How a classic 1970s pop ballad by the Bee Gees inspired Billeh Nickerson's latest poetry collection
Billeh Nickerson is a writer from Halifax who now lives in Vancouver. His other poetry collections include The Asthmatic Glassblower, McPoems, Impact: The Titanic Poems and Artificial Cherry. He teaches creative writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
While on a flight to Cairo, Nickerson listened to The Bee Gees' 70s pop hit How Deep is Your Love 20 times in a row. It inspired him to write a poem about the depth of his own love, a poem that became part of his new collection of poetry called Duct-Taped Roses. The book is full of gentle humour and heartbreak, as it examines the resiliency of love and family. Each poem offers a surprise, a story or both.
Nickerson spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Duct-Taped Roses.
Bee Gees on the brain
"I have one of those minds where I make weird calculations or realizations. I was so desperately jetlagged on my trip to Cairo — the monitor on the back of the seat in front of me had that little map that displayed the estimated time of arrival. And then, to the right of that map, there was the option to listen to the 'Best of the Bee Gees.'
I have one of those minds where I make weird calculations or realizations.
"Because there weren't a lot of English music options available, my mind just made that connection to play a Bee Gees song repeated times. I was like, 'Oh, I'm 20 plays of hearing How Deep Is Your Love until we land. So I did it. My life is quite often like little dares. So I dared myself and it just seemed so wrong, and yet so right."
What's in a name
"The book has a strange title, but it works for me in many ways. My father was a bush pilot. He used to tell these stories about the need to duct tape parts onto the plane so they would stay on the plane, which always horrified me.
I like Duct-Taped Roses because you shouldn't really duct tape a rose, right? But we still try.- Source
But it also talked a lot about his resilience and the mentality of bush pilots that I'm not sure that I have. I like Duct-Taped Roses because you shouldn't really duct tape a rose, right? But we still try. And it felt like a metaphor for just all of us — we're a little bit damaged sometimes, but we keep on truckin', as it were."
The value of laughter
"Talking about humour does come naturally to me. That's one of the things that I gravitate toward. I like the good, the bad, the ugly and snuggly — and that speaks to my world.
"So, there's a little bit of bittersweet in there, but it's like if you're having a recipe and it needs a bit of humour, it needs a little bit of sweetness or it just feels a little bit off. So it's a more robust kind of experience or flavour."
Speaking about the void
"I've talked to a lot of gay men about this: one of the reasons that we don't collectively talk about loss in the community is because I don't think we realized there was a loss. There was an entire generation of folks who would have been mentors, would have been my mentors, who weren't there.
There was an entire generation of folks who would have been mentors, would have been my mentors, who weren't there.
"So that void exists. But there was a delay in realizing that there was a void there."
Billeh Nickerson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.