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National Poetry Month

Poetry Month Q&A: Fred Wah

Canada's current Poet Laureate on the importance of "finding a poetry that talks back to history."  

What does your position entail as Poet Laureate?
Here's how it's officially defined:
Roles and responsibilities: The Parliamentary Poet Laureate may
(a) write poetry, especially for use in Parliament on occasions of state;
(b) sponsor poetry readings;
(c) give advice to the Parliamentary Librarian regarding the collection of the Library and acquisitions to enrich its cultural holdings; and
(d) perform such other related duties as are requested by either Speaker or the Parliamentary Librarian.

What is it about poetry that compels you as a writer?
The kinds of arrangements one can make with language that are open and unpredictable. Literally the materiality of syllables and general morphology of the layers of language on the move. That is, the music.
 
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Words. One word at a time. Tone leading of vowels, rhythm, paradigmatic thought structures revealed in the layers (folds) of language.

Who are some of your favourite Canadian poets working today, and why?
J.R. Carpenter: astute digital narrativity.
Erin Moure: her texts’ performance of linguistic knowledgeability. 
Roy Miki: the poem’s discursive ability. 
Jeff Derksen: poetry that replaces exposition with justaposition.
Gail Scott: the poetic novel par excellence.
And then Louis Cabri, Lisa Robertson, Steve Collis, Aisha Sasha John, Daphne Marlatt, Meredith Quartermain, Colin Browne, Larissa Lai, Stephen Ross Smith, and more than I can keep up with.

What are you reading right now?
Poets Beyond the Barricade by Dale Smith
The Unmemntionable by Erin Moure
Attack of the Difficult Poems by Charles Bernstein
Johanna Drucker on the “End of Conceptual Writing” (Poetry Project Newsletter)
Rampike Vol.21/No.1, Poetics: Part One issue
well then there now by Juliana Spahr
Vox by Steve Tomasulla

What are the biggest challenges that poets in Canada face today?
I can only speak for myself—my own current challenges in poetry have to do with, as Robert Kroetsch has said, how to remember the future; that is, finding a poetry that talks back at history, exploring the personal, public, and social dementias that challenge the imagination (even, for some, the “nation”).

As Poet Laureate, how do you plan to encourage and promote the importance of poetry in Canadian society?
Initially I’ve thought to focus on the educational sector—the pedagogy of teaching reading and writing poetry. But I’m hesitant about this, considering the dangers of sustaining a dominant view that measures poetry as passive and safe when it is “accessible” and “entertaining.” I’d like to find some ways to promote poetry that challenges prior aesthetic necessities. 

As Poet Laureate, I welcome any suggestions on this topic.

Given the changes we are currently seeing in technology and the publishing industry, do you think any of it will have an affect how people consume, or interact with, poetry?
I hope so. Perhaps we should welcome the opportunity for some shifts in poetic consciousness.

What advice would you give to aspiring poets? 
Play.

Fred Wah is Canada's current Parliamentary Poet Laureate. Has been involved in writing, editing, and teaching since the 1960s. Notable books are Diamond Grill, a biofiction and Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity, a collection of essays. Recent collections of poetry are Sentenced to Light and is a door and a book of selected poetry edited by Louis Cabri, The False Laws of Narrative



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