Adèle Barclay

Photo credit: Michael Stevens.

Interviewed by Kyla Jamieson

Adèle Barclay published her début collection of poetry, If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You, to widespread acclaim in the fall of 2016. A poem from this collection, written—like many of Barclay’s poems—for one of her close friends, won the 2016 Walrus Reader’s Choice Award for poetry. Accepting the award, Barclay wrote, “That a poem predicated on friendship and survival managed to charm enough people to win the Readers’ Choice Award is inspiring to me—it feels right considering the nature of our love and politics.”

An early version of the manuscript that became If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry in 2015; this recognition helped Barclay land a contract with her collection’s publisher, Nightwood Editions. In 2016, Barclay won the Lit POP Award for Poetry—her prize included publication and a trip to Montreal for the POP Montreal International Music Festival because, as Barclay put it, “they know if they give writers money they’ll just spend it on rent.” Not long after our interview, it was announced that If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You was a finalist for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, a BC Book Prize that acknowledges the author of the year’s best poetry collection.

We spoke in Barclay’s kitchen, where she’d generously assembled a spread of cheeses, crackers, and nougat sourced from shops in her Commercial Drive neighbourhood. We discussed her education and influences, the ambient intimacy of texting, and not being an asshole. After our conversation, Barclay offered to read my tarot from a nautically themed deck, with her laptop open to assist. I emerged from the experience and into Vancouver’s uncharacteristic snow feeling much as I do when I surface from reading Barclay’s poems—hopeful and affirmed, a little less alone amidst the complexities and contradictions of contemporary existence.

Let’s start with your education. Having recently received your PhD in English, you’ve reached the height of academic achievement. It seems like the MFA is a more common route for poets to take, at least in Canada. Why did you choose the path you pursued?

It’s sort of just how it worked out. I actually started in Science at Queen’s then migrated to English. I did my Master’s at McGill, where I was definitely more on the periphery of the creative writing scene but went to a lot of events, took in a lot, and made friends with people like my friend Klara Du Plessis—we were both Master’s students and now we’re poets in the world. Then for some reason I decided to do a PhD. I graduated during the recession, so at the time academia was the most lucrative direction to go in. I took a chance on BC—I came out here to study at UVic and during the beginning of my PhD my writing took a huge dip. I was deeply uninspired. Everything I wrote, I was like, “This is awful.”
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Alysia Nicole Harris

Interviewed by Cameron Sharpe

Alysia Nicole Harris is an internationally known performance artist and poet hailing from Alexandria, Virginia. She is a Cave Canem fellow, founding member of the performance poetry collective The Strivers Row, and co-founder of the start-up Artist Inn Detroit. Alysia has toured in Canada, Germany, Slovakia, South Africa, and the UK and has spoken at the United Nations. Two-time Pushcart nominee, and two-time winner of the 2015 and 2014 Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize, Alysia’s poems have appeared in Indiana Review, Solstice Literary Magazine, Vinyl, and Best New Poets 2015. Her work has been anthologized in The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. In 2015, she was also selected as the Duncanson Artist-in-Residence at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati. 

Her first success as a writer and a performer was when she was a member of the winning 2007 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). In 2008, she was featured on the

HBO documentary Brave New Voices, a slam poetry competition for kids from 13 through 19 years old. In 2014, Alysia received her MFA in poetry from NYU and Ph.D. in linguistics at Yale where she was a Bouchet Honor Society Graduate Fellow.

I was fortunate enough to get in contact with her through email while she was touring the UK and interview her through Google Hangout when she got home to Atlanta.

What brought you to poetry?

We have ways of thinking and how the world makes sense to us and we do not have a name for these things when we are young. We just know that is how we think. Obviously from training you get better and better at your skills, you get that natural impulse. I feel like with poems, I love writing and love words and I was obsessed with them. I would just write lists of names, but they weren’t really names but list of words. I loved the way they sounded and they launched my imagination to different places and to different ideas and so when my teacher in fifth grade showed my English class what a poem was, I was like “Oh I do that, that’s the name for, what happening up here in my brain.” I was like “Oh, that’s who I am! That’s what I am. I do that” And from there it was just getting better and practicing and spending time doing it. 

