Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Donato Mancini on when writing feels like freedom

The author of Same Diff answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
Donato Mancini's Same Diff is on the 2018 shortlist for the Griffin Poetry Prize. (talonbooks)

Donato Mancini's Same Diff is one of three Canadian collections shortlisted for the $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize. In the book, the Vancouver poet chronicles the subtle evolution of language and the ways in which the meaning of words are shaped by political, social and economic forces.

Below, Mancini takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A. The winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize will be announced on June 7, 2018.

1. David Chariandy asks, "Is writing for you an act of freedom? How or how not?"

My writing is often a process of self-critique by way of research — a kind of displaced political/poetic/personal introspection. I try to learn about myself by learning about others. Within this often challenging process, there is a core of desire that will ultimately lead me to a place that feels like freedom. (See also my answer to Question no.2.)

2. James Maskalyk asks, "What does your ideal writing day look like? Location, timing, number of hours?"

My favourite writing days are very long, from waking to sleep — and sometimes through sleep, too. I relish those passages in my life when my work schedule and enthusiasm allow me to lose myself in writing for days at a time. This is when writing has sometimes felt like freedom.

3. Adeena Karasick asks, "If you had the opportunity, what other medium would you expand your poem/novel/play into?"

I think many of the pieces in Same Diff could live successful lives in other media — sound, cinema, theatre, music, visual art. A lot of my work is composed with the possibility of such transmediation in mind.

4. Kevin Chong asks, "How have big life changes (marriage, divorce, kids, family deaths) changed your writing?"

The last few years have been a crazy mix of very challenging and very good things in my life — "big changes" all over the place. My last two books, Loitersack and Same Diff, have come (mostly) out of the hard parts. Sheer emotional exhaustion, burnout and outright heartbreak have changed my writing, for the time being. Right now I need to work on writing that feeds rather than depletes me.

5. Sharon Bala asks, "What is one sentence (from fiction, nonfiction, poetry) that you wish you had written?"

"The structure I hate also hates me, but it makes me, and

that's where the problem starts."

— Jeff Derksen from Interface in Dwell (1993)

6. George Murray asks, "If you had to give yourself a pen name, what would it be?"

Dr. De Rien…

Dr. D…

Dr. Spaghetti…

Today don't all internet users have a (social media) pen name, if not several?

7. Cary Fagan asks, "What is your weakness as a writer and how do you get around it?"

Like any writer, I have a lot of weaknesses. Being a lateral thinker not a linear thinker can make it impractical to write a straight-ahead argument. This must be why I'm partly drawn, most of all, to the poetry of many voices and to the poetry of constant digression — I have to work around, not through problems, as it were, and approach them from many angles at once. And then there are those ideological blind-spots implanted by social position, by whiteness/race and by gender. The multiplicity and digression in my poetry also tracks my imperfect efforts to see around those blind-spots. 360 degree shoulder-checks, at every turn.

8. Silvia Moreno-Garcia asks, "If you could have dinner with a fictional character, who would it be and why?"

It may be odd to say, but the fiction that I like usually animates interesting but really unlikable characters — not people I would want to meet in real life. Given that, if you can go ahead and book me a dinner with Panurge I will accept, for the anecdotal value.