This writing process blog tour went around a few months ago. Most of the writers in my immediate peer group took part at the time, but I resisted because I felt that I wasn’t working on anything worthwhile at that moment. It reappeared again, and rob mclennan asked me if I was interested in responding this time. So, here it is. Thanks, rob!
What are you working on?
I am trying to write my dissertation on the history of book selling and the small press in Canada after the Second World War. I am building a new title from my little chapbook outfit, Apt. 9 Press (Bird Facts by Dave Currie), and slowly making plans for 2015.
I’m also trying to write poems.
I recently completed a reading tour with some of my best friends, which helped me to put some more recent (and some less recent) work to rest. We published a book, Five, that went a ways towards cleaning out my current working files. I also have a chapbook forthcoming from Baseline Press next year. The combination of the two has left me more or less free of old work that I haven’t been able to let go of.
So, it is off to a new page in the notebook, and a new Word file, free from old lines I can’t let go of and old poems I’m still tinkering with. I’ve got an eye on trying to put together a proper trade manuscript inside the next two or three years, but am trying to keep that in my peripheral vision at the moment.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Not a question that I can answer. I am trying to write poems that are interesting to me, and that will hopefully be interesting to at least one or two other readers beyond the scope of my immediate writing community. I think my work reflects my particular reading and research interests, but surely that is true of all writers.
Why do I write what I do? How does my writing process work?
I’ve combined these two questions because there would have been too much overlap in the answers.
My poems over the last few years have tended increasingly to the small end of the spectrum. I am more and more interested in what can be accomplished with as few words as possible. In part, this comes from a specific thread in my reading interests: Nelson Ball, Phyllis Webb, Mark Truscott, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Michael e. Casteels (and the work coming from his Puddles of Sky Press), those with minimalist bents. The culmination for me so far has been a six-word, two-line poem, but I think I’m working my way down to a single line poem in the distance.
I think these poems also reflect my writing conditions. Academic research, writing, teaching, and other responsibilities dominate my schedule. Apt. 9 gets more of my creative hours than my own writing. When I sit down to write, it is rarely for several uninterrupted hours. It is in fits and starts, between other projects, a line while walking or sitting in a conference or reading. I accumulate fragments that I return to weeks or months later and see where the pieces might fit together in interesting, harmonious, or discontinuous ways. These poems feel in step with my writing life, and I enjoy the process of trying to say something in as small a space as possible.
I think it is starting to veer towards minor experiments with more concrete elements, though not in any proper way that would identify my work as concrete in a theoretically rigorous way. I’m drawn to work that breaks down the component parts of a poem further and further. I’m trying to get away from my nineteen-year-old-self’s desire for epiphanic lines, moving toward something a bit more modest, a bit more open and less assertive.
The flip side of this tendency is that I’m also drawn to serial poems and list poems. I like works that build larger wholes out of individual smaller parts. Lists satisfy my seemingly conflicting desires for concision and expansiveness, with individual lines and parts that could stand alone but that build up momentum as larger pieces. Jim Smith turned my work in this direction. Phyllis Webb’s Naked Poems pushes me here, and Monty Reid’s experiments in lyric and sequence. A poem of mine from Five, “The House,” was built from individual lines that were written over months, maybe more than a year, as I was attempting to write a single short poem that eventually became a three-page list built from some thirty of these.