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Annelyse Gelman

Interviewed by Mariah Devcic

Annelyse Gelman is a poet currently based in Berlin. Her collection of poems Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone was a finalist for the Believer Poetry Award. Gelman’s EP (under the name Shoulderblades) is available on Bandcamp and is proof that she is truly a maker of all kinds. Further proof can be found with her poems in the New Yorker, the Indiana Review, and Poetry is Dead, as well as her collaboration with artist Stephen Whisler, and many other places/media.

I emailed Gelman after reading her book countless times and keeping up with her other work through a monthly newsletter. I was interested in her inspiration and process because of the momentum of Gelman’s work at large. She let me in on a few of the ways she stays curious, and why she doesn’t always try to force creativity.

How have your inspirations and influences changed from before the book to now? How has publication changed your process?

The way my work and its influences changes over time feels pretty fluid to me – evolving along a path that’s revealed as I proceed, shaped by many different forces. There’s not really a meaningful demarcation between “before the book” and “after the book”; in many ways, the timing of publishing in the first place was fairly arbitrary. There’s a constantly mutating body of work, and at some point you just stop and make a cast of that body’s current shape. A fossil of something still living? These mutation-cast cycles will proceed regardless of when, or whether, I publish.

There’s definitely some pressure now to create something new and different – nobody wants to write the same book twice – but I’d be wary of repeating myself even if I never published Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone. I’m always trying to do something I’ve never done before; I imagine this is true of most artists. I’m probably also more patient – I just want to do the best work I can, as hard as I can, and I’m not too worried about how long that takes. My process was – and still is – to follow my curiosity and confusion and excitement, and see where that takes me. Sometimes that means poems that naturally want to gel together (like the Naked Lunch centos, or this series of site-specific pieces “set” in New Mexico, or when I find myself drawn to certain forms or tones), and more often it results in standalone pieces that haven’t really found a place in a larger project yet.

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Louise Bernice Halfe

Interviewed by Selina Boan

Born on the Saddle Lake Reserve in Two Hills, Alberta in 1953, Louise Bernice Halfe is the award winning author of four poetry collections. Her books Bear Bones and Feathers, Blue Marrow, The Crooked Good and Burning in this Midnight Dream have received numerous distinctions and awards. Her work has been shortlisted for Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Pat Lowther Award, and the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award, among others.

In addition to writing, Louise holds a bachelor of Social Work from the University of Regina and has travelled across Canada and abroad doing readings and presenting her work. She was Saskatchewan’s Poet Laureate for 2005-2006 and currently lives outside Saskatoon with her husband, dogs, cats, and chickens. Her Cree name is Sky Dancer and she is a proud mother and grandmother.

I have long admired Halfe’s poetry and return to her work often for its attention to sound, texture, and celebration of the Cree language. Re-reading her latest poetry collection, Burning in this Midnight Dream, I was struck once again by the rhythm of her words, by the presence of the body, and the power of truth, storytelling, and witness. It was an honour to interview Louise through email correspondence and talk with her about the significance of dreams, the challenges of life as a poet, and the musical dance of the Cree language.

I am curious to hear how you came to poetry, what was it that initially drew you in and what inspired you to pursue writing?

I didn’t choose poetry. Poetry came nodding its head in when I was keeping a journal. The journal writing kept calling to me and was reinforced by dreams and ceremony.

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V.V. Ganeshananthan

 

The South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) presents its Fifth Annual Asian Literary Festival. Titled “Electric Ladyland,” the two-day event featured a series of readings, panels, and workshops at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the New School for Social Research. Photo by Preston Merchant.

Interviewed by Seema Amin

“We must go on struggling to be human

though monsters of abstraction

police and threaten us.     

