February 18, 2019

Winnipeg
-22° C, Clear

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Poets' dialogue insightful if somewhat stilted

What the Poets Are Doing gathers 22 Canadian writers (including Winnipegger Katherena Vermette) together in pairs, each coupled with an author roughly a generation apart, to have a conversation about writing poetry.

Predictably, the poets who already know each other, and whose interviews take place in person rather than through email, are capable of more relaxed and interesting conversation. Other pairs struggle to move beyond the manufactured essay-speak that poets slip into when asked to write something other than poems.

The highlight of the collection, edited by B.C. poet Rob Taylor, is Elizabeth Bachinsky and Kayla Czaga’s conversation, which begins, “I’m sitting here in a little park just off Granville Street and there’s an ambulance helicopter going by and I’ve just spent the past hour and a half trying to find a spot in Vancouver on a sunny Sunday that isn’t super loud and teeming with people, but I’ve finally found it.”

That breathless sentence displays all of the brilliance of Bachinsky’s poetry — it seems casual but is dense with information and play.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 30 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 30 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

What the Poets Are Doing gathers 22 Canadian writers (including Winnipegger Katherena Vermette) together in pairs, each coupled with an author roughly a generation apart, to have a conversation about writing poetry.

Predictably, the poets who already know each other, and whose interviews take place in person rather than through email, are capable of more relaxed and interesting conversation. Other pairs struggle to move beyond the manufactured essay-speak that poets slip into when asked to write something other than poems.

The highlight of the collection, edited by B.C. poet Rob Taylor, is Elizabeth Bachinsky and Kayla Czaga’s conversation, which begins, "I’m sitting here in a little park just off Granville Street and there’s an ambulance helicopter going by and I’ve just spent the past hour and a half trying to find a spot in Vancouver on a sunny Sunday that isn’t super loud and teeming with people, but I’ve finally found it."

That breathless sentence displays all of the brilliance of Bachinsky’s poetry — it seems casual but is dense with information and play.

First, Bachinsky locates us in a specific place, then in a specific time by painting a helicopter into the scene (which even acts as a bit of foreshadowing for later discussion of her father, a helicopter pilot).

Bachinsky then recounts the struggle that brought her to this time and place of conversation, establishing a thematic tension between trying to be an artist in an explosively capitalistic world. She lastly offers hope despite the struggle — a small, almost sad, but beautiful assurance.

Bachinsky’s opening may seem tossed-off, but it has all the hallmarks of a professional construction. She even uses the radio announcer’s trick of addressing the audience directly as she brings Czaga into the scene: "What can I tell you about Kayla?"

Other conversations are interesting in their own right, but struggle to achieve that difficult balancing act between private discussion and public display. Paradoxically, this is because they are too obviously worried about finding that balance.

The opening conversation between Steven Heighton and Ben Ladouceur even addresses this problem: "For me, revision (of printed text) in a back and forth interview like this one serves the same purpose as gradual, careful revisions in fiction or poetry: trying to get my words and thoughts right and clear, rather than leaving the labour up to the reader."

Ironically, this mode of constructing an interview results, often, in pages of text and a stilted, fragmented, essayistic tone.

The poets working this way — and most of them do — effectively trade the momentum of back-and-forth conversation for a series of monologues with either thick or thin relation to the preceding poet’s own monologue.

At the same time, Heighton justifies his approach in a convincing manner: "the problem, for me, goes deeper than clarity. What I say off the cuff is not only unclear but sometimes not what I actually think because often I don’t yet know what I think and I won’t know until I start talking about it or writing about it."

There’s a lot here about the way poetry works, both in the craft sense of how poetic language operates to crystallize and refine thought, and in the broad sense of how an author’s own self sometimes pales compared to the complexity of a poem’s speaker.

Overall, the book displays the diversity of ideas hovering behind the writing of these authors, and of poets in general.

What the Poets Are Doing:

Click to Expand

Canadian Poets in Conversation

Edited by Rob Taylor

Nightwood Editions, 190 pages, $23

Buy on mcnallyrobinson.com

Although poems often seem so private, the poets here display a relentless obsession with the social world and how their work interacts with this world.

Ultimately, what the best poets are doing is still writing poetry. The truth of writing is that hard work is more important than talent. As Souvankham Thammavongsa states, "When I was starting out, I was around many talented poets, poets more talented than me, but I am still here."

Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) is the author of five books. Visit him online at writingthewrongway.com.


By buying through links provided on this page, you are supporting local writers, reviewers and book sellers.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us