Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Few Questions About Writing

What am I working on?

I’m working on two manuscripts, both in their beginning stages.

The first is a collection of long poems about my family. Three of four of my grandparents were immigrants to this country, so these are travel poems as well as genealogies.

The poems will tell the story of my maternal grandfather-the-spy (for the allies in WWII, thankfully); my paternal grandfather who worked as a POW camp guard in Ontario and who was demoted when there was an escape from the camp; my paternal great-grandfather the Irish naturalist who died just after arriving in the Antarctic in 1914, where he was supposed to study the effects of whaling and sealing. Though these stories are appealing and very plot-driven, I’m as interested in the women, their wives and daughters, who were left behind, who didn’t get to swashbuckle.

One of these poems has been printed already, by Jenna Butler's Rubicon Press.

I’m also working on creative non-fiction about urban forests, with a focus on Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Forest, which is a never-developed patch of aspen parkland (read: swampy prairie interspersed with islands of trembling aspens) in south Winnipeg. With this one, I’m interested in the sociology of urban/nature – how we perceive nature in cities, how we value it. Or not. Which has led me to arboretums, Winnipeg’s elm canopy, conservatories, and provincial parks. I’m also interested in exploring ideas around re-wilding and conservation, about foraging and local food, and the incursions of urban animals into Winnipeg’s parks and back yards.

How does my work differ from other works in its genre?

I’m not sure if that’s for me to say...

Which is mostly an appeal for reviews. (Is it so wrong, wanting to be reviewed/studied/adored?)(Beseeching eyes.)

Why do I write what I do?

Because writing and then performing my writing for people makes me happy. Because I like being in conversation with people via poems and essays. Because I like to excavate my interests.

How does my writing process work?

My writing is about three quarters inspiration-driven (“Oooh! This and then this! Also, this!”) but also mercenary (“I’m going to write a poem right now if it kills me…”).

The mercenary part of my process involves me setting myself exercizes, and working collaboratively with other artists – the most fruitful has been with Darryl Joel Berger, a visual artist and writer from Kingston.

The most successful of the exercizes I set myself has been what I call the Ho
w-To poem. Which is me riffing on wikiHows as a way of playing with humour, the imperative voice, humour, and list poems.
WikiHow topics include How to Rip a Phonebook in Half, How to Survive in the Woods, and How to Seduce a Woman, so I have poems on some of those topics now too. I used 19 of them in my second collection, Stowaways, which came out this spring.

I’m currently trying to find another whiz-bang exercise. Anyone got a whiz-bang exercise they want to share?

* * *

So how this meme works is that you get tagged by people and then you tag others. Like a chain letter but without the bad-luck threats. (Though we're all literary writers, so maybe the bad-luck is implicit....)

I was tagged by The Pas poet and apocalyptic fictioneer Lauren Carter (who was tagged by Aaron Shepard) back in May, who said this about her writing process:
Some days a sprout grows and stretches and I feel the hint of spindly, white roots and hurry the pen to sketch them (in other words, write, freehand, for an hour minimum upon waking). Other days it’s all manure, the slow heat of compost, the need to tackle mechanical tasks like research or changing all the ‘says’ to ‘saids’ (ie. days when I complain to my husband about my “crap novel”).
And then, in July, Victoria poet and pressmate Yvonne Blomer (who was tagged by Cornelia Hoogland) also tagged me. I like what she had to say about her process too:
I follow an image or the beginnings of an idea and often that image or those ideas relate back to some imbalance I find in the world. Birds as symbols of weakness and lack of forethought in the bible; my privilege of cycling for three months through a developing country where most lived hand to mouth; a patriarchal myth that explores the fantasy of taking a young maiden and making her an old uncle’s play thing in Persephone’s myth. All three of these subjects relate to imbalances, to things I can’t quite get my head around, and so I begin to explore them in image or through further symbols, myths and philosophies.
I was supposed to tag two others. I tagged Kingston visual artist and writer Darryl Joel Berger. Though he's since killed his blog, he said this:
I always carry a quality pen and pocket notebook and I'm constantly observing the world and writing insane, meaningless notes to myself – these flawed ideas that I'll never, ever follow up on. Then, when I'm forced to write an actual narrative, there's no pressure because my process is already fucked, and the resulting story will probably just be more bat-shit craziness. Also, knowing that no one will ever take the time to read it helps immensely.
And then I didn't post anything until now. Because that's how my spring/summer went.

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