Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Edward Carson

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Edward Carson is twice winner of the E. J. Pratt Poetry Award in Canada and is the author of four books of poetry — Scenes, Taking Shape, Birds Flock Fish School, and KNOTS. He has pursued a variety of careers involving the word, including co-founder/editor of the literary periodical, Rune, and lecturer in English Literature at the University of Toronto. He has served as president of several major book publishing companies, including Penguin Canada, Pearson Technology Canada, Distican (Simon and Schuster Canada), HarperCollins Canada, and, while head of publishing, founded the successful indigenous publishing list of Random House of Canada. Throughout his publishing career he taught the business of publishing at Ryerson University, Humber College and as co-director of the Banff Publishing Workshop. He also has participated on various Boards of Directors, including PEN Canada, BookNet Canada and is a past president of the Canadian Publishers' Council. Visit Edward Carson's website

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Ten Questions with Edward Carson

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, Taking Shape.

Edward Carson:

Taking Shape is about love, its powerful personal history, its public geography and geology, how it changes, how it shifts itself into different forms and temporalities, and how that love profoundly alters an individual’s point of view and the world at large. Finally, Taking Shape also is about the nature of shape, how the very form or vessel, like language itself, persuades us to take on as well as escape from the many breathtaking landscapes and mysteries, clues and possibilities of our shared lives.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

A Poem is Disruption: Reading it Brings a Measure of Order

When a poem is written and then read, it moves both away from and toward the reader, and the mind follows, converting the free flow of reading to the linguistic equivalent of Cubism; its sounds and shapes rearrange and reintegrate themselves until the poem is continuously on the move. The American poet Kenneth Rexroth describes Cubism in poetry as "the conscious, deliberate dissociation and recombination of elements into a new artistic entity made self-sufficient by its rigorous architecture." The key in this is in a poem's structural arrangement and scheduling, the design and planning that emerges from both a free flow of emergent content and the composition of its form.

A Poem Has No Choice But to Avoid Itself

To get at the centre of a poem, you first have to get very far away from it, so time and distance need to be constantly in play. The experience and interpretation of a poem is not entirely cumulative, but cyclical, and, to a certain degree, repetitive and recursive; it is repeatedly interrupted and rearranged by new, iconoclastic diction and syntax. A poem acts as a kind of social substitute; it is a mediated world in which our comprehension and emotional attachments are remade, re-formed, and integrated into a new perception of our world and our place in it. In uncovering thoughtful meaning in the obvious, a poem needs clear communication as well as distortion and deception; it is also seductive in that it reaches out to those things we fear and crave the most: loneliness and intimacy.

Poetry Auspices (Literally, Looking at Birds)

Like a flock of birds, a poem is often anti-narrative, obscuring its sense of beginning, middle or end, reflecting its own internal momentum and evolving emergent contours and forms. A poem seeks simultaneous order and disorder in its structures and aesthetic mix, filtering through its diction and syntax both the simple and complex, seeing both what belongs as well as that which appears not to belong.

All words in a poem have unintended interpretations.
All syntax in a poem has unexpected repercussions.
All juxtapositions in a poem have unvoluntary outcomes.

Opposites in a poem co-exist, and so co-evolve.

The Snare of Poetry (a trap for catching birds or animals)

Poetry can be thought of as a snare for thinking. Offering neither clear answers nor resolutions, its puzzle/riddle-like quality has the form or force of a question where the answer is contained within the question. It doesn’t provide directions, but rather presents predicaments the reader must alone encounter and interpret. What a poem does is find itself from the inside out; its centres of thought draw together its periphery, giving birth to the force of reciprocal influences. The complex of words and syntax of a poem rearranges fixed ways of understanding what is happening by actively undermining and then re-building relationship and presence, time and perspective. You can’t understand or think about just one thing for long; your mind must wander endlessly in search of a way out.

Something Out of Nothing

One of the great joys of poetry is that much of the time it is made up of nothing at all. Like physics or good conversation, that which is most elegant, intelligent and entertaining in a poem depends as much on what is missing as what is actually there. The ambiguity of empty space defines what must occupy that space, while the silences embracing our words create questions and teach us the luxury and balance of knowing little while assuming much more. Inside a poem, the illusion of space is created in the arrangement of the words. That syntactical arrangement is as important as the words, always bringing us either closer or further away from the satisfaction or disappointment of understanding. Poetry emerges as a kind of practical optical illusion.

Review of "Sharawadji" by Brian Henderson (Brick Books 2011)

Brian Henderson and I have been friends since the 1960s, so in a way I have both a unique advantage as well as disadvantage when it comes to his poetry. But I have to say that with each of his ten books of poetry, he has always surprised me in ways I couldn’t have imagined or anticipated. From Paracelcus to The Alphamiricon, from The Expanding Room to Year Zero to The Viridical Book of the Silent Planet, he has consistently searched out new boundaries, combining an uncommon sense of innovation and invention with a surgeon’s or anatomist’s love of language.

