a roll of nickels 2018 year in review

Twelve years and this blog is still (kinda, sorta, somehow) chugging along.

It was a busy year for me, launching two (!) books - "Oh Not So Great": Poems from the Depression Project in January and What the Poets Are Doing: Canadian Poets in Conversation in November (launch photos here and here). I pledge never to do this again, lest folk start thinking I'm the heir apparent to George Bowering or something...

While getting those books out in the world required a good share of my energy, I was still able to make a few things happen here on the blog. The highlights:

January 2018: One Way or Another: On Don Coles and his Poetry

My reflections on the life and poetry of Don Coles, who died in late November 2017. It includes some healthy quotations on the man and his writing from both Don and others. I delivered this essay as part of a reading at the January 2018 Dead Poets Reading Series event.

March 2018: a gift to myself - An Interview with Mallory Tater

"A big part of writing this book was going back into my adolescent mind-frame and seeing what I believed no one to care about, a time when maybe I felt voiceless, and subverting that as a sort of gift to myself and my childhood friends." - Mallory Tater

April/May 2018: BC Poetry 2018

The third, and final, year of the series featured 38 new books (and 38 poems) by BC poets, bringing the total number of books/poems featured up to 94 (you can read the 2017 and 2016 editions here and here). It was a very inspiring - if exhausting - project, and while I'm leaving it behind, I do have a new special project I'm cooking up for 2019. Stay tuned!

May 2018: I keep coming back to what gives me courage - An Interview with Kate Braid

"I think now I’m braver. Or I care less about what people think of me. This is one of the great joys of getting older." - Kate Braid

June 2018: Guest Interview: Brandon Wnuk interviews Catherine Owen

It was a real pleasure to host this interview with Catherine Owen, conducted by my former student at UFV, Brandon Wnuk.

September 2018: caught unawares at the centre - An Interview with Amanda Jernigan

"I suppose that poetry is, for me, among other things, the language — or a language — of faith and doubt. Life, too, is such a language." - Amanda Jernigan

September 2018: an entire page of words about one damn thing - An Interview with Curtis LeBlanc

"Some of the good I wanted to do with these poems was to give a window for other men to look into and see themselves and maybe realize that that resentment they feel and felt towards the way they were expected to be wasn’t misplaced." - Curtis LeBlanc

December 2018: the passport filled with shrapnel - An Interview with Dominique Bernier-Cormier

"“Foreign correspondent” means a correspondent of the foreign, not a correspondent who is foreign. That’s the wrong way around, I think. " - Dominique Bernier-Cormier

December 2018: One Last Dead Poets Reading Series Update

I stepped down as a coordinator of the Dead Poets Reading Series in December, a series I co-"resurrected" with Diane Tucker and Christopher Levenson back in 2011. I really enjoyed writing this piece on my time with the series, which caused me to reflect on the role public readings, and public remembering, have had on my development as a poet.

I finally turned the tide on interviews - my output per year had been dwindling from nine in 2015, to seven in 2016, to four last year. 2018 saw five, and if all goes according to plan (see "new special project" above), 2019 will continue that upward trend.

My posting of new quotes on writing slowed considerably, though. I only added thirteen (down from 29 last year), and none after March (I have a very bloated "to read" file of online interviews and essays which I hope to get to soon). The two new books and editing for Best Canadian Poetry 2019 have kept me busy. Oh, and the kid too.

Thank you once again this year to PRISM international for simultaneously posting interviews from this site. And thanks also to EVENT magazine for providing another new home for some of my interviews. I hope to continue to add new interview venues in 2019, though no matter where they're simul-posted you'll always be able to find them here too, oh stubborn handful of people who still monitor RSS feeds.

Happy New Year, all!


What the Poets Are Doing - Some Responses and Excerpts

It's been just over a month since we launched What the Poets Are Doing in Victoria and Vancouver (photos here!). Since then, the book has been getting some wonderful coverage, including a wonderful review from Tara Henley in the Toronto Star.

