“Between the Lines” – Josh Quirion in interview with Carolyn Marie Souaid

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“Yasmeen Haddad loves Joanasi Maqaittik”

JQ: The novel is primarily set in Saqijuvik (population 346), a fictional, remote village in northern Quebec. There is a beautiful image described towards the end of the novel, at which point Yasmeen says that from a certain place in Montreal, it seems that the whole of the city can fit inside the palm of her hand, but that in Saqijuvik, she could never fit the expansive landscape in her hand that way. What is it about Saqijuvik that makes it such an extraordinary stage where the story takes place?

CMS: The proliferation of new films set in the Far North is a testament to the visual spectacle of Northern Quebec (now, Nunavik). Simply put, it is stunning. I wrote my novel with film in mind: I wanted the action to play out against the striking Arctic landscape and I wanted this setting to take on a significant role in the narrative. I wanted it to be so in-your-face – despite its quiet stillness – it almost becomes a character itself. The land is huge, beautiful, immeasurable, unpredictable. The human eye can’t take it all in, and there are variables that cannot be controlled—the weather, for example. But Yasmeen believes with every fibre of her being that she has what it takes to grasp its complexity, in the same way she thinks she can get a handle on Joanasi, her lover, a man with a vastly different culture and worldview.

Let me back up for a minute. North of the 55th parallel and accessible only by air, Nunavik boasts roughly 507,000 square kilometres of wild tundra, taiga forest, mountain, river, and lake. Roughly 12,000 people inhabit the 14 communities dotting the Hudson-Ungava coast. Although I wanted my story set there, I didn’t want to anchor it in a specific village for fear that readers might construe the fiction as truth. I asked an Inuit friend to invent a place name that would evoke the changing world of the contemporary Inuit, a locus where tradition and modernity would battle it out. From the Inuktitut, Saqijuvik means, “place where the winds are shifting.” This is one of the main themes of the book—how the Inuit have fared in the aftermath of contact.

When she first arrives in Saqijuvik, Yasmeen is attracted to the unspoiled quietude, the vast, unobstructed sight lines of the tundra. She embraces it without reserve, the way she embraces Joanasi.  She embraces the Inuit values of using what the land provides for food, shelter, and clothing. When she is deeply in love, her relationship to the land is equally passionate. She sees only the pristine, unblemished landscape. As her relationship with Joanasi deteriorates, her feelings for the land take a hit. She begins to see only the detritus—the diapers and rotting carcasses and cigarette butts poking through the grey spring slush.

What Yasmeen wants all along is the “perfect Inuk,” one able to live in the modern world while preserving his culture and traditions. In fact what she discovers is a flawed man; and when she does [spoiler alert], she gives him up. Likewise, she gives up Saqijuvik and returns to the city she knows and understands, the dusty, noisy, predictable world of nine-to-fivers—a city she can fit in the palm of her hand.

JQ: Would you categorize the novel as belonging to the tradition of the bildungsroman (a work dealing with a person’s formative years or spiritual education)? Yasmeen acknowledges that during her tenure in Saqijuvik, she was edified and humbled by the people and the land, but she returns to Montreal disillusioned, with spirits rather abject. What did she learn during her eight months in the North, and how did these lessons affect her; what might be next for Yasmeen Haddad?

CMS: That would be an accurate characterization of the book. Yasmeen’s father, a forward-thinking Syrian-Canadian, has educated her about the value of education and curiosity. He taught her about the American astronauts and the European explorers, and raised her to believe she could do anything she put her mind to—the sky was the limit. When, as a young woman, she finally chooses Quebec’s Far North as a destination, she goes with a pioneer mind-set; she is seeking out a new frontier like the astronauts and early explorers in her father’s bedtime stories. She’s a teacher, but she is also a student hungry for knowledge. She intends to learn everything she can about the Inuit inhabitants, which also means integrating into the community. She is loath to adopt the colonial mentality of previous Qallunaat (people from the “South,” mainly Whites) who have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to cultural genocide in their efforts to introduce “progress” and/or “improve life” in the North. Upon arrival, Yasmeen is drawn to the beauty of the landscape and the resilience of the people who live there. She intends to use every opportunity she can to immerse herself in the culture, and she is harshly critical of her colleagues and other resident Qallunaat, who spend their time judging the Inuit by Western standards and falling back on unfair comparisons and generalizations.

