Category Archives: Cornelia Hoogland

Lorna Crozier talks about love, art and the dead

Lorna Crozier is the award-winning author of 15 previous books of poetry, including Small Mechanics, The Blue Hour of the Day: Selected Poems, and Whetstone. She is also the author of The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things and the memoir Small Beneath the Sky. Crozier is a professor emeritus at the University of Victoria and an Officer of the Order of Canada, and she has received four honorary doctorates for her contributions to Canadian literature. Born in Swift Current, she now lives on Vancouver Island. Crozier recently discussed her new book of poems, The Wrong Cat (McLelland & Stewart), with Cornelia Hoogland for The Coastal Spectator.

In a recent interview with Doug Dirks on CBC’s The Homestretch you recounted the story of the poem that became the title poem of the book. Your radio account of a personal event is written in third person in your book, as are most of the poems in The Wrong Cat. What does third person enable, and why not first person?

I chose to write many of the poems in The Wrong Cat in third person because I saw those particular pieces as mini-novels. There are characters, a narrative arc, conflict, dialogue, a setting and a resolution. Although some of the details are autobiographical such as the ending of the title poem, which comes from something my husband Patrick said out loud at a dinner party, the man and woman featured in the poems are fictionalized versions of “real” people. I had a lot of fun writing these and when someone asks me why I don’t write a novel, I’m now going to reply, “I already have.”

Alternately, “Man From Elsewhere,” written in first person, reads like fiction (in the sense of imaginative narration or myth), and packs an emotional and sensual wallop. Such seeming contrasts make me want to understand how you approach “person” as a tool to create, intensify, sustain, and/or subvert the content of your poems.

I started the “Man from Elsewhere” sequence in order to challenge myself. The inspiring question was “How do you write a love poem in a new way?” Before Shakespeare, let alone after, the English language is rich with poems about adoration, heartbreak and loss. What I tried to do was marry my interest in the topic and the form with my fascination with how place influences character. If I’d been born in a landscape different from the dry, light-bombarded grasslands of southwest Saskatchewan, I’d be a different person than I am now, even though I’ve lived on the Rain Coast for over 25 years. The geography, the light, the weather has shaped who I am, how I love and how I deal with loss. Those concerns feel lyrical to me, though the story insists on being there, particularly in the poems that allude to myths, as a kind of undercurrent. The poems are a cry from the heart.

A number of the poems use long line lengths without (I think) becoming prose poems. It’s very hard to resist a compelling enjambment, or is something else at work here?

I explored the prose poem in both my memoir, Small Beneath the Sky, where they work as a kind of punctuation between the prose chapters, and in my last book, The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things. In the latter, what I was interested in was the possibilities of the short, lyrical essay. The pieces with long lines in this new book are definitely not prose poems. The structural unit is not the sentence, but the line. The problem for me was not resisting enjambment but maintaining an extended line that doesn’t go slack, that doesn’t sag near the middle. I think I chose this longer reach, which I hope retains its tension and its music, because of the fictional nature of the poems. They come close to prose but they aren’t, that is, if I succeeded. They do a dance between prose and the lyric line.

Lorna, since 1981 and your book, No Longer Two People, co-written with Patrick Lane, your books have included poems that can be read as a celebration of your relationship with Patrick. While you are praised for your animal and vegetable imagery, it’s your playful, sexy, perennial love that I’ve counted on over the course of many books. What is it like to unearth relational uncertainties and foibles, and then shape them into craft? How would you talk about the art of writing one’s intimate relationship?

So much of what I write comes out of my life, my day-to-day experiences with the person who is closest to me, my husband Patrick, whom I’ve been with since 1978. My poems plot a relationship that began when I was thirty and will continue, with any luck, until one of us dies of old age. Even then, for the one who is left, the “marriage” will not end. My poems come from my imaginings, my suppositions, my desires for a better world, but they also come from autobiography, the deepest kind, the daily being-here that sends a tap root from the ground I stand upon into the subconscious stream that flows through our lives and connects us. I have in my mind, too, Evan Boland’s quote, “I want a poem I can grow old in.” How does love change, what does it mean as we age into bodies that betray us in strange, sometimes sad, sometimes funny ways. I’d like to find poems that can hold how we move through life and love, the everyday and the eternal. What remains of desire and passion as we get closer and closer to death? A lot, I hope. How do we find words for it, then?

The dead have always inhabited your poetry, and in poems such as “The Pony” in The Wrong Cat, death appears as an external character. James Hillman has said the dead want us to complete the unfinished aspects of their lives. Do you agree? What do your dead want from you?

