Lee Edward Fodi


Lee Edward Fodi is a children’s author, illustrator, and educator and self-proclaimed day-dreaming expert. He has illustrated the picture books I’ll Follow the Moon and The Chocolatier’s Apprentice and he is the author and illustrator of the five-book series: The Chronicles of Kendra Kandlestar (Simply Read). He recently published the first book of his new series: Secrets of Zoone (HarperCollins Publishers), and is awaiting the Guardians of Zoone in 2020. In 2004, he co-founded Creative Writing for Children (CWC), a not-for-profit organization that seeks to foster creativity and literacy in first generation immigrant children.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I always wanted to be a writer. I don’t really recall not wanting to do that. I don’t know if you remember from your days from CWC, but I used to show some of the books I used to write as a kid. I had some really terrible books, one I wrote when I was five or six called the Farm 7720. 7720 was part of my phone number so why I would put that as my title I’m not sure. I think I just love creating.

What have been some of the biggest obstacles or challenges you have faced as a writer?

Self-doubt for sure. I think that’s common with a lot of people. It’s a very competitive industry. and I always wanted to be a children’s author, but if I walk into the Vancouver Kidsbooks store, even if I’m a published author with books in that store, I see thousands and thousands of books and they look so amazing and it’s a little bit overwhelming, first in a nice way because I’m a part of all this, but in another way I think that the amount of books being produced now is crazy. A big obstacle is being in my own head. Artists might call it “imposter syndrome,” “Oh I shouldn’t be here,” “hat’s going on?!” It’s a funny thing to say, because prior to getting published I felt it was an insurmountable obstacle. But, when I got published, I thought it would be insurmountable to publish with a big company, but now I am. And I realize it’s a matter of perspective. I think when you are a creative person, whether you are writing or acting or whatever it happens to be, you are constantly introspecting about it and thinking about it. I think that’s part of being an artistic person to question things and create, but I think there is a personal turmoil to that.

What would a younger you be surprised to learn about your present self?

I think I would be surprised to have a career that involves teaching. I don’t think that was ever my trajectory and was never something I thought about, but something I truly enjoy and find satisfying. When I think about personal turmoil, I find that working with kids and teaching is very grounding. It’s so much fun to deal with people that aren’t caught up with the business side of creativity. They’re just creating out of joy and fun and that’s quite refreshing to see and fun to be around. I’ve also taught art therapy to at risk teens, and right now at CWC we’re teaching grade twelves who have the emotional and intellectual capacity of grade fours.

On your website, you consider yourself a daydreaming expert, what do you day dream about? Could you lead me through one of your thought processes?

I could try. I day dream constantly and I catch myself thinking about stories, character moments or story moments all the time. It’s my default behaviour. In today’s age we always have a phone and whenever someone has three seconds of free time, they pick up their phone and consume. They don’t introspect. Wherever I go I try to always take my notebook, whether that’s waiting for an appointment or meeting someone. I would say that this managing of my day dreaming is the expert part. If something catches my attention, all I need to feel is that it’s interesting, and record it. Anything I find interesting can sometimes turn into something down the road.

You’re a very avid traveller, how does travelling and exploring influence your writing?

They’re totally connected. I find it impossible to not be inspired and I think that’s one of the things I’ve taught myself to make sure that that’s okay and do what I need to do to record it. I remember going to Hawaii for the first time, and think I was just going to have a vacation, but I ended up filling several pages of my notebook because I was inspired by swimming with sea turtles and all these others things. I didn’t fight it and decided I’ll just put all this in my notebook. I find even though I’m a fantasy writer, I get all kinds of stories from travelling abroad, whether that’s trying different foods, going into different places. I went to Vietnam a few years ago because I wanted to base one of my worlds in that kind of scenery, and now I specifically travel for research because I find it’s a really invigorating way. You can do all the research you want on the internet, but until you’re in a place and having experiences, I don’t think anything can live up to that.

Where do you find yourself most at home?

