Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Tara Michelle Ziniuk Experience

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The Tara Michelle Ziniuk Experience

By Nathaniel G. Moore

Tara Michelle Ziniuk’s second book of poetry, Somewhere to Run From, is fresh off the printing press with Tightrope Books, and it is dangerously sarcastic, Toronto-local, bitter, sweet and bruising in its honesty. The book promises to challenge “the notions of what a girl runs from, both literally and figuratively.” I caught up with Tara pre-launch* to discuss poetry copy, her new book, the suburbs and the business of Canadian poetry.

NGM:

So do you notice a lot of poetry books have similar promo copy? Breathtaking, spellbinding, Carson-esque? They also refer to Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid a lot.

What words do you think we can do without in the land of catalogue copy? To me, it always sounds like they're describing a fine Ontario vintage. Aromatic bouquet with a crisp finish. Sparkling poetry.

TMZ:

I personally would like to never be called "edgy" again. I know it is well-intended, but it makes me feel like the leopard print item in the Hannah Montana spring collection. "Vine-ripened to perfection, with a green apple finish," I could deal with.
More generally, yes, I often find poetry copy might be more appropriate to sell psychic services. Or vague tourism ploys: "take a trip on a gondola of anticipation and turquoise, linger in the moat of the human condition." What!? It hurts my feelings when publicists try to upstage their poets.

NGM:

What inspired your second collection? It is your second, yes?

TMZ:

It is my second. I could lie and pretend it's not a snapshot of a particular moment in my life, but I won't. On a surface level, my romantic relationships and relationship to activism, and even my health, took turns after my first book came out. Somewhere To Run From reflects that. I've been told the book reads like "a parade of lovers" and readers are surprised to hear that these poems are often not about people at all. There's also a strong thread of pop culture that runs through the book. I like to think this will date itself quickly and become a little capsule of these mid-2000s. I enjoy the juxtaposition of my own writing on political organizing and then this, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), and Eminem — something for everyone.

Beyond that, I became obsessed with the ways that even the most interesting, intellectual, alternative people experience relationships and emotions similarly. That even the most inherently vulnerable dynamics were ultimately universal. I feel like I'm claiming bigger stakes than this book perhaps gets into, in that the book is very ... urban, and contemporary (how's that for generic?). But who has never called someone, or been called, "baby" as a pet name? Who has never found a crush in a crowd shot or through five degrees of clicks through a stranger's online social network?

NGM:

What is your writing process like? Where do you write best? Worst?

TMZ:

I write worst sitting at a desk under fluorescents, on a timer, where other people are also trying to write. I write best in motion, often between Toronto and Philadelphia, or Toronto and Montreal; both being trips I overnight-bus often. I write well on walks, and then scramble for writing supplies or memorize things until I get somewhere I can write (my performance and radio background is killer that way). I'm not someone who can force myself to write. Editing and research, I can sit down and do, but the creative part of my artistic process is spontaneous.

NGM:

You're a late Spring (2009) classic; do you think Canada does enough for poetry promotion or is it sort of doomed to be the bottom-feeder of genres? I don't think that it is doomed to be such, necessarily, but I think it has a reputation.

TMZ:

I'm not sure who to hold responsible, but I think it is really hard to break into the lit world as a poet. The number of times I heard "oh, it's only poetry" when I signed my first book contract were many. I read poetry and review it, and obviously write it, but I think that without an academic community behind you — and especially if you write less traditional work — poetry often winds up underappreciated. The best vintage dress at a prom full of mall girls.

NGM:

Where did you grow up? What is your writing background?

TMZ:

I've seen a lot of suburbs. I was born in Montreal, lived in NDG until I was 5 which is when I moved to "Alligator Alley," aka Davie, a swamp town in Florida. When I came back to Canada we lived in Kanata for six months and my stepfather sold vacuum cleaners. After that, I had some art school Fame-esque years between Mississauga and Etobicoke, then I landed in Toronto at age sixteen and I have spent a bit of time in Montreal and Guelph since.

The long answer: first, I failed kindergarten. Then, I was sent to a speech therapist. When I learned to print, I did so from right to left. I carved the word "Arat" into the hood of my stepfather's Camaro. I refused to learn cursive writing, and later refused to learn to type. Somewhere in there I got pretty and started entering beauty pageants. When I was nine, I won one of those pageants and went onto a national competition. I didn't have anything to offer in the talent portion so I wrote and recited poetry. It's all been uphill since then.

*Tightrope Books launches Ziniuk’s Somewhere to Run From on June 4th. Full event details here.

Nathaniel G. Moore’s Conflict of Interest column, appears biweekly on OpenBookToronto.com

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