Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Brian Brett on becoming part of the great wave wash of life

The CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize juror answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Brian Brett is a Canadian poet and memoirist. (

Brian Brett won the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction for his bestseller Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life. He won the CBC Poetry Prize in 2011, and is one of three writers judging the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize this year and is the recipient of the 2016 Matt Cohen Award, in celebration of a writing life.

Below, Brian Brett answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Rudy Wiebe asks, "What do you understand by the word 'spirituality'?" 

Entropy, the force, the underglimmer, Bergson's élan vital, Chi. The Ether. The Quintessence. Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich's wacky "orgone." Schopenhauer's "will to live." The akasha of Hinduism. Maybe "the universal sea of energy" that was a by-product of the discovery of the long-fabled Higgs boson particle. Tribal cultures also have a tendency to recognize the underglimmer, the delirium tremendium, as it's been called, of the planet. Ralph Waldo Emerson thought of it as the "undersong," what he defined as "the emotional undercurrent which carries us along through the life of the inner world." "May the Force be with you," as Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, if you want to be amusing about all this. But it's the place we visit when we meditate — being in the zone when we shoot the puck or write the poem, becoming part of the great wave wash of life.

2. Anthony Bidulka asks, "What has been your best experience with a reader of your work?" 

Gentlemen don't tell.

3. Tomson Highway asks, "If you were a musician, which instrument would you play? That is to say, which instrument would you choose to tell your story with?" 

My voice, the tongue, the lips, the lungs pushing living air through space.

4. Robert Currie asks, "What first started you writing?" 

An English teacher from Bella Bella in Grade 11 who introduced me to Jean-Arthur Rimbaud.

5. Lynn Crosbie asks, "Have you ever confronted, in your writing, the most shameful thing you have ever done? Should you?"     

Yes, I have, a number of times. You must in some way when the story or poem demands it. Honest writing demands honesty.

6. Camilla Gibb asks, "What's the best advice you've been given in your writing life?" 

Write, and then write some more, and then write it again.

7. Rachel Cusk asks, "Name some of the rituals or habits you indulge in while writing." 

I have too many rituals. My office is full of fetish objects. They're distracting but necessary for the spirit.

8. Raziel Reid asks, "If it were revealed that the inspiration to write was bestowed upon mere mortals by the angel Lucifer, would you forsake him?" 

I'd inhale him, along with the angels and Shiva. As I writer I believe you must have a sense of the all, even if you're not falling for it.