I interpret that as almost where I’m most comfortable, but I think I would go a bit stir crazy if I stayed in one place for too long. I’ve always had this yearning to go and experience things, so I’m very lucky I get to go to Korea a lot for CWC and we tack on trips from there. I feel very at home when I’m travelling, but instead of comfort I feel very alive. When I was in Hanoi, I remember walking out of my hotel and a car and motorbike almost ran us over, and there was this stench going off, and I looked at my wife and mentioned how happy I was. I felt so invigorated and raw, you don’t get that here. I feel comfortable here, but I don’t always want to feel so comfortable.

Taking a bit of a U-turn, how has your process in writing Secrets of Zoone differed from your past novels?

Totally different. When I was younger, even as a teenager and young adult I would get this idea, and I would run to a piece of paper or my computer, and I would start writing like mad. But I would quickly run out of steam and get stuck, and now I realize that is not a system that works for me. I need to spend more time developing ideas. I don’t need one good idea; I need many good ideas. What I tend to do is get a white out book and start building ideas and characters and worlds and magical objects, and don’t worry too much about starting the book and writing down the plot. I build it almost from the back entrance. I find that’s a lot more successful because it gives me time to develop those ideas and let them percolate, and it gives character relationships to grow and they get time to interconnect. I’m not writing something and ripping it apart. I think I tend to see this in writers where we want to make something perfect. We want a perfect chapter one before chapter two. I’m a lot more flexible in my approach now. Now when I do turn on the computer, I write notes or bullet points and don’t focus on sentence structure. I focus on sculpting a rough shape and then fine tuning it. My students attempt to fine tune it right away, and might focus on perfecting one little thumb, but then realize the sculpture is not even a human.

While there are massive issues pertaining to the social, political and environmental realms of our lives, writers still insist on writing stories. Why do you feel it is important to tell stories, shouldn’t we be doing something more productive for the betterment of our society?

I think it is the artists, writers, and musicians who can galvanize these issues. I think that is the power of story to communicate issues. There is a great program on CBC called Ideas, and one of their most fascinating stories I loved was something about the Evolutionary Tale. There’s this theory among scientists that telling stories is a part of human evolution and it allowed humans to survive and thrive as opposed to Neanderthal’s. The theory claims that humans were telling stories like “Hey, Bob went down to this well and drank this water and turned purple and died.” It’s memorable! I’m making this up a bit, but I find that so fascinating because it challenges this notion that stories are purely entertainment, and don’t have any hard value. Stories are absolutely essential, and if you examine any kind of history where a society that’s taking a downward turn, and closing in on itself, the very first people that the government goes after are the artists, educators, the story tellers, the truth tellers. Not fact, fact is one thing, but truth can be more compelling than fact. Why do people cry when they read stories or watch movies? Because there’s a level of truth that is compelling. I think this “truth telling” is how we move goal posts further in society.

Jong Won is an alumni of the Creative Writing for Children program and is currently taking a Creative Writing BFA at the University of British Columbia. He likes shooting b-ball in his local neighbourhood.

Jen Currin

Interviewed by Kit McKeown

200x267_BioPicJen Currin is a writer from Portland, Oregon. She went to Bard College for her undergraduate degree, and Arizona State and SFU for her MFA and MA respectively. She currently lives in New Westminster and teaches Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, as well as Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Creative Writing and ACP Departments.

Jen’s first collection of stories, Hider/Seeker, was the Globe and Mail’s Top 100 Books of 2018. She has also published four collections of poetry: The Sleep of Four Cities (Anvil Press, 2005); Hagiography (Coach House, 2008); The Inquisition Yours (Coach House, 2010), which won the 2011 Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry as well as shortlisted for the 2011 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry, and the ReLit Award; and School (Coach House, 2014), which was a finalist for the 2015 ReLit Award, the Dorothy Livesay Prize, and the Pat Lowther Award. Her chapbook The Ends was published in 2013 by Nomados, and she was a member of the editorial collective for The Enpipe Line: 70,000 Kilometers of Poetry Produced in Resistance to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Proposal (Creekstone Press, 2012).

