Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

TTQ's Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: Myna Wallin

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TTQ's Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: Myna Wallin

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.

Myna Wallin is an author and editor living in Toronto. She has her Master's degree in English Literature from the University of Toronto. Her first poetry collection, A Thousand Profane Pieces, was published in 2006 by Tightrope Books. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Contemporary Verse 2, Existere, Eye Weekly, Kiss Machine, the Literary Review of Canada, Matrix, Misunderstandings Magazine, Nod, Taddle Creek, and Rampike. She received an Honourary Mention in the 2010 Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem. Her first novel Confessions of a Reluctant Cougar was launched in June 2010 by Tightrope Books. For more information, visit her website at here.

TTQ- Your first novel Confessions of a Reluctant Cougar was recently published through Tightrope Books. What was your primary premise for writing the book and would you consider it an accurate depiction of the dating scene for middle-aged women today? Should we expect another book of poetry from you anytime soon?

MW- I didn’t start with a primary premise at all. I had a collection of short stories about dating/relationships featuring different male characters—a veritable revolving door of men—which all centered on a single female. It was my publisher and editor, Halli Villegas, who showed me that what I really had was connecting stories that could be channeled into a novel. It’s not meant to be an accurate depiction of the dating scene. I deliberately set it up, emphasizing some of the more outrageous, sad and funny things that happen to my protagonist. And yet, I have heard quite a few women—of varying ages—who said that I got it exactly right, that they identified totally. I have also heard from men who have enjoyed this book, too!

Oh yes, I certainly expect I will put together another collection of poetry. Soon, I promise! It’s hard when you love to do so many things: I enjoy writing prose, poetry, and also editing. One project gets centre stage while another waits in the wings.

TTQ- What are your opinions on the current state of poetry in the city of Toronto? Would you describe the poetry community to be more apathetic or pro-active when it comes to writing about social issues within the city?

MW- If anything, poetry on the whole has become even more popular, with more and more reading series cropping up, more online sites, and blogs devoted to poetry, writing groups, classes, and more presses, too. There’s a diversification when it comes to styles, and some might say a fragmentation between those differing styles.

Before I answer the second question, Darryl, I have to say that I consider the word “community” a misnomer. Getting back to that idea of fragmentation, there are several communities under the umbrella term of poets, and they don’t always share the same aesthetic or poetic sensibilities: the lyric or narrative poets, the spoken word poets, and the language or sound poets.

When it comes to social issues, it really depends. If someone usually writes about nature, then their work might veer into ecological issues. Since I write about relationships, my interests collide with sexual politics. It really depends on a person’s orientation and their individual fascination. I attended a wonderful lecture given by A. F. Moritz once; he claimed that the personal and the political were almost always intersecting or resonating in some fashion, and that one cannot function without first acknowledging the other.

TTQ- How important is it for you to read your poetry in front of a live audience? Is it integral to your writing process, and tell us about some of your favourite venues to read at?

MW- Reading in front of an audience has been a decisive part of my learning curve as a writer, for both poetry and prose. You discover a great deal about your writing in an immediate fashion, what works and what doesn’t. I find it invaluable. I’ve rarely met a venue to read at that I don’t like: Plasticine Poetry at the Central is a lot of fun; the Art Bar at its various locations over the years; livewords and also Hot-Sauced Words, both at the Black Swan; Strong Words, now at the Free Times; the Rowers Pub Reading Series is a favourite; and I had a blast at my recent reading at the Box Summer Salon that Louise Bak runs at the Rivoli. And so many others that have come and gone, too!

TTQ- You have also been a host of CKLN's radio show In Other Words since 2004. What's that experience been like and tell us about some of the more interesting guests you have had the opportunity of interviewing?

MW- I love hosting radio; it’s totally addictive and like nothing else I’ve done before. Meeting other writers whom I admire and getting to ask them anything I felt curious about has been a tremendous privilege. In fact, I have gone on to become good friends with some of them, like Dennis E. Bolen from Vancouver, who I met for the first time when I interviewed him about his novel, Toy Gun. My last show with Alexandra Leggat was a pleasure—it’s nearly impossible to pick favourites. I had the opportunity to chat with Jacob Scheier, Catherine Graham, David McGimpsey, Molly Peacock, Rhea Tregebov, to name but a few. I’ve interviewed probably seventy poets, novelists, short-story writers, and the occasional screenwriter, playwright, or lyric writer. I would have continued but felt it was time to give someone else a chance and thought it was time to move on. One thing I did learn was that no two writers have the same approach or philosophy of writing; no two writers have the same writing schedule; and no two writers have had the same trajectory in their writing lives.

TTQ- What are your thoughts on the recent G20 Summit protests that where held in Toronto this past June? Do you feel that the riot police got out of hand concerning how they dealt with protesters and bystanders in the downtown streets? Should the poets of Toronto be banging the drums of freedom and human rights a little louder concerning what went down at the G20?

MW- The riot police are flat out crazy. The Conservatives spent over a billion dollars and yet it appears no one briefed the police on how to handle a demonstration. They sat back and did nothing when the so-called anarchists damaged property. The next day they went power-crazy, arresting people blowing bubbles and peacefully protesting. It’s sickening. I think poets are doing what we can—disseminating information by sharing videos online, signing protests, writing letters, and also participating in follow-up marches against the human rights violations.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives are in bed with the police and vice-versa. I smell a conspiracy: Someone gave the order to let police cars burn, let glass windows get smashed, and then that was what was plastered all over the media. So the government fired back, “See, we had to spend over a billion dollars, there was a real threat to public safety!”

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This interview was first published in The Toronto Quarterly blog.

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