Her relationship with Joanasi is the outward manifestation of her desire to connect with the new culture. She welcomes and even initiates their rough, passionate sex. In her words, she wants “their bodies intersecting on the bed and never coming undone.” She wants to “seal the space between them until it [is] non-existent.” She is serious about trying to bridge their worlds, and believes it is possible. Meanwhile, as the story progresses, Joanasi is beginning to drink more and more, and his rage is building.

Yasmeen’s eventual disillusionment is partly tied to her disillusionment with her father, her childhood hero, whose reckless drinking finally killed him (he is already dead at the start of the novel). She has begun to understand that if she continues down her own reckless path with Joanasi, if she stays with him, she will be destroyed in the process. The only possible solution is to end the relationship. Of course, this makes her a stronger person than her mother, who, like many immigrant women of her generation, stayed in the marriage no matter how bad things got. At the same time, Yasmeen sees this decision to pull out as a failure on her part to connect with the culture of the “other.”

The flashback portion of the novel (Yasmeen’s year-long adventure in Saqijuvik) ends with the dissolution of the relationship, though there is a lack of closure on her part. She doesn’t know what she will do next. Can she be an effective teacher to anyone? With this failure in her repertoire, what does she even know about the world? She is wistful and nostalgic. In the final bookend scene, a return to the beginning of the novel where she encounters the homeless Inuk in a Montreal park, she is finally able to let go of the North and hopefully move forward with her life.

JQ: You mentioned the “western standards” that pervade the attitudes of Yasmeen’s colleagues’ vis-à-vis the Inuit community. Supplied with a few years of experience, Elliott professes his “insider knowledge” about the residents of Saqijuvik. He regularly discusses their systematic, historical, and even genetic shortcomings. Contrarily, the individuals belonging to the local community refrain from exteriorizing judgement. I suppose the question, if it can be called that, I am arriving at concerns silence. The Qallunaat, like the metropolitan regions they are from, are constantly abuzz with talk and gossip, whereas the Inuit appreciate the stillness and quietude of silence. How does silence, or the conversations not had, function as a mechanism in the stories? In the bookend scene that you describe in the previous answer, Yasmeen says that that before (Saqijuvik), she would have bombarded the Inuit man with questions, but instead, she simply sits with him. What lessons can silence impart?

CMS: When I lived in the North back in the 1980s, it was common for students to visit their teachers after school. Usually mine would arrive unannounced, sit on the couch with their parkas still on and eye me curiously for a lengthy time, without saying a word.  They watched me cook, correct, wash dishes. At first it made me uncomfortable. Eventually, I figured out that the Inuit speak when they have something important or necessary to say. They don’t seem to experience our discomfort at being around someone else when we have nothing to say. Nor do they resort to small talk about the weather, for instance, to ease the awkwardness around silence. There is no awkwardness. They say what they have to say in the moment. When finished with a conversation, they will utter the word “taima” (“done”) and walk away or hang up the phone. There are no niceties sprinkled around to stretch out the chat or eradicate the void. In keeping with this practice, radio in the North allows for moments of “dead air,” something that would make radio producers down south cringe.

The contrast of sound and not-sound was a kind of shorthand I used to tell the story of the two cultures and places. Yasmeen adjusts to the silence of her new surroundings. She learns to be with people without talking incessantly. When Yasmeen returns to Montreal for the Christmas break, the jabbering city noise grates on her after all those months of quietude and simplicity and interacting with people in an authentic way.  She is irritated by the “cavernous” airport terminal, the family banter, and the car radio “veering off the station into static.” The city is a place of constant distraction. The snow-draped, silent North is as it is, unembellished. This is what she learns in her short year away. Talk is not always essential. Sometimes it prevents us from living in the moment.

JQ: What is (are) the role(s) of educators from “the South” who assume pedagogical responsibility in the North?

