THE LAMPMAN AWARD INTERVIEW             

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"In Gernes’s universe, experience deforms: music twists and turns to parallel the frayed relationship between poet and lover. Initial conjunctions join random objects so that music interplays with the lit shed in the backyard. In turn, the backyard sheds light on her immediate surroundings and universal abstractions, as the semicolon acts as the sole divider and connector of the poem’s two halves..."
Read Michael Greenstein's review, Twilight from Denmark: Ulrikka S. Gernes' "Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments," and our other ongoing reviews and essays online. 

The winner of the 2016 Archibald Lampman Award, for an outstanding book of poetry by a National Capital Region Author published in 2015 is Pearl Pirie, for her collection The Pet Radish, Shrunken (Toronto: BookThug, 2015).

N.H.  I remember that there was a time you wrote nearly every day, aiming for a poem a day. Now, I hear that you're building your little house, deep in (couldn't resist). Does this feel like grist for the mill, or are you building a new mill?

P.P.  A few months of the year over a few years I did 3-4 poems a day. Which isn't to say good poems but edited things written down. Ran through a few drafts.

Since the construction started a poem draft per month, if that. Part of it is because it uses creativity to build, visualize parts coming together, use puzzle brain of what fits where. And the neural load of learning curve. And from carrying and nailing, better fitness which means less time chasing my tail in my head. Less time on the internet purporting to write. Things come to me instead of my chasing.

N.H. Not a bad parallel for constructing a poem, either. 

P.P. which? tail-chasing?

With the practice, whether you have an idea or not, you can have critical mind for what is being said and why, how, to what effect, etc. Then when something that seems important occurs, you have tools ready to shape the loaves of it.

N.H. Your poems, including the pieces in "The Pet Radish, Shrunken" have been called playful, innovative and versatile. You have a skill with the absurd/adverse. What do you feel we lose when we ignore absurdity?

P.P. I'd say absurdity is a coping strategy, as applying significance also is. But with symbols and gravitas as a strategy you risk throwing out good data and the frugalist in me won't have that wastage. Nope, nope. To twist it to meaning is fine and fun so long as you remember it is make-believe instead of unveiling Truth.Allowing the non-sequitur allows more things to be discussed than straight-laced poems.

Absurdity is more open & more closed both. It denies traction to significance, pokes fun at confirmation bias, lets more chaos in. Yet like the joker you can never have an intimate conversation, if there's only that mode, there's a loss as well. 

N.H. The absurdity of data. The dada of absurdity? A clock of nope from your "vertiginous flights?" 

P.P. data isn’t absurd so much as what it is stretched to in the name of fabricating significances for comfort’s sake. there are better adaptive best practices than belief. Absurdity allows us to get away from and to truths that our blinders and dotted lines don’t permit. changes the rules of engagement.

but it also models that fun is allowed. it’s not just for kids. play is *gasp* even healthy. poetry often validates the depressive, the regret, the blame, the resolved, the one-sided, and cultivates audiences who want an emotional trip. something that is more plot-flat and engages more than sad is more interesting. 

N.H. Has your work with the KaDo haiku group revealed any insights on the benefits of working with highly prescribed structures and discreet ideas?

P.P. Each sub-genre of poetry has spoken or unspoken rules.  I tend to like constraints. Haiku teaches more about haiku, and lets a community of people come together. It is exposing myself to nuance, delicacy, understatedness & diplomacy more than other sub-genres.

N.H. Have you other favourite genres?

P.P. non-fiction comes to mind, particularly memoir. 

like a species, it’s more individual connections at a time and place that matters, what causes widening and deepening of appreciation and understanding, not the relationship to the whole category. whether the category is surreal poem or grocery bagger, sonnet or juniper moss, vispo or firebrat. a certain line or take-away concept, insight, musicality, or metaphor is valuable to me more than the experience of a book.

I’d rather travel around among ideas than categories. I’m suspicious of stasis. it isn’t secure. it’s all process. it takes a lot more energy to stay still than to move. and I don’t have excess energy to play with. I don’t want to spend that on poems that reiterate their base premise in each poem. I want to read what I don’t know anything about from someone who has carefully considered, and what I may not fully understand. if I already understand what I’ll read before I read it, what’s the point. 

