Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

An Interview with Mat Laporte

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An Interview with Mat Laporte

Last week (October 25) Ferno House launched four new chapbooks: Fruit Machine by Shannon Maguire, Mean Matt and Other Shitty People by Andrew Faulkner, Flight Mode by Patrick Larkin and Billboards from Hell by Mat Laporte. Ferno House is a Toronto-based micropress publishing house founded in 2009. Deanna Janovski caught up with writer and co-founder Mat to discuss his influences, the language of advertisements and chapbook design.

Deanna Janovski:

Can you tell us about your new chapbook Billboards from Hell?

Mat Laporte:

Billboards from Hell is a book of discrete poems. Each poem, when I was writing them, was a different way of thinking about and writing through public and personal language. When I was writing them I was thinking implicitly about how those distinctions blur and how different arrangements can produce a kind of alchemy, magic even. Often the poems were written from a place where I was feeling alienated from language; incessant advertisements, or the noise of crowds and instead of tuning it out I would focus on it, write it down and try to find new uses for it. Initially, this was just a way of amusing myself and the results were often funny or odd juxtapositions that I would then share with my friends.

For example, some of the poems, like “Pruning Turner” are made of conversations that I overheard and transcribed while riding the bus or the subway on my way to school in North York. Some of the poems, like “The Experimental Boy: Poems,” are made up of lines of lyric poetry cut-up and mingled with lines from text books, advertisements, and things I found on the internet. This is also an unofficial sequel to my previous chapbook Demons, which was similarly an attempt to marry heaven and hell by way of humour and play.

DJ:

You take a lot of glee in reimagining corporate slogans and other clichés. At one point you write, “I prefer to use language alogically as in the sentence: ‘the sunbelts are padding their dogs with aloe.’ I don’t know what that means but I’m wagging my tail as I say it.” Your excitement is not unlike the exuberance that Blake writes with while undermining religious dogma in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a work which you allude to throughout your poetry. Can you talk about your version of hell and why its language is experimental and often nonsensical?

ML:

Well, my use of hell is meant to be ironic and I wouldn’t want to suggest that my life is any worse than anyone else's but on any given day hell can be anxiety, alienation, guilt, poverty in its many forms. I guess I use that term as a short term description: “life is hell.” Of course I don’t think life is only hell. Poetry is often a great joy in my life, reading it or writing it. As are friends and food, for example. I guess talking about hell I’ve also got to talk about heaven, and my journeys between the two. I’m not sure that the language of heaven or hell has to be nonsensical that is just how it seems to arise in me.

DJ:

Which poets have had the greatest influence on your style? What are some of your other sources of inspiration?

ML:

While writing this chapbook I was really influenced by poets like Ted Berrigan, Clark Coolidge, Alice Notley, Bruce Andrews and Robert Fitterman. There’s a line from Anselm Berrigan’s book-length poem Notes from Irrelevance that speaks to how I feel about influence on the poems: “I at some point decided—or became, understanding later—influenced by, potentially, anything.”

DJ:

You mentioned that the blurring of public and private language is central to your poetry. In Billboards from Hell, there is often a humorous and uncomfortable tension between lyric intimacy and commercial sloganeering, as in the lines “But you are a bag of rippled chips / I tag your limits and recharge my flavour strips.” How do you think the language of advertisements has affected the way we communicate with each other?

ML:

Well that’s just it. I’m not always sure where public and private uses of language begin or end and that question, that problem, is what often got me writing these poems. I could talk about how language is always already found material but that’s become a kind of cliché and everyone knows it anyway. Sometimes I feel like lyric poems are advertisements for themselves and people speak to me in blurbs or vice versa. I’m all confused and that strikes me as a potentially interesting place to write poems from.

DJ:

Do you think there is enough engagement with the commercial world in contemporary poetry, and is it critical enough?

ML:

There’s a lot of poetry out there and a lot of things going on in it. I do find myself especially drawn to contemporary poetry that acknowledges in some way the super-fluidity of language and subjectivity, and poetry that allows itself a broad range of reference and influence. The poets I mentioned above do that. A poet I’ve been reading recently, Jena Osman, in her book The Network does really interesting things with problematizing that dichotomy. ALSO, there’s this online publisher called Troll Thread that I’m super-excited about. I think they’re blazing a brave new trail for poetry online and elsewhere. Check 'em out!

DJ:

Billboards From Hell is also a physically beautiful and uniquely designed book. Can you tell us a bit about the publishing process and how it enhances your poems? 

ML:

YES! Thanks for mentioning that. I happen to have as one of my best and longest friendships a talented artist named Arnaud Brassard. He consistently takes the idea of the chapbook to another level and I just sit back and marvel at what he can do. I would and do publish my poems by any means necessary. Often they first get circulated in emails, sometimes handwritten, typewritten, xeroxed or texted. It’s just one of the ways I talk to people but it feels really nice to have them represented in a chapbook of the level of beauty and craft that Arnaud produces. Big ups to my other friends and collaborators at Ferno House: Spencer Gordon and Pat Larkin. All talented folks I feel privileged to know and work with.

For more information about Ferno House, visit them online.

Deanna Janovski is a Toronto-based editor and designer.

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