“If you think an entire book about the poetic process — chronicled through email interviews, no less — sounds depressing or dull, you are not alone. You are, however, delightfully mistaken. This gem of a book sees several generations open up on writing, loss and life, and is a riveting read, akin to stumbling on private letters between your most literary and intriguing friends.”

WTPAD also made the Writers' Trust's 2018 Books of the Year, thanks to Journey Prize winner Shashi Bhat, who said of the book:

"As a creative writing instructor, I’m finding so much in here that I can share with my students to show the kind of lateral thinking involved in writing poetry, and that poetry isn’t written in a vacuum, but reflects and responds to the world we live in.”

That quote gave me a thrill, in that reaching young writers (or young maybe-I'll-be-a-writer?s) is one of my strongest desires for the book. I'd love to see Creative Writing and English classes take on the text. More generally, I've been pleasantly surprised by how many non-poets have responded very positively to the book - as both a way in to poetry, and a way to look out at the world through the poets' eyes.


Further coverage for the book has come from Read Local BC and The Source newspaper, which interviewed myself and Raoul Fernandes respectively:

Rob Taylor interview with Monica Miller (Read Local BC)
Raoul Fernandes interview with Brittany Thomson (The Source)

Raoul, on the nature of the book:

“I think it can be a wonderful thing to overhear people who care deeply about what they do, and talk about what it means to them.”

On the same theme, while speaking about Where the Words Come From (for which WTPAD serves as a spiritual sequel) in my interview, I mentioned:

"Where the Words Come From came out when I was 19 and only just starting to find my way to being a poet (a long path which I am still walking). But how does one “find their way to being a poet”? Through poems, of course, but also other means—literary readings, critical essays, social gatherings between writers. I like to think of Where the Words Come From as having been a combination of those last three things in book form, which was vital for me as I didn’t know any writers personally, and didn’t (and don’t) like actual parties. In just being there, in the room of that book with all those writers, I got a sense of what a life in writing might be.

I hope this new book can serve the same role for prospective writers and readers alike: a welcoming into this strange world of writerly concerns, habits, fears, jokes, and acts of faith. And for those already fully committed to poetry, I hope it serves to reinvigorate, to take them back to the source, that first feeling."


In addition to reviews and interviews, we've had great support from a number of online magazines in hosting short excerpts from the book itself (a couple more are still to come):

Dionne Brand and Souvankham Thommavongsa excerpt at The Puritan
Marilyn Dumont and Katherena Vermette excerpt at PRISM international
Sina Queyras and Canisia Lubrin excerpt at Rabble.ca
Russell Thornton and Phoebe Wang excerpt at EVENT


If you haven't got a copy of WTPAD yet, and any of the above intrigued you, you can pick one up at the usual places (or, until the end of the month, straight from me). Some of those links:

At Your Local Bookstore!
Harbour Publishing Website
Amazon Kindle
Kobo Ebook
Nook Ebook

Or, please, request a copy at your local library - few things make me happier than the thought of a reader stumbling upon this book in the stacks and having it worm its way into their life, as Where the Words Come From did with mine.


Hopefully there will be more updates along these lines in the new year, and the book will only continue to gain momentum. Regardless, it's been a wonderful first month!


One Last Dead Poets Reading Series Update

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, as of this month I am retiring as a coordinator of the Dead Poets Reading Series, which I helped "resurrect" in 2011 after founder David Zieroth had folded it following a three-year run on the North Shore.

One of my duties with the DPRS was to design and maintain the website, which I did for the final time a couple days ago. I'm going to miss updating a few of those pages, as they gave me a lot of joy. I wanted to take a minute to share a bit of that joy with you.


The first page is the "List of Poets Read" since the series' inception, which is now up to 207 poets (228 readings, which include some repeats). And yet we've barely gotten started. A fun game is to read through the list and find who's not on it - there are some surprises!

I love, especially, reading through and remembering the poets whose work I first encountered through the series who have gone on to have a significant impact on my own writing. That list starts with John Newlove, who I'd barely heard of when David Zieroth read him at the first DPRS in 2007. It goes on to include Mahmoud Darwish, Jim Harrison, Randall Jarrell, Audre Lorde, C.K. Williams and many more.