CMS: Before answering this, let me explain the educational infrastructure that is currently in place in Nunavik. It helps explain what is expected of non-Inuit teachers, like Yasmeen, who decide to head north. Briefly then—

After the 1975 signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (first major comprehensive land claims agreement in northern Canada), a lot changed in Nunavik. Health services were restructured, regional governments were established and an Inuit-controlled school board was created. Since the 1970s, Kativik School Board (now Kativik Ilisarniliriniq) has been mandated to develop and deliver educational programs and services to all 14 Nunavik communities. In keeping with the Board’s primary goal of protecting, maintaining and developing the Inuit language, culture and way of life, the first language of instruction is Inuktitut, with English and French as its second languages. The curriculum includes the usual subjects (math, science, history, art, etc.) but culture classes, taught by the locals, provide an opportunity for students to learn about their culture and traditions. Boys learn how to carve, build igloos and sleds, while girls learn how to sew parkas and sealskin boots. A unique teacher-training program also exists to train locals who want to become teachers. Generally speaking, classes are small enough – nothing over 15 – for children to get one-on-one attention.

People who accept a teaching position in the North understand that they are not walking into a traditional western school, although it certainly looks like one from the outside. They understand that they have to make their content pertinent to the lives of the students in their class. This involves a willingness to adapt their materials or create new ones that are relevant. My first year in the North, when the Board was still in its infancy, I made nearly all my classroom materials from scratch. Since then, three decades have passed. Culturally relevant materials are more readily available to teachers.

Several issues complicate the northern educational machine: high rates of student absenteeism and lateness, for example. On a nice day, children are frequently pulled out of school to go hunting with the family. This means a teacher is left to teach a lesson to half the class and then re-teach it the next day. Since this is a cultural matter (eating off the land is healthier than eating overly expensive frozen foods from the Co-op), teachers from the South are asked to be accommodating.

But another factor is important to consider. The world is getting smaller. Nunavik is now connected to the rest of the world through satellite and Internet. Nunavimmiut (people from Nunavik) are part of the global community. As a result, more and more Inuit youth are deciding to pursue post-secondary studies after high school. Since there are no colleges or universities in their own communities, they have to leave the North, and this presents its own set of challenges: homesickness, culture shock, adaptation issues (e.g. large, impersonal classes where the teacher doesn’t know your name). Preparing them for the post-secondary experience means that from early on, students need to be educated in a way that is consistent with their values and traditions, but they also need to be exposed to what is going on outside their communities. Educators need to prepare them for the challenge of moving forward and becoming a player on the world stage (if they wish to do so); of achieving their full potential within the global context, without losing their unique culture and traditions.

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Carolyn Marie Souaid is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently This World We Invented (Brick Books, 2015). She has performed at festivals and literary events in the U.S. and Europe as well as Canada, and her work has been translated into French, Arabic, Spanish and Slovenian. Blood is Blood, a videopoem she produced with Endre Farkas, garnered a top prize at the 2012 Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin. Her poems and stories have appeared in several magazines, including The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, and the Literary Review of Canada, and have been featured on CBC-Radio. Yasmeen Haddad Loves Joanasi Maqaittik is the Silver Medalist for Best Regional Fiction (Canada East) given by the Independent Publisher Book Awards. She lives in Montreal.

 

 

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“Between the Lines” – Josh Quirion in interview with Marjorie Bruhmuller

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JQ: Writers’ immersions in the subject of their writing is essential in obtaining an authentic quality. Your work is rich in description and experience. The speaker has clearly “walk(ed) the woods.” (Reading Firewood, Bruhmuller) How is your relationship with your subject sustained?

MB: We are what we absorb. We deepen each time we feel, see something for the first time; or hear, taste or smell things that we don’t recognize. The mind is naturally curious, and experience (as it does our DNA) scores the brain with memory. So, I follow where an image or sensation takes me. And I walk a lot, and pay attention.

JQ: Who are the poets that  you’ve read whose works have resonated with you, and are there any particular texts that have withstood the test of time and remained relevant to you?

 MB: Shakespeare, Basho, Issa, Coleridge, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, D H Lawrence, Walt Whitman, Wislawa Szymborska, W.S. Merwin, Gary Snyder, Czeslaw Milosz, Sylvia Plath, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Galway Kinnell, Bob Dylan, Robert Hass, Jane Hirshfield, Don McKay, Mark Strand, Saul Williams,  Jeff Lemon, Ann Scowcroft, Ted Kooser, Maya Angelou, Aimee Nezhukummatahil, Sharon Olds, Robyn Sarah, Kim Addonizio, Dorianne Laux, Stephanie Bolster, Leonard Cohen, Billy Collins and Mary Oliver. That is the shortlist.

