I’m so thrilled to bring a column I had at Open Book many years ago to the pages of The Miramichi Reader. Essentially, what I do in this column depends entirely on the book culture as it appears before me at a given moment.
Evie Christie’s newest collection, Mere Extinction, now with ECW Press is a heartbreakingly raw collection which the poet had a tough time putting together.
“The challenge for me I’m finishing this book was finding the right collection, I ended up cutting many poems over time, it takes me forever to write and edit and feel like I’m ready to do something with my work.” Having a patient editor (Michael Holmes) helps a lot the poet says.
Christie says the hardest poem to write was ‘When Your Baby Dies Steps For New Parents A Manual’. “I wanted the poem itself to be good, i didn’t want to write a bad poem in memory of my son. It’s not enough that there’s loss, the poem doesn’t care about how sad we are. I used my own experience and that of others I knew who were grieving their children and I think I just wanted to write an authentic poem for all of us.” Christie, who is the author of the novel The Borgeous Empire says that the poem ‘Birthright’ is the poem in the collection “that gets closest to being a poem I want to write. I don’t think I’ve ever written the poem I wanted to write.”
Dallas Hunt’s debut collection Creeland concerns itself with notions of home and the quotidian attachments we have to this concept — even across great distances. The collection also explores the vital role of Indigenous aesthetics in the creation and nurturing of complex Indigenous lifeworlds. While discussing the changed forever world under COVID-19 and social injustices that continue to take centre stage in our consciousness, Hunt says the role of poetry may help society at large, but doesn’t dismiss how this notion comes across. “I think there’s a place for poetry or “the poet” in the sense that poetics might provide us with some imaginative horizons to address or circumvent these grave social, political, or environmental problems. While some might roll their eyes at this, I think the totalizing stagnation we face (and have faced) offers us a unique window to start to think through these issues differently (something Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized poets have been doing for a while).”
Hunt says that having a few people read his work such as Cecily Nicholson and Richard Van Camp and offer up feedback is something he is very grateful for. “I would also include the vibrant poetry scene in Vancouver, and the collegial atmosphere that exists there. At times, it feels like we just all want one another to do well, which includes inviting people to readings, doing podcasts, interviews and a whole plethora of other activities. It’s really quite heartening.”
Aaron Tucker has just released Catalogue d’oiseaux and I mentioned to the poet how over the last few years he has increased the frequency at which he published books. What’s been going on I wondered, to cause such acceleration in his MSword growth. “The somewhat flippant answer to this question,” Tucker suggests, “is that I started my Ph.D. in Cinema and Media Arts at York University and that my creative writing practice became a welcome escape. But that’s not true really: I am enjoying grad school (well as much as one can during the pandemic) and am finding that my interests in cinema and my writing really nurture and fuel each other.” For Tucker, writing is a welcomed escape the poet and novelist has found essential, “in the last year and half especially.”
Jessica Moore’s long poem The Whole Singing Ocean examines the environment from the sea, amongst other things. I was thinking as I started Tucker’s long poem, how the medium of short film would be a perfect way to capture the energy for this form. “I didn’t grow up with a lot of movies in my life, Tucker says, adding “our family never really rented them, and we didn’t go to the theatre a lot. And so my turning to film, in particular in the last four or five years or so means that a lot of my thinking about how my writing and cinema overlap is pretty new. I am working on a potential book-length reading in the near future with the ever-amazing Kirby at Knife Fork Book and so I have given it some thought – I think the film could be part performance, part image-making; I like the idea of sustained shots that the poem moves. The shots don’t have to be of whatever is in the poem; in fact, I think it’s more interesting if there’s juxtaposition. I tried a mini-version of when the book came out. Here is a link. But I like your thought here! I think there is something smooth and continuous about cinema that aligns itself with a long poem; even with editing and montage, a film still works with the sum of its parts in duration, and I think that’s also how a long poem works when it does. I have been lucky enough in my Ph.D. program to meet a lot of filmmakers, and be around people much smarter than me with established, beautiful and intelligent filmmaking practices; I’ve tried to listen as much as possible to people when they talk about that, and I think, consciously or unconsciously, that crept into the editing of Catalogue d’oiseaux for sure. And then I was able to have Daniel Scott Tysdal and Lia Tarachanky make short films for my launch, both of which are incredible and you can see here at the virtual launch.
And then I asked Tucker, something along the lines of, There is a romantic nature to the copy, and the obvious connection to love birds and romantic poetry, etc., but it’s a different world that Keats and Shelley and those darling romantics. Though they had their share of problems, etc., your long poem is a celebration of going the distance in a long-distance relationship, then uniting to go even further. Have you had many discussions with audiences and readers about this irony? Is it irony? I don’t know, you probably have a better sense. I have definitely thought about it a lot, in particular how it fits this moment of a global pandemic. In many ways, this book comes from a lot of the privileges in my life, the abilities to travel and see art, to have a healthy relationship despite it being long distance for a time; that has been a difficult thing for me to grapple with in a time when there is so much trauma, and people struggling. But I think there are some parts of that in the poem, even if it’s not the focus: I’m thinking of the section about Berlin and just the undercurrents of violence in a life. I mean, the book is a love poem, but I think it’s also about how love, for me at least, has changed, and the difficult things that have driven some of those changes. I think the distance and travel aspect is a small part of that, but a part nonetheless. At the same time, multiple people have told me that there also needs to be light and love in times of darkness and that there will be very strong and powerful writing about this time, necessary and urgent writing, that can take up some of what this poem doesn’t do. And I do think that the poem can exist in that space, celebrating life, and finding and being with a person you love.”
Nathaniel G. Moore’s column Conflict of Interest will appear frequently on these pages. In October, Moore releases Constrictor, his fourth poetry collection, with Mansfield Press.