I also think about the poets I was lucky enough to be able to present as part of the series: Al Purdy, Larry Levis, Jack Gilbert, Don Coles and, in a shorter reading, C.P. Cavafy (a few others, like Kofi Awoonor, Elizabeth Bishop, Elise Partridge, and Muriel Rukeyser I happily deferred to other readers - though now a part of me wishes I'd been more selfish!).

The May 2012 DPRS readers: Lilija Valis (Hanshan),
Chris Gilpin (David Lerner), Catherine Owen (Loren Eiseley),
Rob Taylor (Larry Levis), Evelyn Lau (John Updike)
I've shared abridged versions of my talks on two of those poets - Jack Gilbert and Don Coles - on this site. I remember, too, reading a quote from Larry Levis about every poem being the same poem, and moving from that to discuss how Levis' poetry always seemed to be building on the same handful of themes and moments, turning them over and over until he produced "Winter Stars," which to me is his (and, well, just about anyone's) finest poem . I said how that seems like a more-than-valid way to build a literary career, like a gyre - circling and circling, moving in on your one subject. I remember saying all that and then seeing Catherine Owen, another of the readers that day, nod in agreement, and something that should have been obvious clicked in me - that I had been doing, and should continue to do, the same in my own writing. That was back in 2012, and my fairly obsessive poems and books on family (my father, my mother, my wife, my son) have followed over the years.


Another page I'll miss updating is the "Photos" page, not because the photos are thrilling (Are poetry reading photos ever thrilling? I was never willing to humiliate the poets enough to find out if they could be...) but because they capture so many of the Vancouver (and visiting) poets who I care deeply about, and the important moments when we came together.

Here are a few of my favourites:

This is from our May 2015 reading, where Heidi Greco (in blue) read Lorraine Vernon. The folks surrounding her are Lorraine's family. Lorraine died in 2004 and her writing has gone underappreciated since. That day both Lorraine and her poetry were celebrated as they should be.

This one is from our March 2015 reading when - stars aligning as they sometimes do - we had four poets in town who are all primarily known for living elsewhere (and have since returned to said places): Karen Solie (Toronto/Saskatchewan), Sarah de Leeuw (Prince George), Alice Major (Edmonton) and Ngwatilo Mawiyoo (Nairobi).

As an unfunded series in which no money changes hands (not since we moved to the VPL and stopped having to pay rent, at least), it's always been tough for us to get non-Vancouver poets into our lineups. It has happened a few other times, though: Yvonne Blomer, Kim Fu, Nora Gould, Carol Glasser Langille, Rhona McAdam and - just this November - Amanda Jernigan have all paid us out-of-town visits.

When I look at this photos I think about how lucky we were to get those four poets in one room - something that's very unlikely to happen again - and all the warm, good thought that that particular combination generated on that singular afternoon. I also like to think about the good warmth of that Vancouver room traveling out with them across the country/world.

Two more photos: the first one is from our September 2012 reading. Three of these poets (Jamie Reid, E.D. Blodgett and Elise Partridge), who took time out of their busy lives to celebrate other poets, have since died themselves (the other two, Christopher Levenson and Elena Johnson are - I'm happy to report - alive and well!).

The second is from our September 2017 reading - five years and one day later - when Jamie and Elise's poetry was read by Wayde Compton and Barbara Nickel, respectively (recently deceased BC poet Peter Culley was also read that day, by Weldon Hunter). At our November 2018 reading Heidi Greco read a poem by E.D. Blodgett, who only recently passed away.

That repeating cycle, of honouring and being honoured, seems to me to be at the heart of poetic practice, and of this series. We read, we write, we celebrate, we forget, we discover, we return.

The series serves many (many!) purposes, and remembering Vancouver poets is only one of them (another - an education in poetry - was what drew me in in the first place). But giving our community a space in which to collectively remember, to honour and be honoured, has certainly meant the most to me.


