Thursday, November 15, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Amanda Earl

Amanda Earl’s poetry will appear in upcoming issues of Rampike and the New Chief Tongue Review. Her second chapbook, Eleanor was released this summer by above/ground press. Her poems have appeared most recently in, Holy Beep, launched during Calgary’s bpNichol benefit show with jwcurry,, the Ottawa Arts Review and

Her visual poetry has appeared in the Peter F. Yacht Club, and Her work also appears in the gallery at

Amanda is the managing editor of the Ottawa-based literary site, and the Bywords Quarterly Journal, a journal for poetry by writers with an Ottawa connection.

Amanda also writes fiction. Her stories appear most recently in Lies with Occasional Truth (, Front&Centre Magazine (Black Bile Press), The Puritan and various anthologies published by Alyson Books, Cleis Press, Thunder’s Mouth Press, and Carroll and Graf.

When she blogs, she blogs:

1 - How did your first chapbook change your life?

that was Blood Orange (Friday Circle, 2003); it made me afraid of seeing my words in print because right away i wanted to change some things. i hadn't had much poetry published. it also made me want to get more stuff published and inspired me to want to publish chapbooks. i was weirded out when people asked me to sign it. i felt like an imposter. this still happens.

2 - How long have you lived in Ottawa, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

i've lived in Ottawa for 20 or 21 years depending on whether you use the new math or the old. geography and place inspire my writing. i wrote a poem series called "November" last year that was set in various parts of downtown Ottawa; it was just me walking around and treating myself to an exquisite lunch complete with beer or wine. even my second chapbook, Eleanor (above/ground press, 2007), about Eleanor of Aquitaine, who lived in France and England in the Middle Ages, manages to have bits of Ottawa in it. if i'm in different cities, the place also influences my writing.

race has no affect on my writing so far.

with gender, i'd like the voices i write to reflect whatever gender they are, including no gender if gender isn't relevant; but i want to be blank and not inflict my gender on my writing. i sometimes wish i'd chosen a gender neutral pen name instead of my own and maybe i'll do that sometime.

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

a poem begins with a moment, an image, something in freeze frame or a pique of interest about some person. for the first five years of writing poetry with any serious intent to publish, i just wrote small individual poems, but for the past two years i've been writing long poem series and i'm trying to write a book length manuscript right now. i'm on page two. this could take a while.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

very much part of. i like to try out new work at open mics here in Ottawa, particularly the Tree Reading Series and the Dusty Owl. the closer i get to my time at the mic, the more i revise my work.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

i was happy to discover Steve McCaffery through one of your workshops, rob. in a Philly Talk between him and Lisa Robertson in 2003 and in an interview, he said that poetry was about playfulness and risk-taking. that loosened me up considerably. i've always thought, and i don't know where i got this idea, that you were supposed to aim for perfection and come at poetry from some kind of lofty place, whereas all i do is stumble and most of the time i fail to translate what's in my head into the equivalent on the page or in the air. i was very frustrated by this until i began to read poetry that played and took risks. i love the idea too that literal meaning can be sacrificed for other meanings, including the musicality of sound. that's another thing that McCaffery said.

Fred Wah has influenced my writing also; i loved what he said in side/lines: A New Canadian Poetics (Insomniac Press, 2002) somewhere that poetry is a kind of drunken tai chi, which i guess means it's a collaboration between instinct and mastery. at a certain point, you have to listen to your body: ""body's recollection, the memory behind the fingers which allows an unearthing of the estranged rhythms and improvisational potential within language." (FW from Music at the Heart of Thinking/as quoted by Rob Budde in Sidelines p. 39.)

when i read Dennis Cooley's the Bentleys (University of Alberta Press, 2006) last December, i became very excited by the line and the breath that can be part of the line. I heard Steven Ross Smith read from his fluttertongue collection at Plan 99 at the Manx Pub last year and was so excited by the way he left space in his reading, space for breath and for thinking. I just read Charles Olson's "Projective Verse" and was excited to see some similar ideas reflected there. I like the idea that a poem can have energy and that this energy can come from the line and the way the line is broken.

i'm not really trying to answer any broad theoretical questions with my work but i do get into that sometimes for individual projects. overall i'm just stumbling along and listening to what's around me and trying to turn it into something that awakens me and maybe connects with others on some level.

i do love to explore though and for particular projects i've had a theoretical concern in mind. with a chapbook i put together and self-published, 8 planets speaking in tongues (AngelHousePress, 2007), i wanted to see how sounds and invented language could work with other languages to create a specific tone or atmosphere without being necessarily comprehensible to the reader, that idea of shifting the pattern of meaning from literal meaning to sound. sometimes i like to play around with various constraints and see how that inspires my writing.