 In this excerpt from, “Learning a Dead Language,” by W.S. Merwin, I sense the essence of what it means to find poetry within yourself.

 “What you remember saves
you. To remember

Is not to rehearse, but
to hear what never

Has fallen silent…”.

 And in this excerpt from Billy Collins, “The Dead,” I so appreciate these lines (the poem in its entirety), the humour of his conjecture, the insight into the human psyche, and the subtlety of his commentary:

 “The dead are always watching
us they say,

while we are putting on
our shoes or making a sandwich,

they are looking down through
the glass-bottom boats of heaven

as they row themselves
slowly through eternity…”
  

JQ: In this “ongoing” conversation, how does the work of your predecessors permeate your own; how are you speaking back?

MB: By understanding how poets use the devices in their work, and how these tools (and the use of language) have changed; (to exact tone, inference), and by using these devices in my own way, I am able to expand on nuance and technique. I think about how they saw the world and themselves in it. I read between their lines, and use my own experience and that which I have read of theirs to grow a more comprehensive knowledge. I listen in on other poets’ lives, in varying generations, in different time periods and cultures, and carry that knowledge forward in my work.

JQ: In “When It’s June And I’m Walking Down The Street,” the speaker compels the “you” in the poem to look up, and to see, starting from the “pock marks in the pavement,” to the “long clouds sailing over the city like kites.” The final line reads: 

 “I want you to understand, that’s what
I mean.” 

 What should the developing writer understand; what should the reader understand? 

MB: What writers and readers can take from the poem is this: everything matters. The good, the bad. What matters, in the end, is living, the experience itself; what you discover when you are aware, when you’re open even to the most trivial everyday experiences.

JQ: So, how might you encourage developing writers to participate in the timeless conversation of poetry? 

MB: Time is not really the issue here. Response is the key; responding to what other writers say, what is happening at the time, with a global mentality; using what we learn from experience to widen our scope, and to relay these truths on to our readers. In other words, read many types of poetry, go to readings and performance poetry. Don’t lose out by ignoring what you think you know.

 

Age of Minority: a collection of plays in review

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ageofminority (1)What do you get when you combine a closeted militant, YouTube star rihannaboi95, and a sprint across the Death Strip? Three solo plays written by the acclaimed Canadian multidisciplinary artist Jordan Tannahill.

Tannahill (27) is quite the hot commodity in Canadian theatre. In 2014, he won the Governor General’s Award in Drama for his collection of plays titled Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays.

First published in October 2013, Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays depicts the stories of young individuals who are pushed to the margins of society due to their sexuality or political identities. Each of the plays is based on a true story.

The plays, written with young audiences in mind, are defined as Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA). This is evident in the both the style and context of the play, demonstrating the real struggles that youth face in their coming of age journeys.

However, it is not just youth who are picking up this collection of plays and responding to live performances, but people of all ages. No matter the age, the stories of these characters resonate with readers and theatre-goers. There is a rawness to them that leaves the character exposed in his or her vulnerability, all the while maintaining a sense of integrity despite persecution and moments of overwhelming fear.

The first play featured in the collection is Get Yourself Home Skyler James. It is a story about a young American girl, who enlists to the army right out of high school – with her girlfriend. This play is set before the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy. James’ secret is discovered, forcing her to make difficult decisions with no right answers.

Second in the line-up is rihannaboi95. This play is particularly interesting in the manner of which it is performed. As stated at the beginning of the script, “rihannaboi95 is meant to be performed as a YouTube confessional video (a direct-address monologue to a webcam)”. It was first live-streamed over the Internet from April 23 to 28, 2013 to audiences across the globe. The confessional provides the audience with a unique opportunity to listen, as a young boy named Sunny speaks about his passion for dance and the repercussions he faces from his family and community because of his YouTube videos.

Finally, Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes brings the collection to a close with a gut-wrenching story of eighteen-year-old Fechter’s last 59 minutes. His final minutes are spent in what was known as the Berlin Wall’s Death Strip. This is where the play begins, with Fechter bleeding from gunshot wounds inflicted by border guards; his minutes literally tick away.

Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays is unlike any other TYA piece, refreshing in its honesty. Tannahill outdoes himself in these pieces, and brings not only the characters to life but the issues each of them face. This collection of plays definitely falls into the category of “must-read” and is recommended for ages 15+.

