His most important early contribution was his withering 1974 critique, "Surviving the Paraphrase," which discredited thematic criticism in Canada, including that of Northrop Frye, D.G. Jones and Margaret Atwood. From 1975-1992 Davey was one of the most active editors of the Coach House Press.
In 1984 he co-founded the world’s first online literary journal, Swift Current. In 1986 he became the chair of the English Department of Toronto’s York University, where he quickly assumed a nationally influential role. Then, in 1990 Davey came to London, where he was appointed to the Carl F. Klinck Chair of Canadian Literature at UWO. Here he began a new writing phase involving analysis of various Canadian cultural scenes—from literary criticism to politics, celebrity, and popular crime writing. These studies have given him much fodder for his poetry.
Over the years, the stance Davey has taken in his criticism has occasionally put him into conflict with the Canadian literary establishment. For example, he has described Canadian literary and academic prizes as institutional rewards for "banality and careerism." On the other hand, he has often been seen as a "poet’s poet." Through his books of poetry, his literary and cultural criticism and his rich range of essays on diverse topics, Davey has been a major figure in introducing the idea and practice of postmodernism to writers in Canada.
So far Davey has published 27 books of poetry, six since 2000, the latest being Spectres of London, Ont (2012), which we will be reviewing here. He also has numerous non-fiction titles.
Don't forget to also check out his list of published books right here!
Tom Cull was born and raised in rural Southwestern Ontario.
He is on the board of Poetry London and is a co-facilitator of their poetry workshop. Tom holds a PhD in English Literature from York University and is an adjunct professor at the Centre for American Studies at Western University.
Tom created and runs Thames River Rally, a volunteer group that meets monthly to clean up garbage in and along the Thames River. His first book of poetry, What the Badger Said, will be published by Baseline Press in September 2013.
Strathroy resident Frank Davey grew up in BC and studied at UBC where in 1961 he co-founded with George Bowering and Fred Wah the influential and contentious poetry newsletter TISH.
His first volume of poetry, in 1962, was described as "the act of the moment" rather than poetry as the commonplace attempt "to express feelings." In 1965 he launched the avant-garde poetry and criticism journal Open Letter and developed it into what many still see as Canada's most important forum for discussion and examination of innovative and experimental ideas and texts.
Davey obtained his PhD from the University of Southern California in 1968. With the encouragement of George Woodcock, he began writing literary criticism, a body of work from the 1970s to the ‘90s which would be described as "the most individual and influential ever written in Canada."
My mother says I can catch a bird
if I put salt on its tail. I go outside
with shaker. The birds stay away.
My grandmother teaches me Morse code.
Dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot I tap.
No one replies.
My mother says that eating fresh carrots
will help you see in the dark. My father is growing carrots.
“You should take that with a grain of salt,” he says.
My teacher says I should write a story.
I write a story about Taiwan.
“What’s a Taiwan?” ask the Mennonite boys.
I put a long blonde hair from one of the girls
into my Bible. Nothing happens.
“It’s the wrong hair,” my father says.
The church starts a cub scout pack.
There are five of us. We learn to send smoke signals.
To no one.
My father tells us about aline-man who was so pie-eyed
that he threw up from the top of the hydro pole.
“Those kind aren’t worth their salt,” says my grandmother.
The clerk in our dry-goods store writes a book of poems.
He calls it Cloth of Gold and sells it at the front counter.
“Sells it by the yard, eh?” says my father.
At school I re-write the story.
I set out to carry it home.
Two big boys from the high school
dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash -dot-dot-dot
tear it into pieces and throw it into the creek.
“It’s going to go far,” Ron and Kenny say.
My mother hurries down the hill to the creek
to gather the pieces. She finds most of them
and scotch tapes them together into a different story.
It’s supposed to be about Taiwan, I say.
“Did you say ‘tie one on’?” asks my father.
~Frank Davey. Back to the War, Talonbooks, 2005
From Digital Knowledge
Does anybody know who said the quote that goes something like this?
Does anybody know who the waterboy for the tri-city Americans is?
Does anybody know who makes the best-wet nitrous kit?
Does anybody know who made the Swine Flu?
Does anybody know who this girl is?
Does anybody know who’s in charge of security here?
Does nobody know this gecko?
Does nobody know about chronograph watches?
Why does nobody know?
Does nobody know the difference between there is and there are?
