Starts at 2PM, The Underground at Vancouver Public Library Central Branch. Hope to see you around at WORD Vancouver 2016!
In conversation: thecanadaproject interviews Stephen Collis, Part 2…
On Decomp (Coach House Books, 2013)
SC: The basic idea was Jordan (Scott)’s: leave a book outside and see what happens to it; use that as a prompt for a more material ecopoetics. Our conversations refined the idea to BC ecosystems and Darwin’s Origin as our text. Once we had recovered the books we left outside for a year, the process was pretty long and laborious. We spent a few years going back and forth—often line by line, word by word, adding, amending, editing one another—to the point where for a lot of the book , neither Jordan nor I can tell “whose” writing is whose. That wasn’t always easy—we didn’t always see eye to eye—but the process was rewarding (and we’re still good friends). Full collaboration like this is a real commitment, but I love it.
The book did take shape “organically,” as we worked and re-worked the material we had; we wanted all along to keep close to what was “readable” in the recovered books—to let what an ecosystem did to the books set our a language, with a grammar and lexicon etc. etc. But luckily we also agreed that any puritanical sense of the “concept” was of no interest, and that we wanted second level reflections, self-reflections, commentary by others, etc. to be part of the project. It’s messy, but I think necessarily and productively so.
SC: I am lucky enough to 1) teach the books that I really love, and 2) to focus my teaching around key social issues. As a “scholar” I would say my primary focus is on the relationship between poetry and social movements. So this is the frame for many of my literature courses. Obviously, there’s a close relationship here between my own poetry and objectives as a poet and those that shape my teaching. How else to bring the necessary passion to the classroom?
In teaching creative writing I’ve learned to do two things: open as many doors as possible to meaningful ways of exploring the world through writing, and then to step back and try to help emerging writers come up with the best version of what they have shown they are trying to do. So it’s a matter of on the one hand opening up the possibilities of a writing turned out towards the world (a writing engaged more with otherness than self), then letting go, letting the writer feel their way towards what they are already doing, and helping them understand what that is. So teaching for me comes down to the practice of radical empathy—to demonstrate my empathy for certain ways of writing, and then to feel empathy for what the student’s interests are and try to guide them as best I can.
RSS: Collaborations in other media—what’s that been like, traversing the line between subject and object?
SC: If you mean collaborations with artists working in other media, I absolutely love this, but haven’t done nearly enough of it. Jordan and I had to figure out how we would work with photography on our own. It was the blind leading the blind, but we’re happy with the results.
Once in Blockadia includes some collaborative work, with artists Genevieve Robertson and Jay White. We did several walks together along the existing and proposed new pipeline routes in Coquitlam and Burnaby. This involved setting up beer can pinhole cameras along the route for “counter-surveillance;” some of these images are in my book—as well as Genevieve’s prints made using bitumen. They are open, collaborative artists, and it was fantastic working with them. Really, all I did was walk and talk in this collaboration, but we all three share an interest in the commons, in the enclosure of space and the erasure of other modes of inhabiting the world.
On Upcoming Projects
SC: I’m now writing a prose, non-fiction book, Almost Islands—sort of a memoir of visiting Phyllis Webb over the years. It’s about place, the Anthropocene, displacement and migration, and how to live and write on this coast in the wake of colonization and the midst of resource extraction. It’s also about the relation between poetry and the political, the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, and the British socialist William Morris. It’s kind of crazy. I’ve drafted about two thirds of it this summer and will finish and revise next summer.
Beyond that, I don’t like to project too clearly, even though I usually have a sense of where to go. Because I change my mind, or have it changed for me by oil companies and lawyers! One thing I have my eye on is translating the presocratic Greek philosopher Empedocles. Strange, but I’m drawn to his Love and Strife (Eros and Eris) cosmology (which strikes me as fertile ground for “The Barricades Project”), and have translated one fragment already (published in TCR a few years back). I have a shelf of Greek dictionaries, translations etc. ready for me to give it some attention.