I sat down with Jen in early October 2019 at Prado on Commercial Drive.

Are you reading or watching anything right now?

I’m always reading a lot. Like any teacher of writing, I spend a lot of time reading student work for the classes I teach. I’m reading Mica White’s “The End of Protest” for a story I’m doing research on. Today I did a lot of research on tea dances and the queer community for another story I’m working on. I just read Ali Blythe’s “Hymnswitch” for a class I’m teaching, Natalie Diaz’s “When My Brother Was an Aztec.” I’m reading a great collection called Sudden Fiction International for a class I’m teaching on flash fiction and the prose poem. I’ve read that collection probably two or three times but it keeps giving, you know?

Who are some of the writers who inspire you to keep writing?

God, there’s so many good writers. Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Angela Carter. So many poets too. It’s always changing. Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, all the magic realism people. Alice Munro – I can’t believe how good she is, and I’m always amazed by what she can do with a story. I return to her to study her. Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson. I read heavily in poetry and short story because those are my genres, but I love a good novel, so I’ll read novels and nonfiction too.

What first drew you to writing?

I wrote very young. My mom always wrote, and I grew up in a house full of books. And so I read at a very young age, she had us reading very young, before we went to kindergarten and from that it was a natural segue, for me at least, into writing. So even as a very young child I’d make little books that I’d staple and give to people. I’d write poems, like limericks and haiku when I learned those forms. I just always wrote. Then when I was eighteen, I thought I’d go to school for public relations or something, money, I don’t know. Then before I went, I was like, “What am I even thinking?!” So I changed my major before I even started my degree to Creative Writing. And I kind of haven’t looked back ever since.

What was your experience like in your graduate studies at Arizona State and SFU?

I was very lucky – I had very good experiences at both schools because of the communities I encountered there. The people. My cohorts were pretty great, and then I had some really good teachers. I got to work with the poet Norman Dubie at Arizona State, who was incredible. Beckian Fritz Goldberg was also one of my mentors, which was great. and my friends went on to publish books and do really cool things. That’s when I started teaching composition and poetry classes, so it was great to cut my teeth at teaching. I went back and did my other Masters at SFU because I thought I was going to get my PhD, but I decided not to because I was already working and teaching. Even now sometimes I wonder if I should go back and get one, because certain jobs we used to be able to get we can’t get anymore, but I don’t think I will at this point.

I know that mindfulness is a part of your writing practice. Do you consider connecting with breath and the writer’s physical self an integral part of your creativity?

That’s a good question. Yes – I was thinking about this yesterday, because I was actually at a tea dance, and I was dancing, dancing, dancing. But at the same time, my writer’s mind was recording, recording, recording, and was like “Don’t forget the description of the lights on her hair! You will forget it!” But I think being embodied and very present to the physical is a really important part of writing. And it’s not like when I’m writing I’m like, “okay, breathe,” but I meditate every morning. If I feel like I’m getting too hyped up, I can connect to breath. It’s a big part of the way I move through the world now, and in that way it is connected to my creativity process.

How has your writing process changed over time? Say, from undergrad to now?

It’s interesting – some things are very much the same. In terms of poetry, I started being a notebook writer at the urging of my first mentor. I’m always taking notes. I work in a collage kind of way, weaving from my notebooks. That hasn’t really changed, actually, since I was eighteen. Although, the sources I draw upon might be wider just because I’ve read a lot more in the last thirty years.

Fiction is a very different process. With fiction it’s so many hours, so much research. Poetry takes a lot of time too, but fiction, for me, takes a lot more.

This is a bit of a segue from what you were just saying – I know that you primarily work in poetry, but how do you like working in short fiction?

