Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Jason Camlot

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Ten Questions with Jason Camlot

Jason Camlot is the author of The Animal Library, Attention All Typewriters and The Debaucher. His poems and critical essays have appeared widely in journals and anthologies including New American Writing, Postmodern Culture and English Literary History.

OB:

Tell us about your latest book, The Debaucher.

JC:

It's a fun and formally various collection about life, death, art, sex and rhyme. It has in it (among other things):

  • clusters of lascivious sonnets corruptingly translated from poems by Baudelaire, Verlaine and the like,
  • a long, poetic petition to be entombed in a bagel factory,
  • two rewritings of the Song of Roland, one set in San Francisco, another as Peanuts panels,
  • poems that imagine themselves conceptual art installations (including one about two cannibals eating one of my favorite Montreal poets),
  • a series of epigrams about debauchery,
  • as well a long ribald meditation poem that gives the book its title.

The book also contains a series of sonnets written during the final months of my friend (poet and novelist) Robert Allen's life. In this sonnet series (called Adios Sonnets), having a short, constrained form to work with was helpful since my feelings were chaotic and always larger than fourteen lines or so many rhymes. The writing of these poems helped me have a sense of control over that which clearly could not be controlled. This experience also led to a new perspective on life and art in the other poems I went on to write for this book. Witnessing a friend who was an artist pass away, and all the thinking about death that came with that, led me to think about life and making art in a somewhat more urgent and irreverent way. To make art without fear became a motto for this book, and I think the book lives according to that motto.

OB:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

JC:

Since I was working to write without censoring myself, whatever imagined reader I constructed was liable to be spat on like a punk rock audience. Maybe Irving Layton was my imagined reader. I certainly drew upon the daring tone and irreverence of books like Balls for a One Armed Juggler and Lovers and Lesser Men, while writing the book. As for a specific "readership," these poems will appeal to readers who have been led astray, enticed into doing something stupid, at least once in their lives, and who look back at such moments with fondness.

OB:

What poets got you interested in poetry?

JC:

Got me interested: Rexroth's translations of Tu Fu, Elizabeth Bishop's "Crusoe in England," A.M. Klein, Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, Yehudah Amichai, the guy who wrote the Bible.

Keep me interested: All of the above, plus, Horace, Zbigniew Herbert, Frederick Seidel, Aaron Fogel, Thalia Field, Stuart Ross, david antin, David Trinidad, David McGimpsey (to name just a few Davids).

OB:

What was your first publication?

JC:

A few allegorical poems in the high school year book, one about Raggedy Ann and Andy doing dirty things.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JC:

Ideal: In a hotel room, library or café somewhere when I'm traveling.
Real: 2am upstairs in my office, while my wife and children sleep below.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

JC:

Erin Mouré's O Cidadán, Carmine Starnino's With English Subtitles, A.M. Klein's The Rocking Chair/La Chaise Berçante (French translation by Marie Frankland), Robert Allen's Standing Wave, Anne Carson's Glass, Irony and God, Leonard Cohen's Let Us Compare Mythologies, Louis Dudek's Continuation II, David McGimpsey's Sitcom, Peter Van Toorn's Mountain Tea. I'm teaching an intensive summer graduate seminar on English-language poetry from Quebec, so that explains that. I'm also reading (after hours), Alessandro Porco's Augustine in Carthage and La vie devant soi by Romain Gary.

OB:

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

JC:

Middlemarch, Crime and Punishment. À la recherche du temps perdu. Not Canadian-authored titles, but great company for the long winters.

OB:

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

JC:

"Just write." (That was Robert Allen, circa 1990.)

OB:

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

JC:

"You Rock!"

OB:

What is your next project?

JC:

I have a collection of poems in the works about being cloven, as well as a scholarly project I'm trying to complete on the early history of literary sound recordings.

The Debaucher "This work has Kafkaesque reverberations and a rich awareness of the evocative power of sight, sound and smell ... and moves from the prehistoric to the present while displaying a strong sense of European myth and history intermingled with a heady eroticism." — Karl Jirgens, Rampike Magazine

Visit the Insomniac Press website to read more about the The Debaucher by Jason Camlot.

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