WHY DOES NOBODY KNOW THIS?
Why does nobody know how to write about science?
Why does nobody know about the Coptic orthodox religion?
Does nobody know how to write a resume anymore?
Does nobody know anything anymore?
Why does nobody know how to pronounce Martyrdom correctly?
Is anything known about memory leaks?
Is anything known about the life of Thespis?
Is anything known about orthologous or homologous genes in other species?
Is anything known about natural resistance to this virus?
Is anything known about the expected dose?
Is anything known about the universe before one-trillionth of a second?
Apart from the New Testament and Gnostic texts is anything known about Judas?
Is anything known about him, why his wife should be buried at Chiswick?
Neither is anything known about brothers Michael and Chris Harrison.
Is anything known about the kind of pedagogy used by Hillel and the other rabbis whose sayings are
recorded in the Pirke Avot?
The specified print monitor is unknown.
The heart is unknown country.
Driver state is unknown.
The U.S. space tracking network has not found the craft and its current orbit is unknown.
Sometimes the actual image link is unknown.
His name is Unknown.
Why the sender is unknown.
The specified protocol is unknown.
Michael’s cause of death is unknown.
User info for my name is unknown.
At one point she blurted out, “Mel, do you know what you are saying?”
Do you know for sure you are going to heaven?
Do you know the risks of being overweight?
Do you know about anatomy?
Do you know about sickle cell anemia?
Do you know where your data is?
How do you know if it is time for joint replacement surgery?
How much do you know?
Do you know lyrics?
How do you know your spreadsheet is right?
Little is known of dangerous resistant bacteria data gaps.
On a big issue, little is known.
Very little is known of this saint’s life, for his biographers constructed their “Lives” long after his death.
So little is known about us “out there.”
Very little is known about the benefits of wearing facemasks and respirators to control the spread of
Often, little is known about home health aids.
Little is known about Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Little is known about the actual experience of parents.
Too little is known about depressed adolescents.
Little is known concerning the natural enemies of the Iris.
Don’t you know who I am?
Silly kangaroo, don’t you know the rules?
Don’t you know you’re toxic?
Don’t you know there’s a war on?
Don’t you know how to do it yet?
Feedback is appalled, don’t you know?
Don’t you know that up to 10 megabits is just fine?
Don’t you know Cain that the bird is the word?
~Frank Davey. Bardy Google, Talonbooks, 2010
I sit on the edge
of the dining room, almost
in the living room where my parents,
my grandmother, & visitors
sit knee to knee along the chesterfield & in
the easy chairs. The room is full, & my feet
do not touch the floor, barely
reach the rail across the front
of my seat. ‘Of course
you will want Bobby to play.’—words
that jump out from the clatter
of teacups & illnesses. The piano
is huge, unforgettable.
It takes up the whole end wall
of the living room, faces me down
a short corridor of plump
knees, balanced saucers, hitched
trousers. ‘Well when is
Bob going to play?’
one of them asks. My dad says,
‘Come on, boy, they’d like you
to play for them,’ & clears
a plate of cake
from the piano bench. I walk between
the knees & sit down
where the cake was, switch on
the fluorescent light
above the music. Right at the first notes
the conversation returns to long tales
of weddings, relatives bombed out again
in England, someone’s mongoloid
baby. & there I am at the piano.
with no one listening or even
going to listen
unless I hit sour notes, or stumble
to a false ending.
Instantly they are back to me. ‘What a nice
touch he has,’ someone interrupts
herself to say.
‘It’s the hands,’ says another
‘It’s always the hands, you can tell
by the hands,’ & so I get up
& hide my fists
in my hands.
~Frank Davey. Back to the War, Talonbooks, 2005
Children who get away are usually found at neighbours
unless they live on farms or in forests.
Wayward spouses are often found with lovers.
Teenagers who get away are often found living
on downtown city streets or in shelters for the homeless.
Dogs that run away are sometimes found with lovers.
City dogs that get away are found by the Humane Society
or concerned citizens.
Dog show dogs that get away are followed by groups of people
variously shouting loose dog! don’t chase him! stop that dog!
Don’t touch her! yelled the Rottweiler breeder at Oromocto
when her young bitch swerved in & out of the terrier ring.
Everyone stood back, including the terriers.
My teenage son used to climb out of his third-floor window after bedtime
but usually climbed back up before breakfast.
