Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

UN-LOSABLE WRITING

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I was listening to bpNichol read from The Martyrology the other day by way of recently posted recordings from readings he did at Simon Fraser University in July of 1983. Just before breaking for lunch, Nichol pauses from his reading and mentions how he lost the manuscript of the long poem three different times. It was missing for six months at one point, he said, only to be eventually discovered at the back of a closet. It got me thinking about what it must have been like to write in a pre-digital age when manuscripts existed in precious individual hard copies. We never lose our writing anymore. It’s backed up in hard drives, on USB sticks, in clouds. Of course, we do lose it in obsolete file formats (what’s on those floppy disks at the back of my drawer? Will I remember to look at them before I get rid of the last computer I own that has a floppy drive?). But most of the time, barring cataclysmic meltdowns, the vast majority of our work is wholly available and instantly reproducible. What is not preserved, however, is the palimpsestic archive of editorial revisions, the crossed-out words and over-written phrases which must have crowded Nichol’s manuscripts like contour lines on a topographical map. I try to collect my revisions as I go along. I keep them in bulging file folders. Nonetheless, while it is hard to lose the manuscript I am working on at any given time, it is easy to lose these layers of revisions that may or may not make it into the right folders during occasional periods of indiscriminate desk-cleaning.

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Lost & Found

One of the truisms of writing seems to be that the more there is of it the more prone we all are to lose sight of it. While it is true we now discretely tuck it away in electronic folders, or tag it as a favourite, remembering where it all is or what we have named it often becomes more than most are able to do. What used to be within view and easy reach must now succumb to being invisible and merely searchable. However, one can’t complain. We’ve come some distance (and velocity) in this – from scribes, copyists, clerks and typists to a speed and volume of production that challenges any reasonable method of keeping track. But if that production and speed have expanded and multiplied, so has our ability to quickly access even more words as well as an even wider and deeper range of material. Still, in the end, being able to lose things must be seen as a positive, not unlike the mind’s automatic filtering of that which can or can’t be easily recalled. There’s a kind of relief in that, something that clears the way for what comes next rather than what details caused us to arrive where we are.

Edward Carson

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Adam Dickinson

Adam Dickinson’s poems have appeared in literary journals in Canada and internationally. His first book of poetry, Cartography and Walking (Brick Books), was shortlisted for an Alberta Book Award. His second collection, Kingdom, Phylum (Brick Books), was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. His third collection of poetry, The Polymers is published by House of Anansi Press.

Go to Adam Dickinson’s Author Page