Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with, Gregory Betts

Share |

Gregory

May 28, 2009 -

OBT:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

GB:

I thought my first publication was an anagrammatic translation of a bpNichol poem included in TTbpN2, followed by a homophonic translation of the anagrams. It turns out, though, that my English teacher in highschool submitted some of the poems I had showed him to a national anthology. My mom just recently showed me the book, literally over fifteen years later. This incident inspired another round of questions about how much I know about myself.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

GB:

On the 1st of July last year, by coincidence I ended up in Charlottetown. It was 30 degrees and brilliantly sunny after a miserable two weeks of crappy weather and local whisky in Nova Scotia. I was walking around the city soaking up the sun and the energy. The Tragically Hip were doing a soundcheck on the waterfront, with the broken but familiar licks and lyrics bouncing between the stone buildings. Streets were closed to cars in deference to jam-packed bars and patios. I looped around the Confederation Centre at about 2pm and behind the theatre, right across from Province House (the “Birthplace of Confederation”), I bumped into Anne of Green Gables smoking a cigarette by the back-stage door. I started to pull out my camera — I mean, seriously, who could resist? — but she frowned, and said, “Don’t.” I walked away like a northern wish.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

GB:

Richard Albert Wilson’s The Miraculous Birthplace of Language, Ann Davis’s The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting 1920-1940 and Ray Ellenwood’s Egregore: The Montreal Automatist Movement. These three books chronicle Canadian participation in rich movements. They all inspired me to read more about aesthetic work here, which seems like a worthy goal for such a gift.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

GB:

My ideal working environment is defined by a plethora of time, rather than any particular of space.

OBT:

William Faulkner was once asked what book he wished he had written; he chose Moby Dick (with Winnie the Pooh as a close second). Is there a book that you wish you had written?

GB:

I never have quite that experience of jealousy or longing to write a book that I’ve read — except for the September after I had spent an entire summer (after years of preparation) writing a novel based on the Dodecahedron. That moment in September was the moment I learned about a novel published by Paul Glennon based on the Dodecahedron. Otherwise, I find good books inspiring; great books motivating. Someone snide may question how I can talk about “great” books anymore, as if there were an absolute standard; well, I just defined my most basic criteria for a good versus great book.

OBT:

Is there a book that you think you should have read by now but haven’t?

GB:

I’ve never read Boswell. Shocking, huh?

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

GB:

The Letters of Wyndham Lewis, alongside The Childermass trilogy by Lewis. I’m also working my way (slowly) through Hugh MacLennan’s Voices in Time.

OBT:

Do you have a specific readership in mind when you write?

GB:

For my critical writing, absolutely. I use my critical and expository writing to discuss insights or connections I have made about and between authors, books, scenes, movements, ideas, and so on. How these connections are discussed relies upon a number of assumptions about a reader — are they experts in Modernism who won’t need to have terms like “stream-of-consciousness” explained, or will they be using my book to learn about the basic concepts associated with an author or movement? Scholarly articles assume a strong specialized knowledge about a particular topic and its associated vocabulary. The collection of Bertram Brooker short stories, however, was intended to provide an introduction to Brooker and his writing and Canadian modernism for an advanced general reader. Brooker’s stories are filled with allusions to all sorts of ideas floating around literary circles in Canada and Europe at the time — ideas that range from European avant-gardism to mysticism to politics to the Canadian prairies. The introduction and the notes are tools to flag the allusions and start a conversation about how and why he makes the references that he does — about how he fits into the connections he himself makes. Brooker, for instance, talks a lot about Iceland, and about the Icelandic communities in northern Manitoba. My notes about the Icelandic poet Snorri or the unique legal structure of New Iceland make assumptions that my readers would appreciate an introduction to these features of his writing. In this way, my role is akin to a tour guide, walking alongside the reader and pointing out unique and remarkable features of writing — anticipating questions and points of interest.

My creative writing tends more toward pataphysical probings of ideas, experiments that generate new, potential connections or insights. As such, these are less immediately audience-oriented and more focussed on the network of language and ideas at play on the page.

OBT:

What are you working on right now?

GB:

I am working on an anthology of early Canadian short stories with Colin Hill; a collaborative art work with Neil Hennessey; a new book of poems; and the shattered remains of my Dodecahedron novel.

OBT:

Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to get published?

GB:

Read as much as you can. Read old writing, read new writing, read popular writing, and read forgotten writing. Always read other work published by a publisher before submitting your work to them. Get involved: go to literary readings, organize a literary reading, subscribe to magazines and, most importantly, buy books!

5 comments

I'm agree with Gregory when he said "Read as much as you can.". I think the taste for reading developed at school. I think we should teach more about reading, because it's something important and we must learn from an early age. poker en ligne

I enjoyed Gregory Betts answer to the question of an ideal writing environment. I always want to hear what great authors say. When he said a plethora of time, I can relate so much. I can be so much more creative when I write when there isn't a deadline looming over me. casino en ligne

lessthantwelvestars: thanks for the questions. I would be comfortable calling myself a 'pataphysician to the extent that I do suspect everything we know and assume about the universe will be discarded in the future. Science works that way, right? What Christian Bok has called, working towards ever subtler metaphors to explain the world. But every scientific discovery invalidates other previous discoveries or assumptions. So -- when I approach writing, I try to keep myself as aware to possibilities and chance encounters with new ways of imagining the world, knowing that there is an enormous amount of potential still before us. I am also a big admirer of the humour in pataphysical writing, such as bpNichol's empty page that he titles "Genuine Blank Blank Verse."

hypergraphia: we should all give our inner Anne a light, and let her have her cigarette in peace.

"My creative writing tends more toward pataphysical probings of ideas"
- Personally, I am interested in hearing more about how pataphysics informs your writing. Do you examine new writing through the lens of this 'failed' social-artistic lens? Or do you imagine new ways to apply a pataphysical approach that is gender conscious and modern?

You have to offer Anne a light, then ask to take the picture.

Related item from our archives