Tannahill will be at Bishop’s this week on Thursday, Feb. 11 as the next guest in the Morris House Reading Series (MHRS). Be sure to stop by Bishop’s University’s Bookstore at 4:30 p.m. to hear Tannahill discuss his work. The reading is free to attend and a short reception will follow. Tannahill’s books will be available for purchase, so make sure to grab a copy and get it signed!

This article was written by Kristy Bockus and originally appeared in the issue of The Campus published on February 10th, 2016.

 

A SWEET Saturday

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Students trickled into the Cleghorn room in McGreer Hall early in the morning of Nov. 7 for the Student Writing Event in the Eastern Townships (SWEET) event co-hosted by PROs. SWEET was founded and directed by Dr. Linda Morra as a means to encourage discussion about how and where to publish, how to get involved in the book trade, and how to work within a community of writers.

With a focus on the publishing industry, the established panellists offered different perspectives from both sides of the trade. Sarah Lolley and Elise Moser offered a writer’s perspectives with tips on how to handle pitches and grants, whereas Melanie Tutino offered insight into starting out in entry-level publishing careers, and Lori Schubert acted as a speaker for the Quebec Writers Foundation (QWF).

Sarah Lolley told the story of how she became a published writer. Persistence and passion is what drove her to the several writing outlets that she has today. When searching for an appropriate career path, Lolley’s advice was to “start with what you love, then what you are good at” – which is sound advice for any student.

Elise Moser spoke of the several publications that welcome freelance writings, and of the smaller publishing houses that are eager to take on projects.

Lori Schubert explained how a membership to the QWF opens several doors to further publishing opportunities.

Melanie Tutino currently works as an editorial assistant for Doubleday Canada. Tutino discussed how taking on an internship, even an unpaid one, can offer invaluable connections and the opportunity to learn valuable skills.

The SWEET panel offered undeniable insight to any aspiring writers, editors, or publishers.

Following a delicious lunch provided by the event, the PROs panel was also helpful for writers looking for guidance. The speakers offered insight into whether or not Journalism school was the correct path for graduating students.

Fraser Lockerbie, an established journalist and Bishop’s University alumnus, acted as the moderator for the afternoon. Lockerbie posed questions to each panellist about their experiences with Journalism school, or lack thereof, and had the panel discuss how their education influenced their course of action in pursuing their careers.

Jesse Feith completed a Journalism diploma program at Concordia after graduating from Bishop’s; he now writes for the Montreal Gazette. His advice to young writers was to not be afraid to show your passion; advice that can be applied to any future career.

Ronan O’Beirne, another esteemed panellist and Bishop’s alumnus, completed a Master’s degree in Journalism at Ryerson. He spoke on how the practical aspect of the program was useful, but that he wanted more. Master’s degree programs are usually directed towards the more academic side of journalism, focusing on mechanics and ethics. O’Beirne believes that choosing this direction of academia was integral to the understanding of his job.

The final panellist was Caroline Royer, a journalist who began her own online periodical without attending any form of postsecondary Journalism school. Royer’s best advice was to learn every aspect of the job so that nothing surprises you.

The advice that the panellists offered to audience members was applicable to every aspect of journalism, publishing, or writing, and proved that success comes in all forms.

This article was written by Hayley Winch and originally appeared under the title “How SWEET it is!” in the issue of The Campus published on November 11th, 2015.

Morris House Reading Series opens with critically acclaimed author Heather O’Neill

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This school year marks the twelfth year of the Morris House Reading Series (MHRS), a program that brings both established and up-and-coming Canadian authors to the students and community surrounding Bishop’s University. The MHRS coordinator, Dr. Linda Morra, accompanied by Tomlinson Internship recipient, Kristy Bockus, work together to bring pertinent authors to Bishop’s University to share their knowledge and experience with an audience of open minds and eager ears.

On Sept. 17, members of the Bishop’s and wider communities assembled in the Centennial lobby to welcome author Heather O’Neill. Approximately one hundred students, faculty, and community members were in attendance at the event. These numbers make Heather O’Neill the most attended MHRS event since the series began.

As a Montréal author, O’Neill drew a fan base of Québec natives, along with those who have studied her work.