i see some polarization in poetic theory these days (probably was always there, but i'm a neophyte) with various groups dissing one another's styles or attempts and i'm not for that. i try to play with a little bit of everything. there may be narrative elements to my poetry, there may be language play going on, there may be some lyrical stuff too. i like to make use of everything in a palette and hope i don't end up with brown.

the current questions are whatever anyone wants them to be. main thing is not to stop questioning and exploring, no matter what anyone tells you.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

i haven't had much experience with that. i had fun when i was working on my first chapbook, Blood Orange with my editors. they made great suggestions and i mostly just did what they said. after the fact, there were some changes i regretted a bit, but overall, it was a better piece of writing because of their input and i learned a lot about editing. i have to be the main editor for Bywords when we publish the John Newlove Poetry Award Chapbook Series, and i find that to be a very instructive and rewarding experience. I love working with writers on their work and trying to positively affect their creativity. it's a brainstorming process. when writers get excited about their writing and my input has in some way contributed to this excitement, i feel very happy.

7 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

"a pair of what?" she asks. um....this summer, i remember it was red, and i began at the top, removing the stem and gently biting the tip, letting the juice run down my chin.

8 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

"The worst piece of advice ever is to write what you know. Write about what you don't know instead." (Shane Rhodes-side/lines, p. 180)

9 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to reviews)? What do you see as the appeal?

i go from poetry to fiction to blog entries, to songs and reviews. sometimes my rhythms are right for prose and other times for poetry or other stuff. i can't write my own stuff when i'm working on a review, because i tend to want to read all of a person's published books in order to gain a deeper insight into the poetry. it takes a lot of work and energy and i tend to be focused exclusively on that when i do a review. sometimes reading a good novel will inspire me to write a poem. it's like i scratch my head and a leg lifts. i have no idea how my wires are crossed up there.

the appeal is that when i get stuck on a poem series, i can move on to a blog entry or a song or even a letter to the editor. my belief is that as long as i'm writing something every day, my creativity is still in motion.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

i start at about 7:00 am and i write until about 1pm. i eat lunch and nap in the afternoons. if i'm working on a particular poetry project that requires research, like my current one, i'll spend some of the afternoon reading and researching and writing bits and pieces which i'll turn into poems in subsequent mornings.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

when my words aren't coming, i go for walks, hang out with friends, make love...all that.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

Eleanor, my recent chapbook, is four years after my first one, Blood Orange. it reflects a change in the type of poetry i've been reading; four years ago i had never even heard of Nathalie Stephens, who is my favourite writer right now, or many of the other contemporary writers i've mentioned here. the first chapbook was more imagistic and some said it was haiku-like. this one plays more with long lines and dream like states, interruptions in narrative and chronology.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

music is a huge influence on my work, as are nature, particularly weather, also food, alcohol and sex. i can't listen to music while i'm writing usually, except sometimes with fiction; i once had a character who demanded opera and sushi.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

i've mentioned a few already, also you, rob mclennan, who i've learned so much from in the last two years in your workshops. others include the Surrealists like Antonin Artaud, Andre Breton, Apollinaire, Paul Eluard; playrights such as Ionesco; 19th century French novelists: Victor Hugo, Balzac, Flaubert, Stendhal; 20th Century French writers: Jean-Paul Sartre, Marguerite Duras, Albert Camus; the French Symbolism movement with Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Verlaine; Gwendolyn MacEwen, Sylvia Plath, Lisa Robertson, bpNichol, John Newlove, Nicole Brossard, Daphne Marlatt, Margaret Christakos, a. rawlings, Nathalie Stephens (her name is worth saying again because she's so fantastic). Tish and the New York School of Poetry are just starting to become an interest of mine. I have a lot to read and learn. I should really be just reading and not writing anything.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

i'd like to have a poetry book published; i'd like to publish someone undiscovered whose poems are exceptional; i'd like to taste something new, have a fling with a musician, have an on-going love affair with a unilingual francophone; have songs of mine recorded by someone who can play guitar and sing better than me.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

song writer lounge singer in a hotel lobby bar in Sarasota, Florida, working for rum.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

i've done a lot of other things, mostly working with French and English as a translator, revisor, editor, lexicographer, and co-owning a business, helping with the administrative and financial ends. i'm hoping i will be able to concentrate on writing for the foreseeable future.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

19 - What are you currently working on?

i'm working on a series of poems about Kiki of Montparnasse who lived from 1901-1953 in France; i'm focussing particularly on the 1920s in Montparnasse where she had lovers, associated with artists and writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Jean Cocteau, posed for Man Ray and other photographers and painters. if all goes well, i would like to end up with a book length manuscript.

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