Uttered into the Mouth of the Humber at birth, this anxious ambulator occludes closure in favour of uncertain Heisenbergian states of being unbeing. Abstracted from his body and most often in absentia, his writing echoes his self-deprecating recession as he secedes from general society. Some day he will exist only on the internet and, as such, will be the guest editor for Lemon Hound for the month of April. He received a generous and patient undergraduate education at Memorial University: Grenfell Campus (nee Sir Wilfred Grenfell College) before moving to Montreal to pursue his Master’s in English with a focus on Creative Writing at Concordia University. His work has appeared in The March Hare Anthology (Breakwater Books 2007). He won a 2005 Newfoundland and Labrador Arts & Letters award for poetry.
How long have you been writing poetry? Can you remember your first poem? What was the title and what was it about?
I’ve been writing for quite a while. My more serious engagement with poetry probably began when I was in high school. I had a teacher who, from tenth grade on, I would pester nearly every day at recess and lunch and after school with my writing. He was so generous with his time; he would stay and read my terrible high school poetry, provide wonderful constructive criticism and encouragement. I can’t remember any specific first poem, but I have sheets and sheets of loose leaf in a bedroom drawer at my parents’ house with my old poems on them. I was cleaning out a drawer while I was home this past Christmas, probably looking for clean socks, and I found an old legal pad with some rather hilarious super hero doodles on it. There was also a poem on it called “Money”, written snugly under the armpit of a poorly sketched flexing and muscle-bound hero. The poem has the meter of a limerick, or thereabouts, and rhymes (obviously). It gestures towards my perhaps too-intense listening to Pink Floyd’s song of the same name and a vague anti-capitalist sentiment that I had thought best expressed in rhyming verse. I was well intentioned but, perhaps, too optimistic about the political efficacy of that specific sort of poetry, let alone poetry in general.
Describe your poetry.
I feel like my poetry is mostly just noise; I feel like I am an infant banging pots and pans in the cupboard of language. I love words. Too much. I’ve had professors tell me this in the margins of academic essays, that my love of words can often obfuscate the point of my argument. I get caught up using fun words, large words, abstract ideas with latinate diction. I love the sound and texture of words, their shape and weight. My view of what constitutes language is also rather democratic; I don’t privilege words from Shakespeare or Donne any more than I do Jay-Z or Jean-Luc Godard.
I think one of poetry’s most important functions is to illuminate the space words take up in the world, how we engage it, how it engages us. This has been the more recent thematic bent of my poetic project, especially in my situation, being an anglophone in Montreal, struggling with French, being constantly made aware of the slippages of language and the difficulty of communication and of meaning making.
Of course, being from a place as naturally gorgeous and moving as the West Coast of Newfoundland, I have a rather Romantic bent as well. My poetry is sensitive to external stimuli and despite all my best efforts I am still most moved by natural beauty. I suppose moving to the city has caused me to broaden the scope of what constitutes natural beauty and to find the places where Montreal’s natural beauty and Newfoundland’s natural beauty are contiguous. In my experience thus far these places of contact are usually linguistically rooted. Beauty, whatever shape it takes in it’s ever-widening inclusiveness, is mediated by language. I realize that all this really tells you nothing concrete about my poetry.
What is the reality of your day-to-day writing life?
Procrastination and anxiety. I worry about writing, about writing enough, about whether or not I have anything to say, about whether or not I have the capability to communicate anything that I may actually have to say. I putter around online, read articles reviews, comment on blogs and check sports box-scores. I look out the window a lot and contemplate the weather. I go for a walk and touch a tree’s trunk or pull a leaf from its branches or wonder about strangers, together or apart, or I get an ice cream or a bagel somewhere. I worry about the reading I have to do. I worry about the writing about the reading I have to do and how that writing is not the writing I should be writing. I put my best thoughts in tweets or Facebook status updates and regret it immediately. I shop online for books I feel I should own and, maybe, some day, actually read. Sometimes I write something I do not hate and do not share online and sometimes those seeds sprout a poem, but this rarely occurs. The reality of my day to day writing life is digression and indirect avoidance of the work and my self and the self my work excavates. It is at once a movement inwards and away and somehow it is the truest thing I do. It is a wonderful complication.
What is the dream?
The dream is that always deferred horizon I constantly move toward. It is writing a good poem, writing many good poems, putting these poems in a book, and selling the book. Repeating this process in a manner that allows me to do so as comfortably and as engaged as possible. The dream is sleeping in and dictating my own hours. The dream is autonomy or sovereignty or maybe just a small space to call my own. The dream is present in everything and achieved nowhere and nowhen. The dream is a happy life and a full death as much as it is a happy and full present moment at each moment. It is the rub and the undiscover’d country and sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought and yet all amiss interpreted.