At the event, the author read “Dolls”, one of the published short stories from her collective work Daydreams of Angels. Students followed along with O’Neill using their own copies of the book, as some were enrolled in The Canadian Novel course where Daydreams of Angels is part of the curriculum.  O’Neill spoke softly and concisely, and while she performed, the audience was nearly silent; the only noise heard was the shuffle of feet and the occasional laugh.

After the reading, a question and answer period was held followed by a reception complete with refreshments. O’Neill’s personality shone through, as she answered the eager questions of audience members.  She shared intimate anecdotes about her life and adventures, all of which were taken in by the students, faculty, and community members who gathered to meet the author.

During the reception, O’Neill was gracious enough to autograph purchased copies of her novels. Many attendees were excited about the opportunity to chat quickly with the author while attaining a souvenir and a memorable experience.

Heather O’Neill’s novels (along with a few signed copies) are available in the campus bookstore for purchase.

This article was written by Hayley Winch and originally appeared in the issue of The Campus published on September 30th, 2015.

Short & Sweet, but Definitely Not Meek

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On Sept. 8, 2015, the longlist nominees for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for fiction were announced. One of the 12 nominated Canadian authors is Montreal native, Heather O’Neill. The nomination came as a bit of a surprise since O’Neill was shortlisted for the prize in 2014 for her second novel, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. The 2015 nomination is for her recent publication of a collection of short stories titled Daydreams of Angels. This marks the first time in the prize’s history that an author has been nominated for two consecutive years.

The stories in Daydreams of Angels play on common tales that children are exposed to during childhood. O’Neill challenges the original ideas by bringing to life characters of all sorts of backgrounds and social classes.

O’Neill breaks down the conventional framework of masculinity and femininity. The little girls in Daydreams of Angels deviate from the societal expectations of the unspoken, non-sexual, disempowered woman. These are the little girls of the 21st century, reinventing themselves.

The title, Daydreams of Angels, brings to light the angelic attributes of the characters within these short stories. Most are told from a child’s point of view, but with maturity that is usually reserved for adults. Yet this sense of aged understanding is somehow still paired with innocence that seems, in and of itself, like a long lost fairytale. The characters within these stories demonstrate the sort of grace that lives with children, not yet set to fulfill the fancies and whims of the distorted construct of social norms.

O’Neill paints pictures with her words, frequently using unusual similes and metaphors that challenge the reader to view even the smallest details in an entirely new way. This is probably O’Neill’s strongest talent. In most situations, an abundant use of similes and metaphors would bog down the text and make for a slow read. However, O’Neill masters the skill with ease, leaving the reader yearning for the next comparison.

One story that particularly deserves special mention is called Where Babies Come From. The myth of the stork is cast aside as the ridiculous tale it is, “Shall I tell you where babies used to come from? Well, they weren’t delivered by storks. That’s the silliest idea anyone ever had” (p. 82). O’Neill uses the lie told to children about their own creation and brings it into the 50s era. She highlights the strangeness of the time when the expectations of motherhood were shifting with the very idea of it being a different thing for each person. There are the women eager to dig up a baby whose bottom peaks above the sand early in the morning after being washed ashore, while others dilly-dally along the beach and are left to find the babies in the evening before they are pulled back out to the sea forever.

Through the fantastical, O’Neill continually exposes and breaks down expectations, commenting on a generation that dares to think beyond mere regurgitation of information and instead thinks for itself regarding manners of freedom and faith. It really isn’t much of a surprise at all that O’Neill should find herself as one of the Giller Prize nominees once again.

The subject of her nomination will surely be a hot topic for discussion when O’Neill arrives at Bishop’s University on Sept. 17, 2015. O’Neill will be hosting a reading and discussion of her works in conjunction with the English department’s Morris House Reading Series (MHRS). For the past twelve years, MHRS has brought Canadian authors to Bishop’s to share their work, answer questions, and speak personally with students, faculty, and community members. The reading will take place in the Centennial lobby at 4:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

To stay updated on upcoming guests follow MHRS on social media via Facebook (Morris House Reading Series) and Twitter (@BU_MHRS).

 

This article was written by Kristy Bockus and originally appeared in the issue of The Campus published on September 16th, 2015.

Jason Camlot on Finding Inspiration, Concordia University, and the Balance between Creativity and Academia.

