Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Profile on Katherine Leyton, with a few questions

 
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Katherine Leyton

By rob mclennan

Already well-established as the inaugural Writer-in-Residence at the Al & Eurithe Purdy A-Frame (July and August, 2014), Ottawa poet Katherine Leyton furthers her debut with the release of her first poetry collection, All the Gold Hurts My Mouth, due out in March with Goose Lane Editions. During her participation in an A-Frame fundraiser in fall 2015 as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival (not long after she arrived from Toronto), she spoke of her two-month long residency allowing her to complete her manuscript. As a July 8, 2014 Toronto Star article wrote: ?Katherine Leyton is writing on hallowed ground.?

?It feels really, really special. I?m part of something bigger, I would say ? I?m part of history now, in some weird way,? said Leyton, 31. ?At the same time, you definitely feel pressure. You want to produce something valuable.?

Before it even lands, All the Gold Hurts My Mouth is already described by 49th Shelf as a collection that ?takes on the sexual politics of the twenty-first century,? and her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications including Hazlitt, The Malahat Review, The Edinburgh Review, This Magazine, Bitch and The Globe and Mail. She is also the founder of HowPedestrian.ca, a ?highly unorthodox video poetry blog?. Before the site?s recent lapse, it featured videos of short readings produced as an attempt to bring an awareness of writing, including contemporary poetry, to a public that doesn?t often engage with literary publishing. To produce each video, she occasionally even approached strangers on the street to read classic poems. As The National Post wrote about the project in a July 2010 article, ?Sifting through the blog entries, the diversity of poets represented is immediately apparent, yet there is something even more striking: the diversity of the readers. Toronto is Canada?s— and perhaps the world?s— most multi-ethnic city, and Leyton captures this cultural diaspora brilliantly: Among her readers are Trinidad-Tobagans, Chinese, Greeks, South Africans, Italians and Crees. The variety of professions is also eye-opening— we see a priest, a cab driver, a bartender, a chef, a newscaster, a painter, a professor, a rapper and a Danforth gyro-maker, all reciting verse.?

Katherine Leyton will be launching All the Gold Hurts My Mouth in March, as part of Ottawa?s sixth annual poetry festival, VERSeFest.

rob mclennan:

How was your experience at the Al & Eurithe Purdy A-Frame? How long were you there, and what did the experience allow you to explore in your work?

Katherine Leyton:

My experience in the A-frame was life-altering. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I'll explain: I?d never had the opportunity to work on my poetry ?full-time? for more than a few weeks at a time. I was in Al?s place for two months. I thought about poetry all day. I was in this gorgeous, historical house and setting. I had access to all of Al?s books. And, most importantly, I was there alone. I?d never had the chance to treat my writing as if it were my number one priority, which it is, but everything else so easily gets in the way at home – especially making a living. Al?s and the funding to go with it allowed me to get deeply into my work without interruption for a significant period of time. If I was making dinner and I had an idea or thought about a poem I?d drop the knife and the onion and go into my writing room and follow that. If I got stuck, I?d go running down the nearby dirt roads that cut through the farm fields or I?d make myself a fire in the backyard or I?d go swimming. I?d come back to my work with a fresh perspective but without having lost the feeling of it too much.

Being at Al?s allowed me to explore writing about the rural, and more specifically, writing about the issues that have always compelled my work in a rural setting, or through a rural lens.

rm:

How did the experience of shaping your first collection help shift, at all, your composition? Are you a poet who composes individual poems, or have you become a poet who, instead, composes books?

KL:

I am a poet that composes individual poems, however, after I selected the poems that would make up my book, I shaped some of them to better fit in the collection, or to make the book a better whole. I?m not sure if shaping my first collection has shifted my composition – I haven?t wanted to think about the writing I?m doing now enough to answer that, and I am not yet willing to.

rm:

What does that mean for the writing that didn?t fall into your first collection, and for what might come after? It might be too early to think of such, given you?re still in the midst of your first book, but are you able yet to see beyond it, and towards what might come next?

KL:

I think the writing that didn?t make it into my first collection is pretty awful – I never want to see it again. I was writing and writing and putting together this first book for so long and I went to Al?s I thinking I had a full manuscript I would edit but I ended up throwing half of it out and writing half of it while I was in the A-frame. This sounds like a paid advertisement, but honestly, just like Al, I really feel like I got really comfortable with my voice – with what worked for me – when I was in the A-frame – solely because I was at a breaking point when I arrived there and I had the time to turn.

Regarding what?s next: I have been writing quite a bit in the past few months so I have some sense of what the next collection might look like, but I am wary of thinking about it too much for fear of limiting or pigeonholing myself. I much prefer to see where I go instinctively and then spend the time culling and shaping the work. The form of these poems is much different than what I was doing in my first book, but that?s all I want to say. It is simply wonderful to be writing new stuff again.

Also, I have been writing a lot of prose, so we?ll see if anything happens with that.

rm:

How did your poetry blog HowPedestrian.ca begin, and what were your goals? How well do you think you?ve achieved what you set out to do?

KL:

First of all, do you know that HowPedestrian.ca no longer exist? Well, actually, it does, but I don?t own the domain name (I let my payments lapse while I was travelling in Southeast Asia this year) and it?s now some sort of lifestyle blog that someone else owns. I?ve still got all the files fortunately, so I may try to find it a new home when I have more money and time, but it currently does not exist – though you can find all the videos online on the HowPedestrian YouTube channel. Anyway, Howpedestrian began out of a frustration with this idea I often heard from people who didn?t read poetry that the form was not relevant to contemporary or everyday life, that it was boring, that it was too high-brow – I wanted to disprove that. I simultaneously realized that we lived in a social media/YouTube/2 minute-max/visual-obsessed culture and that poetry certainly was irrelevant in that not many people were going to pick up a book of poems because some weird lady said they should. So my goal was to make poetry feel alive, feel relevant and part of everyday – to demonstrate that it could be significant to the taxi driver or the dancer or the baseball player that was reading in the streets or stadium or wherever I found them. I wanted it to be more easily consumable as a way to entice people to explore it further.

Did I succeed? In a way, maybe. I had a number of people write and tell me they?d started reading poetry again or discovered poet a or b or c on my blog and had started reading their work. I also possibly demonstrated to one or two people that poetry could be funny or compelling, even relevant. But did anyone who saw my videos that wasn?t interested in poetry before start reading poetry all of a sudden? I highly doubt it. I think I thought I could inspire maybe a handful of people to get into it that weren?t before, but that was hilariously naive. The same small percentage of people that have always liked poetry like poetry and the minuscule percentage of people in that group that saw my videos were momentarily entertained or appalled by them. But damn – what a wonderful experience it was! By approaching people to read so regularly I learned that most people are really, truly open to engaging with poems, they just won?t necessarily go out and seek them, and that was a very valuable lesson. Also, I absolutely loved watching poems come alive in surprising ways in the mouths of other people.


Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014 and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). In autumn 2015, he was named Interviews Editor at Queen Mob?s Teahouse. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com.

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