Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Great Canadian Writer's Craft Interview: Sachiko Murakami

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Sachiko Murakami

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.

Kathleen Slemon:

Hello, my name is Kathleen, and I’d just like to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, not only because they are a part of my school work, but they are also a very exciting opportunity for me! I really, really enjoyed your book The Invisibility Exhibit and am so grateful that I have the chance to talk to you about it, as I have never had an opportunity like this in school or elsewhere.

Sachiko Murakami:

Kathleen — thank you for your thoughtful questions – my replies are below.

Best
Sachiko!

KS:

In your book The Invisibility Exhibit, you paint a very clear image of life in Vancouver, and more memorably, of the Robert Pickton murders and “The Missing Woman.” How did living in Vancouver at that time affect you personally and/or artistically? What about the city or the events that took place were you drawn to before or while writing?

SM:

I actually wrote most of the book in Montreal, as my master’s thesis at Concordia. The book started when I was still living in Vancouver, and I noticed that people had strong reactions to the “story” of the missing and murdered women. I wondered about those reactions and then started wondering about how people think about the Downtown Eastside, the neighbourhood where the women disappeared from. It’s a troubled place, and Vancouverites have opinions about it. That relationship — between “inside” and “outside,” between the “viewers” and the “story” — that was what drew me to write this book. And of course homesickness for Vancouver made the city all the more sharp in my mind — the Pacific Ocean, the cherry blossoms in spring.

KS:

Your book and its subject matter have been compared to Emily Dickinson’s “Tell the Truth but tell it slant.” How do you feel about this comparison, do you share this idea of the Truth being something too powerful for people to understand, and/or have you been influenced by her, or any other past or present poets?

SM:

I think it is easy to slip into judgments and accusations when writing about a politicized subject. I tried to stay away from telling the “truth” about anything, as I don’t really know what the “truth” is. I can point to what I observe, but I don’t trust anyone’s ability to have All The Answers to anything.

As for Dickinson, I don’t have a relationship with her writing. Definitely my mentors in Montreal — Stephanie Bolster, Jon Paul Fiorentino and David McGimpsey, to name a few — influenced the shapes and strategies of the poems.

KS:

The poems in The Invisibility Exhibit lack a formal structure or rhyme scheme, and it includes prose. Although I find it more poignant without that kind of structure, why do you, personally, choose that style and structure to write? How do you feel about more formally structured pieces?

SM:

The poems are actually very frequently shaped by received form. The sonnet in particular was a form I was interested in when writing this book, and it makes appearances, although slanted (“Skipping Stones,” for example, is a straightforward, rhyming sonnet). “Fencing Lesson” also uses blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter); “No Not Me” is a lipogram (it avoids the letter I). I was trained in the Canadian lyric tradition, which means that the poems of TIE have shape and attention to sound, but don’t necessarily adhere to any particular formal strategy. I find received forms fascinating and useful, real puzzles to work with and against.

KS:

The Missing Woman” is a prominent archetype/portrait throughout The Invisibility Exhibit (seen in "Portrait of the First Stone Thrower as a Missing Woman" and others). What about the missing woman idea interests you, and why did you choose to write about it? What do these portraits mean to you personally, and how has that affected your work?

SM:

Over the course of several decades, women went missing from the Downtown Eastside (Canada’s infamous “poorest postal code”), and though calls to action were initiated, little was done until a few reporters got a hold of the “story” around 2002/3. The portrait series in TIE responds specifically to Lincoln Clarkes’ Heroines photography project, in which he took many portraits of Downtown Eastside women — and Patricia Johnson’s portrait was used on the “Missing Women” poster. I was interested in putting characters in such a frame for examination, people and ideas who don’t “fit” the stereotype. So there is a suburban housewife, a hockey player, a mother; then a sonnet (which lists the name of women still missing at the time of writing TIE), and an “it,” the stereotype of the Downtown Eastside woman with all the cruelty of viewing her written into the poem.

KS:

What is the best advice you have received from anyone about your writing or poetry, and what advice do you have for writers just starting out?

SM:

Read! Read read read! I see writing as an extension of reading and thinking. And get involved in the writing community. Collaborate. Exchange ideas. Writing can be lonely work, but its point is communication and connection.

KS:

The Invisibility Exhibit was published in 2008. What have you been working on since then, and how do you feel when looking back at your past work? Do you feel you have changed since then, in belief, for example, styl or any other notable ways?

SM:

My second collection of poetry, Rebuild, will be out in the fall. Rebuild continues my examination of Vancouver — how it as a city lacks a centre, how it tears itself down and rebuilds itself… and how that plays out in my own family history. Since then, I think my relationship to poetry has definitely changed — I’m more open to exploration, risk, and failure in my writing. Sometimes I wonder who wrote TIE, so distant do I feel from the process of writing it. But I’m glad that it was me who wrote it.

KS:

Thanks again for participating in this!
Kathleen


Sachiko Murakami’s first poetry collection, The Invisibility Exhibit, was a finalist for the Governer-General’s Award for Poetry and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She has been a literary worker for various publishers, magazines and organizations, and is a past member of Vancouver’s Kootenay School of Writing collective. She lives in Toronto where she co-hosts the Pivot Reading Series.


Kathleen Slemon was born and raised in Toronto as a fraction of a set. Born a triplet with two brothers left her with awkward athletic and feministic tendencies she rarely acts on now, as well as an awkwardness some people seem to find charming. She will graduate from her average high school where she will finally become a real person. She is involved and both theater and sports in and out of school, but by some magic finds time to write anyways. Not a lot can be said about her writing, as nothing has been published since her grade 3 poem entitled “The Stallion,” which was alright at best. She has no idea what she will do with her life, but isn’t afraid to waste time, money or resources to find out.

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