Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Baziju (Roo Borson & Kim Maltman)

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Roo Borson and Kim Maltman

House of Anansi has an absolute knock-out spring poetry list this year, and one of the most anticipated titles is Box Kite by Baziju. If you're curious how a collection by the as-yet unknown Baziju landed a spot on the venerable house's list, you're in for a surprise, as Baziju is in fact not one poet but twoRoo Borson and Kim Maltman. Their shared voice creates a lush and beautiful series of prose poems that travel between Canada and China while contemplating the very nature of travel, home and belonging.

Roo and Kim are no strangers to collaboration, having tackled a three-voice challenge in Introduction to the Introduction to Wang Wei (written as Pain Not Bread, with Andy Patton), and in Box Kite we see that their alchemical combination continues to create magic.

We get a fantastic two for one deal today as part of our Poets in Profile series, with both Roo and Kim talking to us about debating Tennyson, finding the "charge" in a poem and the best (and worse) parts about life as a poet.

The two, who live together as well as writing together, are so close they even answered some of our questions together.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Roo Borson:

Listening to my father recite poetry from memory, early in the morning, in Berkeley, when I was a child. The absolute delight in his demeanour as he did so.

Kim Maltman:

Fairly near the end of the year, in Grade 11 English class, in our survey of 19th Century poetry, we came to a short poem by Tennyson called “The Eagle.” To me it’s a fairly simple, Romantic descriptive poem, albeit one characterized by Tennyson’s particular voice, rhythms and delivery. It goes: “He clasps the crag with crooked hands;/ Close to the sun in lonely lands,/ Ring’d with the azure world he stands.// The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;/ He watches from his mountain walls,/ And like a thunderbolt he falls.” Our teacher, having finished reading the poem aloud, commenced attempting to engage us in a discussion of what the ‘actual’ underlying, symbolic meaning of the poem might be. Usually, if I didn’t agree with what a teacher was saying, I’d just keep quiet and mind my own business, but, for some reason, this was just too much. I found myself rising to protest that surely what the poem meant was what it said, and that it was in the saying itself that the poetry lay. The rest of the hour was taken up by a debate between the teacher and me, whose outcome was that neither of us ended up budging in the least from our original positions. It was still many years before it occurred to me that one could still write poetry, and not just appreciate what had been written by writers of the past, but I think this 45-minute-long, not entirely appropriate ‘exchange of ideas’ somehow, nonetheless, played a role.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


I want to say Lorca’s “A las Cinco de la Tarde,” from 8th Grade, but then I remember, from early in childhood, Shakespeare’s “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.” I’ve always understood that precious jewel to be the ultimate and unquestionable reason for the existence of poetry.


There are several candidates, but without a clear chronology, I’ll just say the last section of Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium.”


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


Actually, I’m immediately resistant to the idea of wishing to have written somebody else’s poem. One of the things about a really extraordinary (to you) piece of writing is that it exists completely independently (of you), and yet, come upon, generates a powerful connection to, and impact on, you. I wouldn’t want to wish that sense of unexpected, synaptic connection away. If I think about a poem like John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three-personed God,” then I’m absolutely glad not to be an alternate version of myself living in a parallel universe in which I never came across this poem, but I’m definitely the sort of person who’d rather have a poem I’ve written seem like it was written by somebody else than imagine somebody else’s poem having been written by me.


For me, it’s not poems, but titles I wish I’d been able to write. There are (irreducibly) two: “A Little Night Music,” a (possibly overly literal) translation of Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” and “Conics,” the English translation of Euclid’s work on conic sections in geometry. Mozart’s title I love for its pure beauty and offhand, yet not false, humility, and Euclid’s for its straightforward summing-up of the full breadth of its subject matter without the least artistic conceit or dissembling. I have always wished I could have written books of poetry with these titles.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


Arkady Vainshtein, a Russian theoretical particle physicist.


I can’t think retrospectively of any source of inspiration as unlikely, as the moment it become inspiring it’s already a done deal.


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?

RB and KM:

We generally hand it over to the other of us to see what can be done. Often there’s a “charge” that is felt by the writer which fails to be communicated to the reader. It has taken, more than once, twenty years (plus, in a few cases) to arrive at a solution that makes the charge tangible to someone other than the writer. And sometimes an unsuccessful poem needs to be simply consigned, by neglect, to an earlier version of one’s favourite word-processing software, one whose format is no longer readable by any current version of that program.


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?

RB and KM:

Alice Oswald’s Memorial, a remarkable, wildly original cross-cut through The Iliad; Cecil Giscombe’s Ohio Railroads, a short, pitch-perfect, emotionally charged book of prose poems that is at once a real-world map of the United States and a socio-political history of America; Louise Glück’s Faithful and Virtuous Night, an exceptionally beautiful, implicit realization of the interpenetrability of the personal and the fictional. That’s three rather than one, but, as two people, we’d rather not have to choose, and that still leaves one sock to go between us.


What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?

RB and KM:

The best: (1) The feeling of freedom. (2) Being able to read, for the umpteenth time, something like Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to summer’s day?/Thou art more lovely and more temperate” and still feel one’s head snapped back in awe by that use of ‘temperate.’ The worst: (1) Going for years at a time without any outward sign that others have understood what you’re on about. (2) People who haven’t read poetry since high school (apart from what they see on greeting cards) and so think there’s neither rhyme nor reason for doing so.

Roo Borson is the author of ten books of poetry, including Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She has also been involved in a number of collaborative projects, including Introduction to the Introduction to Wang Wei, by Pain Not Bread (Roo Borson, Kim Maltman, Andy Patton). Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, such as Twentieth Century Poetry and Poetics, the Harbrace Anthology of Poetry and the Norton Introduction to Literature. Roo Borson lives in Toronto with poet and collaborator Kim Maltman.

Kim Maltman is a poet and physicist. He currently teaches in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, York University, and does research in theoretical particle physics. He has published six collections of poetry and he is the author of the collaborative work of poetry, Introduction to the Introduction to Wang Wei by Pain Not Bread (Roo Borson, Kim Maltman, Andy Patton). He lives in Toronto with poet and collaborator Roo Borson.

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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