Five Questions with…Carolyn Smart

Smart, Carolyn

IFOA: What inspired you to write Careen?

Carolyn: For the past few years I have been interested in writing the unrevealed truths behind certain historical figures. Reading a recent biography of the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, I learned that their lasting fame was based on one set of staged photographs left behind in a getaway, and a 1967 Arthur Penn film that to a large degree invented their story. I was drawn to tell the more realistic tale: the hardscrabble existence of two young people with absolutely nothing to lose in Depression-era Texas, an area and time with which I have a personal connection: my maternal grandfather was a failed gun-runner who died in penury in Laredo.

IFOA: What is the hardest part about writing poetry that resembles dialogue?

Carolyn: I wanted the poems to have recognizable and distinct voices, to be revealing information but also working as rhythmic language; I wanted lyricism and narrative linked. And for this book I took the leap to write in dialect, which to me felt revolutionary.

IFOA: What piece of advice do you give to aspiring authors in your creative writing classes?

Carolyn: I encourage emerging writers to avoid self-censorship, to edit thoroughly, and to remember why you write: because you love it.

IFOA: What are you reading now?

Carolyn: I am reading “Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)” by Eileen Myles, also “Speedboat” by Renata Adler. I just finished “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” by Ocean Vuong and “Bluets” by Maggie Nelson.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Carolyn: I’m writing poems about all kinds of different things, in lots of different forms. I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but I’m open to anything.


See Carolyn read live at Brick Books’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 25th at 7:30pm.

Five Questions with…Matt Rader

Matt Rader, the author of Desecrations, and a Toronto Lit Up participant answered our five questions.

©Ron Pogue

 IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry.

Matt: This is a collection celebrating in the ruins, listening for music in a room of silent instruments. It has a heavy title and the poems sometimes try to look dark places in the eye–colonialism, failing health, banishment–but these are mostly love poems, the kind of love that persists when there’s no longer any reason to love except that you want to.

IFOA: You’re an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, as well. Have you found teaching creative writing has affected your own writing at all?

Matt: I’m constantly humbled by the brilliance, fearlessness, and vigour of the people I encounter in my work. Trying to support other people to develop their relationship with their own imagination is baffling and mind-blowing. It has given me an even deeper and more profound respect for my teachers. I hope it has made my writing more open. These answers feel a little more ethereal than I intend them.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?

Matt: Michael Longley and Larry Levis have been twin influences throughout the writing of these poems. Elizabeth Bishop and Gwendolyn Brooks are two others I return to again and again. Everyone in Canada should read Russell Thornton. Maggie Nelson changed my life.

IFOA: Where is your ideal place to write?

Matt: I don’t have an ideal place: it depends on the project. Some of Desecrations was written in a farmhouse in the Irish Midlands and I loved it because I woke in the morning, made coffee, wrote, read, walked the fields, and talk to no one.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Matt: It’s too early to tell.  As Frank O’Hara, one of the resident ghosts of Desecrations, once wrote: “Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible.”


Five Questions with…Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney, author of Don’t Be Interesting, and a Toronto Lit Up participant answered IFOA’s Five Questions.

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry.
Jacob: Sure. Don’t be Interesting is a very loosely-thematic collection. When it does stoop to having a theme, though, it’s about the future: both the current future and all the historical examples of future, futures, and futurisms from about the beginning of the 20th Century onward. It’s also (more sneakily) a book about being a new parent.

IFOA: You’re a literary critic as well as a poet – do you find this makes you more critical of your own work, as well as the work of your peers?
Jacob: I don’t know if it makes me more critical. Being a critic and being “critical” in the contemporary sense of the term aren’t as closely entwined as the etymology would have it. I would say that it makes it easier for me to read my work as an other would. I think that’s the muscle most exercised by writing about writing: being able to move from how something reads to me to how it might have read to its author, and back. This is a good skill to work on for an author because it’s helpful to have that polyphony available to help you imagine how someone who doesn’t share your brain might process a work.

IFOA: How important is for you to curate the Pivot Reading series and host bi-weekly at the Steady in Toronto?
Jacob: I think everyone who wants to participate in the insider economy of public poetry, by publishing or reading published work, owes a debt to the community that helped grunt it into being. It is not enough to just gift the world your beautiful words and your great brain. Everyone should have to serve. How they do that is up to them: mentorship, reviewing, teaching, hosting, grant-writing, paid and unpaid work. But everyone should get out and push the bus up the hill a bit. And running Pivot is how I choose to push.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?
Jacob: I’m going to stick close and pick newish Canadian poets with books out last year. I think Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent was great. I thought Eva H.D.’s Rotten Perfect Mouth was great too. Lucas Crawford’s Sideshow Concessions was a lot of fun. I’ll go off-theme and pick a non-debut collection I felt was wonderful too, in John Wall Barger’s The Book of Festus.

IFOA:  What’s next for you?
Jacob: I’m going to go to sleep early and get up for work tomorrow. I’m reading through Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World and those are keeping me busy. I started writing a novel in 2007, which is also the year the novel is set. Maybe one day I will finish it and it will be published as historical fiction.

McArthur Mooney, Jacob (c) Elyse Friedman

Five Questions with…Tim Lilburn

Tim Lilburn, author of The Names and a Toronto Lit Up participant, answered our five questions.

