Jumping off the page
Performance, motion important aspects of Patrick Friesen's poetry
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
by: Ariel Gordon
Since his first work appeared in 1976, Vancouver Island-based writer Patrick Friesen has published 11 collections of poetry, a book of essays and a play.
Lest you think this publishing schedule too lax, know that in this time he also translated two books of poetry with theatre maven Per Brask and collaborated with jazz pianist/improviser Marilyn Lerner on two music albums.
He'll be reading from his latest collection, Jumping in the Asylum, on Thursday at McNally Robinson Booksellers.
1) As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?
While, indeed, I'm alone while I write, I do read everything aloud as I'm writing. The poem has to sound right to me, not just look right on the page. Another thing, I usually have music on in the room while I'm writing. So, yes, I'm physically alone, but not sensually. I approach performance as an extension of the work, not as something separate. It's not unusual for me to change words, phrases, sometimes leave out a line or verse, when I perform poems. It's in performance that I can sometimes hear/feel what doesn't work, or what needs a little modification. I don't write metrically, so how a poem feels coming out of my mouth, whether in my room or in performance, is important.
2) What do you want people to know about Jumping in the Asylum?
I'm not sure there's anything specific I want people to know; best if people read/hear without any preconception. I could say that the title of the book comes from the photograph which is on the cover; it's Nijinsky, as a middle-aged man in an asylum, being visited by several ballet people, suddenly leaping up as if his body's memory has been triggered. There's something very moving about this for me, and there's something about that moment that infuses the book as a whole.
3) Will this be your first time in Winnipeg? What have you heard?
Oh no, not my first time in Winnipeg. I lived in Winnipeg for 30 years. I moved there from southeastern Manitoba when I was 19 and left when I turned 50. Winnipeg is still home, in some fundamental way. It's where I first married, had two children, did much of my writing, knew and interacted with other artists, and simply lived. Of course, the Winnipeg that's inside me is no longer identical to the current one. Everything is perpetually in motion. Winnipeg is a spiritual source, a powerful place for an artist to come out of, a place of artists. The Winnipeg I know inside me has a raw authenticity I continually draw from.
4) What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?
I always have three or four books going on at the same time. Just now I'm rereading Lost Light: An Interpretation of Ancient Scriptures by Alvin Boyd Kuhn. I'm also reading The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture by Henry Kamen, and Dancing Into Darkness: Butoh, Zen, and Japan by Sondra Horton Fraleigh.
There are still strands from Jumping in the Asylum showing up in my work, but I'm mainly finishing off a new manuscript of poems due out in 2012 and working my way through a monologue for stage.
5) Tell me about the interplay of jazz and poetry in your work.
Jazz is important for me in terms of its exploration and improvisation. The way you can hear the musical "thinking" of Bill Evans, for example, his constantly moving long lines, his voice. Not the lock-step thinking we all typically engage in most of the time, but the immediate motion of mind and body, like gestural drawing, as Evans himself once wrote. I once asked Margie Gillis what she thought of during performance. She said she didn't think at all; there was only "imagery, imagery." Well, this is the kind of "thinking" I'm talking about.
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.