Some poets struggle with finding the best form, some wrestle with diction and finding that perfect word. What’s your struggle?
That I can only choose a perfect word and not all of them. I struggle with being succinct, with editing myself and getting out of the way of the poem (if you can’t already tell this from my circuitous answers). I struggle with what the best form is to speak to the writing of any particular poem, with finding a form that informs and underscores the work that the language and content are trying to do. I struggle with the idea of making a poetics that is relevant and of the moment, that engages or interrogates how language is constructed and employed today while being respectful of the way it has been used, the way it is always in dialogue with its previous uses. What is my position in the larger context of contemporary poetry? How do I speak to a tradition unfolding around me unknowably? The response to this is to focus on minute details and my small poems and my own personal history. I try not to think of these concerns too deeply or too often as they result in something like a mild paralysis. In fact, I started writing this answer 4 hours ago and have just been sitting here, frozen, ever since.
If you could have lunch with any three deceased poets, who would they be and why?
Gerard Manley Hopkins: I find his struggle with being a poet and his religious duties to be both very interesting and also moving. The tension he felt in being a religious figure, how it clashed with what he perceived as the implicit egotism of being a poet requiring an audience, and how this made him suppress his poetry is sad and complicated. His engagement with language has had a great influence on my own, the way he uses rhythms and alliteration; I often find myself just repeating “I caught this morning morning’s minion, king- / dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon” from his poem The Windhover at least once a week. Gertrude Stein: A remarkable figure who did no less than refine and redefine the sentence. I would love to have a conversation her about the ways visual art can inform the construction of language, about her employment of cubist principles in writing. Above and beyond her writing work, Stein’s interest in art, and connection with so many of her time’s artists – not to mention her own collection of art would – would be amazing to experience. I do not feel we will ever be finished learning from her; she has cast a long and endlessly generative shadow.
Frank O’Hara: Firstly because I feel like he would have been a remarkable conversationalist, clever, self-effacing, biting. His writing is so conversational and charming, his disposition at once casual and cosmopolitan, informed and sensitive and somehow unnaturally genuine. I often watch a video of him reading “Having A Coke With You” and marvel at the way he holds his cigarette, the curl of hair floating above his forehead and the ease with which he situates the reader of his poem. There is a grace to his writing and person that is something I will always strive for and never be able to attain.Beginning with poetry of the 1500s and moving through time, choose a few poets that you think really evolved and shaped the poetry we read and write today.I feel like there is really too much to say about any one of these figures, so I’ll simply provide a list that will, necessarily, be inflected by my own personal experience with poetry and particular learning experience. It will be rather predictable and boring and, as with any act of naming, I’m inflicting the violence of omission on far too many other incredible poets:Shakespeare, John Milton, John Donne, William Wordsworth, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Charles Olson, Adrienne Rich, Amiri Baraka, Lynn Hejinian, Seamus Heaney, Lisa Robertson, Kenneth Goldsmith.
Every writer has that one person who inspired them to explore the writing life for better or worse. Who was that person in your life? I have been incredibly fortunate in my young life to have been surrounded with people who have taken the time and care to foster my desire to write, the high school teacher I mentioned, Mr. Harold Keough, being the first in a long line. In my undergrad work I was afforded the opportunity to learn from wonderful poets such as John Steffler, Randall Maggs, and Stephanie McKenzie. In my graduate work I’ve had the good fortune to be taught by Sina Queyras and Mary di Michele. Each of these people have contributed irrevocably to my writing life as it has been and continues to be; each figure has brought distinct and valuable sensitivities to my attention that have shaped my writing. Not to mention the countless brilliant and creative students who I have had the immense pleasure of sharing my writing with and receiving feedback from in academic, or elsewhere situated, writing workshops. My movement into the writing life has been a communal effort that I am thankful every day for; the conception of a life of writing as a solitary and ascetic life couldn’t be farther from the truth, even in the case of someone as hermetic as I often am. Every writer is connected through language and through words, we borrow them from one another, they support us as we support each other; poetry is a constant dialogue in which we are always speaking with another, so, in that sense, I suppose I am inspired by everyone who writes, always. To single any particular figure out would be a disservice to the integral work each does. I am grateful and indebted to them all equally and eternally.
Ben Hynes has a blog where he keeps a log of the films he watches and his thinking about them and he writes for Lemon Hound.