Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Jim Nason

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Jim Nason

Jim Nason is the author of Music Garden (Frontenac House). The collection centres on the lakeside Music Garden in Toronto, which is described as "a reflection in landscape of Bach's Suite No. 1 in G Major for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1007". The garden was designed by internationally renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy, in collaboration with landscape architects from the City of Toronto's Parks and Recreation department.

Today he is the subject of our Poets in Profile series, which delves into inspiration, poetic awakenings, the writing process and more with some of Canadian finest poets.

Jim speaks to Open Book about how long winters helped guide him to poetry, running with a pencil and the very best part of being a poet.

Open Book:

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

Jim Nason:

My childhood in Montreal was lonely. I was introspective and shy and was often sent by my parents to play sports outside with my five brothers. All winter long they played hockey and, bored-to-tears, I sat and watched. Sometimes I would walk through the neighbourhood and spend hours meditating on the ice and snow. It is somewhat comical to think about the melodramatic nature of that young boy; but, I appreciate now that the boy was on his way to becoming a poet. All those years of feeling like an outsider brought me into a deep connection with nature and language. It was through the language of poetry that I was able to articulate spirituality, sexuality — my sense of wonder.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


It is difficult to remember just one, but two that come to mind are: Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”:

        A man and a woman and a blackbird
        Are one

And, Whitman’s “When I Heard at the Close of the Day”:

        And his arm lay lightly around my breast — and that night
        I was happy.

The haiku quality of Stevens' poem spoke to the quiet side of me. It was also the juxtaposition of words and the gorgeously strange language that he used that unsettled and inspired me as well.

And Whitman — as I struggled to come ‘out’, his use of the male pronoun meant everything to me. The fact that Whitman’s Leaves of Grass could be homoerotic and inclusive was very important. I had spent too much of my life being on the outside.


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


Henri Cole’s “Blur”:

        My horse was wet all summer.
        I pushed him, he pushed me back — proud, lonely,
        disappointed — until I rode him,
        or he rode on me, in tight embrace, and life went on.

Cole inspired the poem, “Horse” in my collection Narcissus Unfolding; and “Chardin’s Rabbit” in Music Garden.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


Fitness. I am a runner and when I train I always carry a pencil with me. Soon enough, during my run, a word or a phrase drops into my head. Perhaps it’s the pace of the run? Perhaps it’s endorphins? Maybe it’s the open space I give myself when I run?


What do you do when a poem is not working?


I trash it. I don’t think I have ever had the experience of being able to go back and fix a poem that wasn’t working. I have been able to improve on something that wasn’t quit there, but that’s only because it had a solid ‘workable’ foundation.


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


This is a difficult question because I have read a number of good books recently, including, Austin Clarke’s Where the Sun Shines Best. Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red is imaginative and confident. Carson’s out-and-out aggressive approach to writing is inspiring. She is fearless, questioning and knowledgeable — Red is sexy, inspiring; a read that I couldn’t put down.


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


The best part of being a poet is the luxury of time I give myself to write. I live a full life that often feels chaotic. The time I spend writing each day lands me on my feet and in my body. When I write poetry I feel connected to nature. I feel grateful to be alive. I am fortunate to have the kind of mind that takes creative leaps and is comfortable with uncertainty. Not knowing the answer to the question of the poem can sometimes be disheartening; giving myself permission to freefall in that uncertainty for a few hours each day is the best part of being alive.

Jim Nason graduated from McGill University with an MA in English Literature. He also holds degrees from Ryerson and York universities. His poems and stories have appeared in numerous literary journals in Canada as well as the United States. His first novel, The Housekeeping Journals (Turnstone), is a warm and unsentimental portrait of a young man who provides home care to a cast of eccentrics in Toronto, including many dying of AIDS. Jim Nason is the author of four books of poetry: Narcissus Unfolding, If Lips Were as Red, The Fist of Remembering and his newest work, Music Garden. Jim Nason currently lives and works as a social worker in Toronto.

For more information about Music Garden please visit the Frontenac House website.

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

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

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JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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