from "crumbling into harmony" - Daniela Elza what is it we want from this long journey? we stop to eat at a road side inn. a woman serves us mountain sheep yogurt with wild berries. she said so many people pass through they ran out of strawberries. we were lucky there was yogurt. she then said: nothing much happens here. (her heart placed somewhere else. on the road again. content. the moon is so full tonight it does not sit still. it rolls on the top of hills— a round rustic loaf tossed in the sky a ritual bread we follow to satiate our hunger. yes there are urgent questions but nothing more urgent than right here where the sheep sleep oblivious in their pens where the next clay pot of milk is turning to yogurt in the quiet of the night.
from the weight of dew
(Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012).
Reprinted with permission.
(Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012).
Reprinted with permission.
The latest edition of my pre-Vancouver-book-launch interview series (which needs a catchy name...) is particularly close to my heart. Since I met Daniela Elza almost five years ago, she has been an ardent supporter of my writing, and a dear friend. I don't think my relationship with her is that different, though, from her relationships with many in the Vancouver poetry community. Daniela is everywhere: volunteering for Pandora's Collective and the BC Writers' Federation, organizing and attending readings, pulling together anthologies and collaborative writing projects, and, as regular silaron readers will know, commenting on more-or-less every second blog post I've made on this site in the last five years. Wherever you go, there she is, bringing with her an enthusiasm and a spirit of generosity that are truly infectious.
Amidst all that, it's easy to look past the fact that Daniela is, first and foremost, a fantastic poet. Her first trade book (she self-published a lovely little e-book called The Book of It last year, an excerpt from which is in her new book) was just published from Saltspring Island's Mother Tongue Publishing. Entitled the weight of dew, Daniela will be launching it this Sunday at the Railway Club in downtown Vancouver. The details:
Sunday, March 11th, 5:30 - 7:30 PM
The Railway Club (Private Room in back)
579 Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver
Featuring: A reading from Daniela, and good company!
the weight of dew is built around a suite of poems based on Daniela's travels with her family through the BC interior. To call them "travel poems", or to summarize the book as a book of travel poems, though, would be to miss the mark by... oh, I can't help myself... a country mile. Instead, the book is anchored more in philosophical thought (in an introduction to the book, her writing is described by Aislinn Hunter as "lyric philosophy", while Daniela herself is described as "part Zen master") and a joyful consideration of the world, than it is in any of the individual people, things or landscapes that the speaker encounters during her journey. They are poems with a sense of humour and play (Hunter adds that Daniela is also "part trickster"), but also a keen attentiveness - a kind of playfulness that can only come from thinking deeply about our physical world and the language we use to describe and explore it.
I was able to ask Daniela a few questions about the weight of dew in advance of its big debut on Sunday, and what follows is part one of that interview (part two is posted here). In it we discuss, amongst other things, quotations, vortices, movie theatre seats and vaccination programs. I hope you enjoy!
Rob: The words in your poems are a bit rebellious: they move about the page, refusing to be left-justified. That isn't to suggest that the words are randomly strewn across the page - the spacing choices you make are often clearly intentional (themes of "space" and the exploration of what exists "in between" words, run throughout the weight of dew). Likewise, some of the poems, most notably your triptychs, are spaced as they are to be in keeping with a prescribed form. Still, considering that none of the poems in your collection are written flush to the left margin (as is "traditional"), you must have a general attitude that leans you away from that style of formatting. I'm wondering what that attitude is, and how/when it developed for you. Have you always written this way? Or did you write more "restrained" poems in the past, and at some point make the switch?
Daniela: Originally I constrained myself to make my poems look like what poems “should” look like. With time my claustrophobia grew and I felt stifled. There was not enough room for thoughts to luxuriate, to breathe, to slow down. As I got older the words started being unruly and wanted to occupy more space. They wanted to fill up. And I followed this impulse. I also cared less what others will think. That might have been also the time when I needed to sit on aisle seats in theatres. Rebellious might be right. And a bit might be understating it. The words want to wander further afield. They are making other plans.
I was then pulled into how some words that were not consecutive started rooming together creating their own little vortices. Akin to the mind dreaming and connecting. How it darts off. There was a kind of control and at the same time a letting go. A kind of freeing myself and the reader to experience the fluidity of the words as they meta-morph through the different rooms of our beings. Space for repose and contemplation, yet of focus and alertness. A bit like how Bachelard describes reverie. When the poems acquired their spaces there was a strange recognition that this was my form. Like putting on a piece of clothing and knowing it is right.
The triptychs are one product of this process. I am more intentional when I write the poem across than when I read what happens in the columns "down words". If the reader wants to experiment they can watch the mind reading across and then watch what the mind does when reading down.
