Wednesday, October 10, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Heather Haley

• POET • Born in Matapedia, Quebec, HEATHER HALEY was composing songs and stories by the age of six. • SINGER & PERFORMER • Haley is an accomplished spoken word artist and musician, performing for audiences at the Vancouver International Writers Festival, Kootenay School of Writing, Vancouver Public Library, Word on the Street Festival, Western Front, Thundering Word Heard, Bukowski's, West Coast Poetry Festival and Vancouver City Hall. She sang and wrote songs for an all-girl punk band, the .45s (with Randy Rampage of DOA) and HHZ—Heather Haley & the Zellots—praised by music critic Craig Lee as one of “Ten Great LA Bands." She’s played the Smiling Buddha Cabaret, Mabuhay Gardens and Geary Street Theatre in San Francisco, the Hong Kong Cafe, Blackie's, Club 88. Club Lingerie and the John Anson Ford Theatre in Los Angeles. Upon her return to Vancouver in 1993 Haley worked the streets as an official BC Transit busker. In 2004, she teamed up with guitarist/sound designer and dj Roderick Shoolbraid to produce a series of live shows • RECORDING ARTIST • and an audio CD of spoken word songs called Surfing Season. • AUTHOR • During a decade-long stint as an expatriate, Haley was employed as a staff writer, editor and arts reviewer for the LA Weekly. The spoken word was her beat and she published many of the city's finest in her own section of the popular, alternative journal. Haley's poetry has appeared in numerous North American periodicals and anthologies and Anvil Press published a collection of verse called Sideways in 2003. Digital publications include e-poets.net, the University of Manitoba's e-zine, Treeline, Tales of Slacker Bonding and Assemblage-The Women's New Media Gallery. • MEDIA ARTIST • She will also launch an AURAL HEATHER cd of spoken word songs called Princess Nut. In 2003, Haley's videopoem, Dying for the Pleasure, premiered at Pacific Cinèmathéque. Dying for the Pleasure toured the festival circuit and was screened at Milan’s International ArtExpo, Kalingrad’s National Centre for Contemporary Arts and at the National Poety Therapy Association conference in the U.S. 2006’s Purple Lipstick has garnered much kudos having been selected by VideoBardo in Buenos Aires, the Zebra International Poetry Film Award in Berlin, the NFB sponsored Female Eye Festival in Toronto, (a memorial of the Montreal/École Polytechnique Massacre) and the European Media Arts Festival in Osnabrück, Germany, from 2000 entries. • AFFILIATIONS • Haley is a member of the Vancouver Alliance for Arts and Culture, the BC Federation of Writers, Women in Film & Video, the League of Canadian Poets and the Bowen Island Arts Council.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I like to think it lent credibility to my writing.

2 - How long have you lived on Bowen Island, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I’ve lived here on and off since 1993. Geography does indeed impact my writing. There are several references to Vancouver, Bowen Island and Howe Sound in Sideways and a suite of island poems in Window Seat. I’ve led quite a peripatetic existence and was an expatriate for fourteen years. By now I’m surely a citizen of the world with the ability to move, adjust and thrive where ever I hang my hat. It’s been tough, settling down, but required since becoming a mother. My son is on the autism spectrum and does not respond well to changes in routine. I’ve had to curb my wanderlust. However, I have a far longer-reaching outlook than I did in my youth. I know ten years is not a long time, frightening as that may sound. My fondest childhood memories are of my time the Kootenays, both parents gone in essence. My sisters and I spent long days playing in the woods, climbing trees, building forts and rafts. In the winter we skated every day until dark on the ice surrounding the train tracks. My father was an outdoorsman and I’m grateful he instilled in me an affinity with nature. We almost always lived in the thick of it and he took us hunting and fishing. I’ve written about being a white girl. I lived in Los Angeles for many years and survived the Rodney King riots so it would be hard not to. I write about gender and sexuality as well. My experiences as a woman provide much fodder which I see no reason to exclude.

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I find it difficult to describe process. It’s so nebulous and I avoid examining it. When I do manage to carve out a small chunk of time, I just want to write the thing. I go through phases. Sometimes the beginning is staring at the horizon or stumbling across an intriguing image, or finding a weird synchronicity between things. Once a word or a concept is brought to the fore of my consciousness, it seems to pop out at me everywhere. I realize this is not uncommon, especially with artists.

I sporadically keep a journal, mining it later for a word, phrases, sparks. Often a poem will start from a line or two from the journal. Other times I start with nothing and it feels like nothing until I can infuse a narrative, however peculiar. I like to play with lists, nudge the subconscious with random words. I’ve been experimenting with spam, approaching it as found poetry, you know, the kind that tries to slide past filters with a jumble of text.

