I met Blair Trewartha in Toronto in October. He'd just launched his first book with Palimpsest and had been press ganged into hosting Palimpsest Night at Another Story Bookstore.
thing I've really liked about publishing with Palimpsest is the
connections it has forged between its authors: it was Palimpsest's idea
that I tour Stowaways with Yvonne Blomer and Patricia Young, for instance.
idea that we're not just poets publishing individually with a small
independent, but pressmates? Well, it's another way of making community,
of forging connection.
And I'm all for that.
of us had dinner before the Palimpsest Night at a bistro with a cheese
theme, where the kimchi on my charcuterie plate prompted Blair and I
into a discussion of our respective stints teaching English in South
Korea and, eventually, our predilection for chapbooks. Which led to the
chapbook question in this interview...see?)
What do you want people to know about Easy Fix?
is in a lot of ways about feeling trapped, but constantly obsessing
about being freed from that trap. The poems explore that theme through
historical narratives, confessional poems, interpretations of current
events, and in general, they attempt to show the
obsessions and daydreams, the constant cycle of fantasizing about
landing on a destination that we don’t have the route to, which
obviously leads us to remain exactly where we are. The book was written
at a time in my life that is representative of that. Fortunately, since
finishing the book, I managed to find a way out, which was both as
ridiculously easy and terribly complex as simply removing myself from
As a writer (i.e. someone whose
artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach
readings? What do you get out of them?
I try to
approach readings as a social opportunity and community event, and
hopefully a chance to hear someone new that inspires me. It’s a great
way to meet other writers and people in general, and I’m always willing
to chat with a fellow poetry lover over a coffee or beer. Outside of the
less intimate online “community,” it is rare that you get a genuine
sense of a poetry community. That’s what I get out of reading events.
With that being said, networking can be absolutely exhausting too, so
sometimes I find it necessary to just take a break, hole up in my
apartment, and read. Those are the nights when I don’t feel like talking
to anyone, and I’ve learned that they’re best spent reading or writing
In terms of actually being featured as a reader,
I think I have a love/hate relationship with the act. It comes with the
territory if you want to publish and develop some kind of readership,
and I’ll always accept an invitation gratefully, but if I had my choice,
I’d rather be an audience member than the person on stage. But, I
expect that’s the case with a lot of writers.
Tell me about that strange object/phenomena called ‘the first book.’
myself, the first book was more process than product. It was about
accumulating all of the work I had written since I started publishing in
lit mags, sorting through all of the shit, and using the handful of
decent poems I had leftover to start the base of my project. Then, with
the guidance of an incredibly talented and dedicated editor, Jim
Johnstone, we sewed those pieces together and started building. As a
result, a lot of the poems in my first book were written on demand
during that process. That might sound unnerving or unwise to some
because it means I ran the risk of having pieces that weren’t edited or
polished to the full extent due to time constraints, but I trusted my
editor. In fact, I think it had one major benefit: by creating new
pieces closer and closer to the publication deadline, it meant that
everything in Easy Fix was the best of what I was capable of
producing at that time. I think that’s what a first book should be,
simply a representation of your best work at a given time period. It may
be successful, or it may flop, but either way you should’ve tapped
yourself dry at the time. All I can hope for is that my next book is
There are a lot of flinty edges and might-have-beens in Easy Fix,
but my favourite is from “Breaking Points”: “I used to pray
incessantly. / Not to god, but to prevent / the sway of sucker /
punches, the flash of red / and echo of every elevator.” Tell me your
theories on incipient catastrophes.
worst things that happen in our lives are the things imagined, the ones
that produce countless hours of anxiety or stress, whether they end up
actually happening or not. Chances are, whatever does actually come into
being is going to be far worse if it’s preceded by fear. It makes us
hyper sensitive and knocks us off our feet before we even try to brace
ourselves for what’s really coming. That’s what I was trying to convey
in "Breaking Points," especially in the final stanza. It’s surprising
how simple things can be if you are able to eliminate all the stress and
anxious thoughts that come before it. Unfortunately, that’s incredibly
difficult to do.
You’ve published two chapbooks to
date. What, for you, is the difference between a chapbook and a trade
collection? Why do you bother?
My first two chapbooks, Break In (Cactus Press, 2010) and Porcupine Burning (Baseline Press, 2012), were both stepping-stones to my debut trade collection, Easy Fix.
That’s the beauty of chapbooks (when you publish them first, which many
writers do). They prepare you for the full collection in whatever ways
necessary up to that point. Break In taught me the process of
editing above all, but also how to craft a series of interconnected
poems to create a final, somewhat cohesive collection. It taught me to
let go of lines and poems, and to accept criticism and advice without
being defensive or discouraged. Porcupine Burning, being a
historical narrative, gave me the chance to write about a single concept
while still trying to ensure that the poems could stand alone if they
had to. That proved to be far more difficult than I had expected, but
nonetheless quite rewarding.
That’s not to say
chapbooks are only worthwhile if written before your first full-length.
I’d gladly publish another chapbook at any point in my future writing
career. They’re concise, often incredibly well made by hand, and they
sometimes allow you to tell a story more completely than a full-length
book because of its condensed size. You have less of a chance of boring
your reader or losing the energy and momentum of the narrative in 10-20
pages. In a full-length collection, if you stick to one point for too
long, you can lose the pulse of the book.
Have you ever been to Winnipeg? What have you heard?
only been to Winnipeg once when I was in my early twenties traveling by
bus from Guelph Ontario to Vancouver. We only stopped there for a total
of two hours, so all I really got to experience was the bus station and
Tim Hortons. I think I walked around for a bit searching for a
bookstore, but I couldn’t find one before I had to get back on the bus.
My impression driving through, however, was that it seemed familiar and
welcoming even though I was a total stranger to the area. It reminded me
of a much bigger version of the town I grew up around, Clinton Ontario.
It too is a small bit of urban surrounded by a whole lot of rural.
Realistically though, it’s difficult to get any impression of a city
within the span of an hour or two and the radius of a city block. I
would love the opportunity to spend some time there though.
What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?
terms of writing, I’m still trying to figure that out. It’s both
intimidating and exciting that I’m starting from scratch with zero poems
collected, so whatever I start writing next will be completely new.
first book, I am trying to focus more on consuming rather than
producing. I’ve read everything new that I can get my hands on lately.
I’ve been sifting through a large collection that I purchased in
Fredericton this October at Poetry Weekend, which includes James Arthur,
Don McKay, Kerry-Lee Powell, M. Travis Lane, Zach Wells, and Steve
Howell, among others. I recently read Paul Vermeersch’s new book, which I
quite liked, as well as Claire Caldwell and Sara Peters’ debut
collections. I’ve been spending some time with Jeffery Donaldson’s book
of essays, Echo Soundings, as well as his poetry collection Slack Action. I highly recommend his work. Also, if you’re up for something beautifully tragic, I recently finished Shane Neilson’s We Need our Names and Out of the Mouth. I couldn’t recommend those titles more. Shane writes incredibly heavy, but absolutely stunning poetry.
general, past and present, I’ve devoured anything written by the
following poets: Matthew and Michael Dickman, Eduardo C. Corral, Julie
Cameron-Gray, Marc Di Saverio, Jim Johnstone, Jeramy Dodds, Ken
Babstock, Sandy Pool, Mathew Henderson, Patrick Lane, as well as those