I would say now I have been working more in fiction the last five or more years. I mean, I’m still writing poems, but I’m undoubtedly putting more time into fiction. I guess one thing that’s frustrating for me is—I was just reading an interview with Shirley Jackson who wrote that famous, widely-anthologized story “The Lottery” that most people have read. She was saying she pushed her buggy up a hill, with her kid, unpacked the groceries, sat down, wrote the story, made very few changes, and sent it off to her agent and it was sold to the New Yorker and published within a few months. And she herself said, “Yeah, that hardly ever happens.” But for me, that really doesn’t happen. Because of the way I work with fiction, oftentimes, I don’t know what the story is. I know a lot of people don’t work that way. With these two stories I’m working on, the tea dance one and this other one about poets at a protest, I have no plot, I do not know what the characters want, and I don’t know what the story is or why I’m doing it. And that can be a long, messy process to figure out who the characters are, what they want, and why there’s even a story. It requires a lot of patience and often I feel despairing that the stories aren’t coming together. Luckily, because I have published a book of short fiction, I know that with enough work, the stories will come together.

I really enjoyed Hider/Seeker because, frankly, it was a pleasure to read short fiction that was primarily focused on queer characters and their lives. I find it kind of rare to find a whole collection of stories dedicated to queer people and voices. I’m wondering what drove you while you were putting that collection together.

For me, it’s not a matter of focusing on queer characters – those are just the characters I work with, what I live with. I’m interested in the intersectional realities of people who are dating all kinds of folk and are still part of the queer community. And I want to write into this more, different class backgrounds and characters of colour. It wasn’t so much that I set out to write queer characters, it’s just my life.

 Where does your inspiration come from? And do you find yourself returning to similar topics time after time?

 Inspiration is an odd thing, isn’t it? You can have a lot of ideas, but they can die away very quickly sometimes. Often I just feel inspired from life, being alive, the people I know, the stories I’ve heard, the things I read, the things I see. It’s interesting too, though, because we often think of inspiration as this positive thing, being inspired by something. But sometimes it can be a positive reaction to a negative thing, like when you see something you don’t like that you write a response to. Or when you see something in the news and think, “this is horrible.” What kind of story could speak against that? There has to be space for inspiration. If life is too crowded, I can’t feel the streams of things that interest me, or the things I want to write to.

As for topics I return to, things like addiction, queer relationships… But did Raymond Carver sit around thinking “here I am again writing about these white working-class people and their drinking problems”? Or Angela Carter, did she ever consider “here I am writing another weird feminist fairy tale”? I need to go with it, even though sometimes I don’t want to do another queer relationship or addiction story.

How, if at all, do you think teaching has influenced your writing?

 The biggest way is that it takes up a lot time in which I could be writing, but I find teaching can be inspiring. It doesn’t necessarily usually make me want to write. Usually I’m processing what happened in the classroom, interpersonal relationships. Though sometimes in exercises we will generate material together, or students will recommend cool things to read. To me, they are just very different spaces. One is about your project, and in workshop it’s not about you, but about others, and you’re focusing on the workshop.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, perhaps those about to graduate their BFA? People working towards getting their work published?

 I will say, for me, that community and having artist and writer friends is important, people you can share your stuff with. I don’t do social media. I find it draining. A lot of people do it, but I feel that energy can be going into a person’s writing. On the other hand, careers have been made on Twitter, so it’s just a very different stream. For me, I don’t want anything taking energy that I need from my writing. And just, staying in practice. Always having my notebook, trying to write or at least take notes every day. Same with meditation – you don’t ever want to give it up. And you know, when it’s in you, you don’t really give it up. You’re always gathering. I remember my mentor John Ashbery said something in an interview like, “People often talk about writing as pain. I don’t relate. Writing makes me happy.” I remember being really struck by that. Whether I realized it or not, I had internalized narratives about “my painful process,” and it was refreshing to hear a writer talking about writing because they like it.

Could you say a few words are you working on currently?

Stories. A few of those, and notes for others. I also put together a poetry manuscript from the last few years. I put that together last winter and am figuring out what to do with it. There are a lot of stories I want to write – I hope I write them!

