Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Melanie Janisse

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Ten Questions with Melanie Janisse

Open Book: Toronto talks to Melanie Janisse about her first collection of poetry, Orioles in the Oranges. She speaks about her love of reading and her upcoming writing projects.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

Melanie Janisse:

I have just published Orioles in the Oranges with the renowned press Guernica Editions. It is a book that attempts to tell and retell a Métis legend from Pelee Island. There are two voices in the book: one of the original historical legend and one of a contemporary love story that follows the themes of the original tale. Throw in some Detroit punk rock, bootleggers, shipwrecks in Lake Erie, and mental illness and you have my book.

OBT:

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

MJ:

Several. I wished to give voice to the Métis Nation, Southern Ontarians, Detroiters, outsiders and lovers of lore.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

MJ:

I love writing in my café, just after I have finished baking and just before I get really busy. I sit in the window and dream about words, smelling of yeast and flour, hoping to see the faces of my wonderful community, feed them, and collaborate in civic politics, in poetry, in joy. I sit in Zoots and write poems.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

MJ:

This one! I did have some excerpts published in the Southernmost Review, The Northern Poetry and Gulch (Tightrope) just before this book though.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

MJ:

I have been very involved in the Dundas West community, and a continued fight to keep our neighborhood intact, parking intact, TTC running, beautification occurring. I recently had the opportunity to go door to door getting support for our causes, and met with the dykes, the Christians, the families, the Portuguese, the Koreans, the old, the young, the successful and the struggling merchants of my area. Our solidarity speaks to me of what it really means to be a Canadian. My newest book project Encomium is for them. I write poems that are praises to others like little altars. I am proud of the way in which my community is trying to keep together and find ways to thrive.

OBT:

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

MJ:

Jane Jacobs anything. So that we remember to build and nurture inclusive communities.
Susana Moodie – Roughing it in the Bush. So we can bless the memories of the pioneers.
Claudia Dey – Stunt. So that we can remember that magic exists on our Canadian Streets.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

MJ:

Ok. You are probably going to laugh at me. This list is no joke.
Antonio D’Alfonso – Panick Love
Sandy Pool – Exploding into Night
Sue Chenette – Slender Human Weight
Lisa Robertson – Magenta Soul Whip
Clara Blackwood – Subway Medusa
Damian Rogers - Paper Radio
Steel Bananas - Gulch: An assemblage of poetry and prose
Tim Quinn – Octopus Intelligence
Joseph Boyden – Born With a Tooth
Bob Stewart – Something Burned Along the Southern Border

They all wink out to me from bedside tables, hide in my bakery for the quiet waiting moments, sit behind the counter of Zoots for when there is a moment to read. They are everywhere half read. I need some help, I think.

OBT:

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

MJ:

Do not ever stop writing down what you dream of and what you hope for. – My parents 

OBT:

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

MJ:

 Do not ever stop writing down what you dream of and what you hope for.

OBT:

What is your next project?

MJ:

 I have two writing projects on the go. The first is entitled ‘Encomium’ - a collection of poems honoring artists and looking into notions of jealousy, community, fear, and celebration. I also have decided to write a book for Guernica’s City Series. I will write a short memoir of my time in Detroit, where I could be found causing trouble, listening to punk, standing breathless in front of Diego Rivera’s murals not even believing my eyes. What a crazy city. I can’t wait to see what I come up with.


Melanie Janisse is a native of Windsor, Ontario where she retains memories of old docks jutting out into the Detroit River and the smell of hops. Melanie began her education by leaving home early and wandering around the abandoned houses of inner city Detroit, and then the intense forests of the Canadian West Coast. Formally she holds degrees form Concordia University and Emily Carr. Melanie has resided in Toronto for the past nine years, keeping active as a visual artist, poet, designer and shop owner. Her work has appeared in Luft Gallery, Common Ground Gallery, Artcite Gallery, Dojo Magazine, Pontiac Quarterly, The Scream Literary Festival, The Southernmost Review, The Northernmost Review and Oh Magazine. Her first poetry book Orioles in the Oranges (Guernica Editions) will be available in November, 2008.

For more information on Orioles in the Oranges please visit the Guernica Editions website.

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

1 comment

I look forward to seeing your new work, Melanie! You might want to check out the collection by Robert Hass, titled Praise-- English for Encomium. His poem, "Meditation at Lagunitas," begins with these two irresistible lines: "All the new thinking is about loss. / In this it resembles all the old thinking."

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