In Henderson’s last book, Nerve Language, which also was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, he writes:

What You Won't Read in The Globe and Mail

True value in government can only be created at the interface between those who serve and those to whom they serve. Given the increased size of the recently appointed Harper cabinet, as well as Mr. Harper's well established habit of driving all decisions through the PMO, it's unlikely Canadian will see much improvement or recognition of their needs.

The values needed most in the coming years are those more closely associated with a digital, web-and-cloud-based world in which we find openness, flexibility, collaboration, innovation, and ease of group or individual communication. The opportunity for meaningful change seems to have slipped by the Conservative this time around. Change has changed, but our governments seem not to have noticed at all.

What You Won't Read in The Globe and Mail

What it a surprise it must be to Canadian voters to suddenly learn the much promised budget surplus won't arrive after all (see The Globe and Mail:"Tories back off pledge to show surplus by 2014-15"). The reality is a surplus won't arrive for at least ten years. Mr. Flaherty hasn't got a budget or economic forecast right since his billion-dollar deficit days in the Ontario legislature or since his most recent pre-recession predictions when he was six months late even noticing the economy was heading south, and then repeatedly got wrong the size of the coming defit as well.

What You Won't Read in The Globe and Mail

With the election of a majority Conservative government, Canadians have opted for what must have seemed to many of them to be the promise of political and economic stability. Much of this will turn out to be an illusion. We are challenged to ask what the next several years are likely to bring as Harper extends his command and control approach to governing this country. To begin, the deficit will take at least a decade or more to be eliminated, as opposed to the four years being put forward. Harper also will appoint four of the nine members of a progressively more conservative Supreme Court. All the opposition parties will be ignored since a majority gives Harper a completely free hand to do as he pleases.


To contribute to Edward Carson's Virtual Sonnets project, sign in to your Open Book account and post your two-line stanza in the comments field below.

So begins the first three stanzas of a sonnet we can write together . . .


What represents you, waiting upon the desire to find
you here, the image of spring, wishing for what might be

before seeing, the sensing prolonged into ripple effect
of you who might be havened or helled in such whetted light.

Then it was you who danced through dawn’s silvered blades
warming the song of greening shoots with your willing step

The Selection of Truth: Where Everything is Possible‏

Keith Maillard and I recently were discussing the process of editing and somehow we arrived at a point in the conversation where we talked about the notion of truth, and just how much is too much or two little to say. In the middle of that tributary he said, "If the truth I told in a manuscript included "everything", you wouldn't want to read it". I quite liked that statement, and later we exchanged the following emails.

This Way Out (Three Portraits)

I'm sitting at my desk with three postcard pictures of authors whose work I've never tired of reading, authors who in poetry and prose continue to inspire me. Though I've read them many times, I keep finding something new at every turn.

Writing on the Wall (Places of Knowledge & Creativity)

The digital world is full of educational experiences. People who wish to learn can now much more easily acquire a lot of the skills and knowledge they need in order to effectively translate what they've learned into practical workplace applications as well as pleasing educational or creative experiences.

Lost & Found (An Opening Chapter)

Lost & Found

Chapter One

London ● February 2003

The first time David rolled over and opened his eyes, he couldn’t remember the dream. He could sense that he’d just been having the dream, and did everything he could in his power to will it back, but with his every breath its details seemed to slip further away. He was left with that feeling of having left something behind, of something not quite remembered that still was close by, but he didn’t quite know where or how to reach it.

What is Influency Salon? (Diving into Poetry at:

For everyone who loves poetry (who doesn’t?), and anyone who is always on the alert for what’s new, interesting and challenging in the craft . . . look no further than a brand new, innovative website dedicated entirely to the craft. It’s called “Influency Salon – Engaging conversations with Contemporary Canadian Poetry” and can be found at:

A Poem Knows Where it's Going (Walking with Words)

I believe that a poem knows where it’s going, often before I do, and well before it has arrived fully formed with its journey complete. There’s nothing particularly mystical about this; it merely reflects the notion that communications in all forms are shared and shaped as much by the nature and flow of the language we use as they are by the form and content we wish to impart.

Political Actors & Shape-Shifters (History in the Making)

It’s hard to believe there can be anyone left in Canada who still might actually believe anything Stephen Harper has to say about a blueprint for balancing the country’s inexcusably massive deficit. Conservatives will desperately want us to believe in their fiscal credentials and alchemy, but history tells a different story.

The Harper/Flaherty “stewardship” of the economy has been nothing short of disastrous, built upon a recorded history of fiscal blunders with the GST, willfully ignoring the signs of the coming recession, bizarre "no-deficit-at-any-cost" forecasts of surpluses, followed by a succession of repeated and wildly inaccurate monthly guesses over the past years about an ever-expanding deficit.

