Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

TTQ's Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: Jacob Mooney

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TTQ's Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: Jacob Mooney

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.

Jacob McArthur Mooney resides in the Parkdale district of Toronto. His poetry, creative and critical writings have been published in various literary journals and newspapers including The Walrus, CV2, Prairie Fire, and The Globe and Mail.

His debut book of poetry, The New Layman's Almanac (McClelland & Stewart, 2008), has been best described as a collection of poems that surprises us with protean language and satisfies us with wry, earthy sense. His follow-up collection is still untitled and due out in 2011 through McClelland & Stewart. He has served as the Writer-In-Residence for Open Book Toronto and is the poetry columnist for The Torontoist's Book Page.

He also hosts a poetry blog at:

TTQ- Why should citizens of the world who are more likely addicted to reality television and more concerned about twittering details of their daily routines instead take poets of today seriously and read their books?

JMM- I'm not sure if the two sets of pursuits are mutually exclusive. Twittering, though not something I'm really into, is basically formal poetry--it's concerned with the constraining of language into some sort of expressive essence. And "daily life" has been a key vein of poetic inspiration for as long as there's been the anecdotal lyric. I can't speak to reality television, really.

People are welcome to care about poetry, or not. It's always going to be there. It can be marginalized, surely, but it can't be killed. And there's nothing wrong with it being a minority entertainment. If there was ever a new poem with popularity equal in magnitude and pattern to, say, the popularity of "Jersey Shore", I can be pretty certain that that poem wouldn't be very good. The best ones hang on like cockroaches, clicking away at the periphery of the culture, for as long as the culture itself survives. The rest get flushed down the toilet. This is fine by me. I'm at peace with this.

TTQ- What writing projects are you currently working on and should we expect a follow-up to your first poetry collection, The New Layman's Almanac, any time soon?

JMM- You should. March, 2011, to be exact. The title is still being worked out, but the themes will be civil aviation, identity, and community. Its inciting event will be the 1998 crash of SwissAir Flight 111 off the coast of Southeastern Nova Scotia. I grew up just outside of Peggy's Cove, and was around at the time, so it's somewhat of a personal subject, though the pronoun used within is more often "we" than "I".

I'm compelled to say that it's not shaping up as a book of grief, it's more about how towns react to an influencing event that significant, the semiotic or psycho-cultural reorganization of what a small place "means" before and after being reframed by the sudden impact of such a massive thing as the death of 200 plus people. It's what Europeans generally refer to as "The Lockerbie Effect", that act of a place becoming an analogue for an event that happened there.

The book starts with this idea, but moves on to look at "place" from a few different angles. The speaker (essentially myself) moves around a bit, and the whole second half takes place in the immigrant communities around Toronto's Pearson Airport (Malton, South Brampton, Rexdale), where I lived for a few years. The book ends on questions of rootedness as a form of imperialism, the idea that everything from ancestry to history to home towns, to even names, are all things that own us.

TTQ- What are your thoughts on the current state of literary journals in Canada? Do you feel the recent funding cuts to literary journals will ultimately affect the number of accomplished poets/writers coming out of this country or is that already an ongoing concern?

JMM- It doesn't interest me much. I'm concerned for the welfare of a handful of journals that I care about as a reader, but as a writer I'm not convinced that the stated role of journals in the ecosystem of Canadian literature is really accurate. I'd never want to dissuade anybody with so noble an intention as publishing poetry, but do we really need to be publishing this much of it? Do we need 20 university-hosted poetry markets? If the 20 were all unique, with a clearly relatable local aesthetic that positioned them within some niche in the national landscape, I'd argue that we do. But do we need 20 markets with no discernible differences between them? Isn't this the opposite of what we should be considering "aesthetic diversity"? There are exceptions to this rule, surely, but people who say that each journal is unique are just tasting the labels. I'd suggest a blind taste test. I defy anyone to remove the covers of a random Malahat, a random Antigonish, and a random Prairie Fire, and identify which is which based on content alone.

TTQ- Who are some of your favourite poets in Toronto you enjoy seeing read live and do you have a particular poetry venue you like to visit regularly and why?

JMM- Such a hard question. I'll say that, generally speaking, I'm excited to be a part of this particular generation of Canadian poets. I think that the group that's, say, 35 and under right now, is incredibly rich. Some recent Toronto books I've really fallen for include The Reinvention of the Human Hand, by Paul Vermeersch; Bloom, by Michael Lista; Sweet, by Dani Couture; Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, by Jeff Latosik; and Reticent Bodies by Moez Surani. I'd argue that the "reading series of record" in Toronto is Pivot at the Press Club, but my heart still goes for The Free Speech Series at Tinto on Roncesvalles. It's always a wonderful little crowd, and they pair poets up with their natural cousins (stand-up comics). I can't really do ArtBar anymore. If I wanted to get yelled at by some self-righteous sock puppet, I would just go to work.

TTQ- Please recommend to our readers 3 books of poetry that you found to be great reads and please tell us a little about each book.

JMM- Well, avoiding the ones I mentioned above:

1. Canadian Poetry 1920-1960 ed. Brian Trehearne

I think, like a lot of people, I was holding off on this anthology series until they got a little closer to the "golden generation" of Canadian poets, so to speak. But we forget that a lot of those people (Page, Layton, Cohen...) were active before that. This big, beautiful, hardcover deals with them, and also the whole interwar period and the 40s. I've found a lot of great poets here, and been introduced to more.

2. The Nights Also by Anna Swanson

Anna is one of my earliest poetry friends (we took a class together when I was just starting out a few years back, at Memorial University). Her work is vivid and constantly strong. Fans of everyone from Anne Simpson to Elizabeth Bachinsky to Patrick Lane will likely find something to take home.

3. Sea Legend, by Mark Callanan

I have two caveats for this one. 1. It's a chapbook and 2. I actually haven't read it yet. However, Callanan's first collection, Scarecrow, is maybe 7 years old now and I think is one of the great lost books in Canadian poetry. I'll get my hands on this as soon as possible, and will be lined up to buy his next full-length (coming out in 2011, I hear, from Signal) as soon as it becomes available.

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This interview was first published in The Toronto Quarterly blog.

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