Friday, January 11, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Maxine Gadd

I was born in 1940 during The Blitz, the all out attempt of the Luftwaffe to invade England. My mother, pregnant with me was evacuated to an old village in Dorset. I don’t know exactly when I went back with Mom to London. I do remember being conscious with a lot of other people in the basement of a house in London during the last and most exhausting air raid of robot bombs called Doodlebugs by the English, Cherry-stones by the Germans who sent them in 1944. When we went back up to our attic suite the ceiling plaster had crashed to the ground and killed our kittens. When we went outside a nearby house was collapsed and burned. I think we went back to my Grandmother’s cottage in Somerset and I got to attend a wonderful one room school house. Mom and my Dad, when he had come home on leave from being a soldier in Europe had taught me to read fairly early. But I didn’t learn any arithmetic.

We left for Canada in October of 1946 with many other immigrants in the belly of ocean liner called the Aquitania. Mum took us on the train to Hardisty Alberta where she left us with the paternal Grandparents while she went on to find us a place live in Vancouver. In January she came back and took us to the Dunsmuir Hotel which was full of veteran fathers, mothers and children living in single and double rooms. I think I went sequentially to four different schools in that area of down-town Vancouver, three of which have since been demolished. Then we moved to an auto court way out of town and I walked through some enchanted woods to a new school. Then we moved to gerry-built veteran’s housing out in a suburb then called Anzio Heights, then back to two different government housing developments on Fourth Avenue and another school where I got interested in Lewis Carroll and stage plays. By grade Seven I was at Kitsilano High on a hill and stayed there every day for six years. When Sputnik went up Beatnik jazz and poetry houses started to bloom

Went to the University of British Columbia, talked and listened a lot, lived intensely, met future poets, wrote poems, did readings and got published in a UBC journal called The Raven and emerged with my B.A. and a baby. Got married and experienced years of total separation from the scene; ran off with the permission of my husband to California with the baby. In those days (early 1960's) you could do that. Came back when support ran out, stayed in rooms around town with the baby, tried to take a teaching certificate at UBC and had a nervous breakdown. Baby’s dad took charge of the baby. I lived on welfare in dark rooms. Met the art scene again where bill bissett, heroically developed blue ointment press and organized readings. For awhile there were a lot of people organizing readings. I participated by reading my poems. Little coffee houses continued to pop up everywhere. Renaissance in a rainy gloomy city.

I had no telephone. Bill would turn up from time to time with beautiful mimeoed editions of blew ointment press and did two publications of my poetry, Guns of the West in 1967 and Hochelaga in 1970. Produced “Practical Knowledge” in 1969 at Intermedia with the Roneo. Housing got impossible and I moved to Victoria and actually got clerical work with the provincial Public Service in the legislature buildings. Bertrand Lachance did two books under Air Press, one an edition of the magazine Air two in 1972 and one expertly produced in 1975 called Westerns.

Quit my job, deep in depression, then ran off to Galiano Island and serendipitly found a shack by the sea and wrote poems.

Years later, Daphne Marlatt and Ingrid Klassen decided to bring out a Coach House book of my
poetry 1983 called Lost Language.

Stanley, who owned the property a number of us were living on at Montague Harbour on Galiano Island died in 1984 and I had to return to Vancouver. Depression returned mixed with the mania of new environments. Dropped in on the Carnegie Humanities course at Hastings and Main and lived on the edges of the DownTown Eastside culture and the Kootenay School of Writing and found the present place to live where I have persisted for twenty years. Have lost a lot of archives but am presently rediscovering the remains.

Mona Fertig of Mother Tongue Press published Fire in the Cove in 2001.
Rolf Maurer of New Star Books published Backup to Babylon in 2006 and promises to bring out the next few years worth in Subway Under Byzantium this spring. Hopefully he’ll be able to bring things up to date after that. Backup to Babylon got nominated for the BC Book Prize but fortunately for my marginality it didn’t win.

I have a list of magazines and anthologies where my work is to be found. Or was.

1 - How did your first book change your life?
I bought a new pair of boots.

Bill Bissett published my first book which he called, Guns of the West.

I was living over the lane of Fourth Avenue in Kitsilano in Vancouver, B.C. on Welfare which had just come into being. (Thanks to a poet named AJ Smith, I am told.) In those days rents were cheap and even cheaper in Kits. Some of my friends had small suites in stone palaces.

