“Between the Lines”: Josh Quirion in Interview with Terence Byrnes

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JQ: How does your background as a writer inform your work as a photographer?

TB: On the surface, I don’t think there is very much crosstalk between the two areas, and I’m not entirely convinced there’s much going on beneath the surface. However, I do remember reading an article in the Toronto Star, when I was a boy, that talked about Federico Fellini’s casting technique, which involved looking directly into the faces of hundreds of people wanting a role in one of his films. It struck me, even then, that there was something appealingly wanton about that direct, evaluating, and possibly violating, gaze. When we look at people as characters in fiction and non-fiction, or as photographic subjects, that gaze is allowed, even required. The big difference between them is that my writing uses narrative to imply meaning. The still photograph constantly poses a question of what the narrative might be.

On a different tack…I’m also a pretty avid student of furniture design and construction. Had you asked me about the relation between making half-blind dovetails and writing or photography, it wouldn’t have been hard to draw comparisons.

JQ: Your photo series, South of Buck Creek, chronicles the lives of the inhabitants of Springfield, Ohio over multiple decades. Springfield, with its “crime, ageing population, and poverty,” was designated as America’s unhappiest city. Why did you select it and its population as subjects for a photography project? 

TB: Pure chance. I attended university in the States and was trying to make a few extra dollars taking passport photographs for my well-heeled, fellow students. One afternoon, I caught a ride into the nearby city of Springfield, Ohio, to buy supplies. The photo store was closed, I had to take the photographs early the next morning, and there was no way to return to my dorm. So, I spent the night walking the streets, meeting long-haul truckers and prostitutes in all-night cafes, and getting a glimpse of good, white, Protestant Springfield turned upside down. I returned with my camera (an Agfa Ambi Silette, for those interested in museum pieces) a week later and started to learn those streets, to listen to people’s stories, and to photograph.

The city was rigidly divided by race, class, and district, and my constant crossing of those borders often made the work dangerous. Inevitably, though, I made friends and became known, and people dressed in tattered hand-me-downs would pass in rattling pickups, yelling, “Hey, Canada! Picture!” It was an exhilarating acceptance into a world the middle-class residents of that city knew of, but only as an abstraction.

Not everyone accepted me, though. Some tried to run me down with their cars and threatened me with death in gruesome ways, but I always handled it. As more crack cocaine and Oxycodone entered that world, and Hispanic migrants added to the already-volatile human mix, things began to change.  On my last trip there, I was canvassing a familiar street, camera in hand, when an old man approached me, and raised his hand. “You see that house?” he said, pointing. “That fellow live there, he see you on the street an’ he go’n’ pop a cap in yo’ ass.”

As grateful as I was for the warning, it was unsettling to hear him speak what sounded like lines from a Hollywood movie or a bad novel. At that moment, I realized that my sense of invulnerability had itself been a fiction and that yes, if I kept it up, someone would most likely pop a cap in my ass.

JQ: It is fascinating that broken things, and thing breaking, often represent some of the most compelling subjects of examination for artwork. Does the artist have an obligation to use his or her medium as an instrument for the betterment of society?

TB: Ah, the Whack-a-Mole question! If the answer is, “Yes, artists have a responsibility to make society better,” other questions pop up. One must quickly ask which segment of society we’re talking about. The Japanese have called Canada a “mongrel nation” for good reason. We’re not homogeneous in background or values. Then there’s the troubling question of “betterment.” One person’s notion of betterment can be another’s nightmare. And if the artist ignores that responsibility to work toward a brighter world, does it mean that the art is bad by definition?

Your question has an easy answer: No. The artist’s responsibility is to do the job creatively and well. If the work should also bring to our attention an unjust social situation that must be addressed, call it value added. If the work represents its world poorly, unfairly, or even uninterestingly, we call it bad art. Artists are not social workers.​

JQ: Are you currently working on something specific?