My brindle Great Dane bolted out the front door
& broadsided a Chevy Nova. The dog was unhurt
& happy to come back home. The car was insured.
Small children dart out from between parked cars.
Older children become chronic runaways.
Some dog breeds have behavior problems.
Some car models are high risk.
Most runaways believe they can come back when they want to.
Risks at home & away from home are difficult to calculate.
Few dogs knowingly run away from home.
~Frank Davey. Risky propositions, Talonbooks, 2005
The yellow-chevroned parakeets of Los Angeles are not indigenous. Like the palm trees in which they roost, they are green cards in that Emerald City. I look up as I walk by the tattoo parlours on Hollywood Blvd. Way, way up in the trees. They do not come down.
Unlike the mocking birds who compete with me for ripe figs in the backyard and who together mob the Bullock’s Oriole, the parakeets keep their distance. Born wild from escaped ancestors—I like to think they have wise avian memories encoded in their bird brains.
And because I, too, am alien here, I like to think that these flocks of parakeets keep watch for brethren who, caught in nets in Honduras and Peru, sit in cages beside TVs, biding their time for an open window. Your family is here, your place is here. On the ceiling of this vast and strange city. Welcome Home.
~Tom Cull. What the Badger Said, Baseline Press, 2013
The boy regards his mother,
awkward in two feet of water,
all elbows and knees.
But he can touch and feels secure.
(Later, they will lower the bottom of the pool
and the scuba club will practice
with tanks and long black flippers.)
My mother’s not a fish, he thinks.
His father is not there.
He is in the shop—he runs his fingers
through the band-saw, one by one,
to promote the growth of webbing,
or so he hopes.
But only claws and feathers grow
under his yellowing eyes.
The beavers in the bush
have been preparing all winter.
The banks of the river--
a bed of poplar saplings
sharpened to points. They will lure him there
with the promise of their tail
and it will end.
puts his small hand on
Back in the pool, the boy the flutter board
in the shape of a ray.
His mother beckons,
she is thin as a rail
but has eyes on the top of her head.
~Tom Cull. What the Badger Said, Baseline Press, 2013
CHOOSING THE ANIMAL LAUREATE
The Manatee is smug.
Standing at the lectern, book in flipper,
“Is it hot in here or just me?” he asks,
turning nonchalantly to hang his suit jacket on the chair,
revealing as he does the propeller-shaped scar that runs
the length of his back. Please.
Panda refuses. She cannot bear it--
reading to a room of jaw-clenched heavy petters
snapping photos for Facebook updates,
voices in their cute-addled brains screaming,
“Widdle furry buddy is weading a poem. Yes she is.
YES. she. IS!”
The Blue Whales sent a wire. “All is lost” stop.
“In translation” stop. “Including this” stop.
The Donkeys renewed with Babstock.
Foxes? Signed with Hughes.
The Fish are mired in modernism.
House Cats are busy with the internet.
The Squirrel—too anecdotal.
Rabbit claims he is “post rabbit.”
The Hummingbird is a drunk.
Corporate Cattle are doping,
Organic Cattle are dying of happiness.
Apes can’t get funding.
I won’t tell you what the Badger said.
(He said, “Go fuck yourself.”)
My good people,
it is the West African Lion we want--
the one from the Zanesville Zoo
who, along with
seventeen fellow Lions,
two Grey Wolves,
six Black Bears,
two Grizzly Bears,
three Mountain Lions,
and eighteen Bengal Tigers,
was hunted down and killed
by Ohio state police after the zoo-keep
freed his animals from their cages, this
just moments before he chose a gun
from his other prized collection
and shot himself dead.
Flown in from the Columbus Zoo,
Jack Hanna reported,
“It’s like Noah’s ark wrecking right here
in Zanesville, Ohio.”
Our Lion laureate was the only animal
they tried to tranquilize.
He faltered momentarily as the drugs
hit home, but rallied and charged the vet
as bullets cut through his pelt.
Imagine him now, where I stand,
wearing Ray-Ban aviators,
picking his teeth with a sheriff’s badge.
“Call me Mustafa,” he says with a straight face.
He reads a villanelle, a few quiet haikus.
Taking questions about his poetic influences,
he quotes Breton— “The purest surrealist act
is walking into a crowd with a loaded gun
and firing into it randomly.”
