Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Daphne Marlatt

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Ten Questions with Daphne Marlatt

Daphne Marlatt is the author of several books of poetry, including Steveston, Touch to My Tongue, Salvage and This Tremor Love Is. Her most recent poetry collection, The Given, was published this spring by McClelland & Stewart. She is also the author of two acclaimed novels, Ana Historic and Taken. Marlatt lives in Vancouver where she is a teacher and editor of numerous literary publications, including The Capilano Review and Tessera, which she co-founded.

OB:

Tell us about your latest book, The Given.

DM:

This book was begun some 10 years ago with the intention of writing a “fictomem,” a fictionalized memoir about growing up in the 1950s in suburban North Vancouver. Its minimal narrative is constructed around the growing difference between a daughter assimilating into teenage culture and an unassimilated British colonial mother who sinks into depression while trying to live up to the “good mother, expert housewife” standard of the period. I saw it, still see it, as the 3rd in a trilogy that began with my novels Ana Historic and Taken. Formally, I wanted to experiment with a sort of prose collage that would allow various voices from that period to sound, and then contrast that with a pastiche from the very urban neighbourhood of the Downtown Eastside in which I live. The Given turns out to be a long poem in prose fragments, a ceremony for those who have left or died suddenly and who go on living in us.

OB:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote The Given?

DM:

Not really. I was always surprised by the extent of the readership for Ana Historic so I thought perhaps some of those fiction readers would be drawn to it, but then I hope that this book will also draw poetry lovers.

OB:

What poets got you interested in poetry?

DM:

When I was learning to write in the 1960s I was reading, and strongly influenced by, the Modernists, Ezra Pound, H.D., Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, and a younger generation, the Black Mountain poets, notably Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley and Charles Olson. But then I was also interested in the fiction written by H.D., Djuna Barnes, Virginia Woolf, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras. As a young poet I grew up with and learned so much from the work of George Bowering, bp Nichol, Fred Wah, Michael Ondaatje and Phyllis Webb. And then later the fiction and poetry of Nicole Brossard, Louky Bersianik and Jovette Marchessault – in fact, at a certain point, prose and poetry became no longer separate categories for me.

OB:

What was your first publication?

DM:

A novella called “The Sea-Haven,” which I wrote while taking Earle Birney’s fiction-writing workshop at UBC and which I finished by skipping other classes to sit in a solitary carrel in the library and imagine/write. That was when I learned how much sustained concentration fiction requires.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

DM:

I have an upstairs very small study in the house I share with my partner, Bridget MacKenzie. Its walls are lined with books and a few broadsides and photos (one by Roy Kiyooka and a photo collage by Phyllis Webb). The room looks out onto a small cluster of birch and pine trees, a back alley and the houses opposite, with mountains, just visible in winter, behind their rooftops. I sit at one desk facing the window for initial writing in longhand with pencil on unlined paper. Then I sit at my other desk with my back to the window and key what I’ve written into the computer where the writing starts to immediately undergo changes.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

DM:

Snow by Orhan Pamuk (Maureen Freely trans.), The Shovel by Colin Brown, Orphic Politics by Tim Lilburn and Sooner by Margaret Christakos. Also Syd Field’s Screenplay.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

DM:

Too many factors to consider: what is the reading language of this person being welcomed? French, English, something else? How much does this person already know about Canada and its history? I would want to offer titles from our so-called classics in both English and French, as well as titles by First Nations and Metis authors and those from other major communities – Asian, South Asian, South East Asian, Africadian and other Black Canadian writers, Ukrainian, Mennonite, Jewish, and so on. How can all this be reduced to 3? Maybe start with a good map of Canada?

OB:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

DM:

“Write what you have to,” or something similar. Roy Kiyooka.

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

DM:

I’m always moved when audience members or readers tell me that a book I’ve written spoke to their own lives.

OB:

What is your next project?

DM:

As usual, there are several on the go. Most immediately, I am working on a short series of poem/stories based on work by earlier B.C. women writers or artists. One of these, in collaboration with book designer Frances Hunter in Victoria, is scheduled for publication in December by Jack Pine Press (Saskatoon) in a limited book/art edition.

The Given "One of our most powerful postmodern poets, able to say so much quietly, there, or just under the surface.... Marlatt is our poet of the heart, documenting movements and missives like no one else can, conveying the painstaking minutiae of process, thought and feeling." - Books in Canada

Visit the McClelland & Stewart website to read more about the The Given by Daphne Marlatt.

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