TB: Probably too many things specific. I’m back to short stories and slowly building a new collection. And discovering, once again, that fiction-writing is a curious business. A story so often starts with an image or a feeling, not a narrative. The narrative must then be conjured from the story’s language. But there’s the baffling challenge: how to create language to carry a narrative that doesn’t yet exist?

JQ: Is there a recurring theme or intention that populates your work—is there something about your writing that is manifested in your photography, or vice-versa?

TB: I think every writer eventually discovers that, however one might experiment with topic, form, or voice, it’s still the same ventriloquist speaking through every story. I’m tempted to say that a theme like transgression surfaces again and again in much of my work, but acts of transgression are inherent in any dramatic form. I probably discover stories much more often than I invent them.

There is a parallel of sorts in photography. The shrunken, monocular world of the viewfinder or monitor is only an approximation of what winds up on the film or sensor. Which means that the process of photographic creation is often more editorial than spontaneous.

JQ: As a creative writing teacher, what might be the one governing suggestion that you would give aspiring authors? 

TB: Only one? Okay. Don’t fall prey to the self-defeating idea that the work of “authorship” (awful word!) is an all-or-nothing deal. Very, very few writers sit at their desks for 6 or 8 hours every day, pound it out, and make their living from that activity. It is possible—and often necessary and helpful—to do more than one thing in life. Chekhov was a doctor, Wallace Stevens an insurance executive, Rohinton Mistry a bank clerk, Alice Munro a bookstore founder, Mavis Gallant a journalist, and on and on it goes.

Since you have limited me to “one governing suggestion” I won’t mention that wide reading in fiction and non-fiction is essential, because writing, at its heart, is writing back to what you’ve read. Nor will I say anything about the undeniably selfish component of being an artist and the need to accept that fact. Or about the inevitability of slack periods (sometimes decades) in one’s productivity. We’ll save those topics for another Q&A. ​

 

Terence Byrnes says that he began publishing poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and photography “when giant lizards roamed the earth.” Over that unlikely span, he has published three books and his work has appeared in magazines ranging from Rolling Stone to Reader’s Digest to The Walrus. His photography has been published and shown internationally. Recently, Byrnes won a National Magazine Award (Gold) for a project that combined text and image in a form that was at once a social documentary and a memoir. He has taught creative writing at Concordia University, in Montreal, since 1976. A sampler from Rock’n’Roll Criticism to Memoir:

1970 record review in Creem, one of the first rock magazines: http://www.beefheart.com/lick-my-decals-off-baby-review-by-terry-byrnes/

1971 poetry review of Richard Brautigan’s poetry in Rolling Stonehttp://brautigan.cybernetic-meadows.net/tiki-index.php?page=byrnes

2006 memoir about ghostwriting in Maisonneuve, “Anatomy of a Ghost”: https://maisonneuve.org/article/2006/02/23/anatomy-ghost/

2008 interview, “The Literary Photographer”: http://literaryphotographer.com/terence-byrnes-closer-to-home-interview/

2012 memoir, “The Missing Piece” (original title “Missing War”) in The Walrushttps://thewalrus.ca/the-missing-piece/

2017, text and image, in Geist, “South of Buck Creek” (National Magazine Award Winner—Gold): https://www.geist.com/photography/south-of-buck-creek/

2017 “An Education,” published as fiction in carte blanche under the pseudonym “Gabe Marcus,” but where do memoir and fiction intersect? http://carte-blanche.org/articles/an-education/

2018 on-line interview about “The Author and the Author Photograph”: http://thebibliofile.ca/terence-byrnes-on-photography-and-the-author-photograph

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.

 

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.