My last link, truth be told, is very tedious to update (formatting those damn photos!) and I won't miss having to do so, but now that it's done I find myself particularly fond of it nonetheless: the "Meet the Organizing Team" page.

I've loved so dearly working with the co-coordinators I've had, especially Christopher Levenson and Diane Tucker, who did the "reviving" with back in 2011. And the new team! Wow! Joanne Arnott, Jane Munro, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Kevin Spenst, Diane Tucker, Isabella Wang - what a group! They are going to do great things.


It's quite possible the amount I blog about DPRS events will decline in the future - cutting back on side projects so I can write a little more (i.e. at all) was the point of this - but who knows. Regardless, if you aren't already connected up with the DPRS' social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), or on their mailing list (you can sign up by entering your email in the text box at the bottom of the homepage), you should get connected ASAP.

And then come out and celebrate the world's poetry (which is also ours) and our own poetry (which is also the world's), alive and dead and alive once more.


Some What The Poets Are Doing Launch Photos

What the Poets Are Doing was officially launched (on the West Coast, at least) on November 17th and 18th, with back-to-back events in Victoria and Vancouver.

The Victoria event was a co-production with Best Canadian Poetry, which had recently released its 2018 edition, while the Vancouver event was partnered up with the Dead Poets Reading Series' November reading, which took place immediately following the launch.

Both events were, well, really quite lovely. Good thought, plenty of laughter, and some damn fine poems.

Here are a few photos from the two day blitz!

Best Canadian Poetry series editor Anita Lahey kicks off the Victoria launch.
waaseyaa'sin christine sy reads her poem from Best Canadian Poetry 2018.
Kayla Czaga reads from What the Poets Are Doing,
and cracks everyone up with her Winona Ryder poem.
Amanda Jernigan reads excerpts from What the Poets Are Doing alongside a poem
from Best Canadian Poetry, for which she serves as Advisory Editor.
After I made a wrong turn on the highway, Amanda and I came within five cars of not making
the ferry back to the mainland (and missing the Vancouver launch!). Here's Amanda
celebrating our crooked end-of-the-ferry parking spot!
Me, opening the Vancouver launch of What the Poets Are Doing.
Arleen Paré, a Victoria-based Best Canadian Poetry 2018 contributor who found herself 
on the wrong side of the Salish Sea that weekend, reads first at the Vancouver event.
Raoul Fernandes reads from What the Poets Are Doing, and adds
an amazing poem by his conversation partner, Tim Bowling.
Russell Thornton discusses his conversation with Phoebe Wang,
while pointing at the skylight for some reason.

My crack team of book sellers (Marta, Lucas and Diane Tucker)
are all business.

Lucas, already in training for the fourth edition in the Poets in Conversation
series (which, at the current rate of one every 16 years, will come out in 2050).

The November 2018 Dead Poets Reading Series Lineup: Phanuel Antwi (June Jordan),
Amanda Jernigan (Richard Outram), Carleigh Baker (Gwendolyn MacEwen),
Bibiana Tomasic (Audre Lorde).
The Dead Poets event was my last as one of the coordinators of the series, which I helped "resurrect" alongside Diane Tucker and Christopher Levenson back in 2011 (you can see more photos from the reading here). It's tough to leave the series behind, but necessary if I want even a sliver of time here or there for writing. The DPRS is in wonderful hands, though - just look at this incredible organizing team!

We'll be heading out east with Where the Words Come From in the new year - if you live west of the Rockies, I hope to see you soon enough!


Holiday Book Sale

I've got too many books in my damn apartment, so I'm having a little Christmas sale to try to move some copies!