Especially for poets, the dead still inhabit the earth. Perhaps they’re the silence where poems begin; perhaps they’re the pause between the lines, the stutter, the lost words. It’s not that the dead want to talk to us, but we want to talk with them. People like my mother and father are rare in literature. Something in me wants to find a place for them in language between the covers of a book. They will live there, then, as they live in me. Poems become prayers to the invisible, to the lost. They’re one way of keeping that near.

Hornby Island poet Cornelia Hoogland‘s sixth book, Woods Wolf Girl (Wolsak and Wynn, 2011), was shortlisted for the 2012 Relit Award. Hoogland’s new long poem, “Incident Light/Incident Dark,” is written in response to her brother’s sudden death. 


Friesen explores life of Crazy Bone in new long poem

Patrick Friesen is an award-winning author, formerly from Winnipeg, now living in Victoria. He was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for poetry and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 1998 and 2003 and won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award in Manitoba in 1996 and the ReLit Award for Poetry in 2012. He adapted his book The Shunning for stage; it premiered at the Prairie Theatre Exchange in 1985 and was performed in 2011 at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. He has also collaborated with various musicians, choreographers and dancers and recorded two CDs of text and improv music. Friesen will present his new collection, A Short History of Crazy Bone, on April 23 at Russell Books in Victoria. Recently Friesen answered Cornelia Hoogland’s questions for The Coastal Spectator.

In awarding you the P.K. Page Founders’ Award for Poetry in 2012, John Steffler wrote “Friesen’s ‘storm windows’ seems to me to go an extra step in conjuring up and offering an experience of poetry’s ability to transform consciousness, alter perception, and enlarge our awareness of ourselves, our lives, and our world.” Trusting you had similar goals in writing A Short History of Crazy Bone please talk about the ways in which writing the long poem enabled you to enlarge your own awareness of your character/narrator Crazy Bone.

My great-grandmother Anna is where Crazy Bone began. Anna was a trickster and someone who crossed community borders and became an outcast. I have written her into other work, including one of my plays. In carrying the shadow, a book published in 1999, I included a middle-aged woman, dressed a certain way, wandering the countryside. Maggie Nagle, who had acted in my first play The Shunning, wrote me and wondered whether I would consider writing a monologue based on this woman. Some five years later I began writing a series of poems fusing this woman with Anna. After I had completed about half the poems I shifted to a monologue, finished that, began a two-hander with Crazy Bone, and then returned to finish the poems. That’s how the process worked, somewhat simplified. The character took on a life of her own as fiction. I also found myself entering the character and engaging in my own thinking process. So, in a way, Crazy Bone is a combination of certain aspects of Anna, of the woman in the previous book, and my own thinking process. There were other influences as well.

What are your aesthetic concerns around writing the long poem? What formalities or restrictions did you place upon yourself? Do the conventions of the long poem allow for greater inspiration, and do they more deeply release, rather than limit, your subject?

I’ve often written in couplets, particularly when I’m writing short-lined poems. This is the primary restriction I placed on this long poem. I also chose to use a pared-down, simple language to suit the character Crazy Bone. From the first poem on I knew I would be working with two voices, Crazy Bone’s voice and an objective, observer’s voice. The rhythms of these two voices changed as I went along. The observer’s voice tends to dominate the first half of the book, but Crazy Bone takes over in the second half. I think this happened because I found myself getting more and more comfortable in Crazy’s voice/thinking and what she was thinking and saying became more important than what she was doing. I’ve written other long poems which were one continuous development. This book doesn’t work that way. It works in fragments (which I’ve also done before in different contexts), fragmentary comments by Crazy for example. Each separate poem is part of the long poem but can probably stand on its own as well.

I see the separate poems within this long poem as flashes of thinking. Not completed, worked-out thoughts, but momentary hummingbird flashes. When you put these together you can begin to see a development, a continuity not based on a systematic workout, but an accumulation of moments in a life.

Writing the long poem can be understood as an extension of a main idea, for instance, in a lyric poem. In A Short History of Crazy Bone, I see you moving your idea/originating impulse into different contexts and making that idea/impulse respond to different voices. Where does that focus lead? Am I correct in seeing the shape of this long poem as the shape of a mind inventing itself? Is that what it’s about? A short history of the mind’s work of invention?

Yes, in a way this long poem is a mind shaping itself, or revealing its shape, a shape the character doesn’t consciously know until experience fused with language reveals it. A friend wondered about the title of the book suggesting that, in fact, this was not really a “history.” True enough, if history means a coherent series of events. It is, though, a history of a mind. Within that there are other histories, fragments of cultural history for example. There is no plot in this book, but there is a subplot. Crazy is wandering about through fields and bush; she alludes to a former lover, but this story is never completed. She has five stones she wants to return to their original place. But it’s a vague mission, and she is not truly driven by it. It may be the excuse for her starting out on this journey of her mind.

