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


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.

Mark Lavorato on Writing, Montreal, and What It Means to Be Human



Interview by Alison Petrovich
Serafim and Claire is in itself, a love letter to the city of Montreal. How much influence does the weight of your surroundings affect your storytelling?

You’re right, Serafim & Claire is essentially a love letter to the city of Montreal. And a metropolis is so particular in the way it shapes a novel, in that, unlike a rural setting, there are powerful movements that are manifesting themselves in public places. Unlike a small village, a city hangs its dirty laundry out to dry. That completely changes the way you approach the setting as a writer. The forces and undercurrents that shaped (and are still shaping) Montreal, can be found in the news, in protests, in personal journals and biographies, and in photos that were taken on the streets. Which is why it was so important for street photography to become a focus for one of my characters in the novel, Serafim.

How would you say your other passions of music and photography have affected your written work and your creative forces as a writer?

To me, all art is an attempt to explore what it means to be human, and different mediums navigate those waters at varying depths and efficiency. Music, in my mind, is direct, powerful, but fleeting, whereas literature is slow, nuanced, and long-lasting. Playing with different mediums has certainly provided insight and perspective that I don’t think I would otherwise have stumbled across. As an aside, I only discovered photography because of my research for Serafim & Claire. There is a very dubious aspect of taking pictures of strangers in public — pictures that they don’t necessarily consent to ― and then calling it art. That “stealing of intimate moments” in a public place was something I had to experience firsthand. I soon adopted a bag of tricks to remain unnoticed and unobtrusive, while gaining access to ever greater intimacy. There is something undeniably creepy about it. You can see some of these photos here.

Who are some of your favorite authors? Was there any particular book that inspired you to want to be a writer?

I read all across the spectrum. I loved so many classics in my early adulthood; books by Melville, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Orwell, Woolf. But I love reading pop literature as well, like books by Nick Hornby, T.C. Boyle, Edward St. Aubyn, and Annie Proulx. I’m also addicted to poetry anthologies, the best of which, in my opinion, come out of the UK at the moment. And I was inspired to write, not by a particular book, but by listening to true and heartbreaking stories in the jungles of Guatemala.

Believing Cedric has many different stories intertwined within the novel. What was the writing process like for this novel? Did you write it from beginning to end or as the stories came to you and organized it after?

I loved researching and writing this novel. In many ways, it’s my attempt to define and explore what I see as the multifaceted soul of Canada. The novel is very ADHD, in that it bounces around to different times and places and aspects of Canadian history, telling the intimate stories of twelve people, all of whom were the main influences on one particular man’s life, Cedric Johnson. I wrote the book in chronological order, but researched the topics and history somewhat randomly. There were a few unwieldy pieces that stood too far out from the whole, but my editor, Lynn Coady, helped rein them all in.



Dear Past Jeff,

This is your future self. I have no idea how this will get to you because time travel is still mystery to me, where I’m at. We don’t even have Hoverboards yet. I know! Just another reason why Back to the Future, Part Two remains such a disappointment – but I digress. I’m in the future. Your future. I can’t give you an exact date because it’s all relative but my intention is to make sure you get this on February 21st, 2013 the evening Jeramy Dodds comes to Bishop’s. If I recall correctly you were/are a little anxious because you had/have to introduce him to a room full of people and public speaking is not a thing you’re good at. You’re still not. I’m you, I know. Anyway, relax. The reading will go great. You’re well over that other problem of being tongue-tied when you meet an author. I think the term you once used was “cheese-eating semi-colonite”? Jeramy is a swell guy and, aside from the public speaking bit, you were aces.

You’re probably wondering what this is all about. Why, on the evening of the penultimate Morris House reading for the 2012/2013 season, have I contacted you from the future? Well, I think time travel may actually exist. I know I just said that time travel is a mystery and that’s true but notice: it’s a mystery to me. I think there’s someone who’s mastered it. Someone knows the secret and on February 21, 2013, if you get this letter and you play your cards right you can get the goods on time travel. We’re a team! There’s no I in team, it’s true but there’s a U and I in space/time continuum so pay heed because here’s what I’ve figured out:

Jeramy Dodds is a time traveler.

Don’t even laugh. This is serious business and I have evidence. In front of me is copy of Jeramy’s collection of poems, Crabwise to the Hounds. At this point, you have a copy as well but mine is inscribed. I know you’re a sucker for signed copies but what matters is what Jeramy will write in your copy of his book: “Jeff, The future will be kind to us all. Promise. Jeramy Dodds” That is a not a thing one simply tosses off, especially in an age of global warming, economic collapse, and Republicans. I think, and it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I’ve been able to come to this conclusion, that Jeramy Dodds has seen the future and he is not afraid of it.

Sure, I can imagine your skepticism. It’s what makes Past Jeff so intolerably endearing but I’ve had a lot of time to think on this and there’s more. I will dazzle you with incontrovertible, iron clad evidence that Dodds is the Poet Laureate of the time streams. You’ll find it in his poem Depth of Field which he will read, tonight, at the Morris House event. He wrote it for a friend of his which seems fairly innocuous but, at the reading, Dodds himself will reveal it’s a time-travel poem. This is where you can add “dun dun duuuuuun” because I know you still think you’re funny at that moment in time. From where I’m standing, you’re a smug wise-ass but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important are these lines in the last stanza of the poem:

Noticing that we had lost ten years watching
that horse come apart. You had married, twice.

Consider the rhetorical power of poetry and I think you’ll find it it’s difficult to ignore what’s happening here. Keep in mind that Dodds admitted/will admit this is a bit of time travel business, so let’s do a close reading of that line about losing ten years. You may want to Google what I’m about to describe (In the future, The Search Engine Wars are devastating, worse than the Cola Wars of the mid-eighties. I can’t say who wins so don’t ASK. *Ahem*): Temporal Causality Loops. If I know anything about science-fiction, they are completely real and a legitimate threat to the time traveler. Dodds says they lose ten years and that his friend “had married twice” (emphasis mine!). See where I’m going? See where I’m going? Losing time happens in one of two ways: alien abductions and Time Loops! Time Loops! Dodds is clearly familiar with The Groundhog Day Theorem. It’s obvious, really. Obvious!

You’re in a unique position to make this happen- unless you never receive this letter but that seems unlikely, knowing what I know. Sure, there might be some sort of paradox that results in this letter never getting written once you get the secret of time travel from Dodds but you’ll still have this letter. See? Look, I’m not explaining it very well but you really need to trust me on this. Dodds knows. How can I convince you? Wait! His jacket. When he arrives at the bookstore, look at his jacket and take note of old fashioned sheriff’s badge on his lapel. Dodds claimed he got it in Calgary but he never said specifically when he got that badge! Clearly he acquired it at some point in the past! Remember Back to Future, Part Three, which was much better than part two but still not as good as the first one? Where Marty and Doc wind up in the old west?


Alright, that’s all I’m comfortable putting to Future Science Paper (patent pending). You have your mission. Make it happen because this is so big, it’s practically Quantum.


Future Jeff

P.S. If you’re still not convinced, I assure you, Dodds is right. The future is kind to all of us, just not at the same time.

-Jeff Parent