Tuesday, September 11, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Douglas Barbour

Douglas Barbour, poet, critic, and reviewer, is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Alberta, where he has taught creative writing, poetry, Canadian literature, twentieth century poetry and poetics, and science fiction and fantasy. Books of poetry include Visible Visions: The Selected Poems of Douglas Barbour (NeWest Press 1984), which won Alberta's Stephan Stephannson Award for poetry, and Story for a Saskatchewan Night (rdc press 1989). More recently, Fragmenting Body etc. (NeWest Press 2000), Breath Takes (Wolsak & Wynn 2002), A Flame on the Spanish Stairs (greenboathouse books 2003), and Continuations, with Sheila E. Murphy (University of Alberta Press 2006). Critical works include Daphne Marlatt and Her Works, John Newlove and His Works, bpNichol and His Works (ECW Press 1992) , and Michael Ondaatje (Twayne Publishers 1993). Lyric/Anti-lyric: essays on contemporary poetry appeared from NeWest Press in 2001. Transformations of Contemporary Canadian Poetry in English appeared from Adam Marszalek in Poland in 2005. Essays have appeared in journals and anthologies in Canada, the United States, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, Denmark. He has delivered papers at conferences on Canadian Studies and modern poetry, in Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, Scotland, and, of course, Canada. He was inaugurated into the City of Edmonton Cultural Hall of Fame in 2003, and reads with Sheila Murphy with Edmonton poet and fiction writer Jonathan Meakin at Hulbert's Cafe, 7601-115 Street, Edmonton on Thursday, September 22, 2007 at 7:30pm (come early; seating is limited).

1 - How did your first book change your life?

It meant that someone took my writing seriously, and that I could start to find 'an audience' (haha) through bookstores. I'd already been publishing, though, & reaching a few readers, mostly other writers, who meant a lot to me. Today, I wonder if the same kind of feeling about a first book applies when the internet allows for reaching an audience much wider & perhaps more responsive.
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?
We came to Edmonton in 1969, a return for me to the prairies (I was born in Winnipeg). Geography did affect my writing early on, as did weather (see WHITE), but it's much more 'the geography of the imagination' (as Guy Davenport put it), seen as a geography of writing & art itself, & language, that has affected me for quite awhile now.... I'm a white male, so it does in a reflective way but probably not that much; although I do note that I, like bpNichol who pointed this out to me) belong to the first generation, I suspect, of which members, like us, could point to women writers as major influences: early on, especially Phyllis Webb & Denise Levertov.
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?
Somewhere in language I think, a phrase or line that starts something happening. I have been, & tend to think in terms of what Robin Blaser & Jack Spicer named as Serial Poems. I don't usually begin with a 'book' in mind, although one usually emerges as these serial works move on....
4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?
Certainly part of when it comes to Sound Poetry; & generally, they dont run counter to the process. Poetry is certainly sound for me (among many other things).
5 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
When I've been lucky enough to get a good editor, usually for criticism, it's been extremely useful (if sometimes mortifying). It's been quite awhile since I've had close editing of a poetry manuscript, although I've certainly had help from poet friends....
6 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?
It's getting harder, or I'm just getting a lot slower...
7 - When was the last time you ate a pear?
too long to remember, oh wait, maybe a couple of months ago...?
8 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
There are too many pieces of good advice to even begin to list them. I have learned a lot from a number of other writers, & would like to think I never turn away good advice (although Im sure I have). My father taught me how to take a curve in a car; that has stayed with me.
9 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to essays)? What do you see as the appeal?
Not difficult, really, as I tend to write about individual works, & specifics in them, so I see my criticism as highly responsive to poetry& poetics, from which I'm learning stuff I can apply to my own writing. I tend to think that writers read for a rather mixed pleasure (by which I mean two kinds of pleasure at once), of the text as it is, & as it shows possibilities for one's own writing.
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?
Sadly, I dont. These days I check my e-mails (thus this) & read the latest (bad) news on some political blogs & news sites. I really should stop doing this.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
If Im writing something, then I turn to other writing, sometimes work I know & love, sometimes something brand new to me. Also, just turn away for awhile, to music, a walk, whatever....
12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?
It's all emergent, a growing I hope. And sometimes, there are things in a more recent book written before stuff in an earlier one, since how these bits & pieces fit together is part of how one puts the book together, & perhaps what you have on hand will have to wait awhile till the other piece that fit arrive. So I guess I cant really answer that question directly. Except that my most recent book is the collaboration with Sheila E Murphy, Continuations, & the working process of absolutely writing from the language presented to me (back & forth) is a lot of fun.
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?
He's right as far as Im concerned, but, yes, other forms do influence my work, especially music & visual art. Perhaps Ill get more history into some of my writing; Id like to do so.
14 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
In sure there are, but I cant think of anything specific at the moment, beyond going to places I havent yet visited. And meet some people I would love to meet.
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?
At this point I cant think of what I might have done other than write & teach. I guess I would have managed somehow, but Im glad I didnt have to.
16 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I dont really know. I met someone when I was in first year Engineering who actually wrote poetry, & at some point thought I can do that too, & tried, & kept trying, & eventually, well here I am....
17 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
This past summer I was lucky enough to get Robin Blaser's The Fire & the updated The Holy Forest to review. Both the essays & the poetry are major works.
18 - What are you currently working on?
Continue to work on Continuations with Sheila E Murphy, a continuing collaboration that is terrific fun & energizing. I have a few poetic works almost going....

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