~   Robert Hayden

V.V. Ganeshananthan is a novelist, short story and non-fiction writer, as well as a journalist and poet. Her debut novel, Love Marriage (Random House, 2008), received widespread acclaim; it was named one of Washington Post World’s Best of 2008 and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and was also longlisted for the Orange Prize. Spanning the fraught margins of war, diaspora, ethnicity, identity, nation and geopolitics, her work has been distinguished as passionate, and continues to be unrelenting, lucid, and fierce. Tracing the political and personal genealogy of a Sri Lankan Tamil American girl called Yalini, whose immigrant family’s move from the US to Toronto acts as a catalyst for the unravelling of secrets, both familial and national, personal and transpersonal as Yalini grapples with an ex-militant uncle, a link to the 25 year war still raging (at the time) in Sri Lanka, Love Marriage is the seemingly innocuous title of a courageous debut novel that had its origins as a series of vignettes composed while Ganeshananthan was still a student finishing her Bachelor thesis at Harvard in 2002.  In the years between, Ganeshananthan had established herself as a journalist and non-fiction writer.

Since then, she has continued writing across genres, though themes and areas of interest, whether intellectual, personal, aesthetic or regional, certainly overlap and reinforce each other.  Formerly Vice President of SAJA (South Asian Journalists’ Association), her articles, reviews and essays have regularly appeared in The New York TimesThe Atlantic MonthlyThe Washington PostColumbia Journalism ReviewThe San Francisco ChronicleHimal Southasian, and The American Prospect, among others. Her short stories have appeared in Granta, Ploughshares and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014.  She has served on the board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and is presently part of the graduate board of The Harvard Crimsonas well as a contributing editor for Copper Nickel. A graduate of Harvard College, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Bollinger Fellow at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she was Delbanco Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Helen Zell Writers Program at University of Michigan from 2009 to 2014 and has been teaching at University of Minnesota since 2015, with a stint as visiting assistant professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fall of 2016 as well. Earlier, she was awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, Philips Exeter Academy, Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. She is a founding member of Lanka Solidarity and serves on the board of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies.

How has your sense of place and childhood (where you grew up) and school experiences influenced your decision to pursue journalism, write novels? I know you later worked with Jamaica Kincaid in Harvard, who supervised your thesis, what was that like?


I grew up outside Washington, D.C., in Bethesda, Maryland, and my friends and I talked about politics all the time. We read the newspaper voraciously and liked to dissect things going in the White House and on Capitol Hill. It makes some sense to me now that this might have contributed to my political interests in storytelling. I always thought and was taught that life and politics were intertwined. And I saw people tell stories to gain political power, or to take it from others. 

Jamaica Kincaid was a generous editor and teacher; she used to have me read my work aloud to myself, and then she would help me edit as I was reading. Being her student was a transformative experience.

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Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

bio-photoInterviewed by Matthew Kok.

It was a big night for Emerson Poetry Project—Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib was performing. As a first-year student at Emerson college, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this big important writer, or what to expect from the night of poetry ahead, or what to expect from a poem.

He walked up to the mic, and for the rest of the night we were traveling. That’s how I ended up being pulled into Hanif’s work. He took the music in our lives, the images of them—a dorm bunk, the sky from an airplane seat—and proved their relationship, its intimacy. He brought us his own stories, and they became ours.

At the end of the night, Hanif walked to the middle of the crowd. As we huddled around him, intimate, shoulder-to-shoulder, his life opened itself up to us. Through his writing and slam poetry, Hanif’s life and influence has continued to open itself up to me. As Bobby Crawford, then-MC of the Emerson Poetry Project said about Hanif four years ago, “No one is doing it like him right now.”

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s life began in Columbus, Ohio. You can read his poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, from Button Poetry / Exploding Pinecone Press. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, other journals. His essays and music criticism has been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, and the New York Times. He has been nominated for the Pushcart prize, and his poem “Hestia” won the 2014 Capital University poetry prize. He is a Callaloo Creative Writing Fellow, an interviewer at Union Station Magazine, and a poetry editor at Muzzle Magazine. He is a member of the poetry collective Echo Hotel with poet/essayist Eve Ewing. Additionally, he is a columnist at MTV News, where he writes about music, and fights to get Room Raiders back on the air. He talked to me about exploring genre, branching out of slam, bridge-building, and survival strategies in dark times.

I think I remember you saying you got started writing a little bit later in life?

I started writing poems around 2012. I had been writing music criticism freelance for a while, since like 2009, and I kind of got a little tired of it and wanted to branch out into other things. Poetry was the natural leap for me because I was so interested in analyzing lyrics, picking through language on a larger, more artistic scale. So, poetry kind of afforded a really good opportunity to just expand on that.

