Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Jimmy McInnes

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Jimmy McInnes (photo credit: Andrew Schwab)

From JFK's "ich bin ein Berliner" to Winston Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches", the depth to which some political speeches penetrate the public consciousness is staggering. With that knowledge, Jimmy McInnes plunged into a particularly powerful speech from one of the world's most commanding public speakers, Barack Obama — specifically his campaign speech from March 18, 2008, known as the "A More Perfect Union" speech.

The result is A More Perfect [ (BookThug), a poetic translation of the rhetorical and linguistic devices employed in political speeches and the masterful manipulation of language that inspires voters.

We're beating the drum for our National Poetry Month celebration throughout April, and we're thrilled to speak with Jimmy today as part of our Poets in Profile series, where we talk to Canadian poets about their craft, their reading and how poetry first came into their lives.

Jimmy tells us about how early religious readings taught him about the impact of language, the surprising power of alien abduction poetry and the unusual sources of inspiration he's utilised in addition to political jargon.

Open Book:

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

Jimmy McInnes:

At some point in my childhood my parents became particularly religious. Living in an evangelical/fundamentalist household, you’re trained to read the Bible on a literal level, and you begin to understand how much impact a single word can have on a person. Though I haven’t been a religious person for a long time, this experience contributed to my understanding of how much language shapes our reality, and the overall impact that words have on how we organize our society.

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

JM:

When I was in the eighth grade, I happened upon an anthology of modern poetry in my very small evangelical school’s very small library. I got a thorough education in modern verse from this collection, but the poem that stuck out to me the most was Allen Ginsberg’s “To Aunt Rose.” I remember being deeply affected by how Ginsberg was able to so seamlessly juxtapose such touching sentiment with very grim — or just plain odd — imagery. I’m sure I could have found that in a good portion of the works in the anthology, but Ginsberg managed to write it with a diction that could really strike an adolescent in 1998.

OB:

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

JM:

Juliana Spahr’s book Response is one text that I constantly go back to when I need to be schooled. The entire book is incredible, but the “Testimony” section is an ingenious piece. Somehow, Spahr finds a way to tastefully treat the topic of alleged alien abduction in a work of poetry that draws attention to how we speak about disorder. Spahr highlights the subjectivity of modern mythology, all the while drawing attention to the concept of civic duty. I greatly wish I had written this book. It’s available for free on UBUweb.

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

JM:

It’s hard to say, because being inspired by unlikely poetic sources is sort of my gimmick. For example, my current book, A More Perfect [, is a reverse-rhetorical translation of a Obama campaign speech (although I’d contest that both poetry and politics are similar in that they depend heavily on the manipulation of language). Over the years I’ve written poems that use language stolen from furniture catalogues, newspaper articles, instruction manuals, torture testimony and sports statistics. It’s hard to say.

OB:

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

JM:

Usually when a project isn’t working I’ll chop it up and reuse the spare parts. Often, I’ll steal phrases from other sources and insert them inside the poem in order to see if it takes the work in a different direction. Parataxis has become a favourite method of mine.

OB:

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

JM:

Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent is an astounding first collection that I had the pleasure of reading recently. Liz has a firm grasp on a diverse set of lexicons, and she’s able to blend them together into one tightly knit tapestry that can be both overwhelmingly beautiful and ugly at once. The collection deals through geography, identity, and cognition in a way that only a Northern Ontarian with solid foundation in the economy of words and a deft grasp of Nietzsche could.

OB:

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

JM:

This is a funny question. I suppose that the best part about being a poet is the license to explore and stress over aspects of the material word that to the untrained eye could seem inconsequential. That last sentence could also double as my answer for what the worst thing about being a poet is.


Jimmy McInnes was born and raised on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula. His first chapbook, Begin Speech With, was released by Ferno House in the fall of 2013. His poetry has appeared in various journals, including This Magazine, ditch, The Puritan, Descant and the Capilano Review Web Folio. His work has been shortlisted for the Great Canadian Literary Hunt and the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. He lives in Toronto, where he completed his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph, and is currently employed as a political hack. A More Perfect [ is his first book-length work of poetry. Connect with him on Twitter @JimmyMcInnes.

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