Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Great Canadian Writer's Craft Interview: Oana Avasilichioaei

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Oana Avasilichioaei

This spring, Toronto high-school students from two Writer's Craft classes conducted interviews with some of Canada's finest poets. The interviews will be posted on The Great Canadian Writer's Craft page on Open Book in June and July 2011.

Allegra Shaw:

Hi there,

My name is Allegra Shaw, thank you for taking the time to do this interview and answer my questions. I can’t wait to receive your response.

Oana Avasilichioaei:

Nice to virtually meet you Allegra. Thank you for reading this work and for your thoughtful and engaging questions. I look forward to reading your response.


You’ve lived in Eastern Europe and then in west coast Canada and now in Quebec. In your book Abandon, many of the poems (especially “The Dragon,” “Second Dream” and “Abandon Market”) seems to be heavily influenced by Romania’s myths, legends and landscape. In your second book Feria: poempark, you use Vancouver’s Hastings Park as your muse or perhaps metaphorically (in keeping with the style of the poems) Hastings Park is the actual paper on which you write. How has the geography and/or history of Quebec influenced your work or any upcoming works?


Living in Quebec has affected my practice a great deal. It has helped me think more intensely about language, translation and the effects of living in multilingual spaces. We are now more than ever each living in spaces crisscrossed by many languages, cultures and products. To walk out on my front street means to hear many languages spoken, means to go to the Polish deli or the French bistro or the Italian café down the street. These spaces are not as separated as they used to be, even compared to a decade or two ago. So it seems to me that the act of translation has become part of our daily life. This change is tremendous and I believe has a tremendous impact on how we think and act and behave, so I am greatly curious to consider and explore this impact and to write/translate out of it.

Much of what I have written and explored in recent years is in some way a direct consequence of living and thinking out of this environment. It has led to a writing that is more multilingual in nature and also to translating from French. It led to the writing of the collaborative book with Erin Moure, Expeditions of a Chimæra, a book that playfully investigates ideas of author/translator, original/copy, authorial personas, etc. Living in Quebec has also helped me learn more about and interact with Quebecois writers, some of whom I have translated. For example, this spring my translation of Les Îles by Louise Cotnoir will be published as The Islands. As well, I don’t think I could have written We, Beasts (which will be published in 2012) had I not been living in this multilingual space that is Montreal.


Some reviewers call your work "postmodernist" while other reviewers suggest you write in the phenomenological tradition of Robert Kroetsch‘s The Ledger (whom you cite in feria: poempark). I had to look up phenomenological because I had never heard the word before, but its link to building materials and architecture makes so much sense to me when I read your poems. Both you and Kroetsch also seem to play with language in what has been described as both topographical and typographical …which is so true when you read poempark. How has Kroetsch influenced you as a poet and do you see your writing in the postmodernist tradition?


While categories may be useful for reviewers, they are not really useful for me to think forward in the work. Each project is different and has had different concerns. While I was writing feria, Kroetsch’s The Ledger was one of the books that were crucial to my thinking about the long-poem form and how etymology, topography, landscape and culture may interact. However, while I was writing my most recent work We, Beasts, other books and ways of thinking came into play. If I am postmodernist in my thinking, it would be in that I like to consider relations, contexts, multiplicities, rather than generalizing theories and aiming for overarching ideas.


In the section “Spirit of the West!” in feria: poempark, I’m intrigued by your use of texts from older documents of Vancouver’s history including minutes of historical meetings from the Exhibition and news articles from Vancouver’s daily new…tons of historical documents. Why was the use of these texts important to the theme and intent of the poem?


In looking at these historical extracts, I placed my body before them and unfocused my gaze, the way one does before an abstract formalist painting, until certain forms and words emerged. It is not simply a matter of “erasing” or of “finding” material. It is occupying a text, deconstructing it into parts, having your body traverse those parts, to then reconstruct them or some of them and transfer them onto another page, into another context, another time (notice the crossovers between this process and translation). And when these are historical documents, their historicity is disturbed, their assumed authority both mined and undermined.

I also wanted to see what happens when the seemingly “empty” spaces are actually marking absences of words/ideas/buildings/people/etc. that used to occupy those spaces previously. If the white space of the page is not neutral then how does it speak? When is it silent and when is it noisy? How does it mark absences and how does it mark presences? How does it affect the words which stand like buildings within its landscape?

So I am greatly interested in exploring this environment of the page, and of the book for that matter, partly because I am interested in how different environments affect the inhabitants of those environments in varied ways. When a reader encounters any constructed space of a page or book, they in a sense begin to inhabit that space, and sometimes the space itself needs to show them possible ways in which that space could be inhabited.


Where does a poetry book usually begin for you? Do you usually have a collection of poems that you’ve written that have a common theme and you create it into a book? Or do you have a theme of the book in mind when you start writing your poems for the book?