Stay tuned for part 3 of thecanadaproject interviews Stephen Collis
Welcome to the final part of thecanadaproject interviews poet Jordan Scott. Scott is the 2015/2016 SFU Writer in Residence. His books include Silt (New Star 2005), blert (Coach House 2008), DECOMP (Coach House 2013) and Clearance Process (SMALL CAPS 2016). His forthcoming long poem, Night & Ox is to be published by Coach House Books in the fall of 2016. Jordan lives in Port Coquitlam, BC.
SFU Writer In Residence
RSS: Can you share a bit about your approaching to teaching as part of your residency…what I’m getting at here is, I often wonder, what it’s like for a “WIR” (writer in residence), when approached for commentary/feedback on writing, where you don’t necessarily have time to form teacher-student bonds, as you might in a classroom, over a longer period of time. As the new Surrey Poet Laureate, I’m really interested in learning about how to best serve writers in these sorts of roles.
JS: I’m coming to the end of my tenure as SFU Writer in Residence…it was an incredible experience. I agree that it’s difficult to create lasting bonds while Writer in Residence, as the consultation periods are so brief. I’m not really interested in telling people how to write or how to make a work better. I think I approached these meetings as simply a time to talk about poetry. I wanted to make sure that the person sitting across from me knew that I devoted time to only reading their work and that was listening. This for me, when friends read my work, is the greatest of gifts.
RSS: You’ve been both collaborator/agent of creation and the subject of film and audio studies. What’s that been like, that traversing the line between subject/object? What’s it like to both embody what is integral to us as poets, our “being/ness” (a stutter, the colour of one’s skin, our gender) and to mine if for material?
JS: I’m very conflicted about many of these experiences around the stutter and the poetics of the stutter. You’re right to say it’s a kind of ‘mining for material’ and this can be a very uncomfortable and disingenuous process. I’m not sure how great I’ve been at managing the complex web of art, professionalism and sincerity. I think most of the time my engagement with the stutter is a failure in the sense that it becomes part of an art project / object. I’m the object most of the time but – by extension – so are those who stutter. I have to say that most of the time there’s no art or poetry to stuttering at all. It mostly fucking sucks and I don’t want my kids to talk the way I do. I say this because I don’t want to get caught in some kind of redemptive trap of ‘overcoming obstacles’ because there’s nothing to overcome.
RSS: What’s next for Jordan Scott and have you already begun new writing?
JS: A long poem titled Night & Ox is due out with Coach House in September 2016. I also have a new chapbook, Clearance Process, published by SMALL CAPS.
Welcome to part 2 of thecanadaproject interviews poet Jordan Scott. Scott is the 2015/2016 SFU Writer in Residence. His books include Silt (New Star 2005), blert (Coach House 2008), DECOMP (Coach House 2013) and Clearance Process (SMALL CAPS 2016). His forthcoming long poem, Night & Ox is to be published by Coach House Books in the fall of 2016. Jordan lives in Port Coquitlam, BC.
Part 1: The world of your books
Poems, poetics, self, history
RSS: In looking at the poems in all three of your books, readers and reviews often comment on your use of syntax, form, shape on the page, personal connections/moments: do these sorts of things preoccupy you at the time of inscription? Your work has garnered a fair share of critical and audience attention (I’m thinking of that list of interviews on your author profile page over at the Coach website; in particular, the jacket2 article etc.). How has this attention fed/distracted your process as a writer? Curious!
JS: I’m rarely preoccupied when I’m writing anymore. I think Silt (and maybe my next book Night & Ox) is my most honest and sincere book. I mean that in the sense that I was simply unaware that to write poetry one could be preoccupied with such things as syntax, form and shape on the page. The writing of Silt was mostly intuition and instinct. I look back at the time with great fondness, and I don’t think it’s purely innocence or something like that. I think what I’m trying to say is that there was no noise – just writing, body, my family and what I didn’t know. I lost this in Blert, which I feel is too clean and precise. I don’t want that anymore. I don’t want to create something is that entirely virtuosic and exhaustive. I don’t think I ever did.
RSS: Decomp is the result of a collaboration with the poet and fellow SFU professor, Stephen Collis: whereby you and Steve did some interesting things with C. Darwin. Can you share a bit about your process when it came to writing the poems, after you’d return to the site(s) where the, er, Darwin’s book-parts had been left?