And Artaud—“Without an element of cruelty
at the root of every spectacle,
the theater is not possible.
In our present state of degeneration,
it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made
to re-enter our minds.”
He cites the Dada manifesto--
“I let the vowels fool around. I let the vowels
quite simply occur, as a cat meows …”
“I’m afraid our time is almost up,” he says,
his r’s beginning to roll, soft and deep.
“Before you go I’ll share a sound
poem I’ve been working on.”
He treads quietly to the back of the room.
“It’s called, Feeding Time at the Zoo.
A collaborative poem,” he says
as he bolts the door,
~Tom Cull. What the Badger Said, Baseline Press, 2013
DAYS WITHOUT PAIN
(for Betty Ann Lamport).
If there are days without pain
before the joints disarticulate
and fall off the bone,
I’ll take them all.
If there are days without pain
especially in the sun, by a river
with my lover, in a throng,
I’ll take them all.
When there are days without pain
we will not recognize each other
until that first spring thunderstorm
breaks over our backbones.
When there are days without pain--
without child-proof bottles without hidden complaints
without shame, without longing, envy, anger
recriminations, tears that pop with
eye snapping frustration--
When there are days without pain I will,
like my mother,stare out a window and finally
take a deep breath in,
THE TWIST YOU CAN’T RESIST
A handful of red licorice
akimbo in your hands
like fibre optic
You hold them out to me
smiling, “try one.”
Hidden in your other fist
I cannot see that small
white cusped chunk,
stuck with red
gummy, that was your
This is love,
Interview with Frank Davery
Can you tell us a little bit about how and when you started writing poetry?
Apart from a few random earlier poems, starting would be back around 1960 when I realized with something of a shock that it was possible to write startlingly different poems from what most poets were writing, and that as well it could be possible never to write quite the same way twice – that one’s poems could keep challenging both accepted poetry practice and one’s own past practice.
How has your poetry evolved over the years?
My poems, in general, have gotten longer, they make more use of prose stanzas, they’ve moved increasingly away from the lyric, I’ve thought of them at times as being composed of sentences or discourses rather than of words.
Were you initially influenced by any particular poets? If so, who were they?
I was initially influenced more by poets’ ideas about poetry than by their poems – it’s no big deal to write a copy of someone’s poem but to apply their ideas in a new way can be special. One idea that has stayed with me long-term is Robert Creeley’s advice to put yourself at some risk – of failure, embarrassment, ostracism, bad reviews – every time you write. It was advice later reinforced by the example of Louis Dudek. Another was Robert Duncan’s that poems aren’t about events or themes or people: every poem is about itself and language – about what the language can show you is possible while you’re writing.
Can you talk a little bit about the influence Warren Tallman had on your career?
Warren Tallman – he was the most intellectually adventurous prof I met as an undergrad at UBC. He was sure I would be a poet because I was a reckless delinquent, he thought, in life and language – he liked writers like that: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lenore Kandel. However, if you want be a poet, I figure, it’s better to be more delinquent in language than in the rest of life – you live longer, & get to try your hand at writing more things.
What inspired you to found TISH?
I didn’t found TISH by myself – I co-founded it, & then managed it for 19 issues. Each issue was 12-20 grubby mimeograph pages. We mailed it out free to people – mostly writers – who we thought should see it. Tallman sort of egged us on to do it by saying we wouldn’t be able to, and then was so impressed that we did that in later years he published 4-5 essays about it/us.
We just figured the world needed a magazine that was a working space – that didn’t publish conventionally polished poems or publish things to win prizes, but published poems in which the writers took chances, outreached themselves, attracted useful criticism, or offended other people’s ‘standards.’ We didn’t want to have to think about other peoples’ standards in order to publish.
Please talk a little bit about what intrigued you so much about the Kristin French/Mahaffy murders that you decided to write Karla’s Web. Can you please elaborate a little bit about what you learned during the process of writing that book?
Well, the public receives information about such events as the Kristin French/Lesley Mahaffy murders only through representations created by the media. In this instance, those media representations were as distortingly cliched as the most derivative of poetry. The two victims portrayed as the virgin and the whore. The murdering couple portrayed as “fairy-tale” – pure innocence that concealed pure evil – and as “monsters” – creatures beyond human possibility. The murdering couple, in fact, was distressingly ordinary and human, as Karla’s recent life suggests.