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry. 
©Michael Huston

Lilburn: It’s a collection that’s interested in my family, aunts, uncles, and some of the people I grew up with in north Regina. The book also has quite a bit of Vancouver Island in it. From both places it draws a bunch of names, all of them, in Ibn al-Arabi’s way of seeing, divine to a degree.

IFOA: If you could give your younger self any piece of professional advice – say just before you were about to publish your first book of poetry – what would it be?

Lilburn: Have a good time. Enjoy yourself. Find your music. Indulge your enthusiasms. This is more or less what I’ve done.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?

Lilburn: Oh, this would be a very long list. Maybe I could say who is on my desk right now – Ronald Johnson; C.D Wright; Basil Bunting; Reliquiae, an annual brought out by Corbel Stone Press; Roy Fisher. I’m interested in looking at Neal Mcleod’s Cree Narrative Memory and his Indigenous Poetics in Canada, once I can find copies and a patch of free time.

IFOA: You currently are a professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Have you found teaching writing over the years has affected your own writing at all?

Lilburn: We’ve had some great students in our poetry program these last several years, poets like Melanie Siebert, Kayla Czaga, Garth Martens, Kevin Paul, all Governor-General nominees, and Arleen Paré, who won the award. Then there is Anne-Marie Turza, Ali Blythe, Maleea Acker and numerous others who’ve produced superb books. Both Lorna Crozier and I worked with them – it’s been an exciting time. I also teach a class on nature writing and a few ideas have come out of it for me. Assiniboia, a previous book, grew from one version of that class.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Lilburn: I was commissioned over a year ago by Edward Poitras to write what felt to me like an opera –a long, multi-voiced poem – on Honoré Jaxon for the dance company New Dance Horizons. It’s been performed, with music by Jeff Bird of Cowboy Junkies, and choreography by Robin Poitras, and the whole spectacle may be toured. I’d like to write an essay on the experience of helping to put this together. I’m also working on an essay collection (poetics, politics, eros, land), called The Larger Conversation. This will complete a trilogy on these themes that began in 1999 with Living in the World As If It Were Home.

Five Questions with … Laurie D. Graham

Laurie D. Graham, author of Settler Education and a Toronto Lit Up participant, answered our five questions!

IFOA: When did you first start writing poetry and why?

Graham: When I was in the fourth grade my school allowed art projects into the science fair, so I wrote a poem about my brother as a baby and how incorrigible he was, I constructed a little diorama out of an apple box, and I stood there beside my exhibit as people walked by and read my poem and expressed either appreciation or confusion. I remember quite liking that.
Flash forward fifteen years and I’m walking down Whyte Avenue in Edmonton on a really sunny day with my best friend Amy. I admit to her, out loud for the first time, that I want to try to be a writer. I had been filling up notebooks—sometimes making it all the way to the right margin, and sometimes not; I wasn’t really paying attention—and it was becoming clear that this compulsion could possibly (or more likely had to) coalesce into a vocation.

A few years later I was living in Toronto and taking Saturday morning poetry workshops with Rhea Tregebov at Ryerson. Out of those workshops came what I now think of as some of my first okay poems, and they were all about my family.

IFOA: You said in an interview with CBC Books that you love “how writing poetry is somewhat like playing a musical instrument.” Continuing with this beautiful analogy, where then do you find your music (or inspiration)?

Graham: For me all the music is out in the world, and I have to leave my desk and go outside and stare at things for the poems to happen. For Settler Education that included standing at the cairn and long-dead town site at Frog Lake, at the grave near Fort Battleford where victims of the largest mass hanging in Canada’s history are buried, at the foot of the Northwest Rebellion memorial in the southeast quadrant of Queen’s Park in Toronto, on the receding banks at Batoche, on a boat on the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, between the Legion and the fire tower in Millbrook, Ontario, at Riel’s grave site in Winnipeg, and a bunch of other places.

IFOA: What challenges (if any) did you encounter when writing this collection of poems?

Graham: Settler Education is about zeroing in on the colonial structures designed to negate the first inhabitants of this continent. It’s about obliterating blind spots and immoral national inheritances and learning some of the stories of this place, which often still don’t get taught to a settler unless she teaches them to herself. This was and remains the main challenge of this book.

And secondly, my first book, Rove, was rejected eight times before it was published, and this second book was accepted by M&S before it was finished. So the slow work of writing this process of unlearning and re-learning had now to be balanced with an externally imposed deadline. That was a challenge, and I hope I’ve succeeded.

IFOA: Where is your ideal place to write?

Graham: I’m not really picky when it comes to location. I don’t require a certain set-up—I’ve written poems at bus stops, in waiting rooms, in front of the TV, on downtown sidewalks, while invigilating exams, during staff meetings, in public parks, in my dad’s warehouse, in some of the most anti-poetic cubicles and carrels in the country, beside oceans and highways and farmers’ fields—but my favourite place to write is in a window seat on a train or a bus.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Graham: I’ve got a kernel of an idea for more poems that I’m trying to grow in the midst of wage-earning. I’m slowly sorting out this novel I’ve been sitting on forever. I have a few book reviews in mind that need writing. I’m starting to wade back into short fiction. All this to say I don’t rightly know.

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