Sunday, January 13, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Garry Thomas Morse

Garry Thomas Morse lives in Vancouver and has two LINEbooks of poetry published, Transversals for Orpheus (2006) and Streams (2007).

His as of yet homeless prose works include Death in Vancouver (a book of city short stories that come to a bad end), The Book of Art (a short novella about aesthetics) and The Chaos Suite (a tetralogy of four pretty fucked-up right here novellas).

In homeless poetry, manuscripts of note include Discovery Passages (Kwak'wala myth and potlatch history), Gadgetalia (tech talk), Go Medieval (riffs on Malory/Beroul), and After Jack (rewrite of Jack Spicer's After Lorca). These are in addition to twenty odd chapbooks of poetry.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I'd like to say my first book dramatically changed my life, but not really. By 2006, I'd already written a number of diverse manuscripts and LINEbooks decided on two of my poetic oeuvres for this first book, so it became a sort of calling card to help attract attention to my other esotextica. In terms of what the book contributes to poetry (hence changing and saving lives!) I feel compelled to challenge your review, which associated my work with a 'transelation' theory. I far prefer a notion of the text as palimpsestuousness sediment in which the bookworms turn, in this case, Rainer Maria Rilke, C.F. MacIntyre, Karl Siegler, and myself from an earlier translation attempt. These souls all happened to fuse in the summer of '06 and at the same time, there is Cocteau's Orphic sense favoured by Jack Spicer, with each word slowly coming out of a radio (or customized personal gadgetalia of choice). The other half of the book 'the untitled 1-13' is the opposite, since it is more about that Blaserian invitation to the OPEN, where particulars appear before the poet and are allowed in. 'the untitled' is intended to my lifelong work, and it is a place to put all the leftovers from my other poems or serial works. The story of my father's hospitalization and rapid mental decline closes the thirteenth part in that book, and it is more the book that has documented these peculiar changes in my life.

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

I have lived in Vancouver all my life. With the disjunctive urbanity surrounded by our mild coastal beauty and mist and rain, it's hard not to enjoy Rilke and hear Wagner in early morning foghorns. And I think the geography contributes to a sense of luxury. With my heritage being part Kwak'wala and Cockney Jew, I find it amusing that I spend so much time ingesting European classics and regurgitating them onto the page. In terms of race, my thinking reels back to Margaret Atwood's writing on representation in Survival, where she talks about our Canadian love affair with victimization. George Bowering has said that American images portray people by a river and Canadian images portray people under the ice. In many novels, particularly portraying First Nations folk, I often feel that the characters are these totemic or idealized representations and not anything like real people. They are used more as devices to forward some didactic moral or plot. More generally, with Canadian cultural narratives, Christian Bök has used the word latkes, presumably to mean this formulaic all too precious slice of life stuff, unless he meant to say dreck. I don't mind this material as content, but I object to predictably canned and contrived narrative and verse styles that reduce individual characters to worn-out tropes and stereotypes. I would say that in some of my prose, I tend to parody the genre of identity politics, which receives plenty of attention in our city. If you are caught answering the call of nature, I guess the best excuse is to say you were trying to find yourself. I think in terms of my Kwak'wala background, rather than reach out to any community, I am trying to get back to the original tremulous energy of their art in terms of the Dionysian and the daimonic. This often rubs people the wrong way, but I think the poet is an oppositional figure whose temporary theatrical madness is at once genuine and necessary. If there is value or entertainment in what I do in exorcising this energy from the OUTSIDE, or what the Kwak'wala call nwaluk (a sort of spiritual intuition), then hopefully I will be forgiven or at least humoured and welcomed back among the others through a taming ritual. It helps to keep in mind that the trickster (or raven or coyote or Loki) is not just some narrative device in critical theory. In Der Ring des Nibelungen, Loge is useful to Wotan precisely because he might burn Valhalla down...or Vanhalla for that matter...

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 don't seem to write those lonely one night stands anymore. I'm not very fond of piecemeal collections. Somewhat like Aristotle, I believe that a work of art should have some cohesion, ideally that every cell should be a microcosm of the whole. The work often leads me instead of any overarching idea. I write serial poems most often now. I might guess at the number of them, especially if the work is intertextual to another serial work, but the process is more conversational in tone, at least internally. I am a strong believer in its linear organic development, not in cutting and pasting and collaging things together. Even in my prose narrative, there has been a sense of the serial radio play, a polyphony of voices and meta-suspenseful continuances...

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

I think that public readings run counter to my creative process, or at the very least, are a lukewarm distraction. There's usually a narrow window in which I am excited to drag people out to listen to me, but it never seems to be in sync with an appointment, which has all the appeal to me of a tax filing date. Also, my whole obsession with writing tends to make me rather anti-social. I suppose I believe that poets who just read for other poets they know start to dilute the visionary aspect of the individual. In terms of 'the public', it is often hard to understand why people are at a reading, but it is usually for some other reason than to hear poetry. And the serious sympathizers will be the same faces and what can they possibly learn from one another that they didn't already take (or teach) in the same course?

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?

I feel that the poetic or writerly demi-urge should be strong enough to erode some of the theoretical concerns. Books written by theorists for theorists make me logy. If writing is just a Q&A routine, then the imagination has little or no part to play. I like how George Bowering [see his 12 or 20 here] says not to start with what you know but with what you don't know. That's writing. I might wonder why she touched my arm on that particular evening or who the hell called and woke me out of that lovely sleep-in yesterday. That's usually the kind of question which the writing and the imagination chooses to answer, although often without my knowledge until hours or days or months later.