N.H. I wonder what you felt like the first time you encountered visual poetry. I wonder whether evolving forms help us merely with expression or are capable of shaping us and creating new feelings and experiences as we interact with them.

P.P.  Vispo is, in a sense headlines, ads, some pop art. I don't remember vispo as poetry not being there, but I expect Max Middle had something to do with my introduction.
vispo can be anything from muzak to a political screed to play. whatever its intent or effect, we can be shaped or moved by any stimulus or lack of stimulus. One thing bumps against something else eventually. 

N.H. I came to visual poetry and sound poetry in choppy ways at university. I remember being surrounded by people who found it difficult to make the leap of semantic faith. There was almost a fear that they were being put on, or tested, after studying classics. A strange idea that the common could not be poetic. What do you think is happening here?

P.P. it’s certainly a leap of difference. All the analysis pushes conscious rigours. university trains to status of competitiveness, to success in order to succeed economically. plain-spoken, vispo, concrete poetry, people’s poetry all change the game like Tibetan monks cross-pollinating with molecular biology.

a lot of literature in curriculum as I understand it —as someone who didn’t take more than one university level literature course— has been about class and zero-sum advancement on an economic upward spiral while a lot of vispo is about tear it down, outsider art, anti-conventional-sense, more leftist and anarchist. 

it’s an ideology clash to parse and change gears for. as with haiku, yes, you got it. no there’s no more to get and break your head over. that doesn’t mean it was easy to make but the ease for the viewer/reader is okay. 

I think part of it comes from our cultural habit of fast-forwarding over a pantheon of writers that are deified without getting into why that was created. are the ideas discussed? and why?

N.H. What does your editing scalpel look like? Is it quick and sharp? Is it gentle and cautious?

P.P. Gentle and cautious with others. Because feelings. For myself depends on how much room around and in the poem there is. Cleaver often. Quick chops. Stanzas gone, concept gone, grammatical forms deboned. Restructured. Editing is finding. 

N.H. I've had an ongoing discussion about this with several writers - the writing being in the editing itself. The idea that emerging writers have to lose the fear of playing, reshaping, and removing. There's a difference between writing to genre and the negative constraint of being unwilling to explore. Going back to the house building, how do we encourage new poetic architectures?

P.P.  cash. universal basic income could help. 

if there’s scarcity of time and funds, one can’t afford to not get a great ROI compression of effort in to product out, whether we think in those terms or not. 

people who start are not messing with words as a leisure but in a survival mode of needing to vent or understand something that obstructs their minds and bodies. I don’t know that we need to encourage people towards homogeneity of Poem. 

for new models to build on, the scaffolding and plans are everywhere. one reads and trips over them everywhere once you key in.

there’s utility in the fantastical, the fluid, the fixed brutalist. there’s a lot of use in the plain, raw, unpolished, and broken half-poems. the words take us as far as we need to go before other devices and strategies do a better job or a next job at helping us grow or heal or react as Shiva to destroy what we must so creation can start again.


Pearl Pirie is the co-director the Tree Reading Series in Ottawa, president of haiku group KaDo, a host of Literary Landscapes on, and runs phafours press. In addition to The Pet Radish, Shrunken (BookThug, 2015), her books include  Thirsts (Snare, 2011), which won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry
and been shed bore (Chaudiere, 2010). Pirie has over a dozen chapbooks, the most recent of which being An Ongoing Lack of Spontaneous Combustion (words(on)pages), 2016), and has been widely published in various literary journals.  For more information about her work, visit Pearl Pirie's web site.

Interview by Natalie Hanna.
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Poetry News

Read "African Canadian in Union Blue," Michael Fraser's winning submission to the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize, here.

Freefall Magazine's annual prose and poetry contest closes December 31st. For details on how to submit, click here.

Submissions are open until February 1, 2017 for the Malahat Review's Long Poem Prize! Full guidelines can be found here.

The Writers' Union of Canada is accepting submissions to its 24th annual Short Prose Competition until February 1, 2017.

The second annual Don't Talk to Me About Love poetry contest is accepting submissions until February 14, 2017. This online journal explores love in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and art. The prize is $1000.00.

George Eliott Clarke, Deborah Bowen, and Todd Swift will judge the poetry category of the new Ross and Davis Mitchell Prize for Faith and Writing. The deadline to submit is June 30, 2017.

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