Unfortunately, humanity has a long and ongoing history of murder. So I wasn’t so much intrigued by the killings as dismayed by the socially naive media depiction. What did I learn? – a lot about the legal system, which seemed to do the best it could.
I have very much enjoyed reading Risky Propositions. Can you please talk a little bit about the creative process that went into the writing of this book.
I was working at the time (2004) with the idea that poems can be made up not just of words but of propositions – sentences that may or may not be true. And that you could make a poem by juxtaposing these. Plays, of course, have always been made that way. Poets who write found poems or flarf work that way. So then I thought what if what if I looked for risky ways of doing this, such as looking for phrases associated with socially volatile topics and constructing propositions that used these phrases.
So the first poem in Risky is about phrases used in raising children. The second is about how Margaret Atwood might be characterized by sentences used to describe the actual town of Atwood, Ontario. Much of third is constructed from sounds heard at a dog show. The fourth is made from the minutes of a scholarly association by extracting most of its verb phrases, so that the verb then seems to be in the imperative mood – “be found, be adopted” etc., or by splitting the verb to create a new meaning; “exploring the changes” becomes “ring the changes”; “missing from the minutes” becomes “sing from the minutes.”
The sixth, the Margaret Atwood Conference poem, is made up of short stanzas that each begin with something actually said at the conference. Each line of the seventh poem is the title of a Canadian book with one or two letters changed. The eighth consists of eleven proposed statements that might explain why a straight guy could fall in love with a lesbian. The tenth is an elegy for Jacques Derrida made up entirely of sentence fragments and phrases taken from the dust jacket of his book Aporias. The eleventh is an application of Northrop Frye’s theory of literary modes to the communication strategies of dogs.
What do you think your legacy will be for the world of Canadian poetry?
There was no legacy in writing Karla’s Web, as risky as it may have been. People who write of TISH as Canada’s “most influential” magazine seem to be pointing to it as a legacy. But I’ve never tried to control such perceptions. I didn’t set out to be famous, just to enlarge what can be done in poetry, and to collaborate with those who feel similarly. Those who respond to my work do it on their own. I suppose I may not have a legacy because my writing remains hard to classify – or just looks weird. Although if you Google my name right now, among the things that come up are five photos of writers who Google says “People also search for” – George Bowering, Fred Wah, bpNichol, Daphne Marlatt, and Louis Dudek. That’s sort of a legacy I guess.
Your theoretical essays and academic work have had a tremendous impact on the world of Canadian poetry but also on a much larger scale. What has been your greatest contribution to the poetry community in Canada?
I probably haven’t had as much impact as I’d hoped. With my TISH friends and others such as bpNichol, I set out to liberate Canadian poetry from short lyric poems about being sensitive or special and from narrowly Canadian concerns such as beer, canoes, beavers, lakes and pine trees, and then Al Purdy, and Margaret Atwood with her Survival book, kept taking it right back there. That had been part of the reason I wrote my 1974 guidebook to contemporary CanLit, From There to Here. But I think I have helped writers such as Nichol, Marlatt, Wah, Gail Scott, and perhaps even Louis Dudek, have a larger presence in our literature than they might have had. I may have similarly helped younger writers of unconventional texts too.
You’ve had a long, illustrious career with many books published. Which one of those is your favourite?
My favorite? Probably The Abbotsford Guide to India. It has been translated into Gujarati and published in Mumbai. A high school student in Abbotsford, in B.C., made a short film from it. Once when I was visiting in Mumbai university students read one part of it to me translated into eleven Indian languages. A poet there published a parody of part of it. An American theorist of nationalism and post-colonialism devoted a book chapter to it. Bookstores in Canada sold it in both their Poetry and Travel sections – something which can happen to conceptual poetry. I got to create the artwork and photographs for it as well as the poetry sections.
Can you share any particularly special memory from your writing history?
Well, in 1989 I’d been living for most of the year in Europe, working on two new books and letting most of my mail pile up in Canada. In May I drove from France to Yugoslavia where I’d knew I was scheduled to speak at a conference in Ohrid, a few miles outside of Skopje. A couple of days before, I checked into a hotel in Skopje and strolled over to the university to ask the Canadian studies people for directions. Their secretary said they were all at a reception in the library. I discovered that the reception was for a book launch and for the book’s translator. The Canadian ambassador was there. The book was mine -- another conceptual poetry book, Postcard Translations, that I’d written and published in Toronto a couple of years before. They were happily astonished to see me wander in – they thought I might be still in Canada. Their cover image for the book (a translation into Macedonian) was a postcard on which the stamp had my photo – so everyone recognized me. My poems had already mailed me to Skopje.
