Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Editing, with Mark Dickinson and Clare Goulet

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On Editing, with Mark Dickinson and Clare Goulet

Cormorant Books has recently published Lyric Ecology, the latest collection of essays and other meditations on the works of Jan Zwicky. The collection is no less diverse than their subject, encompassing such contributions as essays, poems, letters, reviews and songs. It is the job of editors Mark Dickinson and Clare Goulet to collect these essays and assemble them for publication . Mark and Clare sit down with OBT to discuss their process for editing these meditations, as well as their first encounters with the work of Jan Zwicky.

Open Book: Toronto

Tell us about your book, Lyric Ecology: An Appreciation of the Work of Jan Zwicky.

Mark Dickinson:

The book is an appreciation of one of the most overlooked poet-thinkers in Canadian letters, Jan Zwicky. She’s a truly remarkable individual—a professional violinist, an exceptional philosophy professor, an award-winning poet. However there’s been little attention to her work, despite the fresh-air contributions she’s been making to Canadian thought. This book is really the first formal measure of her influence. We’ve brought together poets, musicians, philosophers, former students, even a botanist; each illuminates a different aspect of her thought through an essay, letter, or poem.

Clare Goulet:

The diversity surprised us as pieces came in, even within the essays—Anne Simpson’s illustrated speculation, Adam Dickinson’s academic scrutiny, Warren Heiti’s philosophical, almost musical composition, Lorri Neilsen Glenn’s shift from story to poem and back. The range of style in these approaches to Zwicky’s work fits the kind of thinking that she fosters.


OBT:

Describe the editing process. How did you select the essays for Lyric Ecology?

MD:

We didn't start with a call for papers, which would have been the standard academic approach. Instead, the process was much more self-organizing. We began with a core group of six or seven contributors, and then things just kind of grew organically from there, through word of mouth, as people found their way to the project from directions we couldn't have anticipated.

CG:

We asked for abstracts early on to get a snapshot of the book and followed that with further rounds of invites to match people with key Zwicky areas not yet covered. Mark and I threw out tentacles in our respective areas—poetry and poetics on my part, ecological studies on his, some overlapping with philosophy. Of course we kept discovering people, and of course we had to stop at some point, leaving out writers like ceramic artist and aesthetics prof Nick Webb at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, who’s been drawing on Zwicky in his work for a while.

MD:

MD: We don't assume that this conversation is finished now that the book is done. We're hoping that other readers might engage with Jan's work—not because we want them to agree with everything she says, not because we want to canonize her—but so that we might bring philosophy and poetry and thinking about ecology back into a larger public conversation about what it is we're doing here.


OBT:

Do you remember the first time you read Jan Zwicky's work? When was it? And what was it you read?

CG:

When I showed up at grad school in the early 90s she was gone, but a musician friend who’d taken her creative-writing course gave me Lyric Philosophy, which had just come out. Its visual effect was so exciting I thought I’d eat it in one gulp, which proved impossible: I spent a week in just the first seven propositions. The book opens by placing lyric gestures (a poem, song, painting) alongside academic analysis as a valid and disciplined way of thinking about the world—just joyous to me then, with one foot stuck in poetry at The Fiddlehead and the other in my academic courses. Its last page holds the bold idea that “Loss is perhaps the ultimate philosophical problem.” In my twenties that was just a nifty turn of phrase, something that happened to other people; now I’m 39, and I get it. The dilemma of how to accept its inevitability—to give up trying to prevent it—and still care. So hard! It took me a year to move through the whole book, and I still go back.

MD:

I had gotten a summer job, in grad school, taking care of a group of cabins that the university owned in the Haliburton Highlands. It was a pretty rustic set-up—I was mostly on my own, without a car or access to the Internet or anything like that. But that meant I had a lot of time to unwind, canoe, look at wildlife, swim, and of course read. I lugged Lyric Philosophy up there at the beginning of my three months, and read and visited with it all summer. I didn't know what to make of it at first—all of those fragments and pictures and voices—but I felt immediately at home when she started talking about ethics and ecology. She was writing about how we ought to give other beings the space they need to live their lives, and meanwhile I had a black bear trying to claw her way onto my screened-in porch.


OBT:

What are you reading right now?

MD:

I’ve got a couple of novels on the go right now – Mark Sinnett’s The Carnivore (ECW) and Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado (Hamish Hamilton). I just finished Ian McEwan’s Solar on the weekend, which I really, really liked.

CG:

Finishing Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, starting Deyan Sudjic’s The Language of Things and Angela Schneider’s big beautiful book on Giacometti. Also dipping promiscuously into the Approaches to Poetry anthology edited by Shane Neilson, and reading lots of Lobel’s Frog and Toad with my 3-year-old daughter.


OBT:

What's your next project?

MD:

For some time now, I’ve been working on a manuscript about the larger circle of poet-thinkers that Zwicky belongs to, which includes Robert Bringhurst, Dennis Lee, Tim Lilburn and Don McKay. I’ve been visiting them in situ, seeing for myself how they’ve settled into the places they write about, from the west coast of Vancouver Island through Toronto to the Avalon Peninsula. The book is really a work of literary anthropology—“ten years among the hill tribes of poetry” kind of thing.

CG:

I’m crawling inside a much smaller circle than Mark’s, working on a lichen alphabet, an A-Z index of names that’s kind of a poetic field guide. I started writing the poems as a way to examine lichen—they’re a weird relationship of fungi and algae—but the lichens turned it around and are teaching me a lot about metaphor. When I get boggled by the endless back-and-forthness I’m somewhat comforted by Zwicky: “Not one, not two—that’s how it is, with us.”


Mark Dickinson finished doctoral work on the poetics of green consciousness in 2007. He is now a research associate of the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. His essays and reviews have been published in The Walrus, The Times of London, Green Letters, The Malahat Review, and elsewhere.

Clare Goulet has edited manuscripts in poetry and poetics for Canadian small presses since 1996 and served for nine years on the editorial collective at Brick Books; she teaches poetry and creative writing in the English department at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

For more information about Lyric Ecology: An Appreciation of the Work of Jan Zwicky please visit the Cormorant Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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