Kit is a queer nonbinary writer. They have a BFA in Theatre Performance from Concordia University and are a current student in the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing Program. Their poems have previously appeared in Bad Nudes, The Void, The Puritan, and Poetry is Dead. Their play “Mighty” was recently presented in Ergo Pink Fest, a festival for female and nonbinary playwrights in development with Ergo Arts Theatre in Toronto. They roast coffee in Vancouver, BC.


Matt Bell

Interviewed by Charles Brown

Matt Bell

Photo Credit: Hannah Ensor

Matt Bell is the author of the novels Scrapper and In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, as well as the short story collection A Tree or a Person or a Wall, a non-fiction book about the classic video game Baldur’s Gate II, and several other titles. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, Conjunctions, Fairy Tale Review, American Short Fiction, and many other publications. A native of Michigan, he teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University.

His writing has often and accurately been described as incantatory. His poetic prose floats through lakes and marches through forests. It drags you through the dirt and the asphalt. It sings moons into the sky, and watches as you writhe uncomfortable below. And when his spell releases you from its grasp, you aren’t quite sure how or why, but you feel it – a subtle shift in consciousness, a bodily confirmation that everything’s okay and maybe even a little more than.

To start, I’m interested in when your relationship with writing changed. When did you see it as something that could become a career path, and to take it further, when were you able to see your work as having the potential to contribute to a global discussion? When did you come to understand that what you had to say about the human condition was important? Was there a specific moment that you can recall?

I didn’t really start writing until I was in my early twenties, which was also when I started reading literary fiction, people like Amy Hempel, Denis Johnson, Chuck Palahniuk, Colson Whitehead, George Saunders, or Aimee Bender: those were my real points of entry into contemporary fiction and into writing. At the time, I was in and out of college and working as a bartender, and wrote my first stories outside of school or a workshop system. But eventually I went back, started taking creative writing classes, and aiming for what might come after I finished school. I wanted to eventually publish something, but I wasn’t sure exactly what a career like that would look like.

By the time I went to grad school, I was definitely thinking about “career” more earnestly: I was starting to publish stories in magazines, and became very invested in the small press and lit mag scene. Between grad school and the writers I got to know while living in Ann Arbor, that kind of life began to seem a bit more possible, which made it easier to go after. I also discovered that I loved editing and teaching, and so aimed for both of those jobs as part of a fuller literary life.

As for the work having the “potential to contribute to a global discussion”: I don’t know if I exactly think of what I’m doing in those kinds of terms. Obviously, I hope the work is entertaining and that it moves people—to feeling, to thought, maybe even to action—but I don’t think I start from the stance of “having something to say.” My first stories were really written as a kind of reader response—I loved some existing story so much I wanted to make more of it—and there’s still a large component of that in my process. I want to write books because I’ve loved other books. I want to write about the world because I love the world.

 I follow your Instagram account (thank you for that), and I know that you have a new novel in the works. How does the process of working with an agent and having readers now that you’re an established writer differ from when you started out, emotionally or otherwise?

I think the biggest change to how I share work with others while it’s in-process has less to do with being established or working with an agent and more with the difference between novel writing and story writing. I’m not a very linear writer, and my rough drafts are rough. I try to wait as late in the game as I can before I show my work to anyone else, so that they’re helping me with the best possible version of the book, the one taken as far as I can go on my own. As you mentioned, I just finished a new novel, and I didn’t show it to anyone until I was three years in. I didn’t even tell anyone what it was about until I’d worked on it for a year. What I need more than anything while drafting is to protect the weirdness and the wonder and the possibility that I’m chasing in a book. Sharing a draft too early—and letting other voices into my process—ends up being more risky than beneficial, at least for me.