Prices are:

What the Poets Are Doing: $20
The News: $12
Oh Not So Great: $12
The Other Side of Ourselves: $12

*Free Shipping if you order two or more books - Canadian orders only*

You can order copies and learn more over on my website:



the passport filled with shrapnel: "Correspondent" by Dominique Bernier-Cormier

Two Excerpts from Correspondent - Dominique Bernier-Cormier

Early morning, August 12. Hydrogen peroxide leaks from an I-15 torpedo aboard the Kursk. Liquid falls, drop by drop, onto a ring of copper insulation. At 11:29 a.m., seismographs in Norway detect an event of magnitude 1.5 on the Richter scale. The submarine sinks 108 metres to the bottom of the Barents Sea, fire in its hull. Two minutes later, a second torpedo explodes in its launching tube, triggering a chain reaction. Torpedo heads burst one by one, a long rosary of flames. Seismic needles shake as far as the New Mexico desert. Scientists in white coats and round glasses analyze scribbles of lead, pinpoint the location of the event fifty miles off the coast of Kola, in Russia. Holes in the hull the size of bodies. The whole sea trying to squeeze itself in.

We feel bad, weakened by carbon dioxide.


My mother, at fourteen, swims for hours before school every day. Her palms cup water, wrapped in bracelets of silver bubbles, rosaries of air. She breathes to the rhythm of morning prayer. Je vous salue Marie, pleine de grâce. A kick on Marie, a breath on grâce. Clockwork. Outside, nuns circle the pool in their black habits. Hands behind their backs, the white clouds of their voices. Snow falling on Quebec City’s copper roofs. A bell ringing. When she swims the backstroke, my mother balances a cold glass of water on her forehead. To learn to keep still. To learn not to shake when she runs out of breath, when breath runs out of her. The glass throws a ring of light across her freckled face. If it falls into the water, the clock will stop, go back to zero.

Pressure is increasing in the compartment.

from Correspondent
(Goose Lane Editions, 2018).
Reprinted with permission.


Dominique Bernier-Cormier's Correspondent (Goose Lane, 2018) is no ordinary first book. It’s autobiographical, recounting the author’s adolescence - yes, yes, I know, like almost all of them! - but it does so slantwise. Bernier-Cormier refers to his upbringing in hints and flashes around the larger political events which dominated the news, and his life, at the time (his father was a CBC correspondent in Moscow). So the sinking of the Kursk become intertwined with Russian lessons in school, car rides through new neighbourhoods, memories of Canada, and visits to Central Asian marketplaces. It’s a powerful portrait of a time, a place and, tucked within it all, a person.

The book is broken into three sections, one for each of the major political events explored (the Kursk sinking, the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, and the Nord-Ost siege). Each section opens with a description of the political event, followed by nineteen untitled prose poems, each of which includes a short piece of found text.

I'm both a poet (with a strong interest in nerdy form stuff) and a History major, so needless to say I was compelled when I learned about the book, and I continued to be so after having read it. And it didn't hurt that I knew Dom to be one of the kindest poets around (who tolerated my blathering to no end when he was training to replace me as Poetry Editor at PRISM international). So I was very happy to have the chance to ask Dom a few questions about the book, writing about an "other," writing in his non-native tongue, family literary rivalries, and more. I hope you enjoy!

Dominique Bernier-Cormier, patiently waiting for me to stop
explaining the minutia of updating PRISM's online store.

Rob: This book stands out from most first books in a number of ways, especially its uniformity of content and form. This is no general first "collection" of individual poems, and though it does explore some common "first book" themes (the author's childhood, chiefly), it does so slantwise, in the cracks and margins of larger political stories. You write stand-alone non-prose poems too (like this and this and this). Could you speak about how and why you decided to lead off with this themed book and not a more general collection? To what extent was this book initially created in the shape we see now v. cajoled into its current shape and focus (I note that that last poem I linked to, "At the Izmailovo Flea Market" lives on in Correspondent as a significantly re-worked poem in the "Massoud" sequence). Do you have another unthemed accumulation of poems waiting in the wings?

Dominique: I wouldn’t say it was a “choice” to lead off with this book, rather than a collection of unthemed poems. Honestly, this one was just ready. It had found its form and its three central stories were told. I felt like it was prepared to go into the world, and I was prepared to “let go” of these images and narratives I’d been obsessed with for a long time. I saw this book as a project that had a clear end, whereas I think of writing my stand-alone poems as a continuous process.

