Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Philip Quinn

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Ten Questions with Philip Quinn

This spring, the Toronto Arts Council Foundation in association with Lit City held the first annual Get Lit! Competition. The competition asked Torontonians to submit art inspired by Toronto and its inhabitants. All of the submissions were featured in an exhibit during Doors Open Toronto. Philip Quinn placed first in the competition for his series of poems with accompanying photographs entitled The Subway. You can read two of the poems, "Brained & Greased" and "Riding the Yonge line North," here.

OBT:

Congratulations on winning the Get Lit competition. What inspired you to enter the competition?

PQ:

I was attracted to the fact that the entries would be displayed during Doors Open so a wider audience would have a chance to see the poems making up The SubWay.

OBT:

Tell us about your book, The SubWay?

PQ:

Just as the first Toronto subway train, back in 1954, slowly picked up speed and became a form of perpetual motion, The SubWay is all about traveling underground on a track that straddles chaos and meaning. So there’s the wrestling with language pushing it to the brink of incompressibility, the tussle with brain anatomy, this train/triune brain in which we share reptilian motions and, finally, that momentarily escape of limitations as we find ourselves between destinations. All of that goes into the subversive verses making up The SubWay.

OBT:

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

PQ:

Certainly I hoped to attract poetry readers but also to gain other riders and readers with a taste for the underground.

OBT:

Tell us about your research for The Subway. What was the most interesting thing you found out about the Toronto subway system when you were working on your book?

PQ:

My research involved books such as Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden and the medical textbook Gray’s Anatomy as well as publications about the Toronto Transit Commission and its earlier manifestations. As well, I spent lifetimes it seems traveling underground, riding the Red Rocket. What I found most fascinating in my research about the TTC was how far back the idea formed of having an underground system and how it was put aside, but always returned to, until the first train rolled down the tracks in 1954.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

PQ:

Anything that will get the energy flowing, so for me personally, to be cranked up on coffee, listening to some pulsing, drumming Third World music, that usually pushes me into realms I know nothing about beforehand. That’s where I locate my ideal writing environment.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

PQ:

My first published book was Dis Location, Stories After the Flood, (Gutter Press, 2000), which in its own round about way anticipated and feels like reportage from New Orleans following Katrina.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

PQ:

An ongoing cultural experience that influences my writing is the Toronto Public Library system. I do searches on its web site and I’m always pleasantly surprised by the wealth of material available which I then reserve and read.

OBT:

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

PQ:

The Hook of It Is by Basil Papdimos; Mount Pleasant Cemetery by Mike Filey (actually anything by Mike Filey) and The Story of Toronto by G. P. deT. Glazebrook.

OBT:

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

PQ:

Persistence (and lots of re-writing).

OBT:

What is your next project?

PQ:

A novel, The Skeleton Dance, that Vancouver’s Anvil Press will publish this fall.


Philip Quinn is the author of Dis Location, Stories After the Flood (Gutter Press 2000) and The Double, a novel. (Gutter Press 2003) His winning poems are from his latest book, The SubWay (Bookthug, 2008). His short stories and poetry have been published in numerous print and online literary journals, and his non-fiction has appeared in the National Post, Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen and other publications. Check out his website at www.philipquinn.ca.


Read more about The SubWay by Philip Quinn at the Bookthug website.

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