Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Lori Cayer

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Ten Questions, with Lori Cayer

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Quartet poetry series, Frontenac House is releasing ten books of the best poetry simultaneously—their Dektet 2010. The titles were chosen by a jury of distinguished Canadian writers: bill bissett, George Elliott Clarke and Alice Major. Released this April, Lori Cayer's Attenuations of Force is among the Dektet.

Lori Cayer talks to Open Book about her writing process, her sources of inspiration, her distractions and her latest book, Attenuations of Force (Frontenac House).

She is launching her book along with the other nine Dektet authors in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 22. See our Events Page for details.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Attenuations of Force, which is launching this Wednesday.

Lori Cayer:

In a primary way it’s about the human forces that drive us or drive us in directions we never meant to go; it’s about attenuating or dissipating the impact of those forces with time or insight. In a secondary way the book is about weather as one of those forces, how it is noticeably changing and our/my fearful response to it.

OB:

"Day Job with Dead Pigeon: A Series of Sticky Notes," the first poem in your collection, has an interesting presentation: true to its title, each vignette is framed to resemble a note on a yellow sticky. Will you talk about why you chose this format, and why you chose to open your collection with this particular poem?

LC:

At one of my jobs I walked past a certain window a few times every day and one day I saw a dead pigeon outside. I noticed I was checking on the pigeon every day and monitoring its decomposition, but I was finding poetry in the ritual and decided to record it. Being at work made it inconvenient to do this in more than a fly-by sort of way so I would take a post-it pad and a pen with me and just write down key images and thoughts. Eventually I had a stack of notes and when I sat down to transcribe them, they struck me as stanzas. My written notes and the 3x3 textbox were not automatically compatible, so I made the textbox the constraint, which then forced a new level of draft and new directions in editing I would not otherwise have taken. It was, in both senses of the word, literally fun.

OB:

How did the experience of writing Attenuations of Force differ from the writing of your first collection, Stealing Mercury (The Muses' Company)?

LC:

That’s easy to answer, because Stealing Mercury was the distillation of everything I’d written up to that advanced age when I finally sent my work to a publisher. Attenuations of Force was a wholly new thing, with no material to use as a foundation. Later I reworked a half dozen poems that had been cut from Stealing Mercury that fit nicely into the last section, but otherwise I had an open field. I did try to apply a theme of birds at first and I wrote a couple deliberate bird poems (the pigeon doesn’t count), but apparently I wasn’t all that into birds.

OB:

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

LC:

In my middle age I like to write in the morning, which with a day job is inconvenient. Whenever I write it’s very dependent on being open to it. If I’m “on” I write any time and anywhere, and if I’m “off” I don’t write at all for spells that are embarrassingly long. That is the main peril of the day job: it makes it really hard to be a disciplined writer who writes every day no matter what.

OB:

What writers have had the greatest influence on your work?

LC:

I hope I don’t sound like a cliché, but without a doubt my earliest influences were Cohen, Atwood, Ondaatje, Livesay et. al.

OB:

How does living in Manitoba influence your writing?

LC:

I guess in the same way one’s home geography always manages to infuse the work. I’ve never lived anywhere else for long enough to find out if new geographies take over or if the first infusion is permanent.

OB:

What most distracts you from your work?

LC:

I could say life and leave it at that. But if you want details, here is a breakdown—in no particular order and subject to change: yoga, cleaning, five cats, a lot of happy cooking, reading, friends and family, fooling around with beads, dishes. It’s all good, though presented as a list it all sounds very boring. But put that list on top of the day job and it’s easy to let the quiet, contemplative time slip away.

OB:

What books are you reading right now?

LC:

Slowly, all the poetry books I’ve bought in the last two publishing cycles. The letters of Nicolas and Alexandra, the last emperor and empress of Russia. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, which is so far telling me I am the opposite of a stoic.

OB:

If you could travel to any place with the purpose of writing about it, where would it be?

LC:

Right now, Russia. But I have to say I would be nervous to go alone.

OB:

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

LC:

So, so many I couldn’t pick one. I secretly aspire to write poems that have the most content with the fewest possible words. I suck at succinct but Margaret Atwood’s little gem, stuck in my head since adolescence, is a fine example:

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
A fish hook
An open eye


Lori Cayer's first book Stealing Mercury (The Muses’ Company) won the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award and was a finalist for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award. She is a past winner of the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. Lori is the co-founder of the Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/prix Lansdowne de poésie.


For more information about Attenuations of Force please visit the Frontenac House website.

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

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