Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Michael Knox

Share |
Ten Questions with Michael Knox

Michael Knox is the author of The North End Poems (ECW Press) and Play out the Match (ECW Press). His poems have appeared in a variety of literary journals across North America and Britain. The launch for The North End Poems by is on Tuesday, June 17 at Supermarket in Toronto. See our events page for details.

OB:

Tell us about your latest book, The North End Poems.

MK:

The North End Poems takes place in the North End of Hamilton and it follows the life of a young warehouse worker named Nick Macfarlane. The book is a lyric sequence, which means that it’s a series of poems that can be read individually but form a long narrative if read consecutively. It’s a tough, gritty little book and it tries to inhabit a location that I’m fairly certain no other writers have touched up to this point. It does work heavily on the masculine: there’s boxing and barfights, but there’s love and desolation, too. It’s also a bit of a page-turner, which is pretty rare in poetry.

OB:

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

MK:

One of the things that bothers me and that I have aimed to deal with in both of my books, is that far more people are reading novels these days than reading poetry; particularly if we’re talking about contemporary novels and poetry. Come on, you’re probably reading a novel right now (well, not RIGHT NOW, but you know what I mean), when was the last time you picked up a contemporary poet? I think that there is a stigma about poetry that it is either too intellectual or too outlandish to be enjoyed by most readers. This idea drives me so crazy that it makes my face hurt. In both of my books I have tried to write accessible poetry that isn’t basic. I’ve never thought that poetry has to be difficult to be good and all I’m trying to do is get the words right and do sophisticated things in a way that intelligent people will be able to follow confidently. My hope is always that a person who doesn’t tend to read poetry will pick up my book and be pleasantly surprised. Try a poet. Hell, try me. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

OB:

What poets got you interested in poetry?

MK:

Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Al Purdy and Philip Larkin are probably the poets who are my all time favourites and really had some influence (or what I believe is some influence) in one way or another on my style. I knew I wanted to work with Michael Holmes at ECW Press when I read Ashland by Gil Adamson and so I sent stuff off to him thinking he’d like it. By some stroke of fortune my stuff survived the year and a half it spent in the slush pile and I turned out to be right.

OB:

What was your first publication?

MK:

My first published book was Play Out the Match. It’s a collection of poems put out by ECW in 2006. I’m very proud of it. You should read it.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

MK:

I write everywhere. The only environment in which I consistently write is the subway, believe it or not. I live downtown and I teach high school at Jane and Finch, so I spend a fair bit of time in transit scribbling. Apart from that I find that writing for me is much more about creating an atmosphere where I can get poems to visit me. Sounds a little spooky and spectral, I know, but that’s actually the way it works for me. Poems mainly come late at night (I’m a functioning insomniac), or in the early afternoon if I’ve had caffeine. They do tend to show up whenever they want and rarely when I want. Creativity, I find, is just setting time and place aside where something can come to you. It may or may not happen.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

MK:

Right now I’m rereading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and I’m dabbling in some of the Philosophy I studied at grad school. I’m also reading Jordan Scott’s new book blert which is pleasing me enormously. Oh, and Nathan Whitlock’s new novel A Week of This. It’s pretty kick-ass. Can I say kick-ass on here?

OB:

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

MK:

I’m tempted here to say Alligator Pie, a Farley Mowat Anthology, and maybe that book by the Fergusons How to Be a Canadian. At least after that they’d have all the stereotypes reinforced and could get down to the business of deconstructing them personally. Well, except for with Alligator Pie. That’s there mainly because it’s fun and I like fun.

OB:

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

MK:

Ken Harvey told me a long time ago, when I’d brought him a short story about a young boxer and his father, that a piece is never really finished and that if I wanted I could draw that little story into a novel or something like a novel. He was right. The North End Poems is the book that came out of that bit of advice. What a man, that Ken Harvey.

OB:

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

MK:

There’ve been a few things that were memorable. Gord Downey enjoyed Play Out the Match and I got some fan-mail about that, but I think that’s only memorable because he’s famous and I’d enjoyed his work for like half my life. Craig Davidson liked my stuff enough to let me get in the ring with him so we could beat three kinds of tar out of each other, but that was more memorable for the fight I got out of it than the response itself. The time I’ve been most blown away was when Michael Holmes (whose opinion is so important to me I can barely even express it) told me that a poem I’d written that referenced “At the Quinte Hotel” by Al Purdy wasn’t just good, but that Al himself would have liked it. That really moved me.

OB:

What is your next project?

MK:

My next project is a novel I’ve been working on for some time now. It’s been written in long-hand in a series of notebooks over the last year and a half. It takes place in the outer suburbs of Toronto, connects three lives and focuses on the theme of disaster. Disasters we create in our own lives and the lives around us, ones that happen fast and slow. It’s prose but it’s clearly a novel written by a poet. I’m still working the kind of cinematic images that I like to play with and I’m writing it long-hand because I’m so used to carving and crafting away at every line; I don’t know if this is efficient but I’ve always been one for finding my own way.

The North End Poems
"The characters and conflict are so familiar in Knox's lyrics, readers may catch a glimpse of themselves in similar unhealthy attachments. His poetry is therapeutic and a reminder that difficult love is sometimes unavoidable. Knox delivers a knock out." -
McClatchy Interactive


Visit the ECW Press website to read more about The North End Poems by Michael Knox.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad