Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why poet Julia McCarthy would leave books open when she wasn't reading them

The author of the collection All the Names Between answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
Julia McCarthy is the author of the poetry collection All the Names Between. (Mary Anne McCarthy)

Julia McCarthy's latest poetry collection, All the Names Between, explores the space between the internal and external worlds. It is a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry. McCarthy's previous work, Return from Erebus, won the Canadian Authors Award for poetry in 2011.

Below, McCarthy takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow authors. 

1. Marina Endicott asks, "What is the line of prose or poetry that comes to you in the dark night of your soul?" 

Merwin's translation of Neruda's:

What are verses for if not for that night

in which a bitter dagger finds us out, for that day,

for that dusk, for that broken corner

where the beaten heart of man makes ready to die?

And his translation of Giacomo Leopardi's: 

…I remember eternity

and the ages dead, and the present,

alive, and the sound of it. So in this

immensity my thinking drowns,

And sinking is sweet to me in this sea.

2. Eric Walters asks, "You get a call from another writer telling you how much they appreciate your work — which writer would be the biggest thrill to receive that call from and why?"   

Emily Dickinson, but that would be one very long distance call. And she'd probably prefer Morse code to the phone. 

3. Donald Winkler asks, "In his autobiography, Maxim Gorky describes sitting in a tree as a boy, reading a book and being so bewitched by the world before him, that he peered behind the page to see if that world was lurking there. Do you have a comparable memory from your childhood of being wonderstruck by reading?"  

Like most children, I believed in the reality of whatever I was reading and also in the physicality of the book. I used to leave books open when I wasn't reading them, so that that world could continue whether or not I was there. Somehow closing a book felt like folding the wings of a bird or closing a door. I left the doors open, let the birds fly.

4. Scaachi Koul asks, "What question do you hate being asked about your career or writing? Why?"   

"What's your book about?" because of its presuppositions, or "What inspires you?" for the same reason.

5. Durga Chew-Bose asks, "If you could have any view just outside the room where you write, what would it be?" 

The one I have: sky, field, forest.

6. Hoa Nguyen asks, "What passages or pieces of literature have you committed to memory?" 

See first question. Also, because I was raised Catholic, I had absorbed parts of the Old and New Testaments including but not limited to the beatitudes and commandments; later it was Tennyson, some of Milton's Paradise Lost, parts of The Waste Land, The Hollow Men and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock​ by T.S. Eliot, some Dylan Thomas, some of Gwendolyn MacEwen's poems. But these days, I have trouble remembering my own name.

7. Peter Robinson asks, "Can writing be taught?"  

Haven't a clue.

8. Melanie Mah asks, "What's the hardest thing about writing/being a writer?" 

Writing/talking about it.


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