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Garth Martens

GarthBioPicInterviewed by Patrick Murray

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.

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Francesca Lia Block

c307e2cf505fbd4b585b1f26101f17fb_400x400Interviewed by Genevieve Michaels

The work of California-based writer Francesca Lia Block creates its own universe: a dreamy, gorgeous parallel reality that blends magic and danger to haunting effect. Among her many remarkable books is the Weetzie Bat series. The series was collected in the omnibus Dangerous Angels, which The New York Times called “transcendent” and Buzzfeed referred to as “a quintessential book of the 90s.” Block is a recipient of the Spectrum Award, the Phoenix Award, the ALA Rainbow Award, and the 2005 Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also a gifted teacher, which is no surprise – her warm, empathetic nature is evident in her compassionate treatment of both her readers and characters. I first came into contact with Block as a fan, when I sent her a piece of my writing in 2014. To my surprise, she responded  with thoughtful comments, and we have kept in touch ever since. In fact, I think of her as my virtual fairy godmother.

Weetzie Bat is a cult classic. What is the experience of being the author of such a well-loved book? Does it in any way “overshadow” the rest of your books? Is it still your most popular book, or do younger fans tend to start off with your newer works?   

Yes, it does overshadow everything! Usually when I meet a new person, they know all about Weetzie but aren’t familiar with much of my other work.  It can be frustrating. My fan base is definitely older now and those are the readers I’m in touch with so I don’t know what books of mine the younger ones are reading. In terms of sales, currently, Weetzie Bat, Dangerous Angels and Girl Goddess are my most popular, in that order. I really want people to take a look at The Elementals. It’s an adult book published by St Martin’s and I think it’s one of my strongest novels.

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Jennica Harper

JH PicInterviewed by Shaelyn Johnston

Jennica Harper hails from Brampton, Ontario, but now resides in Vancouver, BC, where she currently writes for the acclaimed CTV series, Motive. She has worked as a writer on such TV series as, Some Assembly Required (YTV), Shattered (Global), and Mr. Young (YTV/Disney XD), for which she won a 2013 Leo Award and was nominated for a 2014 Canadian Screen Award. Jennica also adapted a comic book, The Clockwork Girl, into an animated feature that was released in 2014.

In addition to writing for film and television, Jennica is also an accomplished poet whose books include, The Octopus and Other Poems, What It Feels Like For A Girl, and Wood. In 2014, Wood was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and her poem, “Linear Notes”, received the Silver National Magazine Award for poetry. Her poems have also appeared in literary journals across North America, as well as on buses and skytrains as part of Translink’s Poetry in Transit project.

As someone interested in writing for television, I reached out to Jennica via email with a few questions about the business and her career path. She provided great insight about what it’s like to write for Canadian television, and had some excellent advice for writers such as myself looking to break in to the industry.

You completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Did you find it beneficial to your career?

I did. One of the best things about studying writing is you get used to receiving feedback from others, and figuring out what’s worth implementing, and how. While I don’t think any specific degree is necessary to becoming a screenwriter, I do think workshopping helps you learn to hit deadlines, develop perspective on your own material, and learn to rewrite.

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Ben Ladouceur

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 2.26.30 PMInterviewed by Halle Gulbrandsen

Ben Ladouceur is a writer and teacher whose debut collection of poems, Otter, was published by Coach House Books in 2015. It quickly impressed the literary world with its honest voice and lyrical charm. His work has been featured in many literary magazines such as Arc, The Malahat Review, PRISM international and The Walrus. He was awarded the Earle Birney Poetry Prize in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Type Book Award in 2015. Originally from Ottawa, now based in Toronto, Ben graciously agreed to converse with me over email and again showed his wit in answering these questions about his life as a writer.

Why poetry?

This is a question I’ve fielded a few times since Otter came out, and a question I’ve read in many interviews with poets. I have never seen someone ask a novelist, “Why novels?” Everybody writes poems in elementary school. All I did was remain in that state of poem-production. I don’t see that as misconduct, though apparently it is, because most adults aren’t writing poems. But sometimes I want to grab strangers on the subway and shake them and ask, “Why not poetry??”

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