Interview in Vancouver Sun

Thanks to The Vancouver Sun for this–somehow it’s making the rounds.




Q Tell us a bit about your book.

A The book is a working through of elegy. It’s very personal, and yet it has conceptual and visual elements that make it a little more playful. It’s prosey, breezy, imagistic grief.

Q Why did you write this book?

A My partner had twins around the time I had set aside to write the book, which I conceived of very differently than it turned out, and not only because of the arrival of two babies. The form and shape changed, but the topic never varied, it was grief, and death, and that was the last place I wanted to be. I really wrote the book because I said I would, and because I had a grant and felt honour-bound to do so, but it was the hardest writing project I have undertaken. At one point I woke from a nightmare that the ghosts of my family were trying to enter the bodies of my babies. I bolted out of bed to chase them out of my house before I realized what I was doing and how crazy it must seem. It was a delirious time. But those ghosts were hungry. They weren’t finished with life, they wanted more. They wanted to be remembered.

Q Your poems are about grief, yet take the form of instructional circuit diagrams, mathematical formulas, excerpts of other elegies, in addition to more traditional lyric and prose poems? What about these fairly experimental formats made them ideal for exploring grief?

A As I said, I was struggling with the project, burned out on grief to be honest, aside from the above I had just written a novel, Autobiography Of Childhood, that also tackled grief. I was ready to throw in the towel. Not something I do easily I can assure you. Then I found a small, hand-drawn instruction manual that my father had drafted for his students before he passed away. He was a brilliant man, just dazzlingly intelligent and spatially and physically intuitive. He was self-taught in terms of electrical circuitry, design, aggregates — he was a man’s man, a Marlboro man with an endearing French accent — but as you can guess, he wasn’t very emotionally available. He was truly befuddled by grief, or rather, other people’s grief. He wasn’t so aware of his own, though he experienced it like all of us. He was always trying to fit emotions into formulas, chance into statistics. He was always trying to counter my mother’s overwhelming and unending grief for my brother, who passed away at 15, and then for every other loss that got piled onto that. So the formulas became a way to connect with him in a cheeky way. They were a breath of fresh air, a way to have fun with something otherwise so heavy, and if not heavy then, by nature, earnest and sincere.

Q Photographers — Diane Arbus, Lee Miller — appear in MxT more prominently than other writers. Was there something about photography as an art that meshed with the themes of MxT?

A Photography has influenced all of my work. I wanted to be a photographer as much, or more than I wanted to write, but my sister took up that art, and I bowed to her. When I was a young woman in Vancouver I spent time as a model, which was odd and sort of humiliating, and seemed a kind of rite of passage. I was the subject of photography and couldn’t quite turn the gaze around the way Lee Miller did, or at least she did for a time. I finally did find my own voice in poetry, but I think I am still looking for it in photography. Photography is also a way in which my sister and myself continue to be in dialogue even after she passed away. She never really made it as a photographer. She did two degrees at Emily Carr, she photographed her entire life, but never “made it.” I had a dialogue with Allyson Clay about this when West Coast Line did a special on Vancouver photographers — it was a fantastic issue including Fred Douglas, NE Thing, Fred Herzog, Roy Arden, Jeff Wall, Paul Wong, Ian Wallace, among many others, but not one woman was included. What does it take for a woman to “make it” as a photographer? As an artist of any kind? To be the creator, not the subject of art? That’s a big question for me and it was an enormous block for a long time.

Q What can people expect at your launch?

A Ha. Poetry. Some authentic poetry. But not too much if I can help it. Just enough. And a laugh or two. This is a celebration. All elegy is a celebration of life, even if it’s in tears.

Q Is there anything you’d like to add?

A My book is pink. Pink! There’s more audacity where that came from.

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