That said, it’s also moderately terrifying to give your first reader three years of work all at once, hoping that it was worth it…

That makes a lot of sense to me. I know a lot of writers do it differently, but I really admire that dedication to self that you seem to be cultivating, and I think, too, there’s an inherent kindness in giving the best possible version of your work to someone who is going to help shape it. So how does it feel after having protected something for so long, to get that feedback from your agent or The New York Times that reaffirms that what you’ve created was worth it, not from an egoic perspective, but in the sense that you’ve successfully created more of what you originally loved and responded to? Does the three years of silent working affect your response to that feedback? Or is it all about the process of creation for you?

 I’d be lying if I said outside feedback didn’t matter. I’d like not to be defined by it, if possible, but of course I care what people think about my books and stories. I will say that there’s something incredibly moving about talking to the first person who reads a new novel manuscript. By that point, I’ve lived with the characters and events inside my head for years, but they haven’t yet lived in anyone else. I recently had a conversation where a first reader said the names of my characters back to me for the first time, and I immediately got chills. It’s an incredible feeling to realize that what once lived in only you will soon live in others, and the feeling is just as powerful whether that’s one person or ten thousand.

I’m also curious about “GO BIG WITH WONDER” – which I love! You say on your Instagram that you wrote that note to yourself after the second draft of your current project. Having read your debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, I’m in awe thinking about the kind of wonder you might impart into this new project. How can the sense of wonder get bigger?! Can you maybe give some insight as to how that manifested in your latest manuscript? Or talk about how important it is to write notes like that, little reminders, to yourself?

GO BIG WITH WONDER was a huge help with the new novel, which is an environmental/climate change novel set over a large span of time. I think it’d be easy to be overly dour or depressed in such a book, but I think that one of the things I wanted to focus on was how amazing and beautiful the world is, even at the worst of times. You can be furious about climate change and worried about what is being lost and still be in awe of the phenomenal world all at the same time. It was really important to me that the wonder and awe I feel at the world—at both the human and the nonhuman worlds, which are of course really not so separate—came through wherever it could.

I think most of my novels have eventually discovered their own marching orders like this: little provocations or reminders to help guide the long slow work of drafting. I don’t know them in advance, usually, but I’m always excited to discover them.

This is a more personal question, maybe. Your schedule seems to be really full. How do things like teaching, running, and your culinary explorations inform or impede your writing practice? How beneficial is it to learn from other artforms, like cooking, and take lessons inherent within that medium and apply them to your practice? 

I’m sure there are a lot of crossover lessons. For instance, runners talk about having to “run your own race,” not worrying too much about what other people are doing, and that certainly applies to being a writer too, where comparison and envy are the roads to imposter syndrome and writer’s block. But really, I think it’s best to do each thing for its own sake: I love teaching and trail running and cooking and writing. They don’t have to have more purpose in my life than that. I think I’m always happier doing the activity itself, as opposed to hoping for what the activity might do for me or how it might define me.

I love your response to this question. Crossover lessons may be understood consciously or even bodily, but to do each thing for its own sake – there’s no better way to be fully present in that moment with whatever it is that you’re doing. And sometimes it’s nice just to have a break. On that note, and because we’ve had a lot of discussion about the beauty of the natural world, I’ve got a fun question for you: if you could go running anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?

I’m lucky to get to run in the Sonoran Desert every week, and to have had some good adventures while traveling for teaching and for work. I’m sure there are many new places I’d like to visit, but honestly I think the place I’d like to run again most is somewhere I’ve already been: last year, I ran the twenty-plus-mile “Cowboy Loop” in the Grand Canyon, down South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch and then back up Bright Angel, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. This fall, my wife and I backpacked Rim to Rim, and I’d love to go back and do that again as a run. Someday, I hope!

Charles Brown is an MFA candidate in the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing Program. His poetry has been published in Anima Poetry Press and The AZ Republic. His Fiction can be found in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. He enjoys basketball, games of any kind, and a steaming cup of coffee in the morning.  