That being said, I think I’m close to having a collection’s worth of unthemed poems, yes. But I’m in no rush. I used to worry about this first book not being “representative” of my other work, and about people knowing me only as a “long-political-prose-poems-about-Russian-politics” poet. But I’ve learned to be proud of that formal and thematic range. Hopefully, each book will feel like a curve-ball! I think that’s a good goal.

It took me two years to find the form of Correspondent, then two months to write it, and another year to obsessively micro-edit it. I think a lot of the poetic work had already been done by the time I found the form—I’d been mulling over certain images, certain turns of phrase, certain thematic connections for years at that point, and so when I finally found a frame for them, I was really well-prepared to write them into it. But I still have hundreds of pages of failed attempts, fragments, quotes, metaphors on my Google Drive. The epilogue references that process (These are the fragments left on the cutting room floor) and is made up of some of these abandoned lines.

Rob: Yes, finding the right “frame” can make all the difference, eh? The “frame” for these poems is quite literally rectangular, like a picture frame. Your chosen form (prose poems with the injection of found text from people connected to the political events) reminds me of both the Japanese haibun (a block of prose followed by a haiku-length poem) and the Spanish glosa (a form which integrates a poetic epigraph into the lines of the poem). There's also something journalistic about prose poems, I find—the formality of having the words reach all the way to the far side of the page. How did you settle upon this structure for the book? What role do you hope the shape of the poems might play in how people experience the content of the book?

Dominique: The form definitely came from feeling torn between journalistic and poetic impulses. It was important to me to tell these three news stories with all the clarity and complexity they deserved. My regular “style” of poems didn’t allow for enough narrative clarity, but journalistic language didn’t allow for enough complexity in terms of images and metaphors. So I tried to strike in the middle.

I think of each prose-poem as a one-minute stand-up from a journalist on scene. I tried to emulate that brevity, clarity, and physical immediacy: a narrative voice anchored in a visual background and contained in a rectangular frame for a brief window of time. There’s also a certain rhythm to the broadcast stand-up that I like—that cadence is very clear in my mind, from hearing my dad on TV throughout my childhood.

It was very important for me to include the quotes, and they were there from the very beginning. The voices I quote in the book represent immense acts of courage and defiance, and my intention there was simply to amplify them. They are voices that manage to rise clearly out of the noise of war, of grief, of fear. They’re the final words on every page—after all the reporting and analysis and narration, they’re what’s left resonating through the white space.

Rob: Regarding the quotes and how they resonate, a profound turn occurs in Correspondent on page 43 (of 86 total pages - dead centre!) when the location of the quotes shifts from a haibun-style end-of-poem placement to a glosa-style integration throughout the text. The found lines being to crop up all over the place, almost chaotically. The poem on page 43 describes a translator returning to consciousness following the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud by suicide bombers—waking up in a new world, as it were—the body of one of the suicide bombers severed at the waist beside him. The horror of the poem seems to cleave the book in two—the found text is never the same after that. At what point in the assembling of this book did you decide upon that turn, and was it an easy decision to make? How did bringing that turn into the book help you see what you were doing with the book as a whole?

Dominique: Yes, good math! I have to give some credit to Sheryda Warrener for prompting that turn. At first, the quotes all ran at the bottom of the page. Sheryda gave me some edits and mentioned that the power of a pattern often comes from being established, then disrupted. So I broke the pattern, and it taught me what I was trying to do with the book.

What I want to show is the intrusion of public narratives and images into private lives, and vice-versa. And so the two texts (narration and quotes) had to clash, blend, intrude, become entangled, start speaking to each other, in the way they do in our lives.

The scene you mentioned is also the point in the book when journalism becomes literally violent—when the two terrorists, disguised as journalists, detonate explosives hidden in their camera, when the lens becomes weapon. From that point on, it becomes impossible to think of journalism as purely benevolent, objective and observant. Journalism has agency and consequences. It doesn’t just observe the world, it changes the landscape. And so it’s not just the quotes infiltrating the narrative, it’s also the narrative infiltrating the quotes and influencing the way we read and experience them.

