a love song to the culture

I have been specifically concerned with issues related to post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma and violence. The poems in Inheritance explore the links between PTSD and the ways in which poetry resurrects human experience, particularly through the use of formal devices. Many of the formal poems in this collection are concerned with themes of obedience, rebellion and power. They weren’t written with an agenda in mind, but I feel they explore some uncomfortable issues. Whose voice speaks through me? What does it mean to occupy an archaic form? The questions make me uneasy, but are nonetheless central to my experience as my father’s daughter and as a female artist in a patriarchal culture. And it was very important for me to not shy away from the emotional intensity of the subject matter, to allow the sense of mourning and love and trauma. It strikes me that this is what a lyric poem is in the end, a love song to the culture. And I think that all our stories and myths bear the scars of trauma. In a broader sense, I’m interested in humanism. I’m skeptical about art and its purposes and aims. It strikes me that we too often celebrate self-expression and creativity over what might help to ease suffering on a larger scale. I don’t mean that art should moralize. It’s one of the most rewarding forms of enchantment. But if I was compelled to define its relevance, I would say it’s the best means by which we can both create the world and understand the world as created – by our own perceptions, values and ambivalences.

- Kerry-Lee Powell, discussing her new book, Inheritance, in an interview with rob mclennan over at his blog. You can read the whole thing here.


a powerful way to store energy

We had Zach Wells write a piece for Reader's Digest called "Doctor Igloo.” It was about someone named Dr. Paul Stubbing, who worked as a physician in Iqaluit for three decades. It was a 1,500 word profile, nicely done, nothing too taxing. But it was read by more Canadians than all of the books he’ll ever publish in his lifetime, combined. Sets you back on your heels, doesn’t it? And it’s been tremendously healthy for me to face how small our concerns are when compared to the size of the country. For every literary “firestorm” on Twitter, for every Facebook “controversy” over a bad review, my day job reminds me that people have more important things on their mind: the tar sands, rampant inequality, sexual aggression in the workplace. The fact is, the world that poetry once belonged to—the world that saw the form as a vehicle for major ideas—no longer exists. When you come down to it, other cultural forms (novels, movies, HBO dramas) are now regarded as offering a more useful, accurate and entertaining way of telling stories about ourselves. Poetry’s irrelevance, however, hasn’t changed the fact that it’s still a powerful way to store energy—emotional, intellectual—and to release it. Once you’ve had a taste of building devices that can do that, it’s hard to stop. And speaking as a critic, practicing a minor journalistic art underscores how important it is to do it well—and to have a healthy relationship with the reasons you do it.

- Carmine Starnino, in interview with Melissa Bull over at PRISM international. You can read the whole interview here.


absolutely present and inevitable

Michael Harris: I was trying to think of how a first line literally has to have one hooked immediately. Without a first line that either leads in immediately to a second line hook or a third line hook, there isn’t any poem, you don’t get down to the fourth line usually. It has to be something that doesn’t throw one off. It has to actually bring one in. Reading a poem is a little bit like falling in love. Ten years on, if it was a correct falling-in-love you’re still with them and if it was an incorrect falling-in-love, you’re not with them anymore.

Carmine Starnino: Does that thinking affect arrangement in a book? For example, the first poem you place in your manuscript?

Harris: A friend of mine, the Quebecois poet Michel Garneau, once told me, “Lead with your best piece.” And that makes a kind of sense. He is, amongst other things, an actor and a playwright. And theatrically, what’s interesting is to have something very strong at the beginning. But I don’t think the first poem in a book has to be the best poem. It has to be a poem that is absolutely solid, that doesn’t push one away, that says, “Here I am. I’m a decently written piece. I have subject matter that’s of interest. I have a couple of oddities. A couple of interesting tropes that tell you I’m an interesting poet beyond what one might normally read.” And by the end of the first page, you have to have read something of import. Then the second page and the 3rd page and the 4th page, you can fool around a bit. By the time the 5th or 6th page, then you have to have a plateau poem, a decent poem, a very good poem. Something that’s so good that, had you put it first, you might have lost the reader; it’s a little bit like getting introduced to somebody you don’t know and coming on too strong. That’s how Shakespeare managed the plays. Very seldom is the huge speech in Act 1. The magic develops slowly. By the time you get to Act 3 or 4 there’s strength, power and explosiveness.

Starnino: You don’t want to come on too strong?

Harris: You want to be absolutely present and inevitable, but you can’t whack somebody over the head and say this is genius. At least, that’s how I would organize the seduction.

- Michael Harris, former Signal Editions editor, in interview with current Signal editor Carmine Starnino, over at Canadian Notes & Queries. You can read the whole thing here.


a technique for the reconciliation of method and chance

Through a particular texture of physiological bravado, rather than knowledge, I attempted to participate in the world. What is life I thought, other than to succumb profoundly, thoroughly and enduringly. Thus began my career. I sought a technique for the reconciliation of method and chance. This ignited in me a sensation of intelligence, which is to say, I felt the being of my life in relation to a generality. What a voluptuous illusion! I continued. In this way it seemed that I began to understand history.

But I was also aware, in the last instants before sleep, that I was the one who was about to swindle myself. This was my vanity: that I did not pause long enough to imagine that each being harbours the same suspicion.

- Lisa Robertson, from her "Essay on Origins", over at The Rusty Toque. You can read the whole thing here.