Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with John Barton

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Ten Questions with John Barton

Open Book talks to John Barton about reading, writing and his ninth collection of poems, Hymn (Brick Books). He will be reading at the Art Bar Poetry Series at Clinton's on Tuesday, October 13. See Open Book's events page for details.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

John Barton:

Why not ask the most difficult question first? The answer: Nothing? Everything? Okay, I won’t duck the question. Hymn puts words to the music of disappointment and aspiration that gay men often feel in the pursuit of — and during the detours they take, consciously and unconsciously, on the way to and away from — love. The journey is as much geographic and aesthetic as it is carnal and emotional: put it this way, the search for love causes men to cover a lot of carnal topography, which they mark, and which shapes how they voice what they come (not in the ejaculatory sense) to see and feel. Hymn is as much about the profane as it is about the sacred.

OBT:

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

JB:

Though the book examines the erotic lives of gay men, I think it will appeal to the general reader of poetry. I believe that we read for two purposes: (1) to see ourselves in the text and (2) to learn something new in order to make our worlds larger. This encourages me in the belief that the audience for my book is everybody — as long as everybody—and by this, I don’t mean “everyman,” boys and girls — holds the same view. I hope I will not be disappointed. After all, reading is a social contract.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JB:

A quiet room, a desk, a good chair and a computer that is not connected to the Internet.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

JB:

In 1978, “The Revelation,” my first poem in print, appeared in The Gasoline Rainbow, a student-run annual at the University of Alberta; the magazine’s co-editor was Lorna Crozier, who was then completing a Master’s degree in English. In 1981, I collected the poem in A Poor Photographer, my first book.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

JB:

I reread Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and, in response, a short poem about how the book — or more importantly, the Canadianness of the book — was instrumental in my decision to become a writer.

OBT:

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

JB:

Marion Engel’s Bear
Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion
Al Purdy, The Collected Poems

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JB:

Louise Glűck’s Descending Figure, Barry Dempster’s Love Outlandish, Scott Symon’s Place d’Armes and the September 14, 2009, issue of The New Yorker.

OBT:

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

JB:

Have the courage of my own convictions.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

JB:

Be diligent, have faith in your own work and don’t get discouraged. Remember, especially in literary publishing, that taste is a factor governing decisions to accept or reject. Finding a publisher is often as much about finding a right fit that is based on shared sensibility as it is about excellence. That said, always aim high by continuing to work on your craft and how it realizes your content.

OBT:

What is your next project?

JB:

I am working on two books of poems, one a collection of poems employing traditional literary forms, the other a documentary project about three gay men active in twentieth-century New York’s arts community, Lincoln Kirstein, the co-founder of the New York City Ballet, painter Paul Cadmus and photographer George Platt Lynes.



John Barton's previous books include Great Men, Designs from the Interior, Sweet Ellipsis and Hypothesis. West of Darkness: Emily Carr, a self-portrait, his acclaimed third book, was republished in a bilingual edition in 2006. Co-editor of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets, he lives in Victoria. Barton edits The Malahat Review.

Hymn is his ninth collection.

For more information about Hymn please visit the Brick Books website.

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

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