Photography as Nonfiction (What the Pictures Really Say)

Photography is the nonfiction of the visual arts, something of a cousin in the art world to the fraternal twins of realism and abstraction. Digital photography will completely transform and reframe this relationship. What we are witnessing today is the birth of an entirely new art form, one already challenging our understanding of reality and the form it presents to our senses.

The metaphysics of how art and philosophy can best apprehend the “real world” has been with us since well before the dueling philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. But go back far enough, and any fine differences between a thing and its image become less apparent, part of a sacred or mysterious connection in which the image fully partakes in the reality of the thing portrayed.



This bird in the snow, illusion of content, luminously
arriving late in the day, here staring into the cold sky,

now, curving away, drawn to a background of detail.
What are we to solve in this? Are we to understand

what is seen or known, what fills the frantic eye
or empties the empty space, the bottomless sky?

This landscape caught emerging, the appearance
of meaning turned on its head, manifest realities

making mischief of our thinking. All of these are
ways of seeing the beginning of change, the other,

yet hardly noticing, looming up in front of us, elusive,
full of mysteries, the constellations we can hardly bear.

The Shape of Things Taking Shape (How Birds Flock Fish School)‏

In the 1970s, I had the good fortune of taking a course in modern poetry from Marshall McLuhan. For the first three months we all waited patiently, but he never even looked at a poem. Instead, we learned about Ciceronian rhetoric, in particular its five parts: inventio, dispositio, elecutio, memoria, and actio.

Beatrice & Virgil (Against the Plain Sense of Things)‏

Responding to the recent barrage of media attention and hype around Yann Martel’s new novel, beatrice & virgil, people who read and enjoyed his last novel, Life of Pi, are likely to be perplexed and, in the end, disappointed with this newest work. More on this in a moment.

The Blackbird Must be Flying (Like a Feather on the Top of the Mind)

He reaches up and unbuckles the harness that had kept him rooted in his Tiger Moth during the first of the early morning training runs. The wind was beginning to gust now in erratic patterns that cut across the frozen, snow covered tarmac, and he must have wondered how many more flights could be squeezed in today. The weather front coming in from the north and west was building, a wide arc above the prairie that drew a clean line between the blue strip of sky above Regina and gray of the approaching storm.

Distant Early Warning (What the New Said to the Old)

“The medium, or process, of our time – electric technology – is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life.” Sound like it could have been in today’s paper? Maybe a squib on the internet about blogging or some other social media? In fact, it’s from the opening statement of a tiny book first published in 1967, a book responsible for widely popularizing its author’s name, and for taking viral one of the great aphorisms of the century.

Further Adventures in Nonfiction (Writing With No Rules)

Nonfiction begins with the disadvantage of being known and described as something that it is not: If you’re looking for fiction, “don’t look here” is the not-so-subtle message of this particular medium. Nonfiction’s history has always been about the dissidence between its grand illusion of narrative order and the reality it seeks to reveal, between the apparent logic, accuracy and connectivity of its reasoning and the information, knowledge and, ultimately, wisdom it wishes to impart.

Why a Poem Knows What it Doesn't Know (Thinking Through to the End)

When a poem begins in our heads, it usually does so with some kind of descriptive imagery, turn of phrase, or metaphor. It jumps out at us from nowhere, or, as is often the case, emerges directly out of something we hear or read. Contained within this initial material usually is the thought that soon will become the poem, though at this point most of us really aren't aware of it or even where it's taking us; the poem forms around these first seeds, gradually expanding and taking shape. We collaborate with the poem throughout, always taking turns controlling direction and losing control, adding balance and subtracting disarray to the body of thought.

Background & Foreground (The Future Isn't What it Used to Be)

Over thirty years ago, Porcupine’s Quill accepted for publication my first book of poetry, Scenes. In that period, I was publishing quite regularly in several literary periodicals, and was working on my doctorate. By the late 70s I began work as a junior editor in book publishing, eventually rising to the role of publisher. I was fortunate to be able to work closely with dozens of new and established authors, including Carol Shields, Dennis Lee, Marilyn Bowering, John Irving, D.G. Jones, Keith Maillard, Julian Barnes, John Ralston Saul, Barry Lopez, Robert Kroetsch, Eli Mandel, and Janice Kulyk Keefer. I learned a lot about writing from them. They kept me sane.

The New Future of Nonfiction (What Fiction Doesn’t Know)

Ten years ago I wrote an article describing how the internet was gradually re-shaping and transforming nonfiction writing (not such a leap considering Marshall McLuhan’s work from the 60s and 70s). “The New Future of Nonfiction (What Fiction Doesn’t Know)” examined how everyday use of the personal computer, search engines, and a growing access to an ever-widening web of information through the internet revolution, were re-shaping the nature and methodologies of research, and that these were in turn having a profound and far-reaching effect on the form, content, style and function of nonfiction writing as a whole.

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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