Micheline Mayor


bio picMicheline Maylor is the poet laureate emeritus of Calgary and a decorated professor who has inspired many students to write, including yours truly. She has published five books of poetry, the most recent of which, Drifting Like a Metaphor, featured twelve emerging Calgarian poets handpicked by her. She joined me for this interview from Windsor, Ontario, the day after participating as a featured guest in Poetry at the Manor.

From 2016 to 2018, you served as Calgary’s poet laureate. Looking back, what was the most memorable moment from that time?

The most memorable moment… Oh boy, that’s a tough question because there were a few. Many of them had to do with the people that I met. People were coming to consult with me anywhere from someone who had a polished memoir about his alcoholism, all the way to a new immigrant who had been in Canada for only two weeks, and there were kids as young as three and people as old as eighty-five. It made me realize that poetry, literature, and self-expression are a hugely connecting factor in our society. Before, I could understand how important poetry was to me but I couldn’t see it on a societal scale until I had that experience.

Wow, so even at a poet laureate level, you’re still learning.

 Of course! I think that poetry is a lifelong art, I think all literature is a lifelong art. It’s you against yourself no matter how long you’re doing it. So it’s a continual thing as long as you’re breathing you’re still learning. So that only puts me at the middle of my journey, so that’s pretty neat (laughs).

(Laughs) Also maybe daunting, especially for new writers.

 Well daunting or glorious because once you can say to yourself, this is a lifelong learning opportunity, you can give up on the idea of perfection and just move into letting it be a process. Rather than having an end goal, the journey is the goal.

How do you find inspiration for your poems?

 Well, as my friend Mary Ann Mulhern said yesterday, “You don’t find inspiration, inspiration finds you.” If you are standing or walking down the street, something can catch your eye and that can be enough. You’re riding your bike down the street, and all of a sudden you hear a line in your head, or sometimes you wake up from a dream with a line, and that can be enough to begin. So inspiration comes from everywhere. I think it’s also essential to add in commonality. Because If I only told of my own experience—that would be fine—but what is even more essential is when you can tap into the experience of the other, the big other. The big other can be the human experience, it can be human emotion, it can be the pure livingness of being on the planet, that can be enough. We all have this common experience of love, sorrow, joy, elation, exuberance, laughter, naughtiness, and sorrow. All of these are common experiences, so when we find those moments where a specific thing can become grander because of its connection to the larger experience, that’s when the best inspirations happen. So my experience comes from walking around being me. I’m a walker, I walk and think, walk and think.

Out of all the poems you write, how do you pick the ones to continue working on?

 The ones that I pick to work on have that element in them. Once I write out a rough draft, I double-check and I say to myself, can this also be someone else’s experience? Because I don’t need to diarize my experience, I need to tap into the connection. When those things come closely with an emotional charge, then it becomes important to work on the language of the thing. Then, is the language also doing something beyond common speech, beyond what can be said in the vernacular? If the language doing something, is the form doing something? And I think both the language and the form is essential to elevate a poem out of a common occurrence. The language is creating the entryway, the spell, the rhythm, it can entice you to think about things in a different way. So it’s the language, the emotion, and does it have that bigger experience available within it?

What’s your editing process like?

 I’ll look at it over and over and over again. I’d say my average is editing something about twenty times. Once I can say to myself, okay, this is satisfying for me at this point, then I have people I send my work to regularly. I break my own rules and I also send my poetry to my mother but that’s because she’s not the typical mother who’ll say, that’s nice dear, you’re so talented! My mother would say, this doesn’t work, this sucks, this word is wrong… So I send her my work because I get good feedback. But that’s because she’s been listening to me for twenty-five years harp on about how you should read, and what you should look for, don’t do this, and don’t do that… She’s been my most consistent student.

Right, so you taught your own mother to become a good workshop partner.