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Jason Camlot - Publicity Photo

Interview by Alison Petrovich

Did you always like poetry or was there a moment or poem that your passion for poetry stems from?

I think my interest in poetry developed over time. I always liked singing lyrics which I learned to do at a very young age as most of us do. I came from a pretty musical family and we did a lot of singing. I started writing songs around the age of nine when I was learning how to play the guitar. I was learning how to play songs that were popular in the 60s and 70s because I have two older sisters, so I played a lot of folk songs which I learned afterwards were informed by a lot of modern and contemporary poets. So if I was learning Bob Dylan songs, he was reading T.S. Eliot. I suppose my first exposure would have been through poetic song writers. Actually thinking about poetry on the page, as separate from oral delivery, as separate from music or singing, probably happened when I started studying poetry in high school. I published my first poems in the early grades of high school, which was when I remember poetry first becoming something that I would seek out on my own. We were reading a lot of Canadian poetry at the time as it had become integrated into the regular high school curriculum, so we were reading poets such as Earle Birney. The guidance counsellor at my high school was related to the Canadian poet A.M. Klein, so I got interested in Klein and started reading some Montreal poets and some of the other big Canadian poetry names of the period. I then became more interested in studying poetry seriously and began reading veraciously, not just Canadian poetry, but poetry from all over the world, including a lot of poetry in translation.

Living in Montreal and teaching at Concordia University, does the city environment or your career as a professor influence your writing?

That’s a great question. When I completed grad school in English I was in California and at the time I was secretly also doing poetry workshops. I always continued writing creatively, but my academic graduate supervisors told me I needed to make the choice between being an academic or a creative writer. So I said okay, but I continued secretly doing the poetry workshops with some of the creative writing professors at the school, but without telling my academic professors. Then I had some different opportunities when I came back to Canada to work, and the choices were between some institutions that were much more academic research-oriented in Ontario and Concordia was one of my other options. There are many reasons why I felt Concordia would be a good fit for me. One is that I was born in Montreal so I had family and friends here, which was a big attraction. Another reason was that I knew Concordia has a very strong creative writing program. It could be a place where I could explore pursuing both my research, my literary, historical, and critical interests, along side my creative interests. From the very beginning I imagined Concordia as a place that would be welcoming of and supportive of research and creation simultaneously, and I found that to be the case from the first year that I came here. I have colleagues who attend readings all the time. I really feel like this is a unique program in the country. Most of the other creative writing programs are MFA programs, which are a bit separate from the academic side of things. This is a program that allows me to exercise my creative and critical intelligence simultaneously. It’s been a great place to be a critic and a poet. It’s probably one of the best places in Canada to do that.

Is there a place you go or something you do when you are searching for inspiration for your writing?

I think the answer to this question has changed over the years. I used to imagine something that could facilitate my writing much more in terms of space than I do now. I think it’s partly because I have far less choice over where I am at any given moment so I don’t really have the choice to go to a particular café or hotel room or city. I used to have a lot more freedom to move around. I think now, I create environments in which I can be creative based on surrounding myself with things, whether they are texts or objects, that I think will be interesting to insight some sort of creative constraints on me. More recently I’ve been much more interested in collaborative creative processes, which probably has changed my relationship with the text. I sometimes use a text from another work, whether it is creative or not, as a kind of collaboration in my own creative process.

How do you know when you’ve written a good or bad poem? Is there a feeling you get or do you test it in some way?

There’s definitely a feeling I get when I feel like it’s really jamming. It doesn’t mean when I read it the next day that I’m going to have that feeling again. Immersing one’s self in the writing process is probably the greatest gratification of writing and in a way, that’s the most important thing for me. I am interested in the finished product and being able to share something so that it would have an affect on the reader. Re-reading and re-writing is another way. I do a lot of poetry readings out loud as well, and I find that’s an excellent way to continue the editing process of my work. I usually read it out loud to my self anyway, and reading it to an audience is another way to help me see it in a way that might make me want to make some changes or not.

Those are all of my questions, did you have anything else you would like to add?

I have enjoyed reading in the Eastern Townships and at Bishop’s University in the past. I was first invited to read there at the initiation of my former colleague Robert Allen who had close ties with people at Bishop’s in the English department and at Champlain College where he used to teach. One of my poetry collections, The Debaucher, is partially about Rob and spending time in the Townships and at Bishop’s.