Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Writing Process: Blog Tour


rob mclennan invited me to participate in a 'blog tour' where writers who maintain blogs (or who don't maintain blogs—in the sense of oil changes for their old car) answer some questions about writing and the writing process.

rob wrote here and he tagged me and Amanda Earl who responded here.

I’m happy to answer these questions. I think it is useful to discuss one’s own work and to reflect.

But,I’d like to also see a blog tour where a specific set of questions is asked of a writer about another writer. Maybe that’s something that I should start.

Hey, Gary, what do you think of Jim Smith’s use of the list poem? How has the work of Stuart Ross engaged with LANGUAGE poets and the lyric and antilyric? How do you see Christine Miscione’s relationship to the absurdist tradition? What does M.A.C. Farrant’s fiction have to do with Kafka’s short prose? Which writers work at the confluence of David McFadden and Rae Armantrout? What about Margaret Christakos and polyvocality? How do Canadian Jewish writers conceive of their literary Jewishness? How has the internet and Facebook affected your favourite writers?

But. The questions. The questions!

What am I working on?

I remember. I forget. I remember again. I find something on my computer. Something whirs away at the back of my brain. Something keeps me awake at night. Or keeps at me when I walk in the woods or look for cereal in the tincan aisle at the supermarket. I have a sense of something I can’t quite articulate. I attempt to resuscitate. I make myself finish something that I find difficult. I try to make something become something different. I make something strange into something more familiar.

It’s this conversation between diverse projects, this quantum organization, that I think keeps me interested in various individual pieces, that help sustain them, that jibes with my restlessness and doubt. And that cross-pollinates.

I have work that is being edited, that is fragmentary. That is scattered around but will eventually become something.  I’m ‘working on’ things that I’m not even working on.

But, to be more specific:

I’ve a new book just from Mansfield Press entitled Moon Baboon Canoe. I’m ‘working’ on it in the sense that I’m now guiding it into the world and helping it find its readers and its place. And helping it get that award which buys me an island off the coast of Ireland to allow me to write happily to the end of my days, though I will take vacations in Tuscany. But I do see ‘writing’ as being comprised of many aspects: reading, actually writing, developing and engaging with community, readers, critics, audience. And part of writing a book involves these other stages. It’s not just about ‘marketing’ a book after it's published, but it’s like raising a child and helping it find itself and its place in the greater world.

I’ve a big multimedia project called, “H: for it is a pleasure and a surprise to breathe,” that will incorporate archival recordings of bpNichol plus original music, sound poetry, text, and visuals by me that will be performed with computer and live performers which is planned for this fall for several places. Ottawa. Guelph. London. Toronto.  Hamilton.

I’ve a novel that’s sent out and I expect when it finally is accepted for publication, I’ll have lots of editing to do.  And even more if it’s not. I’m working on a couple short video projects with various people and a whole bunch of collaborative work.

I’m also working on Sonosyntactics, a selected poems of Paul Dutton which is due out this fall. I’ve assembled the poems and now I’m working on the introductory essay. I’m also working on editing a book of newspaper columns from The Jewish Voice of Hamilton, a remarkable Yiddish language newspaper from the 30s and 40s. I’m writing some essays and working on finding funding for the translator. This, too, is a kind of writing, I guess. An enabling of words to come into being.

I’ve a collaborative project with Gregory Betts that we’ve sent out that we’ll keep polishing and developing, polloping and develishing. I’ve a collection of short stories/prose poems that’s sent out but that I continue to develop. I’ve a new collection of poems that I’m working on. I’ve several series of visual poems that will be parts of a book or individual chapbooks. I’m working on an art exhibit project. I create visual poems regularly.

And, I’m planning a new novel, but still searching around. Flea circuses? Conjoined twins? Jewish gauchos? Some combination?


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s better.

Obvs. But also: I think it exists at a particular intersection of interests, abilities, influences, proclivities, habits, and experience. That is, I don’t think it is different in kind but like a particular wine, comes as a result of the particular circumstances of its ‘region’—making me like the appellation of Champagne, Manischewitz, or Baby Duck, its sources, weathers, traditions, procedures. And I attempt to be in a meaningful dialogue with my understanding of the genre that a particular project of mine engages.

Why do I write what I do?

I write many kinds of things. I learn through exploring different kinds of work, by being attracted to different kinds of writing and different kinds of process, to wanting to ‘get in on the action’ that is inherent in different kinds of material and types of writing. (How is a novel different than a series of visual poems, or procedural work?) I feel like I’m always triangulating the ideal but then discovering that I find the corners of the triangle more interesting that the ideal that I thought I was aiming for.

How does your writing process work?

I don’t think that there is one process. Or even one ideal process. And my process varies even within a single short work. I think I am continually looking for ways to expand the range of techniques, procedures, habits, solutions or routines that go into my writing both individual and collaborative, and my work with editors. Which isn’t to say that I don’t fall back on the same salmagundi of ways to write. But trying out new forms, learning from other writers, and working with new collaborators and new material keeps things fresh as I fight against falling into the same neural runnels, or returning to the processual comfort foods only. I do trust the process in that I believe the process knows more than me, knows more than my conscious brain or the pleadings of my little immature heart which is always having some kind of writing tantrum. If I trust the process, trust the disorganized, inscrutable way that the writing might proceed, trust that if I pay attention, keep close to the work and keep at it, be open to radical revision, and try to be sensitive to what is emerging, what might emerge, even if it is very different than I expected, I often find myself engaged with much richer material. I might set out to catch some giant fish which I’ve head about, but then find myself immersed in a vast school of bioluminescent creatures which I don’t recognize and which amaze.

Next week:

Stuart Ross and Christine Miscione.

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