Interview with Madeleine Thien

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Madeleine-Thien PhotoInterview by Alison Petrovich

When reading Dogs at the Perimeter, I found it really terrifying that a political leader such as Pol Pot could have so much power. How did you go about researching such a topic and what obstacles did you encounter? ‬

I’m not sure that Pol Pot’s power is the greatest disturbance. No genocide in history has been committed, single-handedly, by one person or leader. In every case, groups, classes, races or segments of society are targeted as impure elements; they are targeted as enemies of the people. How this happens, how society creates the conditions for genocide, how quickly we allow ourselves to buy into the dehumanization of our fellow human beings, is a question that should trouble all of us.

Specific to Cambodia: the country attempted to remain neutral during the Vietnam War but in 1970, the Prime Minister was removed in a coup backed by the CIA. Within 5 years, the United States had dropped 2.7 million tonnes of bombs on Cambodia, a bombing that was illegal and therefore done secretly — it is illegal to bomb a neutral country.

The consequent civil war was devastating. The Khmer Rouge, led by a group of leaders, including Pol Pot, came to power in 1975, instigating violent upheaval to create what they termed a pure and self-reliant Communist utopia. Within four years, 1.7 million Cambodians lost their lives. Cambodia’s UN-backed tribunal has convicted Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan of crimes against humanity — but not Pol Pot, who passed away in 1998, nor Ieng Sary, who died in 2013.

The Canadian government, along with the United States and a number of Western governments, continued to support Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate representatives of the Cambodian people at the United Nations until 1993. We did this with full knowledge of the Cambodian genocide. Therefore, to answer your question, there is much in this story that is disturbing. Pol Pot, the individual, is just one piece.

Writing Dogs at the Perimeter took many years and a great deal of hard thinking. There were many obstacles, and for a long time I truly didn’t believe I would publish the novel. I decided to publish the book because I feel it has a place. The novel is only one small piece added to a much greater, still unfolding Cambodian story.

Lately women’s issues have been discussed in news and social media following Emma Watson’s UN speech and the recent catcalling video filmed in New York. In your opinion, what is the most important issue for women that we should be focusing on right now?

For me, the most pressing concern in Canada is the rights of First Nations peoples and the way injustice, historical and everyday, remains invisible. We have a very narrow sense of our country, its people, and the geography of Canada. Our problems are structural and they are deep. Equality and respect, and the discussions we need to have with one another, should involve all of us. But certain voices and certain frames of experience — male and female — are privileged, and get replicated over and over and over again.

Who has the privilege to direct the conversation, to access media centres, to edit, cut, distort, deny and erase the complex experiences of six billion people, male and female? This question troubles me a great deal.

When you first come up with a new idea for a story, is it immediately obvious if it should take the form of a short story or a novel? What aspects influences your decision of what form it will take?‬

Nothing is immediately clear, but the question of short story or novel has never been a pressing or difficult one for me. I’m usually thinking through an idea and a world, and trying to see more and more. For me, a novel feels very different from a story, just as there’s a great difference, in intention, between a cup of water and a river.

‪What are some of your favorite recent works in Canadian literature? Is there anything that you would like to see more of or less of in Canadian literature?‬

I read widely, I want to be taken up by the writer, I want to immerse in the world and the thinking they have created. I think there’s a immeasurable distance between a writer who, through precise observation and artistic flexibility, creates a world in all its contradictions, paradoxes and states of being, and a writer who cynically falsifies a world. There’s a great deal of the latter, of course, but I find their works fairly easy to avoid. There’s a great deal of the former, fortunately.

The books I’ve loved most recently are Canadian and not Canadian, Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know, Rawi Hage’s Carnival, Doris Lessing’s Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, John Asfour’s Blindfold, Dung Kai-cheung’s Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s Heavenly Questions, Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire, Dionne Brand’s Love, Enough, Matt Rader’s What I Want to Say Goes Like This, Aaron Copland’s What to Listen for in Music. Today I’m reading Johanna Skibsrud’s Quartet for the End of Time.

Gianna Patriarca – In interview with Linda Morra

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LM: Religion and religious belief is used with great sophistication in your poetry. Might you comment on the many ways it is featured and why?

