Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Jim Nason

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Jim Nason

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our series.

Jim Nason is the author of Narcissus Unfolding (Frontenac House). The poems in Narcissus Unfolding have been called "visceral, erotic, tender, accurate".

Read on as Jim Nason talks to Open Book about his new book and the poet's life.

You can also check out Open Book’s interview with fellow Frontenac House author Ron Charach.

Jim Nason, Ron Charach, Rosemary Griebel and Kirk Ramdath will all appear at the Frontenac House Fall launch on September 22, 2011. Click here for Open Book’s event listing for the launch.

Open Book:

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

Jim Nason:

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time thinking about theatre and writing fiction. Then, as an undergraduate I wrote a poem called “Third Person Fifth Child”. That poem won a prize, and reading it out loud was the first time that I ‘felt’ language on a deep emotional level. I understood the beauty of metaphor and gained an immediate respect for the compact punch of the right word in the right place. It was also around this time that my sister bought me a copy of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, a powerful book that, to this day, has special meaning for me.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” — I was blown away by the layers of passion, politics, images; the sexuality and the big city grit; the mix of story-telling, music and images; the length and bravery of it. I love the way that poem reaches back to Whitman and forward to the sound poets of today.


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


John Ashbery’s, “At North Farm”. The energy and intensity of that poem is off the charts! I love the immediate invitation of the opening line: Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you … I am drawn to the urgency of the poem and the big questions it asks. There is a mystical component to the poem and it is full of abstract thoughts, yet, like everything Ashbery writes, it is grounded in glorious language.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


William Blake wrote about seeing into ‘infinity’. That’s the poet I wanted to be — someone who could sit still long enough to be moved by what came through him. I didn’t want to be limited by mathematical or scientific formulas: the kind of knowledge that I was after had no rules. I believed that the answers to poetry’s questions were only available through language, not test tubes or blood samples. However, these days I am in complete awe of science and have been inspired by its revelations. A second unlikely source of inspiration came from a morning ritual. I often write with the television turned to the weather station (the volume down) — this way, I can see the digital time on the screen without being distracted by the announcer’s voice. I shouldn’t have been surprised when, after a few months of this, I ended up with a poem called “Weather Girl”.


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


Sometimes I set it aside and go back to it after a few weeks; but, more often, I let the poem go. I’ve learned that the energy of the initial inspiration dissipates if you don’t capture it right away. Occasionally, I will keep a line or a stanza and start a new poem with that. I am superstitious about sharing an unfinished poem, but if it is almost complete, I will run it past a listener whom I trust — the sheer act of reading a poem out loud in front of a witness helps me to figure out the problem.


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


Don Domanski’s “All Our Wonder Unavenged” is a brilliant book. The poems in this collection are deep and inspired. They are meditative and full of ancient wisdom. Reading some of these poems reminds me of reading Elizabeth Bishop … the ability to be transformed by something witnessed in nature.

                   … all our wonder unavenged

all of it left hanging in the fetish-shine of the moment

a longing           a bit of animal-shine along our skin


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


Everything’s good about being a poet. I am grateful for every day that I live with a commitment to reading and writing poetry. I am grateful to be part of an extraordinary community of Canadian poets. The worst part is not having more time to dedicate to it.

Jim Nason is the author of two books of poetry, If Lips Were as Red and The Fist of Remembering, the latter a emotionally rich and honest account of the death of his partner from cancer. His novel, The Housekeeping Journals (Turnstone), is, to quote the program of the THIN AIR literary festival in which he appeared, “a warm and unsentimental portrait of a young man who provides home care to a cast of eccentrics in Toronto, including many dying” of the disease. Jim’s writing doesn’t flinch. And while his subject matter has often been about death and dying, his poetry is filled with light. In many ways his is the truly philosophical view that wastes no time mourning what might have been but is eager to embrace all that life might teach even in the deepest of sorrows.

Educated in Montreal (McGill), and Toronto (Ryerson and York), Jim Nason currently lives and works as a social worker in Toronto. His work, praised by writers such as John Ashbery in the United States and Laura Lush here, has appeared in many literary journals across North America.

For more information about Narcissus Unfolding please visit the Frontenac House website.

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

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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