Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Gutter Series: Between Projects, Poetry Edition with Jen Currin

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Jen Currin

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Open Book: Toronto is launching a new series — The Gutter Series: Between Books, Poetry Edition. (The gutter, as any good book geek knows, refers to the inner margins of two facing pages — literally, the in-between.)

Writing a book is a lengthy process and even the most prolific authors need time to work. We rarely have a chance to chat with writers who haven't published in the current season, and we're curious about life between launches.

Jen Currin is the author of three books of poetry, most recently The Inquisition Yours (Coach House Books, 2010).

Jen talks to Open Book about what happens between books, her ideal writing environment and how she celebrates when a book comes out.

Open Book:

Where do you look for new project ideas? What is one of the most surprising places you've found inspiration?

Jen Currin:

As I mostly work poem by poem rather than serially, I do not necessarily write “projects.” Poem ideas come to me from everywhere/anywhere. Like many writers, I’m a notebook writer. I carry a notebook at all times and take notes on things I read, observe, imagine, dream, overhear, etc. When it comes time to write, I pull from these snippets to create poems. One of the most surprising places I’ve found inspiration? This is a really hard question for me to answer because I find inspiration pretty much everywhere.

There is one “project” I’ve been working on for the last four or so years — very sporadically working on, I should say, and I haven’t touched it in over a year. This project is a group of English-to-English translations of the poet Elizabeth Bishop’s work. Bishop poems have greatly influenced the way I write, and this project is giving me the opportunity to engage with her vocabulary in a deep way, to see if I can unearth something “new” while using only the language of her poems. This idea came to me while at a writing class at the Vermont Studio Center. The poet leading the class had us read a poem by Bishop, and I started writing my own poem on the handout, using words from the Bishop poem. After that I was hooked, and I wrote a bunch of these poems while at the Studio Center.


Do you celebrate when your books come out? How did you celebrate the first time, with The Sleep of Four Cities?


The book launches are the celebrations, and each one (for my three books) has been pretty wonderful. Friends, students, fellow writers come to hear the readings, and we drink and eat and socialize. For my first launch, I was pretty green, so I just read solo. (It didn’t occur to me that you could invite other poets to read with you at your launch.) For the last two launches I’ve been lucky enough to read with some great poets: Bill Stobbs read with me for the launch of Hagiography and Jordan Scott and Nikki Reimer read at The Inquisition Yours launch.


Do you tend to overlap projects or wait until what you're working on is finished to start something new?


Please see my answer to question 1. I don’t usually write “projects.” The Elizabeth Bishop project is a sort of background project that is sleeping right now. I often work on two or more poems at once.


Do you have a day job? If so, do you find it helping or hindering your writing? How do you balance writing with other professional pursuits?


Yes, I teach writing and literature at three different places here in Vancouver. It’s rewarding but can also be very exhausting! I’m teaching a bit less this summer so I can rest more and hopefully write more. I would say teaching is both a help and a hindrance to my writing. I definitely get ideas from the work I read and discuss with my students, and it is great when we can write together as a class — when we can enter a creative space together. But teaching also involves a lot of marking, and this is time I would rather use working on my own writing. Lesson planning is more enjoyable, as it involves a level of creativity. It’s difficult to balance writing and paid work, and I don’t know that I do have a balance at this point.


What would your ideal writing environment look like?


I’m pretty low maintenance about such things — I already have my ideal writing environment. My kitchen table is next to a window with lots of light. I often write there. The comfortable blue couch in my living room is also a good place to snuggle up with a pad of paper, some pens, my notebook and some good books of poetry.


What's up next for you?


I’m currently working on a group of poems that is just starting to take shape as a “manuscript.” I am still unsure of the “center” or driving themes/ideas of this new work, but it does build upon the work in The Inquisition Yours, which seeks to speak to the connection between the spiritual and the political. In this new manuscript, the poems are asking questions about the nature of spiritual friendship, and how to spiritualize the institutions we are all a part of.

Jen Currin was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and did her schooling at Bard College, Arizona State University and Simon Fraser University. She has published three collections of poetry, The Sleep of Four Cities (Anvil Press, 2005), Hagiography (Coach House, 2008) and The Inquisition Yours (Coach House, 2010). She currently lives in Vancouver, where she teaches writing and literature.

For more information about The Inquisition Yours please visit the Coach House Books website.

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

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