I definitely work more on “books” rather than collections of disparate poems because I find it enriching and worthwhile to explore certain concerns or thematics in depth. This is not to say that I am immediately aware that the initial forays into a new territory will end up being something that could grow into book form. But if the foray continues and gets a hold of me and if it begins to generate ideas that are “larger” than an individual poem, then I begin to think in terms of a possible “book.”

I have found that part of working on a book is discovering what the book wants to be, how it wants me to get there and how I need to adapt my working process to make it come into being.

Questions and curiosity are what drives the writing always, though the questions vary a great deal with each project. Some of my fascinations (or obsessions) include considering how we compose histories, the roles of pronouns and considering architectures, including the architecture of the page and their affect on lives and on language. Some of my more recent questions include: How can I build some bridges between the written and the oral? How do we know/take in a landscape? How do we know figures in a landscape? How do we think of animals? What does it mean to be animal/body and producer of language/logos?


How does your newest book feria: a poempark compare to your older work Abandon? As mentioned earlier, Abandon seems to reflect your Romanian roots while feria: a poempark has that West Coast topographical theme, yet there are some vestiges of that Romanian girl in the poems (especially in the second dream). How are the feelings, motivations or influences in the books different and what, if anything, pulls them together?


Abandon explores the territories of Eastern Europe and is concerned in part with various voices of people in those landscapes. It also explores the notion of “abandon” both in the sense of abandonment and in the sense of wildness. Being a first book, it was a starting point, and though not personal in nature, likely closest to some personal experiences than any other book I will ever write. On the other hand, in feria: a poempark I wanted to move into a Canadian public space. The book is more architectural in nature, concerned with the physicality of a landscape that sustains much change over time, and less concerned with people or characters. There are no individual voices per say in feria, rather the echoes of collective voices.

I think of the civic here — a word that comes from Latin civicus, from civis (citizen), but the original use was the Latin corona civica, which was a garland of green leaves and acorns given in ancient Rome to a person who saved a fellow citizen’s life. So to enact the civic means to be accountable to another, to another body. In feria, I wrote against the palimpsest of a real park and used a landscape’s transient architectures to explore this crossing, this ephemeral space where we enact the civic, where our private selves face other private selves in a public space, a space of leisure and nature, though also a troubled space where much is constructed, torn down, constructed over. I also wished to explore what remnants are left behind physically/imaginatively in this space once the civic is engaged and the landscape becomes a clamorous crossing of voices, voices/bodies who are not only accountable to each other but to the environment they inhabit and possibly impair. Or, put in another way, I was curious to see if one could make a book out of a park and a park out of a book.


If you could pick any other occupation, what would it be? What do you think you would have ended up doing had you not become a poet?


I’ve dabbled in other art forms, and had I been good enough, dance would have been one of the forms I would have pursued more fully.


What was the best advice you ever received from a mentor or someone who has helped you in defining who you are as a poet?


Go home and write some more.

Some of the strands in Oana Avasilichioaei’s work traverse geography and public space (feria: a poempark, 2008), textual architecture, orality and multilingualism (We, Beasts, upcoming 2012), translation and collaborative performance (Expeditions of a Chimæra, co-written with Erín Moure, 2009). Avasilichioaei’s recent projects include transformations of text into performative, oral work, SPELLES (a chapbook/CD), The Islands (a translation of Les Îles by Quebecoise poet Louise Cotnoir, Spring 2011) and “The Mapping Issue” (co-edited with Kathleen Brown for Dandelion Magazine). Though she typically lives in Montreal, she is the 2010-2011 writer in residence at the University of Calgary.

Allegra — a historically poetic name crafted by Lord Byron for his love child. Although the name is defined as spritely and gay, in truth, she is more brooding and melancholic and terribly annoyed that her name is now associated with an antihistamine. Genealogically, she is the druid of the Stonehenge who met the coureur de bois with an Algonquin feather in his cap on St. Patrick’s Day. This strange genetic brew created a young poet whose riveting work, "my pretty pony," was published in a children’s anthology of poetry in 2005. Unfortunately, the fame was short lived and her muses seemed to abandon her. She now channels her energy into the process of mastering the art of unarmed combat and graduating high school, hoping someday to step into the glittery world of fashion and magazine publishing.

Allegra currently abides in the land of snow, sand and annual jazz.

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.

Related item from our archives

The Great Canadian Writer's Craft

Each year, students from Malvern Collegiate Institute's Writer’s Craft class interview Canadian poets as part of a class project. The students study Canadian poetry under the collaborative tutelage of teacher John Ouzas and poet a.rawlings. We are delighted to feature the interviews on Open Book.

Go to The Great Canadian Writer's Craft’s Author Page