What are the contingencies that Crazy Bone meets in her travels? Would you say that the contingencies (such as admonishing voices, or her clothing and other props) are a way of working through the same idea via different metaphors?

There are no real barriers for Crazy. Her mind is like a river flowing. If there is a stone, it flows around it. She has no particular expectations of her mind, she just lets it move. This is the motion of the book, the movement of a relatively unfettered mind. She also moves physically, not just in walking, but in occasional flamenco and butoh movements. This is a mind/body moving through space.

What tensions are you creating with third and first person voices? Does switching back and forth allow you to modulate your distance from the poem as you reveal more or less intimate truths? Even within a poem in first person, hierarchical positioning is playfully undermined, and Crazy Bone lifts off the page, far beyond the clutches of those who would disparage her. For instance, in poem 60 Crazy Bone says (and I do want to end this interview with Crazy Bone speaking),

they said dancing led to pregnancy
they were right

I have given birth
a thousand times

shame on you
they said

and I ate their shame

Crazy Bone is a gentle anarchist (well, she expresses the desire to build a house in order to burn it down, which isn’t all that gentle). She thinks in contradictory terms, is not impressed by hierarchy or wealth or status. She sees the idiocy of human pretension, and she sees existence as shot through with humour. The third person voice establishes setting, suggests Crazy’s physical movement through space, some of her actions. As in a play, this gives us a context for Crazy’s voice, the motion of her mind. Whatever judgments community wants to place on Crazy she shakes them off. Mostly she doesn’t bother engaging in battle with community, rather community is irrelevant. She accepts their judgments sometimes. Why not? The judgments are ridiculous and not worth countering.

Hornby Island poet Cornelia Hoogland‘s sixth book, Woods Wolf Girl (Wolsak and Wynn, 2011), was shortlisted for the 2012 Relit Award. Hoogland’s new long poem, “Deep Bay,” is written in response to her brother’s sudden death. 

Beach’s poetry plays with Bond myths

The Last Temptation of Bond
By Kimmy Beach
U of A Press, 114 pages, $19.95

Reviewed by Cornelia Hoogland

Pop-culture heroes such as James Cagney and James Bond are Kimmy Beach’s passion. In her new book of poetry, Beach facilitates her readers’ insider looks into Bond’s vast and colourful life: into his rooms; “Night[s] In The Life;” and into the Bond props of guns, alcohol and women. Alternately, she places Bond outside the safe confines of his cinematic/Internet world, into that of the sometimes narrator, One, and her sidekick, The Other. Or she moves into an alternate reality–the domestic (human) world that Bond hasn’t (until Beach) led.

The sections in which we meet Mrs. and the twins suggests the books’ underpinnings in Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ, a book that considers the dualities of Christ as saviour and human being (and as referenced in Beach’s title). Just as easily, Beach drops One into Bond-type scenarios that (seem to) absorb her. One tells Bond near the end of the book, “You really should know how often you didn’t make me come.”

As a publication within U of A Press’s Robert Kroetsch poetry series, the book’s freedom of movement among genres and voices honours Kroetsch, who would have appreciated both the elevation and the reduction (but not the demise, Bond is eternal) of the cultural hero. The cover (Robert0 Conte’s angel) is stunning. Alan Brownoff should be in the running for Alberta’s Book Awards in book design–and The Last Temptation of Bond in the poetry category.

From the start, through highly detailed second-person, as well as third-person prose, Beach pulls her readers into the world of Bond and his women. Another strategy, dramatic scripts (including stage directions), allows Beach to bring Bond the cultural hero into the living room of One and The Other, the fictional women who watch Bond movies and who ultimately laser Bond up the middle. This play among fictional characters into what the reader understands as “the present” or perhaps even “real life” is effective. For instance, One’s high antics imperative: “Don’t pause,” is dismissed by The Other who pauses the movie and grabs two mini-glazed doughnuts. These gals will eventually be joined by a cast of Bond women who serve as the Greek chorus at Bond’s demise.

The power of this book is its confident enjoyment within fictional and imaginative realities. Beach’s writing aims to give readers as direct an experience of its content as possible; often, it accomplishes this by thrusting the readers–an implied “you”–into the over-the-top scenes. “On the vanity next to the bed is a brown box . . . Pick it up and carry it to the edge of the bed. Lift the brass clasp.”

The book calculatedly engages its readers on an experiential level and demands readers’ responses not only to its content but to the ways the content is delivered. Its light touch is always tongue in cheek; these are never real people, but, rather, highly entertaining cinematic fantasies. Very sexy.

Cornelia Hoogland’s latest book is Woods Wolf Girl (Wolsak and Wynn, 2011). “Sea Level” is forthcoming with Baseline Press.