Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Toronto Poets – 5 Questions Series – Karen Correia Da Silva

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Toronto Poets – 5 Questions Series – Karen Correia Da Silva

Interviewed by Darryl Salach (The Toronto Quarterly)

The Toronto Poets – 5 Questions Series is a new series initiated by The Toronto Quarterly that is geared to providing the talented poets living and writing in the city of Toronto with a bit of a broader platform in which to explain who they are as poets and what they're writing about these days. The hope is to provide this information to not only lovers of poetry residing in the city but to the casual reader of poetry who might not be aware of some of the names being featured in the five questions series. Ultimately, the hope of this series is to inform Torontonians that poetry is indeed vibrant, alive and kicking ass in our city.

Karen Correia Da Silva is a Toronto-based poet, editor, performance artist and graphic designer. She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the art collective and webzine Steel Bananas, Associate Editor of Existere: Journal of Arts and Literature, the Assistant Editor and Designer of the literary press Tightrope Books, founder of Petit Récit Design, and a 'pataphysician’ with the Toronto art collective TransCanadada Motorway Services. She has been published in Broken Pencil Magazine, Existere, The Toronto Quarterly, The Flying Walrus, and other local zines. In 2009 she co-edited GULCH: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose (Tightrope Books, 2009). She is currently pursuing her MA while working as a Teaching and Research Assistant at Ryerson University. For more information you can find her at the Steel Bananas blog.

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TTQ- When did you create your webzine Steel Bananas, and did you have an initial mission statement in mind for the zine? Who would you describe as your audience? Do you think Steel Bananas has exceeded your expectations, or is the zine still a work in progress?

KCDS- I started Steel Bananas in 2008 with only a few writers and a laborious code-by-hand design. Our initial mandate was to publish critical discussions of Canadian art and culture from the perspectives of young Canadian artists, as well as to bring awareness of Canadian art in the GTA to readers. At first, our audience was concentrated in the 18–25 university-student range, but within the last two years it has become far more diverse, with readers of all ages sending us comments and feedback. The zine has grown much faster than I anticipated, with an average of 25,000 monthly readers, a Literary Reading Series, a Salon Series, a book with Tightrope Books and a G20 supplement in print, along with art happenings, a plethora of live music events at Sneaky Dee's and the Rivoli and expansion into other cities like Edmonton and New York. It's definitely still a work in progress, since it has become a sort of amorphous art collective, but I'm really proud of all of the hard work done by the SB staff and affiliated artists, who have taken SB from a tiny webzine to a slightly less tiny webzine.

TTQ- How would you best describe the poetry community in Toronto? What changes if any would you prescribe?

KCDS- I don't really know where to begin. There is so much diverse work coming out of Toronto, and a single descriptor might be a bit reductive. With the miscellany of cultures, political perspectives and personal histories, Toronto offers a wide range of ideas that make their way into poetry. As for changes, what I would suggest is not so much a change per se, but an expansion in certain areas such as interdisciplinary and political action.

In terms of interdisciplinary action, I think there's much to gain in poetry through engagement with different disciplines. If poetry is supposed to approach and engage with truth, it must exceed its own bounds and reach out to other forms. I saw Ken Babstock performing a spontaneous literary/auditory jam with the band Zeus at Jason Collett's Basement Revue at the Dakota Tavern in 2008, and it was exploratory, interesting and fun. Since then, the performance poetry of N. Alexander Armstrong using objects like alarm clock radios or loop pedals to create mind-bending sonic text arrangements, or the work being done by Liz Hazard and Shannon Maguire with their AvantGarden text and sound performance series have both contributed to the movement toward the interdisciplinary in poetry. I just think there should be more.

With regard to political action, widespread political apathy in all age groups is a problem that is creeping into poetry. I find that Canadian poets approach politics in more abstract and alienated terms while trying to avoid being offensive or holier-than-thou. I understand the sentiment, since I've heard a lot of bad angst-driven political poetry, but it can be done right, and must be done right if poetry is to live as an art form that engages with the public. I saw Jeff Derksen reading at the 2010 Scream Literary Festival Mainstage at High Park, and his poetry responding to the mass arrests during the G20 Summit in Toronto brought me to tears. Toronto needs more political inspiration to counteract the apathy that elects mayors like Rob Ford. Poetry should play a part in this, and Toronto poets should take up the challenge.

TTQ- Do you have a favourite poetry book that you discovered in 2010, and could you give us a mini review of that book?

KCDS- - I've been devouring so much poetry this year, but if I had to choose a favourite, it would probably be Jen Currin's The Inquisition Yours (Coach House Books, 2010). Writing in surrealist lyric, her poems are bright with political awareness that successfully stirs, frightens and redeems while offering spare language which is open to the reader. It's the kind of poetry that gets under your skin and stirs your notions of propriety and decency, calling for action within a world of war and environmental destruction. The best part of Currin's poetry is its ability to simultaneously offer an image of dark disjunction, while forming a bond with reader who is complicit — along with the author — in this destruction. There's hope and brightness within the lament, which calls for a reassertion of personal agency in the modern world. It oscillates between images and never hits you in the same spot, which makes for an eye-opening experience that both tugs at your heartstrings and kicks you up onto your feet.

TTQ- In the past, you have been an associate editor for Existere and will be a guest editor for the forthcoming issue of The Incongruous Quarterly. How has running your own zine and being a contributing editor for other publications helped you in the writing your own poetry, and in your opinion, what constitutes a poem worthy of publication?

KCDS- - It's quite a juggle, but it has been such a great experience working as an editor with different publications, if only to learn about the editorial practices and working habits of others, and to learn more about their taste. Working with Edward Fenner at Existere and Emma Healey at The Incongruous Quarterly has been simply amazing because they are both amazing, hardworking writers with great vision.

Vision, I think, is what makes poetry worth publishing. Though I'm admittedly a fan of graphic/conceptual/interdisciplinary poetry, not all of the poems I've published have fit my personal aesthetic taste. It all comes down to vision and sincerity, to open up a reader to an image or idea which is consuming and connective. The best poetry is dynamic and alive, with insight worth sharing shared in a worthwhile way. Form is really just the vehicle.

TTQ- What was it like working on the GULCH: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose (Tightrope Books) project? Was the layout of the book with its upside down and sideways pages and unusual fonts a “one-off,” or do you think that's the direction publishing is headed in? Will there be a GULCH 2 in the future?

KCDS- Working on GULCH was an amazing experience, though admittedly laborious, considering we packed submission collecting, editing and production into a period of four months. Thanks to my co-editors Sarah Beaudin and Curran Folkers, we were able to get the book out on time. The layout responds to the ideology of the anthology, which focused on Deleuze & Guattari's concept of the rhizome network of humanity, which privileges a scattered network interlinked through channels and lines of flight, as opposed to traditional arboreal we-all-start-from-the-same-place thought. We wanted each page to be aesthetically unique in order to express our belief that the anthology itself is a rhizome formed by individual nodes from the Canadian literary community, as opposed to a singular entity which could exist in any uniform way.

I definitely don't think the design of GULCH represents a movement in publishing, since that would completely nullify the intent of its design. Plus, imagine reading Chaucer or something in a layout like that! We're really happy with the way that GULCH turned out, but the rhizome of GULCH has evolved in different ways with regard to future SB projects, so there won't be a GULCH 2. However, we have started a chapbook press which will be producing works from different writers featured in GULCH, along with collections of artworks by the Steel Bananas and Trans Canadada Motorway Services art collectives.

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This interview was first published in The Toronto Quarterly blog.

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