 Yes, and now my daughter also takes my classes but she’s a songwriter. She’s a really good lyricist because she picks up the same elements of poetry writing and puts them into her songs. One of the other people I send my poetry to is Susan Plett, she’s a poet who thinks she should be a psychologist, but she’s really a poet (laughs). Another one of those people is John Wall Barger because he takes no prisoners. He currently works for a magazine in the US called Painted Bride, and they have a podcast where the editors sit together over the slush pile and pull something out of it, read it, and discuss whether or not they are gonna publish it and why. Quite fascinating. You really get an inside view of what it absolutely looks like in an editorial meeting.

Speaking of editing, you’ve also been a long-time editor at FreeFall and now at Frontenac House, and also a professor at Mount Royal University. Does working on other people’s poetry affect your own writing?

 What’s most interesting to me is that I can deeply respect someone’s work and think to myself, oh, I’d love to write like that, then don’t, because my voice is completely different. But typically, I’d say it makes my writing sharper because I see what other people are doing and I think to myself, okay, you gotta clean that up and that up and that, and it forces me to look at my own work and say, alright, is all of this stuff cleaned up?”

But you know, I don’t think that anyone should write like me. I think you know from my classes too, where I don’t say, “write like this.” What I say is, “this is what your writing is doing, is this what you want your writing to be doing?”

Also, there’s this other thing that I learned from working with new writers all the time because I get this perpetual stream of first-year writers coming my direction. I have to remember what happened in my son’s karate class—if you can just hold on while I go for this little ride. I went to my son’s karate class when he was about six, and there is this black belt teaching this class. So I asked, “Sensei, you are a black belt, why are you teaching little kids?” And he said to me, “it’s important to be in beginner mind, if I can’t teach them, I’m learning nothing.” He really emphasized to me what it was like, oh yea, beginner mind! So teaching these first years forces me to have beginner mind and, in so doing, I also get beginner enthusiasm. I go, ah… this is fun. Ah, this is fun!

 What’s the toughest thing about being a poet?

 The paycheque. (laughs)

(laughs) Of course, the grim reality.

 The grim reality! Yea, it’s a tough go, man. You make a couple hundred here, a couple hundred there and that’s it. So, why do you do it? I gotta remember what Tom Wayman said, which is that poetry lives outside of the money economy, therefore it’s an act of social change. Being a poet is an act of rebellion, there is no reason to do it except that you love it because you got something to say and you want to say it beautifully. That’s an act of rebellion against the economy, all the politics, shit news, the crazy president down south, sorrow and suffering that goes on in the world.

Do you have any advice to new poets in dealing with the capitalistic realities of our world?

 Yea. Poetry is still free. You go to your free public library, with your free library card, and you can get free poetry and that’s also an act of dissent. Everything is available to you, a world, a lifetime is available to you. So my recommendation to you is to get yourself a library card and go read. Read, read, read, read. If you have a cellphone, pull it up on YouTube, that’s free too. So the paycheque sucks, but poetry is free, and that’s a big deal. It’s a wonderful amazement of life and it’s available to you, for free, at your fingertips. So my advice to young poets is to read. Use your library, use YouTube, learn something, expand your mind, think of things differently, be awake, be aware, be engaged.

As a final question, what is the most common mistake you see new writers make?

 Self-doubt. Everything else can be fixed in your writing. If you have shit grammar, alright we can fix that. Got writer’s block? Meh, we can fix that too! But self-doubt can kill your writing. The thing that can’t be fixed is self-doubt, that’s the one you gotta break through yourself from the inside out. As a writer, will you have self-doubt? Yes, because that’s human nature, it’s the human experience. But what do you do with that self-doubt? That’s the question. At times of self-doubt, feel it, rail against it, express it, and you rebuild yourself. It’s a tiny act of heroism, denying self-doubt. Giving up is the only time a mistake is fatal.

Juhyun Tony Bae is a Korean-Canadian writer currently studying at UBC. He’s currently trying to establish a sleep schedule, but writing isn’t helping. His work has been published in Grain, FreeFall, Wax Poetry and Art, and most recently, he was shortlisted for PEN Canada’s New Voices Award. You can find him on twitter @jTonyBae.