One day bill turns up with an armful of my poems beautifully mimeoed with western style decorations called Guns of the West. I guess that started my famous career.
Being a published poet did cast some blessings around me. It would be a long list, that of those to whom I am grateful. I tended to exist in a poor state of development in cold dark places, in a low grade infection which I shared with the communities that accepted me. Depression was a given. But the dark days were sometimes lit up with intellectual and aesthetic and compassionate events of brilliance. Poems issued in the lonely thoughtful darkness that ensued.

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?
Have lived in Canada since 1946, Vancouver since 1947 with different attempts to escape. Geography grinds on me like it grinds on everyone else (the short answer). Sixteen years of trying to make bad software work for me grinds a lot more right now; though since I was a teenager living near the beach at the bottom of the street I have had nightmares of tsunamis earthquakes, volcanoes, comets, and since the 50's, machine debris that can take us all out.
Race and gender have driven me crazy. Which, I guess, is why we have them.
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’ve always believed all people work on the book of life and that there is something called poetry everyone recognizes. So it seems there are many poetries, which I try to study when I can. The poem comes at unknown and unknowable instances though sometimes I can set out on an assignment. I’ve had to value chaos.

I have been privileged to work on it as it came and lucky to to born at a time that Word Perfect would let you create indexes and cursed to be born at a time another software corporation could systematically strip such programmes . The book. All that it can be. The right to express whatever I could wring out..

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

My first audience thrill was in 1946 near the age of six in a perfect little country school in Dorset, England. There was a stage in the class room.. I got to to read aloud Christina Rossetti’s poem, “Goblin Market.” Got a rapturous response from my class mates. I was hooked; though soon separated from my supply.

For me reading aloud was an instant project which proves the work.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing?

My only theoretical concerns behind my writing are theoretical concerns. Have been fortunate in the past twenty years of being back in Vancouver, listening slack-jawed to a bevy of magnificent poets and students of theory. Delicately coutured politicity now seems the rage where I hang out.

What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

The current questions are part of the eternal questions, just rephrased more stylishly than before.

The real questions are the ones we can’t posit or admit into our skins. Some of them, sane citizens say, they don’t need and who am I to challenge them? Why do I need to study theology?
As a feminist the psychological question of identity still hangs out there, with a criminal suspicion that there is one somewhere under the skin. I think I know why I keep finding people begging and starving, sleeping on the streets.

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

All of the above.

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

It is still pretty hard. But that’s what we’re looking for–hard copy.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?
I don’t think I can answer this question.

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

Keep moving.

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 stay up late into the night trying to gather my thoughts; I sleep with weird dreams and wake up to the sound of “Oh Canada” played on a huge fog horn. I get off the floor and find some clothes and attend my sacred rites, then make tea, microwave my oatmeal. Sit down and try to figure out where to start. . Get back to my own little office, turn on computers.. Do my email, send the massive streams of Spam back to the Spam filter at Vancouver Community Net then try to answer ionic demands.

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

Mood altering substances help me to get back to the Muse, Memory, though lately I haven’t been able to find any.

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

Backup to Babylon is strictly an expansion of Lost Language (Coach House 1982). Some of the same poems are in it. Which points to the brilliant editing of Daphne Marlatt and Ingrid Klassen.

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?

Dance. Science movies on TV. The daily news. Street Theatre. The language of my neighbourhood. My left-wing Aquarian moon parents adopted painters when I was a child and I used to attend art galleries.

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

Kootenay School. Writers: Christine Stewart, Melissa Wolsak, Deanna Ferguson, Lisa Robertson, Susan Clark, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Donato Mancini [see his 12 or 20 here], that goddam idiot, X, Jeff Derksen, Fred Wah, Reg Johanson, Catriona Strang, Marie Anneharte Baker, Daphne Marlatt, Rhoda Rosenfeld, Judith Copithorne, Mona Fertig--, Bill Bissett...... other writers I have temporarily forgotten

I read West Coast Line and Capilano Review and whatever I’m researching

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

Make some audio books.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be?

Studying “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion” in a nice liberal theology school.

Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Dying of exposure and violence on the street.

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


18 - What was the last great book you read?

The medium is so overwhelming I can’t judge it. Have rarely gone out to movies–too expensive.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Poems from 1994. Trying to organize boxes of paper. Contributions to SFU’s collection of “Downtown Vancouver.” Trying to make Linux of some sort work on my machine. Trying to figure out how to live. Like, is the writing I usually do a business?

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