I have seen a copy of your newest book Spectres of London Ont (Limited Edition 2012), which is also obviously a conceptual poetry book, and similar in some ways to the one you just mentioned, at least in that it is composed of postcards. But it is also a gorgeous book to look at, each page an enlarged, hand-tinted photo from the early days of London, with words overlaid, as if fallen there from the whimsical thoughts of someone in the present who has just discovered these postcards in the attic.
Can you tell us something about this book? How did you come by the pictures, did you tint them yourself, and will you have any copies for sale at the reading?
This is the fourth booklet like this I've done of text overlaid on historic postcards -- the first two on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the third a slightly more humorous one, Canonical Canadian Literature. I did find a few of the postcards for the first two booklets in my family attic, in the mid-1980s -- my maternal grandmother was, in her teens in County Durham, caught up in the postcard collecting craze of 1895-1920, and had gathered many hundreds. Those brought me to my Postcard Translations book of 1988. But most of the cards I've used recently I've found on the internet. In Spectres the tinting on the cards is original, although for some I've altered the colour intensity or balance. Yes, I'll have a few copies for sale at the reading.
Interview with Tom Cull
When and why did you begin writing poetry?
The when is much easier to pinpoint than the why. I've been writing on and off for about fifteen years. In the beginning, I didn't write much or often--it seems like each year since then I've steadily produced more work as I've devoted more time to it. As to why I started writing, I think it had to do primarily with reading and studying poetry for most of my adult life. At first I believed that I was primarily an academic--that my strength lay in criticism and analysis; however, as I've steadily given more time to writing poetry, I've begun to see how producing work and analyzing work are fed by the same creative well-spring. I guess the other reason I started writing was that I wanted to say some things. Life has some pretty sharp edges and dark corners. I've always appreciated the way poetry traverses those spaces.
How has your poetry evolved?
Well, I hope it has gotten better, but even if it hasn't my poetry has become more confident and stylistically coherent. As cliche as it sounds, it has taken time to figure out how I write. As someone who had studied poetry for years, I found it, at first, almost impossible to write poems. I was trained as an academic and I was a good enough critic to know that I was a pretty bad poet. But of course I was; I hadn't practiced writing--I hadn't worked on it. Also, I'd read a poem and think, 'well, that's perfection. Nothing more needs to be said.' This is, I think, what Bloom means by "the anxiety of influence"---great poetry always left me mute, or at least I funneled my creativity into analysis and criticism rather than poetic response. But as I got some space from the study of poetry (my academic focus moved towards prose), I felt less beholden or responsible to the tradition of great poetry. I realized that I just needed to write because I enjoyed writing. And that I should start sharing my work to see how others might react to it.
There is a tremendous sense of humour in a large portion of the poems you have shared with us here, something not that common in poetry, outside of limericks and so on. Yet these poems are serious at the same time. The humour feels like an expression of your sheer enjoyment of writing since moving away from "the anxiety of influence". Is that at least partly true?
Well, I should say, just to clarify, that while there is such a thing as the anxiety of influence, there is also the joy of influence, and the importance of influence. I guess what I'm trying to say is that influence is not necessarily detrimental to writing--in fact I think it is essential. It's just that you can't let it paralyze you. In terms of humour, I think it has less to do with feeling liberated and more to do with who I am and how I think. I take seriously the act of not taking oneself seriously. You are right, humour is about "sheer enjoyment" but it is also about negotiating the serious and the severe. I've always loved humour for its subversive irreverence and intelligence. A great comedian is a master at social commentary---humour is a mode of thinking and communicating and that's why I think it is so well-suited to poetry.
What has had the biggest influence on your poetry? Any particular poets, genres. etc?
