It’s a scary time. But it is exponentially more difficult to deal with disenfranchisement every day so it’s the least I can do, to listen. To remember that people are kind. People have kind hearts. People are angry and it’s easy to forget that.
The book started in New Mexico while I was travelling in late 2015. I was spending a couple days in Taos, New Mexico but while I was there I got in a motorcycle accident and was stranded for 2 weeks. It was a mixed blessing, though, because I ended up staying at this hostel / commune run by a healer named Mouna, we’d take classes from her every morning and I’d write down these amazing, sensual phrases she would say so casually. That was how the first poem from this book was written, it’s kind of a found poem. I took all these phrases of Mouna’s and rearranged them into a long, coherent piece with a sort of narrative or at least a flow and a sense of self.
Later I started writing more work in the same manner. I’d think of a person and write pages of 2-line poems with that person in mind, all free form and without filters. I also went through all of our text conversations, facebook messages, words we spoke to each other, and I’d include them, both theirs and mine, so that our two voices merged into one. Then I’d take all these patchwork poems and rearrange them into long, semi-narrative poems. So there are six poems in total, each exploring a different kind of love from maternal, deep romantic, superficial romantic, same sex platonic, opposite sex platonic and kinship.
I think my process involves learning to live a life. I was a quiet kid who spent a lot of time in front of the TV and coasting through school because school was easy. But I didn’t do things. When I moved away I wanted to be an adventurer, I wanted to challenge myself, do things that make me uncomfortable. That includes being open, being honest, allowing people in and all of those things played into how this book was written.
When I first started finding my voice I was emulating romantic writers, people like Anaïs Nin or Leonard Cohen, because I’ve, as long as I can remember, always felt a longing for love, contact, companionship. I still remember what it felt like holding the hand of a girl I liked for the first time when I was four years old: her hand was cold and sweaty and limp. It was a seminal and confusing moment. But I found an understanding in that kind of writing, the romantic, sensual, longing type, it was like a form of reassurance. Like, it’s okay to have a crush on everybody, it’s okay to be alone, it’s okay to love someone who doesn’t love you, it’s okay to share a deep love, to pine for someone, all of it is fine, all those different shades. If I could make sense of my focus on body it likely stems from that tradition. Love letters.
I struggle with that kind of writing at times now, though, because it becomes easily clichéd and men writing about women’s bodies can be problematic. Still, writing about the body, even writing about writing about the body, questioning yourself and your influences, challenging the tropes, it’s all part of my writing yes. I don’t know if I could place a level of importance because I’m always changing as an artist. But even in the photographs I take I tend to veer toward portraiture so I don’t know.
I photographed about 300 people last year at an event in Toronto called Long Winter. I did close ups of faces, I’d be staring down the lens studying someones face, waiting for the right moment to capture them and I had to stop a few times because of the overwhelming feeling I had doing this. I don’t know how to explain it, it was such a privilege to stare into someone’s face and for them to look back with trust, both of us complete strangers. I loved it.
As far as nature goes, I don’t know. A friend turned me onto the idea that there is no city/nature divide, that we forget that the city is nature, it’s the environment, there is no hierarchy. I live in Toronto, I love cities. I also love the desert, the ocean. I need a travel companion for the woods, though. I get lost.
A lot of what I wrote was intuitive. I didn’t think too much about it as it was written, it’s really only now that I’m considering questions like this. I think they were titled in such a way because I see them all as love poems and love is dependent on place and time. Something can happen any moment that changes the form of your love. Like maybe you spend a nice day with someone you love and you later bring it up with fondness and they say they’ve never loved you. Now the love you feel is different, you see that day as maybe a burden to that person and the colours change. But the day that you felt it, the place where you felt it, how you felt it until that moment, those are immutable things. They’ve happened and can’t be changed. So each exploration was dependent on spatial memories, how New York brings back memories of one person, how Salt Spring Island brings back memories of another, where those memories lead.
