating or the project is weak, I’ll find myself routinely on YouTube. I wish my answer could be ‘a kale smoothie followed by three-mile swim’. One day.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I usually just need to take my hands off the wheel if I’m continually driving into a ditch, or not moving at all. Drawing or sketching allows me to cleanse the palate. If I’m lucky, I can travel somewhere. A change of cultural scenery does wonders for me.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Vim floor cleaner or the smell of a hot dishwasher.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Books that come from books seems like a superbly dull idea, although I can see what he means. I wish writing could take more from the visual arts world, or dance. If I could find a way to infuse a short story with influences of M.I.A.’s “BadGirls” video or Gustavo Santaolalla’s guitar music, or with the same core energy as krump, I’d consider it a personal triumph.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
My writing tends to be dialogue and description heavy. I think this comes from a strange fusion of having playwrights and travel writers as my major influences. Paul Theroux, Martha Gellhorn, Eugene O’Neill and Edward Albee sing in the background of a lot of my work.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d love to plan a motorcycle trip circumnavigating the Mediterranean. Or from Scotland to Singapore. I’d also love a ten-year stint sailing around the islands of the South Pacific repairing my own rig and catching my own fish. Fill my passport with stamps, is the short answer.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Professional adventurer. Some have been able to make this work as a profession. Also, an airline pilot seems a pretty awesome gig. I love airports and meeting customs agents in new countries and supremely enjoy the idea that it’s always a sunny day above the clouds.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Escapism made me write. It was the easiest way for me to leave where I was for where I wanted to be. Small-town Ontario was ultra-boring for me growing up. I remember losing myself in an Edith Blyton children’s adventure book. It was a magical out-of-body experience that I wanted to recreate.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
In the Heart of the Country by J.M. Coetzee was insanely good, as was Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. I can watch anything by Alejandro González Iñárritu over and over, so I’d say Birdman.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I have so many unfinished projects half-alive and squealing for attention. I don’t feel compelled to dive back into my novel so I’m drafting out a series of travel essays that deal with how technology - maps, apps, webcams, Oculus Rift etc – will alter how we approach the travel or exploration experience.

12 or 20 (second series)questions