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

So far, I haven't run into any detrimental interference from editors.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Book-making sometimes feels hard and sometimes feels easy. But it is always there, while for me the world of publishing in any form is external to the act of writing, save for when editorial standards play their part in the creation of a work. The creation of a work seems to me easier and more enjoyable than trying to find a suitable home for it, which is an exhausting and arbitrary process. At present, I have a number of manuscripts that are floating around publishing houses, getting lost, propping doors open...

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

For the riveting answer, see my book Streams, poem #62.

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

Goal-oriented existence drives way faster than contemplative ecstasy. Merge, fucker, merge!

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?

For years, I used to flood notebooks in a number of Vancouver pubs, but excessive drinking every day took its toll on me and due to my personal chemistry, I had to pack it in and restructure my glutamate cells and senses until I was able to create new subroutines for filtering in the entire passing universe. Of interest to me was that I could sit somewhere by myself and have a drink and be pretty bored, but once I took out my notebook, I would be there for hours, ordering drink after drink and writing incessantly and freaking everyone out. I have very obsessive tendencies, so I really enjoy routines. Oh yeah, I also haunt the Vancouver Public Library and I've observed that Wayde Compton [see his 12 or 20 here] favours the same quiet floor. Sometimes we end up sitting quite close without speaking. Maybe someone will write a cross-cultural romance about it! This is of course the best way for writers to co-exist without abrogating the psychical space. After all, what is there to say? Shhhh!!! I've switched to working on the computer first instead of on notepaper and I've adapted myself to write in the mornings, although in those periods when I am between nine-to-fivers, I often stay up until dawn or so, when my brain feels most active.

11 - Where is your favourite place to write?


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

My writing doesn't really get stalled. But I work best when I switch between different kinds of writing in progress, so that I don't get stuck on one long project that feels like an interminable thesis. If I don't feel like writing one thing, I usually feeling like writing another, and another, and then I switch back and everything is fun fun fun...

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

I think each book is in part a homage to a Canadian poetic work. There's Karl Siegler's Sonnets to Orpheus influencing my first book and then there's David McFadden's Gypsy Guitar influencing my second book. I am happier with my second book Streams, since it is a complete serial poem (or series of prose poems) with a sense of expanding consciousness moving through the work. This time, my book documents the passing away of my grandmother last year, who was always more dear to me than the estranged parents who had no hand in raising me. However, even she fuses with a number of images in my literary consciousness... Beatrice's smile in La Divina Commedia, Marcel's grandmother in A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, George Bowering's grandfather in his well known grandfather poem. Perhaps the point of this book is to re-assert the aesthetic imagination as a living entity, since it seems to create reality for those sensitive to its whiles, and is not limited to the more narrow margins of reality.
14 - 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 really love the unit of the phrase, and in terms of form, they often have phrases in books. I would say that classical opera and music has a strong influence on my writing, but formwise, this is hard to trace.

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

In terms of poetry and prose, I especially favour late nineteenth to early twentieth century stuff, from French symbolist stuff to modernist/surrealist experimentation. Joyce, Proust, and Woolf are favourite re-reads, but lately I've been inspired by the rather elusive Robert Desnos. I love those prose style pioneers too, like Balzac, Stendhal, Nerval, and Huysmans. Lately, I'm liking Lawrence Durrell.

Either of Kierkegaard's Either/Or has had a huge influence on my aesthetic approach.

A list of contemporaryish poets would be hella long, and although this is a plug for LINEbooks, I have felt very honoured to have my work appear alongside the poetry of Natalie Simpson and Kim Minkus. I find there is an unapologetic love affair with language and an exquisite craftiness to be disclosed within each of their works. Their books are bright refreshing gems in a damp city full of overpriced gewgaws, where there is often a self-imposed hyperconsciousness about having to write for a particular audience, group, or community. I feel that these innovative books celebrate the relationship between language and the individual, and this is also a credit to the good taste of the editors at LINEbooks for including these two poets.

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

Imagine doing it.

17 - 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?

I have a small software business, and do the same kind of work for jobs. I actually find my obsession with poetry and writing a distracting irritation, in terms of lost opportunity costs. In spite of all I do, I never seem to have two beavers to rub together. Also, the writerly part of me is troubling and often gets in the way of what I would deem normal human relations and interactions. I think there's something parasitic about the act of writing. If I were not a writer, I would like to imagine that I would be happier or more relaxed, but perhaps I would just lack the outlet of this particular form of sublimation.

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

I think I lack talent in other areas, or lack the time/concentration/inclination to work harder in those areas, but writing feels very natural for me, more so than even speaking. A friend of mine once told me that I love words, which really meant a lot to me. I mean that I don't write things to mean things, or to say something I feel is important to me. Another friend would say if you have something to say, why not write a treatise, why write a poem... I guess I only write because I love words.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

20 - What are you currently working on?

Recently, I've been toying with new unstructured sonnets based on Spenser's amoretti, swished about with some nifty Latinate backwash, and working titled the ossessioni.
I've been working on my novella tetralogy The Chaos Suite for about a year and a half. I've finished three parts, Minor Episodes, Major Ruckus, and Rogue Cells, which are more or less satyrical surrealist speculative fiction. I am currently in the middle of writing Minor Expectations about a bed-cam star who uses the much coveted tachyonometer to travel through several historical epochs in order to win her lofty inheritance. This tetralogy is already garnering some excellent rejection letters from Canadian publishers along the lines of the following:

This is interesting, arresting, courageous work. I am sorry to say, however, that it is not really the kind of thing we publish.

Latkes, it ain't.

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