Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Méira Cook

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Méira Cook

Méira Cook has been called "one of Canada’s most compelling poets", so it's no surprise that people are excited for the publication of a fifth collection of poetry from the CBC Literary Prize and Walrus Poetry Prize winner. Monologue Dogs (Brick Books) is a series of (what else?) monologues, in which Méira's trademark wit and gift with language are on full display.

Today we challenge Méira to the Proust Questionnaire, where her many of her answers become little poems in and of themselves. She tells us about a meddlesome mynah bird, a fictional hero we can all second and some very understandable footwear-related pet peeves.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

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What is your dream of happiness?

Bourgeois dreams of the petite variety. A house with children in it. Even a piano.

What is your idea of misery?

The middle classes oughtn’t to voice their emotional turmoil.

Where would you like to live?

In this house I’ve been telling you about.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

Good — hearted, humoured, mannered. A lovely rumpled aspect.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

Moxie and gumption. Mostly moxie.

What is your chief characteristic?

Crankiness is what I’m told by some of the people I love best.

What is your principal fault?

Too much commotion.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Butter on everything.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Eccentricity shading all the way to neurosis. The full spectrum.

What do you value most about your friends?

Funniness. If ironic then gently so.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Oafishness.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

Can’t tell the truth for toffee.

What is your favourite virtue?

Fealty.

What is your favourite occupation?

Anything that can be done in a hammock.

What would you like to be?

An Edith Piaf song. No regrets.

What is your favourite colour?

The greeny-blue of unreliable eyes.

What is your favourite flower?

Orchids, for their extraterrestrial beauty.

What is your favourite bird?

I’m ill at ease with birds, having been woken every morning of my childhood by a nasty-minded Indian mynah pretending to be an alarm clock.

What historical figure do you admire the most?

The man who invented champagne.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Freud’s mother. She really did a number on him.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Lorrie Moore, Richard Russo, Mordecai Richler, Joan Thomas.

Who are your favourite poets?

Hopkins, Marvell, Yeats. Louise Gluck, John Berryman, Philip Larkin, Daphne Marlatt, Karen Solie.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Jo March, a crackerjack girl and everything I always wanted to be. But I fear I’m more like Leonard Bast, worrying about an umbrella all through Beethoven.

Who are your heroes in real life?

The editors of literary journals and the publishers of small presses.

Who is your favourite painter?

Giotto. Something about those blues.

Who is your favourite musician?

Aretha Franklin. Something about those blues.

What is your favourite food?

Buttered toast.

What is your favourite drink?

I like a vodka gimlet with my buttered toast.

What are your favourite names?

All names with the “sh” sound in them. Shulamith, Machu Picchu, shellfish. The wish for a quiet life . . .

What is it you most dislike?

In winter: the sound of Sorel boots slurring through the aisles of retail outlets. In summer: the moist flap of flip flops worn by indolent adolescents. Pick up your feet, people.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

Superhuman coordination. Being able to clap in time to music.

How do you want to die?

I have to die? Why didn’t anyone tell me?

What is your current state of mind?

Anxious. That last question was a humdinger.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Successfully stifling my child-like enthusiasm. Now I am a Peggy Lee song. Is that all there is?

What is your motto?

One good story is worth a thousand truths.


Méira Cook has published five poetry collections, most recently Monologue Dogs (Brick Books). Her poetry won first place in the CBC Literary Awards, garnered a Manitoba Publishing Award (a “Maggie”), and has been featured in Winnipeg Transit’s “Poetry in Motion” program. She won the inaugural Walrus Poetry Prize in 2012. Her first novel, The House on Sugarbush Road (Enfield & Wizenty), won the McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year Award in 2013, and her new novel, Nightwatching, is forthcoming from HarperCollins Canada.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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