JS: After we located the books and brought them back home, Steve and I just started writing and sharing our work. We’d edit and collaborate line-by-line. Rarely did a poem that was individually written be left intact. Steve and I went line by line for a period of a couple years until we felt alright with the poems that remained. I think it was a pure collaboration in many ways: vicious, untangled, loving and unwavering.
Stay Tuned for Part 3 of thecanadaproject interviews Jordan Scott
thecanadaproject interviews poet Jordan Scott, SFU Writer in Residence:
Jordan Scott is the 2015/2016 SFU Writer in Residence. His books include Silt (New Star 2005), blert (Coach House 2008), DECOMP (Coach House 2013) and Clearance Process (SMALL CAPS 2016). His forthcoming long poem, Night & Ox is to be published by Coach House Books in the fall of 2016. Jordan lives in Port Coquitlam, BC.”
The world of your books
RSS: What draws you to language, as a means of expression? What turns you away?
JS: What draws me to the language of expression is often selfishness and expectation. I often (rightly or wrongly) believe that it is somehow my job as a poet to have something to say. But you know, I’m just a guy from Port Coquitlam with two young boys, a half-empty bookshelf and four hours a sleep a night. I can express that but I’m not sure anyone would particularly care. If I express anything in my poetry it’s my own intimate world of little beings shitting and babbling throughout the night. I write mostly about their bodies orbiting mine and the collapse of these circles and the malice of collision. But what I want to say is that I think I hide in language like being buried inside some terrible creature that my sons fear. It’s manageable this way, expression I mean, because I want to always be in the material of language as such. The weight of sound and the heavy debt I owe those cadences rock me away to some kind of anonymity and the quiet I so desperately crave.
RSS: As always, I am tempted to read all three of your books, and in particular, Silt and Blert, as volumes belonging to one long-poem? I sometimes carry both Silt and Blert on my Skytrain journeys around the Lower Mainland, particularly when travelling west to east, either into New West or Surrey, when “Xing” the Fraser. I can spend a lot of time on a poem, such as the long poem sequence, “Stuttering”. How does that strike you, about all three books being part of one longer work?
JS: I hope my books are perhaps operating in this way but perhaps more as a lifelong series of questions and concerns than the creation of a deliberate long poem. In some ways I’d like my writing life to be some kind of durational project but I think this implies too much of an intellectual exercise? I’m not sure. All I know is that since having children, my writing life is inseparable, entangled and sometimes at odds with my life as a father and husband. Sometimes writing can do damage to a family because of the time, energy and necessary narcissism that a poem – a book of poem – requires. I want to be thinking about poetry all the time. I want to be composing poems when I’m at the park or in the bush with my kids, but much of the time this is pure desire and I’m bleary-eyed waiting for a break or feeling guilty about not giving enough time to my incredibly talented wife. So this is my long poem, you know? A series of calamities and labor that, within it, I somehow manage to eke out something that resembles poetry. But at what cost? And keep in mind that I’m not suffering in this equation. This is not about an artist suffering for his work. That’s not the paradigm. I’m talking about damage to relationships here. About my desire to keep writing when maybe the long poem are those little beings quietly breathing in the room next to mine.
RSS: How did the family Kujawa come into your ken? Those journal entries that preface the sections of Silt: so beautifully constructed, written: did you imagine those and then write them; or, are they a kind of transliteration from actual journals?
JS: Kujawa is my mother’s maiden name. She’s my first collaborator in many ways. I started writing poems with her sitting beside me at the kitchen table. She’d bring me books from her library to read: Olson, Snyder, Loy, Blaser, Marlatt, Levertov…it went on and on. My mother, Wiesia Kujawa, was a student at SFU in the 1960s and was heavily influenced by the teachings of the great Charles Olson scholar, Ralph Maud. Our home was full of books that orbited Olson’s own library and poetic / historical interests. It was a wonderful place to be. The journals in Silt are directly taken from my mother’s journals. We then worked through them together over lunch or on long walks. She’s the real poet in the family.