GP: Religion has been from the beginning of my life part, what has shaped me (good or bad). I suppose it is partly because of the time I was born and the location: the 1950s in Italy after the Second World War, the rebuilding and the renewal of faith and tradition of the people, as children we were immersed in the fanfare of it all.

I was taught by the nuns from age four. My grandmother taught me to pray the rosary and she took me to church every Sunday and all the novenas before Christmas. There was something beautiful about the rituals and the music and the smell of incense and wax and the grand statues. As a child, it was all so mystical. The church, the celebrations, the feast days the dedication to saints and the moral guidelines that young people were fed were completely embraced by us during those years.

When we emigrated to Canada in the 1960s, the immigrant communities were tightly tied to the church and our social lives revolved around occasions that were celebrated in the catholic communities: dances, dinners, weddings and so on. I went to a Catholic high school and then myself taught in a Catholic elementary school. I was a good Catholic girl. But I didn’t like it. I started to ask questions, read between the lines of the priests and their homilies. My world got bigger and there was more to discover and to be challenged by. Of course, being a woman was challenge enough in immigrant communities back then, but one that asked questions and formed opinions….not easy.

I feel that I am a very spiritual person and I do believe in some form of higher energy or the power of love, but I had to struggle with the contradictions of my religion and tried to work them out in my writing. My family is very Catholic. My mother and sister are very traditional and I have learned to allow what gives them the strength to cope and brings them peace, although I often find myself writing about the contradictions and the injustices. I can’t accept many things that my religion preaches, but I choose to celebrate certain aspects of it that I know give me a sense of history and identity.

But I haven’t gone to confession in 40 years; I do that with the poetry.

LM: If poetry is a form of confession, what else do you “confess” to and how do you then position the reader in your mind’s eye in relation to it?

GP: I suppose every writer has some personal confession in their work; I did not ever believe I could or would be a writer for the public. I always wrote for myself; our dreams were much more guided towards practical things when I was choosing a career–secretary, bank teller, hairdresser etc. Writing was for me an act of survival. It wasn’t until university that I was encouraged to pursue it at a different level, and, by then, my voice and my style was pretty much established. I was interested in the lives of women, particularly immigrant women whom I served in various jobs and whose stories touched my heart. I remember working for a psychiatrist as a receptionist in the late 1970s and most of his clients were immigrant Italian women. Before they ever spoke to the doctor, they revealed their lives to me because I spoke their language.

There were no role models for girls like me or for the women in the community. I almost felt a responsibility to write about it but always on a personal level because I would never be arrogant and assume to speak for a whole group of women. I think others find the link to their own experiences in my writing, because it comes from a very real and honest place. I have always tried to stay true to the observations and the experiences and write about them with a certain respect and sensibility–and hopefully with the beauty of language.

LM: You observed that you are interested in the lives of women — and the poems in collections such as Italian Women and Other Tragedies showcase this interest. What about the men?

GP: The Men! They are everywhere!!!!!! And I do mean everywhere, including my work, they are in Italian Women and other Tragedies as much as the women are–in (Dolce-Amaro) College Street, The Old Man, Stories From My Town, Roberto Pisapia, and so on. I have always been interested in the women’s stories, because they have never really been told–unlike the stories of men that are everywhere. Just look at the authors who write about immigrant experiences (Italian): the subject is always the struggle of the “man.” The woman is there but she is peripheral.

I have been called a feminist writer, but, in truth, I am a humanist. I don’t exclude the men and certainly I love them as much as the women in my work because they are in it together. The reasons I write so much about women are that they are closer to the reality of my association with women. I spend much time with them–grandmother, mother, sister, aunts–and do volunteering with senior Italian/Canadian women. Also, I taught elementary school where teachers are primarily female. My concerns also extend to the injustices faced by women around the world. Their lives and their struggles motivate me. Sometimes I wish it was motivated by science fiction and vampires: it might be less painful.