The people I chose were chosen because they’re people I trust and love very much and I knew I could pull a lot from my relationship to them, with them, their relationship to me. And they consented to me using their full names in each title, which was important to me. These are real people and their voices in this book are just as important as mine. The cover might have my name on it because I’m at the centre of all of it directing, moving things around, but they’re all in there too. And I’m forever grateful to those people for all of this.
I don’t think I’ll approach future projects in the same way. There might be another poem or two in this style but I’m very interested in conceptual work. I write every day but when I consider projects they have to have a context to them, there has to be a conceptual aspect, it can’t be my daily writings. Those are for me.
Yes! Marc O’Brien made the cover art. He’s great, I’ve loved his work for years and was so happy to work with him on this. I asked him to do the cover, he requested that he get to read the book first to get a sense of it and that I also send him a few reference pictures. So he read it and I sent him some pre-Raphaelite stuff, I think a Man Ray photo and some 70s sci-fi movie and book covers. Book covers can be so bland, I didn’t want anything subtle. I think he nailed it.
And no! They had published the original version of the Mouna poem on their blog, OMEGA, and then invited me to read at one of their events. I read the first draft of the Sarah Smith poem there and afterward they asked to submit a manuscript. I was lucky because I’d just hit a breakthrough in my writing and was so excited so I spent the next 2 months writing the other 4 poems from the collection and editing the first 2. It was a quick process, I suppose.
I’m also lucky though because I’ve considered the Metatron people friends for a couple years now. I run a literary magazine out of Toronto called The 4 Poets and we have a similar mission statement, a similar mindset but with a different approach. So I consider them a sister publication, I try to help them as much as I can, however I can. They’re nailing it and I’m so happy for them, all ships rise with the high tide, you know?
I don’t. The sociopolitical events I reference, I wanted to acknowledge that these things are happening. They affect us, they’re always in the background in our every day, in our most intimate relationships, even if they’ve happened half way around the world. They were also used to highlight the darker aspects of the relationships I’m exploring. Like in the New York piece I wanted to highlight how romantic it all was but also police are everywhere in New York, they killed Eric Garner. It’s a terrifying place. How do I have a fun, romantic time in a city I always romanticized and love visiting, I love the art and the real depictions of real New Yorkers, but how do I do that when so many are being surveilled and disenfranchised and harassed and murdered? It’s everywhere and we’re here having fun. And the relationship I describe in that poem is so fragile, there’s a dark undertone to it all that plays in the background in a similar way.
I don’t typically write about politics. I process my emotions toward political events mostly by listening to others, by reading things that challenge my beliefs and views. I try to remember that it might be uncomfortable to read these things sometimes, about the terrible things that are happening in the world. It’s a scary time. But it is exponentially more difficult to deal with disenfranchisement every day so it’s the least I can do, to listen. To remember that people are kind. People have kind hearts. People are angry and it’s easy to forget that.
I always gravitate back to PJ Harvey and Nick Cave. I love the new Scott Hardware and DOOMSQUAD albums. I tend to work to Dirty Three. Right now, right this minute, I’m listening to an album called Deep Breakfast by Ray Lynch, it’s this new age album from ’86 that I learned about through a friend who brought it to a cottage and we did some psychedelics and we listened to it over and over and set up a projector with a continuous fireplace video projected onto a mannequin that was covered in mirrors like a disco ball so all the fireplace video reflected onto the walls and ceilings like stars. It was a great, funny experience. I’m at a point in my music listening where I find the memories associated with a song are more important than the song itself. Music often hinges on what’s cool and I’m into that but I think I’m almost over that too because whatever I’m getting older and getting older makes me feel more and more free.
I’ve been reading a lot about politics right now because it’s a scary time and I need to know what’s happening but also it’s fuelling a heavy existential crisis. I have to remember to take care of myself. Self-care is important. A friend wrote on facebook once, “be romantic with yourself” and that’s something that I try to remember. Cook a good meal for yourself, really make a presentation with it. Have a picnic on your roof. Light some candles. Listen to some nice music. Play with a puppy. Turn out the lights and masturbate to a Drake song. I don’t know, whatever you’re into, whatever, just take care of yourself.