The Hermit Poet

May 8, 2009

Interview Excerpt #2: On Audience and Intent

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PR:  In terms of audience, we’ve heard of writers who write in order to:  heal the conflict in Northern Ireland; hang out with Henry Miller and Herman Melville in heaven (or hell); not embarrass their family; embarrass their family; get revenge; be therapeutic; meet deadlines; amuse themselves; pay mortgage.  In writing the poems in The Lost Country of Sight and in putting the collection together, what various audiences or goals did you have in mind?

Me: When I started writing the poems which make up The Lost Country of Sight, I was initially obsessed with the idea that somehow I was constructing in them a place to call “home” after so many years of moving around from country to country and house to house.  However “home” is an elusive thing.  As Liu Hongbin, a Chinese poet I reference in one of my epigraphs, notes in one of his interviews, “Writing poetry is the beginning of exile” and to some degree, I think he’s quite right.  The act of writing indeed exiles the poem from the realm of internal thought and emotion into a new world of text.  Exile and home naturally remain important parts of the project, but now seemed inseparately linked to the problem of memory and its fallibility.

After I graduated from UC Riverside with my MFA, I found myself back in Canada, suddenly immersed in a wide range of difficulties and personal challenges which come when you return to a country and community that you have not lived in for many years.  Feeling somewhat displaced and in fact, much more of an exile in my own land than I had ever expected, I found my book returning to the exile themes again, but this time merging with the growing realization that my father was dying and that our time together would be very short.  I wanted desperately to finish the book for him while he was still alive, and yet even as I was writing and revising, I was gradually sensing the book would not be done in time, and further that there would be poems that could not be written until I had dealt with his impending death.  Even with this realization, I continued to write and used writing and blogging as my means of articulating those things which weighed heaviest on me.  During those last few weeks, long after my father had lost the ability to speak and could only use his eyelids to communicate, I continued to bring parts of the manuscript to the hospital and later to the hospice, and to read to him.  I wanted him to be a part of the making of the book, as he had for many years been my first reader.  I felt it imperative to keep writing, to keep working, and to keep sharing what had been one of the strongest ties between us.  After my father’s death, I realized the book had evolved into something of an elegy for the physical world that is always slipping away from  us, an elegy in part for him, and in part, for the many other friends and family who’d passed away during the course of the last few years.

One Response to “Interview Excerpt #2: On Audience and Intent”

  1. Vary the Line » Blog Archive » “I wouldn’t have been sure of my answer” Says:

    [...] this year, Neil Aitken (whose Boxcar Poetry Review has published work by Mary, Jeannine, and me) quotes an interview in which he discusses his preoccupation with themes of exile merging with the growing realization [...]

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