Rob: The third sequence of poems in the book, "Nord-Ost" (about the 2002 Nord-Ost Theatre hostage crisis), closes with the words of one of the surviving hostages: "I didn't even catch a cold // even though the river was full of ice." This speaks directly to the sequence's narrative, but also to your role as observer/outsider/"correspondent" in Russia at that time. In this way and many others Correspondent explores the complexity and challenges of both foreign reporting and travel writing: you are talking about someone else's stories which is also (at least peripherally) your own. As you put it in your "Notes on the Facts" at the end of the book, "Their narratives and images became enmeshed with the fabric and rhythm of our everyday lives in Moscow. It is this entanglement that I tried to capture and express here."

We're in a time when a premium is (understandably) put on "telling your own story," which puts a writer like you in a bit of a spot! To what extent do you think of this book as a part of your life v. apart from your life? And how important is it to you to make that distinction, especially in a highly interconnected world where major events in one part of the world are experienced in real time (and via the same media) on the other side of the planet?

Dominique: The question of how much this book is part of/apart from my life is one that I constantly asked myself as I was writing it, and that I keep asking myself. I think it’s a really important one. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to navigate other cultures, countries and stories in a responsible way.

I think that ethically responsible journalism, and documentary poetry, needs to perform a sort of double-think: it needs to make itself as transparent as possible, as much a clear vehicle for other people’s stories and voices, and at the same time be hyper-aware that it can never be that, that any story that passes through it will necessarily be changed, be affected, be distorted. I think it’s about both minimizing that distortion, and also drawing attention to it and examining it.

In a way, this book is a work of translation, and therefore a record of failure. Translations are never able to fully capture and represent the original. It’s important to acknowledge that, to be aware of what’s lost in translation. It’s the first step. But then, we’re able to also ask what’s gained in translation. I don’t think this is a book about the Kursk, or Massoud’s assassination, or the Nord-Ost hostage crisis; it’s a book about how these stories were processed through my particular body and memory, and what happens to them when they pass through the filters of journalism, translation and poetry.

Rob: On the theme of translation: you've written in the past about writing in English as a native French speaker, but I wonder about it particularly here, in exploring these stories which took place primarily in Russian, French and Dari. What role do you think language (and language barriers) played in your understanding and exploration of "foreignness," both in your childhood and in the writing of this book? How do you think this book feel different if written in French or Russian?

Dominique: I didn’t speak English at all at the time when this book “took place,” so that adds another layer of translation to the events. The problem, of course, is that every time we remember an event, we’re not actually remembering it: we’re remembering the last time we remembered it. And so, the more I read and spoke and wrote about these events in English, the more English intruded into my French and Russian experience of them. (That being said, there are words that I experienced and remember so physically that I couldn’t translate them: Молодец, шашлык, ГАИ.)

I think my childhood provided me with a pretty unique experience and understanding of “foreignness,” and I still think a lot about that concept. The term “foreign correspondent” itself carries a lot. The adjective “foreign” doesn’t actually qualify “correspondent” (as it should). “Foreign correspondent” means a correspondent of the foreign, not a correspondent who is foreign. That’s the wrong way around, I think.

I think it’s important for anyone (but especially Anglophones, and especially poets) to experience their language being decentralized and destabilized; to find themselves walking down a street where they can’t understand the fragments of conversations floating by. It’s a good exercise in humility and empathy: I am not the center, and There are meanings I don’t have access to.

Interacting with other languages also teaches you how profoundly connected the acts of speaking and thinking are. In my family, we still use Russian and Mandarin words, and Parisian slang, because no word in our French-Canadian vocabulary would be able to convey their exact meanings, in all their cultural and sonic specificity. It’s not only our vocabulary that changed by living in these places, it’s also the concepts we have access to. It’s a scary and amazing discovery that a single language can’t say everything, that even our thinking is accented.

Rob: In ways we've discussed above, and others, a central theme in Correspondent is reportage (your father's work as a CBC journalist being the impetus for your "entanglement" in these events). The book contains both a cautioning ("I hope // I remember it is the correspondent who is foreign // not the landscape") and an embracing of journalistic practices (each section opens with a journalistic account of the news story under consideration, and similar journalistic descriptions pop up throughout the poems). Did writing this book, and navigating the various difficult decisions that had to be made in the process, bring you new understandings of your father's work and the decisions he made when you were a child?