The answer to influences intersects with your question about my poetic evolution. My academic study of poetry leans towards modernism, the contemporary and the savant-garde movements of the 19th and 20th Centuries. When I started writing, I felt obliged to break new ground—to create something new. And so I experimented with all kinds of styles. While I still like to experiment, I have found in recent years that my work tends toward narrative form and lyric expression, quite the opposite of what I found initially exciting and interesting about poetry. When I started writing, I was studying sound, concrete and performance poetry. I was interested in spoken word, slam, beat poetry and hip-hop. I was also excited by the Black Mountain poets, the New York School (Ashbery and O'Hara). I had also spent a lot of time with the American modernists (Elizabeth Bishop, Langston Hughes, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost to name only a few). It is hard to point to any one of these poets or traditions (and there are many more poets whose work I admire) as having a specific influence on my work. They’ve all taught me about the writing process—about language, linguistic play, show vs tell, form, mechanics, etc, but, these poets/genres have also inspired me to develop a style that fits who I am and what I'm interested in. I'll poach from anything or anyone.
Having said all that, the biggest influence on my poetry was my move to London, Ontario, where, as you know, there is a rich, vibrant and supportive poetry community. As much as I'm influenced by my academic history, I think I'm even more influenced and inspired by the poets who read for the Open Mic Night, Poetry London and London Poetry Slam readings series, not to mention all the people in this city who are writing, reading, editing, organizing and publishing. Since moving to London, I've run workshops, taken workshops, judged numerous poetry contests, met great poets from London and beyond, and taken part in all sorts of poetry events. This has been crucial to my development, and a whole lot of fun.
To me the most intriguing poem in the batch you shared with us is 'Crepuscular', which the dictionary says is 'of twilight', about a boy who seems to be living in his own personal Twilight Zone. It's humourous and eerie and scary and unreal all at the same time. So far I`ve read it six or seven times and am still not finished. I`m sure others feel the same. Please tell us about it. Read 'Crepuscular’ (Poem #2)
Yes, twilight is a good description of the mood and space of this poem. When I was writing the poem, I was thinking of crepuscular in the sense of its other definition: describing animals that are neither nocturnal nor diurnal, but are active in the hours of dawn and dusk. From what I understand this is a behavioural evolutionary trait adopted to help certain animals avoid predation. The concept of predation (and predation avoidance) is central to this poem. As is the notion of family--that place that is both a haven but also sometimes a hell. I won't say much more than that because if I have a reader like yourself going back to a poem six or seven times, well, I am doing something right! I'm not sure myself what is going on in that poem--but I love your description of it as simultaneously "humourous, eerie, scary and unreal". I’d like to think that the poem shifts continuously among these things and that this is the secret to its secret.
Your poem 'Choosing the Animal Laureate' is very funny. But it's also serious. Could you give us your take on it?" Read 'Choosing the Animal Laureate' (Poem #3)
Well, as I think you are pointing out, the funny and the serious are mutually engaged. The poem playfully pokes fun but the humour is also meant to be sharp, pointed. Many of my poems ask questions about human relationships to animals--the way we make the animal both radical other and intimate associate. How we represent them, how we use them to represent ourselves, and how we imagine they might represent us. Moreover, these poems also try to understand how these kinds of representation affect our ‘real’ relationship with animals. The Zanesville Zoo tragedy was/is to me a horror. Kind of a slow-moving train wreck where everyone involved sees simultaneously the horror of the moment and the horror of the conditions that made that moment possible. That places like the Zanesville Zoo even exist, suggests to me a widespread and hugely disturbing assumption: that animals exist for our pleasure. It seems to me pathological and perverse that we display and venerate animals as we lay waste to the eco systems where they might otherwise live. And so the absurdity of the poem, I think attempts to engage our often absurd understanding/appreciation/use of animals. I think the Lion for example, is funny and ludicrous but also menacing and dangerous. And of course he speaks in the language of avant garde poetics—as a send up of the literary tradition, but also as a serious invocation of rebellious artistic movements that arose out of an initial desire to tear the tradition to shreds. It’s like watching a cat play with string—it’s funny and cute but it’s also a rehearsal for the mouse.
What can we expect from you in the future, after 'What the Badger Said' is released?
I'm not sure exactly what is next but, I'll keep writing, keep sending things out, keep applying for grants, keep trying to find homes for my poems. In the fall Baseline Press will launch my chapbook here in London and later in Toronto. I'm really looking forward to those readings. I'm also really looking forward to another season of Poetry London--both the readings and the workshops, and of course, I'm excited about your next season of London Open Mic Poetry Night. I will admit, it is hard to think much past this upcoming Wednesday--It is going to be a fun night!