Wednesday, October 10, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Jason Christie

Jason Christie is the author of Canada Post (Snare 2006) and i-ROBOT poetry by Jason Christie (Edge 2006). He edited Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (Mercury 2005) with Angela Rawlings and derek beaulieu.

1 - How did your first book change your life?
I keep getting emails from some Teen Beat magazine reporter called Dash A. Budmeadow... I feel like my first book helped me to let go of a few anxieties I was feeling about writing. It was like finally getting a gold coin and then learning it was chocolate with a foil wrapper, but eating the chocolate and loving it anyway. Now I just wear foil wrappers on my head to insulate my thoughts.
2 - How long have you lived in Calgary, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?
I lived in Calgary for 6 years and I recently moved to Vancouver. Geography is important to my writing. Writing about a particular place, at a particular time, is a way to put memories into a safety deposit box. You can move on from that place, once you have written it, and once written about, you can return to it. And it shouldn't even be obvious in most cases, rather the text should be doing something else while you are lining it with memories. Canada Post is full of places and people that are important to me, but I made the references oblique because they are really only important to me. The poems go off and do all kinds of other things, but I'll always be able to read one of the poems and get the references, and that makes me happy. In a time when place is less and less of a necessary marker, I'd say that place is important to my writing in another way as well. Place acts as a sort of nonlocation in Canada Post, where references to geographical places don't mesh into a narrative place. In i-ROBOT I tried to interrogate how people negotiate alterity, and how that negotiation impacts personal relationships or national relationships. Without talking directly about race, gender or class, I feel that in that book I was able to engage with them.
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?
Poems usually begin with a startling thought that gets into my head and snaps me out of whatever I was doing, or a strange sentence will occur to me and keep occurring until I write it down. Sometimes all it takes is a word, and I'm off writing. The robot poems, for example, often started with me thinking of something funny that related to robots and then I'd sit down to write, or grab a pen and random piece of paper and I'd write a first draft of the poem in one sitting. That's not always the way it goes, I do have files on my computer, and loads of scrap notes lying around that I'm hoping to return to, or add to something I'm working on, but for the robot book it was kind of magical. I would say I'm an author of short pieces that combine into a book and an author that forms a book from the beginning. I've had both experiences. Canada Post is a book that features several poems that I realized were all responding to similar issues about identity and nationality, and it made sense to bring them together. Strangely enough the robot poems got their start as Canada Post poems. I realized that they weren't right for the book and set them aside. I kept writing them like crazy until it dawned on me that they were becoming a book of their own. My new project is one that I conceived right off the start. It is a series of narrative poems, and I knew where they were going before I even wrote the first one. So this new book is definitely one that was conceived as a book first then the poems came later.
4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?
Not really. I get nervous when I read.
5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Oh, that is a big question... My writing is heavily influenced by theory. It is also heavily influenced by my life. I'm trying to understand how language and Capitalism function together. I think the most pressing question for me is: how can I be accountable for the fact that language's program toward understanding has been totally co-opted by Capitalist ideology to such a degree that even pointing it out incurs the full weight of the problem? We replicate the problems even as we try to talk about the problems... That said, I'm not interested in alienating readers in my pursuit of answers by writing myself into an obscure niche. Nor am I interested in descending into an apathetic response of simply pointing out the problem over and over again. Lately I'm interested in alterity, how people understand difference, how they respond to difference. Do they attempt to integrate it? Assimilate it into their understanding of the world? Do they respect it and leave it alone? Do they ignore it, thinking they are being respectful?
6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I have found that it can be quite rewarding. It isn't essential to me, but it is always helpful to have someone else's input.
7 - After having published a couple of titles over the past few years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?
I find it is getting easier. I feel a bit more sure of how I want a book to function and that makes it a little easier to put it all together. That said, I still agonize over the poems, adding in or removing poems. Once the poems are written, I can usually relax a bit and let the structure materialize.
8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?
A pair of what?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Be patient. I think that has been the best advice I've received as a writer. Oh, and: if at first you don't succeed. well, who really succeeds at writing anyway?
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to visual art)? What do you see as the appeal?
I need to be doing multiple things at any given time. Experimenting in visual poetry, or making noises with my computer, gives me an outlet other than writing words on a page to express the ideas with which I'm grappling.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don't have much of a routine. I mostly write when I have time, or when some idea surprises me. I guess I've been forced into a guerrilla-style writing routine. I used to write while hiding out in the boiler room of a department store where I worked, or on the roof near the water tower. I wrote a lot of Canada Post in those environments, and much of my MA thesis. There was one giant machine for which I had a fondness. It was a water chiller/evaporator that was built by The Carrier corporation in 1968 and it had been running more or less well until it was scrapped in 2005 which was also the year I stopped working at the department store. The Carrier was mint green and about twenty feet long by ten feet high. It leaked bromide that would pool beneath it and destroy the cement. Now, I do most of my writing at home or on transit at any time of the day that I can find some time, or when the mood strikes me. My typical day begins at 7:30. I grab a coffee and head to work. I'll sometimes read if I can sit down on the bus. Most recently I read a super secret project by Steve Collis. It is very good.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I will usually grab another book, listen to music, have a coffee, or shower to jump start the creative process.
13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?
I'm diving right into narrative which is something I've avoided (as in the robot poems) or made a point of avoiding (as in Canada Post). It feels like I'm rounding out a trilogy constructed of ideas where I tackle the same issues from slightly different perspectives and using different topics.
14 - 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?
Absolutely. I'd say other art forms heavily influence what I write, or how I think about writing.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
John Barlow. Michael deBeyer. Those are two names that come to mind immediately. As for people I've never met: Max Jacob, Paul Eluard, Francis Ponge... A whole bunch of the Early 20th Century French poets... There are really too many people who have had a profound impact on my writing life over the years for me to mention. All the people in Calgary I know and miss dearly. The friends in Toronto that I so seldom get to see.

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

I would love to go to France. I've never been able to make travelling a priority, so I haven't been out of Canada very much and I've never been off the continent. It would be amazing to travel to France, since I admire so many French poets.

17 - 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?

I know everone says this, but I would have loved to have been involved in researching theoretical particle physics. If I wasn't a writer, I would probably be doing exactly what I am doing now minus the writing. Or maybe I'd be rustling pandas or something.

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

It feels like the only thing I can do.

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

The last great book was The Dice Cup, by Max Jacob. I bought a banged up copy of a 1923 edition in French and the first full English translation recently because I can't get enough of his poems.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I have some new poems that I'm pretty excited about, but I don't want to say too much. I'm also putting together a wee magazine called room to move. The first issue has writing by Jordan Scott, Nikki Reimer, Joanne Arnott, Ron Silliman and many others. I'm working on a chapbook for by the skin of my teeth press called Une Violence Etrange. I just got married in June and moved to Vancouver, so I've been really busy and haven't had much time to get things sorted out. But now that we are settling in, I'm feeling that exciting rush to write again.

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