Tuesday, September 4, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Catherine Owen

Catherine Owen has been publishing and performing poetry since 1993. Her work has appeared in periodicals such as The Dalhousie Review and Poetry Salzburg. Titles include: Somatic – The Life and Work of Egon Schiele (Exile Editions 1998), nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award, The Wrecks of Eden (Wolsak and Wynn, 02), shortlisted for the BC Book Prize, and her new collections, Shall: ghazals (Wolsak and Wynn, 06) and Cusp/detritus (Anvil Press, 06), both longlisted for the Relit Prize, while the latter made the shortlist for the George Ryga award for socially conscious literature. A selection from Seeing Lessons, on the pioneer photographer, Mattie Gunterman was recently nominated for the CBC Literary Awards. Her poems have been translated into Italian (Caneide with Joe Rosenblatt, 05) and Korean. She has a Masters degree in English (Simon Fraser University, 01), collaborates with painters/dancers, practices photography, and plays bass/sings in the blackmetal band, INHUMAN.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

The first book that I self-published altered my existence because it taught me that creation was my responsibility. The first trade book introduced tours and their quirky, undependable but still essential audiences into my life. Both firsts allowed for an entrance into the impoverished yet relentless publishing industry.

2 - How long have you lived in Edmonton, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I've lived in E-Town for a year or thereabouts. Moved from a whole lifetime in Vancouver. Context, whether it be gender or geography, hugely impacts on my work. Longing for the ineffable, may it be mountains/ocean or freedom from the constraints of sexual demarcation, haunt my books.

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

A poem begins with a word that slides into the blood. At times eyes provoke language, epiphanic research, slicings of conversation. I rarely write miscellaneous pieces. Even when i think work is random it ends up flowing into a pattern quite quickly. Love the notion of the book as a channel for an encompassing vision, rather than a containment for fragments.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Essential to hear the voice resonating outside of the page. Not always so crucial to listen to response/reaction from the public. Poetry, being word-music though, does require performance to fully enflesh its intent.

5 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Both difficult as translation is not always possible and essential as the eyes/ears cannot honour all the poem's facets. One mentor at least is crucial and perhaps multiplicitous and unafeard respondents too.

6 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Harder. I was all flood and now I am tricklings through a cheese cloth. This is not necessarily problematic, just painful. To be expected after a tremendous surge of text.

7 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

During the Fringe Festival in August 2007. My parents were in town from Vancouver and we dropped by Planet Organic where they have lovely Bartletts with just a humiliation of blush on them and the juiciest innards.

8 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Marilyn Bowering told me to never expect my partners to understand my need for Muses but to be kind and silent with them in their incapacity.

9 - How easy has it been for you to move between your own work to collaborative pieces? What do you see as the appeal?

I am not naturally a team player. Working with one other artist i enjoy, a band i endure at times, a theatrical group i flee from. My most productive collaborations, apart from one triumphantly ongoing musical endeavor, have been with photographers and artists. The appeal is the intermeshing of visions with disparate materials, the fusion of modes of approach and the leaps one is compelled to take outside of one's own strictures.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

There is no typical day beyond the coffee. I am a freelancer in multiple ways, thus every day wears a new mask. Before i got a dog, I often wrote on waking. She, having ruined this routine, now sees me scrambling for language at various points of the day, often when i can lunge into the hammock. At times at night when i have eluded invitations to watch movies. I often write while traveling, especially in planes, on buses. Anywhere suspended.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I read the greats: Shakespeare, Tennyson, Byron, Lowell, Celan, Jeffers and many many others....and watch poppies fading or finches snapping at berries in the mountain ash. I rarely get stalled in the sense of utter desert though...there have to be times in which imagery or language is slowly composting, and this is not a halting but a waiting.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

Trobairitz has emerged out of an obsession. In that way, it is similar to previous books, though their passions are of different calibres or intensities. I suppose it feels more historical, scholarly, an attempt to explain the metal culture of the present through a framework of past tropes. And I am fighting against my own resistence to the very culture I seek to represent. And angering all sorts of early readers in the process. It's all complexifying I think....I hope not to the point where I eradicate my own volition.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

O so much more than texts. Geology, classical and metal music, the history of troubadours, the art of Egon Schiele, the photographs of Mattie Gunterman...to name a few.

14 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I would like to fulfill my travel plans in the Fall, especially the trips to France and Turkey. Perhaps be a writer in residence. Perform all over the world.

15 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Writing poetry is not an occupation. It is a vocation. Thus, one does not have a choice. I have known nothing else so i suppose i would choose death instead.

16 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

This seems similar to the previous question. So ditto.

17 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Great book, hmmmmmm, great can operate on so many divergent levels. I would have to say Marie Claire Blais's The Three Travelers as I've re-read it so many times...but i read multiple genres at once and there's a terrific book in each i'm sure. Great film...harder...i'm going to go with Maelstrom, a French Canadian gem with a talking fish on the chopping block.

18 - What are you currently working on?

Along with Trobairitz, I'm finishing up a book called Seeing Lessons on female photographers, one called Interstice - that's my Alberta book, and a collection of essays known as Intimate Industries. Also editing Dog - my sonnet collaboration with Joe Rosenblatt - for the press.

1 comment:

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