25th Trillium Award

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Lonely As a Cloud, with Linda Besner of Fish Quill Poetry Boat

The Fish Quill Poetry Boat is paddling their canoes down the Grand River once again, giving poetry readings and musical performances at cafés, farmers' markets and bookstores during the ten days of their adventurous tour from Elora to Six Nations. This year's poets are Linda Besner, Leigh Kotsilidis, David Seymour, Gillian Savigny and Stewart Cole, as well as musician Grey Kingdom. They kicked their tour off with a reading at Toronto's Tranzac Club on Thursday, June 13. Since then, they've read and camped in Elora, West Montrose Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge. You can catch up with them on Thursday, June 20th in Paris, Friday, June 21th in Brantford and on Sunday, June 23rd at Six Nations of the Grand River Valley. Here they'll be joined by Andy McGuire, Shelley Clark and Adam Dickinson. Visit our Events pages for details.

These intrepid voyageurs have a special perspective on the writing life. To find out more about these paddling poets, we'll follow their lead as they drift down the Grand. Today, Linda Besner tells us about her book, The Id Kid (Signal Editions), which she wrote in strangely decorated cafes until the fragments of her poems-in-progress became too numerous to take out of the house.

Open Book:

Tell us about the book you'll be reading from during the Fish Quill Poetry Boat Tour.

Linda Besner:

Oh my god, I really should be working on a new book by now! My first book, The Id Kid, came out in 2011 with Signal Editions, and since then, I’ve been writing almost exclusively non-fiction — I write two columns a week for Hazlitt, Random House’s digital magazine, which hasn’t left me with a lot of time to work on new poetry. As I write this, it’s two weeks to FQ and my desperate hope is to come up with two new poems by the time we launch so I’ll have something new to read.

But the book itself is a collection of poems on any number of themes and in any number of forms. Many of the forms are invented, since nonce forms are of particular interest to me — there’s a poem in which the line endings are all anagrams of the title, and another in which lines are repeatedly mistranslated back and forth between English and French.

OB:

Where did you compose most of these poems?

LB:

I wrote most of the poems in The Id Kid while I was living in Vancouver (I did the MFA at UBC). There was a coffee shop on Commercial Drive called Café Calabria that I loved — it’s crazy noisy and has really tacky decor with fake marble statues. I liked feeling like I was in the thick of things even while I sat by myself doing very solitary work.

Other work I wrote in my apartment in Montreal, or at at a nearby café that used to be called Pharmacie Esperanza and is now Le Cagibi. I remember working excitedly on “Villeneuve Villanelle" (the mistranslation poem I mentioned above) on an illicit break on my boss’ balcony at a theatre company I worked for in Toronto. Composition is a very, very long process for me — usually I’ll have scattered notes on a poem, possibly in a number of different notebooks, for at least a year, and then at some point I comb through and write out the fragments on scrap paper and stick it in a coloured folder. Once it’s at the folder stage I need a lot of space to spread the sheets out to work, so leaving my house gets cumbersome.

OB:

How has travel (near or far) influenced you as a writer?

LB:

I went to India by myself when I was 21, which is retrospect seems crazy. I literally showed up at the airport in Delhi with no idea where I was going to sleep that night, and I was there for four months. I think doing ridiculous things like that has made it easier for me to believe that ridiculous, half-baked ideas will work, or at least are worth trying. If it doesn’t pan out, you can always sleep in the bus station.

And of course, there’s the fun of grappling with foreign languages. If I’m on a trip with other people, I tend to be the one who gets sent over to ask people for directions with my Lithuanian-English dictionary. I like guessing and theorizing and making up ways to explain something if I don’t know the word for it.

OB:

If you could go anywhere in Canada to research or write, where would you go and why?

LB:

I actually have been having fantasies recently of moving into a skeezy motel somewhere like Iberville, Quebec. It seems like the more impersonal and nothing-to-do-with-writing your surroundings are, the more you’d be freed from some self-conscious ideas of what your voice is and what subject matter you can handle. Maybe I would bring a folding card table with me so I wouldn’t have to work sprawled out on some dirty comforter. There’s a maximalism/minimalism about living out of a suitcase in one room that appeals to me — you don’t have anything, but you would essentially need to constantly be buying stuff, from coffee in the morning on up, so totally reliant on other people. It seems neat to bring your whole life’s worth of notebooks into a place and like that and strew them around — an anonymous place where so many other people have been.

OB:

Can you recommend a great book to be read "on the road"?

LB:

I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed while I was travelling with my family in Holland. Because all we talked about was what we would eat and where we would sleep and how to get from A to B, Ehrenreich’s non-fiction account of trying to get by on minimum-wage in the U.S. felt like the mirror-image of our luxurious lives, where the same questions kept people up at night. It’s also so nice when your travelling companions also read the book, so you have a mini book club en route.



Linda Besner is originally from Wakefield, Quebec. Her poetry and reviews have appeared in The Walrus, The Malahat Review, Grain, Maisonneuve and Canadian Notes and Queries, among others. She works as a freelance radio producer, and has contributed to CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera, Outfront and The Next Chapter. Her first collection
of poetry is The Id Kid.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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