Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Jenny Sampirisi

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Jenny Sampirisi

Croak (Coach House) is Jenny Sampirisi's first poetry collection. Also a novelist, Sampirisi brings her talents to both sides of the editorial desk, working as the Managing Editor of BookThug and co-director of the Toronto New School of Writing.

Jenny Sampirisi talks to Open Book about frogs, girls and the pros and cons of genre categories.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Croak.

Jenny Sampirisi:

Croak is really, at its core, a book about relationships and the ways people compromise themselves and each other in love. The frogs and the girls of the collection are in constant flux. They’re changing: growing new limbs, losing others, slowly fusing together to become the Frogirls. It’s playing with a lot of the history of Frogs in cartoons, literature and in the real world.

OB:

Croak seems at times to bend genre divisions. What are you views on genre? Is it important to definitively categorize a book as poetry or prose?

JS:

I’d hate to say it’s not important. Categories are useful; we wouldn’t have them otherwise. But because we do have these standardized categories, it means we can also work against them. I like books that muck up the supposedly clear waters of genre. “Genre” in many ways equates to a set of expectations that a book will fulfill. That bores me a bit. I’d rather have my expectations challenged now and then.

OB:

You play with form throughout the collection in a lot of interesting ways. What are some of the more unexpected places from which you've drawn inspiration for form or content in this collection?

JS:

The shifting form in the text came from reading a lot of poetry, plays and my interest in visual poetry. The erasure poems came from my love of Tom Phillips’ A Humument project and Rachel Zolf’s Masque. The structure and many of the pieces came from Beckett’s work, especially How It Is and Words & Music. I read a lot of science books, and websites dedicated to frog deformity as well. All the research I did indicated to me that since these creatures were deforming, the form of the poems had to be in flux as well.

OB:

What recurring themes or obsessions do you notice turning up in your writing?

JS:

I can’t get away from bodies. The internal minds of my characters always seem to play out through physical distress. In is/was the characters were all struggling internally both in body and mind. We all spend so much time inside our heads, I think we sometimes forget we even have a body unless something is “wrong” with it. The subjects of my books are always in a state of physical transformation. It’s an abject obsession.

OB:

How does your work with BookThug and the Toronto New School of Writing inform your own creative process?

JS:

Oh, they definitely keep my brain working. I love talking to other writers and learning from them. I take many of the classes at TNSoW myself and I always walk away in awe. BookThug is my home. I really love so many of the books we put out and the authors who create them. Being present in the writing community is fundamental to my writing practice.

OB:

Who are some people who have deeply influenced (fellow writers or not) your writing life?

JS:

Margaret Christakos met me at a time in my life when I was ready to start thinking in new ways about writing. She mentored me for a year while I was at the University of Windsor and I honestly believe I wouldn’t have had the career that I do if I’d not met her and Rachel Zolf, and Kate Eichhorn at that time. Jay MillAr has also had a deep impact on my writing life. We work well together and have similar goals; it’s rare to meet someone you can sync up with creatively and professionally.

OB:

Is there a book you’ve read recently that you wished you had written?

JS:

I’ve been teaching Dionne Brand’s Land to Light On for several years now, and EVERY time I read it, I’m flabbergasted by the quality, the subtlety, the maturity and the atmosphere of that work. It never fails to make me want to try harder as a writer.

OB:

What are you working on now?

JS:

Right now, I’m touring, teaching, organizing events, and helping to maintain TNSoW and BookThug. Writing is taking a back seat at this particular moment in time, but I have a hankering to write prose again. After is/was I thought I may never return to it, but the craving is getting stronger.


Jenny Sampirisi is the author of the novel is/was from Insomniac Press. She is the Managing Editor of BookThug where she also edits the Department of Narrative Studies imprint, which focuses on innovative prose. She is co-director of the Toronto New School of Writing, a series of reading and writing workshops designed and facilitated by working writers. She teaches English Literature and Composition at Ryerson University. Croak is her first poetry collection.

For more information about Croak please visit the Coach House website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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