Garth Martens won the 2011 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. His first book Prologue for the Age of Consequence (Anansi, 2014) was a Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Poetry. His poems have appeared in publications like Poetry Ireland Review, Hazlitt, This Magazine, Geist, Vallum, Fiddlehead, Prism, Grain, and Best Canadian Poetry in English. In collaboration with Alma de España Flamenco Dance Company, he wrote and performed the libretto for Pasajes, an international production staged in 2014 at the Royal Theatre.
For nine years Martens has worked in large-scale commercial construction throughout northern Alberta and interior British Columbia. As another writer who has worked in the oil patches of northern Alberta, and who dried up as a creative force in that environment, I was particularly interested in what drove him to keep writing, let alone maintain inspiration, in such a rugged and muscular environment. His book Prologue for the Age of Consequence is almost entirely concerned with the world of the tar sands, and the lives of those who work within it. I also couldn’t ignore his penchant for Flamenco, and what thoughts he might bring to bear on “cross-pollination” in the arts.
First off, and it’s a little belated, but congratulations on your book Prologue for the Age of Consequence. It is intensely, darkly beautiful, and can leave one quite staggered at times. Obviously the book draws a lot from your experiences in the tar sands, the oil patches of Alberta. Having worked there myself, and as another creative person, I related quite fully. But I also had questions. Did these poems start coming to you unexpectedly while you were already ensconced in that world, or did you have an idea that a project like this would emerge beforehand? Perhaps discussing what led you to seek work out there in the first place, and the alternating experiences living up there and living in Victoria.
Thanks, Patrick. That’s kind of you. In 2006, I was working a lookout tower in Lac la Biche under the header of Alberta Wildfire Management, and sharing the gig with a girlfriend. Although losing at cards, killing mosquitoes, and growing paranoid about phantom smoke and stray figures in the birch were all formative experiences, the pay split in half didn’t amount to much. Through a contact in Edmonton I was hired on with a large-scale commercial construction company, and subsequently worked at several job sites up until late 2014. I didn’t anticipate writing about it. I didn’t want to. A few years later, after an especially exhausting stint in construction, I wrote a prose poem in the voice of a labourer. Soon I had the terrain for a unified manuscript. In tandem I read Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and The Divine Comedy, which shaped certain choices at an early stage.