Dominique: Yes, it’s both a celebration and a criticism of journalism, especially of the work of the foreign correspondent, and I think I was dealing with similar dilemmas: how much do you show of yourself and how much do you let others speak through you? Where is the line between witnessing and voyeurism? I had really great discussions with my father about these issues.

I had to make a decision very early on about historical accuracy. Would the book be simply “inspired” by these historical events, or would it have journalistic standards of factuality? I decided I wanted the work to be as historically accurate as possible, and that involved a lot of research and a lot of checking in with my father about his experiences. A few times, he even had to tell me to cut lines that I really loved because they didn’t reflect his experiences. He has incredible high standards of ethics when it comes to his work, and I tried to live up to that.

So yes, I feel like I learned a lot from his work and the humility he brings to it. I’m learning how to efface myself at times, how to prioritize the story over my own voice and style.

Rob: Speaking of your father, Michel Cormier, he also wrote a book about this time in your family's life - La Russie des illusions (and the damn thing was a finalist for the GG - yeesh! No pressure following that...). His book, too, has sections on the sinking of the Kursk and the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud. What was it like writing this book knowing that other one existed? Did you lean on it as a resource, or try to keep some distance from it? Obviously they are very different creatures, but how important it for you to cover new ground (or the same ground differently) in your book? Has Correspondent torn the family asunder re: which to display more prominently on the mantelpiece?

Dominique: Yes, good research, Rob! I think of my father’s book and mine as complementary, as two different perspectives on similar events—journalist vs. poet, adult vs. child, French vs. English. But yes, I did lean on it as a resource, and I checked in with him about using some of the stories he had covered and writing about some of his experiences. He was so great about it and supported me the whole way. As did my entire family.

Writing Correspondent became an act of collective memory for us, I think. Conjuring images and sensations and details from that time in our lives was very much a collaborative act. I would often check-in with my brothers and parents about how they remembered certain things. It was a lot of fun to time-travel back to the early 2000s together.

The two books are different in form, perspective and approach, but also intention. My father’s intention, I think, was to re-tell some of the news events he had covered in greater depth and with greater context than he could in a two-minute TV segment. Mine was to tell these stories more “poetically,” because there was something missing for me in the way journalists, political analysts and historians told them.

I wanted to use more poetic language, yes, but I also wanted the stories to behave more like poems. In a way, the nineteen prose-poems in each section speak to each other the way lines do in a poem. I wanted image, as much as chronology, to determine the order of poems. The poems that open this interview, for example, are tied by ring of copper/ring of light, rosary of flames/rosaries of air, rather than timeline. The narrative is driven by echoes, by a logic of image. That allowed me, I think, to reach political conclusions without using the language of politics—to show the passport filled with shrapnel that acted as a shield, rather than to say that nationality is a privilege.

Rob: You note at the end of the book that a portion of the proceeds from sales of Correspondent will be going to the Massoud Foundation. Could you speak a bit about the work of this organization, and why you chose to support them in this way?

Ahmad Shah Massoud
Dominique: The Massoud Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organization established to preserve and spread the values, leadership and ideals of Ahmad Shah Massoud. It’s chaired by Massoud’s brother, and is involved in humanitarian and cultural efforts to improve the living standards of Afghan citizens, increase the literacy rate, and build schools, libraries, and computer labs. It also funds the Mandegar Daily, an independent newspaper that advocates for democracy, anti-terrorism and the elimination of government corruption.

Poetry is nice, but actual resources are essential. I wanted to give back to Massoud and his family in a tangible way, and in a way that they had control over. It made sense to me for the book sales to support literacy and freedom of the press in that way.


Like all poetry, Correspondent may not be essential, but it's definitely worth a read. You can pick a copy up at your local bookstore, or via the Goose Lane website or, I suppose, from Amazon.