With poetry, I don’t write a book. I write poems and after, will organize them into as cohesive an entity as possible, a manuscript, with any luck. With fiction—and I’ve only written one novel—I had a pretty clear idea of its story structure from the git-go and thought more in terms of a book.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Neither really. I don’t rely on them as part of my process; neither do I view them as counter-productive. Often I dread public readings as I am setting them up! People laugh when I insist that I’m shy, but I have to force myself to get out there despite a tendency to retreat. Any kind of performance is exciting of course, useful, really, because after over twenty-five years onstage, I’m still being challenged. I feel strongly too that if you’re going to read your work it’s important to be engaging. I’ve seen too many poets stand stiffly while droning on in a monotone. They’re really doing their work a disservice.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Yes, my concerns are just the fundamental questions, the eternal questions. My son asked the other day “why are we here” both of us knowing I did not have the answer. Still, we had a lovely conversation. I write from my gut and wind up addressing issues, like the loss of personal values in a consumerist society, domestic violence and sexism while carefully dodging didacticism and rhetoric. I’ve been criticized for “eschewing the quotidian,” while Karen Solie—whom I had the privilege of working with during my residency at Banff in 2005—said that though I write a lot about domestic situations, my work is not domesticated. Go figure. My poems can be explicit, provocative, but they are most certainly about things I have seen and isn’t that we what we do best? Observe? I know I’m a voyeur. From the time I was a young girl, I have been peeking into people’s windows when passing their houses in the night. They fascinate me. I am always drawn to the photograph that contains a face, or faces.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I don’t find it difficult at all. I feel fortunate to be in that situation. I’ve learned so much from editors. I can’t be objective about my work or imagine completing a book without input from an astute editor.

7 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

A good pear is hard to find. I keep trying though and attempted eating one a few weeks ago but wound up tossing it because the texture was woody.

8 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

That writing is hard work. Plain, simple, homespun advice like Jack London saying, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” There is no magic. If you are blessed with the talent then the most important aspect of writing is the application of butt to seat, as they say. I learned this the hard way while writing for the LA Weekly. The deadlines imposed upon me were critical to my development as a writer. I found out that I could produce the work regardless of how crappy I might be feeling. I was no longer at the mercy of the muse and learned to summon her at will. She’s been dodging me lately though.

9 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I find it difficult to move from fiction to non-fiction, preferring fiction. I do bounce around a lot. As I mentioned, I was a journalist for a time and along with a lot of poetry have written song lyrics, screenplays, essays and phone-sex scripts. The appeal is the inherent challenge in switching. It keeps me on my toes.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I try to have a routine but our family schedule changes season to season. Domestic duties have taken over my life and writing takes a back burner to child rearing and all that it entails. I’m home schooling as well so I suffer from a dearth of writing time. When I have a few hours there is such incredible pressure to use it constructively that often my impulse is to run away. Of course I must always dance the procrastination dance. I’ve developed some helpful rituals but it can still take hours before I’m able to assuage my anxiety, sit at the keyboard and compose. I need an elf! Or two, or three. A few summers ago, I was able to go away and book a room with an (ocean) view in a quiet B&B in Sechelt. After the first day of wandering around feeling like I’d lost a limb, I settled in and was able to produce some work. It’s pretty hard to book time off that like that though. I manage to persist. I have to, I suppose. It’s probably why I like to work in various media. Music and videopoems are also replete angst but collaborating with other artists provides momentum.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Books, mostly poetry books.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

I’ve experimented quite a lot probably because I feel more confident.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I have a pair of binoculars sitting on my windowsill. I don’t do yoga anymore or find time to meditate but I have quite the vista, an ever-changing tableau due to our wacky west coast weather, so often I stop to gaze at the sea, clouds, birds and deer. I’m a musician and that certainly influences everything I do, not just my writing. I would like to study more the correlations between song and verse. Perhaps it’s odd but I have a knack for some of the sciences. I excelled at biology and chemistry and was an aspiring anthropologist at one time. Obviously there exists an overlap between art and science. I think of Leonardo da Vinci. Art and science both involve exploration, experimentation, inquiry and the artist’s studio is a kind of lab. I study people, myth, and culture, much like a scientist, as a way to generate ideas, narrative. The visual arts influence me very much, especially painting, film and video.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Some writers that spring to mind are Andre Breton, Gustave Flaubert, Jean Cocteau, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, John Steinbeck, Octavio Paz, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sarte, ee cummings, Kenneth Patchen, Dostoyevsy, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, J.D. Salinger, Hemmingway, Melville, Anne Sexton, bp nichol, Earle Birney, bill bissett, Susan Musgrave, Jamie Reid, George Bowering, Nathanial West, Germaine Greer, DH Lawrence, William Burroughs, Philip K Dick, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Marshall McLuhan, Anais Nin, Robert Stone, Darcey Steinke, Wanda Coleman and the two Margarets, Lawrence and Atwood.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Trace my ancestry—especially my French ancestry—reside in France for a time and become fluent. I’m a Beliveau.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

An anthropologist. I even went on an archeological dig but dropped out of college to sing in a band.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

The devil? I don’t know. It’s always been there, a hankering to tell stories, through song, prose or verse. I harbour a romantic notion that I inherited it from my mother, a consummate queen of the blarney.

18 - What was the last great book you read?

Don’t think I recall but the last novel I thoroughly enjoyed was The Corrections and as for non-fiction, The Golden Spruce.

19 - What was the last great film?

That’s hard because I’ve seen so many great films and the chronology is a blur but I did watch Blade Runner recently on a sleepless night.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m working hard to get my new book and cd of spoken word songs out into the world. The book is Window Seat and I’m really hoping all indications are accurate and that it comes out next spring. My AURAL HEATHER cd, Princess Nut is due in the spring as well. My producer Roderick Shoolbraid and I and the band (his brother Malcom on drums an unknown bass player) will tour to promote both. I’m also re-writing my novel, The Town Slut’s Daughter then going to serialize it on my blog/website. I really want to direct another videopoem but will need to find funding. My deadline is July, 08. I want to enter the next Zebra Poetry Film Award.

1 comment:

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