After I had been practicing this form for a while, I came across something Bachelard said about verticality. He said that linear reading deprives us of countless daydreams. He says: “Daydreams of this sort are invitations to verticality. Pauses in the narrative during which the reader is invited to dream. They are very pure, since they have no use.” (in The Poetics of Space). This echoed my sentiment and fit snugly with my intuition. Here I was doing this formally on the page. I was so excited. I remember running to my friend’s pottery studio and showing it to her (grocery bags, green onions, parsley and all). She had heard me mull at length about what I was doing with these columns. For me this connects with imagination.
Rob: the weight of dew includes a number of quotes (twenty seven, at my count) as epigraphs for both poems and for sections of the book, from poets and authors that range from Lisa Robertson, to Tim Lilburn, to Chinese poet Zhang Er and Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski. How do you hope for these quotes to function in relation to the poems? To be read as an intrinsic part of the poem, or as a palette-cleanser or mood-setting device that prepares the reader for the poem that is to follow, or...? And do you have the same goals with every quote, or do they function differently?
Daniela: Some quotes are incorporated in poems. Some are not. When they are not I like to think of them as rubbing along or against the poem. That is why I insist on them not being placed on the same side with the poem, or between the title and the poem. You can even ignore them. They are pebbles you can choose to kick as you walk, not boulders to step over. The reader can do with them as they wish. I want the reader to have as much freedom in reading the book as I had writing it.
When the quote is part of a poem, I include the quote on the page. Then I mess with it. I go in and inhabit it, I squat in it. I do not know what the outcome will be. I just let my mind move in and occupy it. A bit of a snapshot perhaps of what happens in my mind when I read it. We internalize words differently. One of my preoccupations is how thought moves, trying to peek on it as it happens and forms, as it informs. Some of the poems become such experiments. I think of the quotes and the poems as rocks rolling on the river bed.
Rob: "I want the reader to have as much freedom in reading the book as I had writing it." I like that. Can you elaborate on it a bit more? When you pick up a book of poetry, what do you want/need to see in it that will grant you that freedom as a reader?
Daniela: Poetry is a work of the creative and imagining being. It is an act of practicing your freedom as a creating being. I want to nurture that. Robert Bringhurst says that poetry knows more than the one who writes it. Which really means I needed to step aside and engage with a space that is much larger and allow poetry to exist there, or rather pull me there. (As I like to playfully address this grim issue: I have to be beside myself to write. I.e. ego does not stand a chance here). As a reader, I want the writer to invite me to do my own exploration. I do not want to be told what to think about this or that work. Or what the author was trying to say. That is a very different space. Worth exploring in its own right, but not the space I am exploring. When we try to restrain poetry by institutionalizing it, and getting all uptight about it with shoulds, oughts, nots, it is destructive to the creating imagination. We run the risk of curbing this freedom and not finding out what else it can be.
We do that in school. As Robyn Sarah says, we successfully vaccinate people against poetry. It sure put me off poetry for a while.
Perhaps this a place no one else can go with you until you get there. You can see the writer taking a risk. You can also feel them playing. Play is crucial to creativity. As a reader (and that includes of my own work) if I can breathe easier after reading it, if I feel expansive and larger in my being, then, perhaps, I have participated and experienced such freedom. Oh, and surprise. If I was surprised.
Rob: "If I can breathe easier after reading it" - oh, I like that. I might quote it. Which brings me back to your quotes: do you think of the quotes in the weight of dew as living in isolation (as being attached to their poem-mate in little nuclear partnerships), or do you hope for them to be understood collectively, accruing meaning from quote to quote?
Daniela: An important aspect of the quotes is to honour the voices and the conversations I am in. We are not alone. What appears to be created out of thin air has its complex processes/cycles. We do not suck things out of the tips of our fingers. The creative process is not as lonely as some writers make it appear. We are in constant collaborations and corroborations. I want to acknowledge that, to be upfront about it.
Out of a text or a poem that might not be too memorable a few lines lift off the page and you are in love again. These excerpts take on a life in isolation. They becomes vortices around which thought/emotion spins.
I am sure the quotes also collectively accrue and enlarge over the length of the book. Though that was not a preoccupation, or focus. Just like a poem does something and then in a whole manuscript it becomes more. Ultimately, it is the conversation.
Rob: One last, "chicken-and-egg", question about the quotes: more often did the quotes inspire the poems, or did you write the poems and later find the quotes and sense a resonance?
Daniela: Both. Sometimes the quote sends me to where I want to go, or have wanted to go, but did not know it until the quote lit the first step. This is the case with the poems "meta eulogy", and "what breathes in (a view". Sometimes the poem is already written when I come across a quote that calls to it. I pair them, feeling they can give each other something. One such case is "Plato killed a moth in my dream".
Click here to read part two of the interview, and another sample poem from the weight of dew!