Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Words building the writing world

Halfway through Stephen Henighan's collection of essays on Canadian Literature, When Words Deny the World, i am struck by his idea that an increasingly globalized/americanized world has led to the end of a national Canadian literary community. Maybe i've been particularly blessed, or maybe poetry is working differently than other types of literature, but i've found that there are vibrant regional communities that often reach out to one another. Generally, each one of these communities has a few organizers at the center, who foster dialogue both internally and externally. The Toronto Influency salon is one of those centers; people from all over the country pass in and out of its sphere. Influency West is starting up in Vancouver, and i would love to see similar classes establish themselves in other major cities. It's an ideal of community that i hold very dear, and i've been lucky to meet other writers who feel the same way. Inclusive, rather than exclusive. Grassroots, rather than industrialized. Poets on the ground interacting with one another, and with texts. It's dynamic. It's productive. It's sometimes tenuous, and not at all perfect. But it's not as bleak as Henighan makes out. But his book makes some very salient points about the way non-writers perceive Canadian writers: government sponsored elitists, backwards, boring. Many people (at one point in my life, this included me) buy into the idea that Canada has no culture of its own, and doesn't really need one. The Americans do it better, they say. Its been said so many times, I'm sure lots of people believe it. But it's just not true.

So how do we translate writing communities into broader audiences? There must be a way.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Influency 7

If you're in Toronto, you should sign up RIGHT NOW. It's a very cozy way to learn about, and discuss, poetry.
It will be a great time, i promise.

i'm not dead yet

But i also haven't been reading a lot of poetry, despite the abundance of books waiting to be read. Regular schedules just aren't something i'm good at, so although i say i want to read a book of poetry a week, it just hasn't been happening.

Lately i've been reading about writing. Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott's guide to writing, was an interesting enough read, although rather too prescriptivist for my taste (a holdover from my linguistics training, probably). She seems, often, to assume that people experience things in the exact same way she does -- she makes a point about everyone has the same school-lunch phenomenon of having foods placed into a hierarchy by schoolchildren. My school lunches weren't like that; half the class bought lunch, the other half brought it from home. i was the latter (when i was allowed to buy, it was such a treat!). My class had a habit of trading, and one of the most popular kids was a Portuguese boy with a mother who must have spent hours cooking every day. Actually, we were a fairly multicultural group, and the best lunches were usually "foreign". Sandwiches were pretty boring. Yet Lamott doesn't seem to conceptualize much outside her own experience -- i wonder if she's ever read the blog Stuff White People Like.

Some of her advice is very good though. She suggests setting small tasks (such as a page a day) to avoid getting overwhelmed by a large project. She advocates "shitty first drafts" followed by an editing process, rather than editing as you go. Now, personally, i find revision one of the most fruitful processes for pushing a text forward; i write a small section, and editing it sometimes gives me a better picture of where the text is going. But Lamott's book is interesting enough, even if it is occasionally dominated by personal anecdotes rather than writing advice. i was going to make some bitter comment about how i don't want to hear about her kid, but i'll blame the third glass of wine for that kind of snark. i do like the idea of writing books that you want to read, but can't find, as Lamott seems to do.

i intend to read Marlatt's Ana Historic soon. There may be a post. Or maybe i'll conduct a study on the ratio of wine consumed to comments in parentheses.