Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

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Profile on Ben Ladouceur, with a few questions

Ben Ladouceur

By rob mclennan

In her review of Ben Ladouceur’s first trade collection of poems, Otter (Coach House Books, 2015), online at Plenitude Magazine, Shannon Webb-Campbell writes that “Toronto-based poet Ben Ladouceur embodies queer history with profound poetic intention. Sexy, witty, and sensual, Otter is a richly imagined collection of poetry. Ladoucer writes with grace and precision.” She continues:

In the third and final section of Otter, titled “Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men,” the poems call out. Sex is laced throughout the book, yet sings in “Masturbating Flowers,” where he writes of frailty, the heterosexual gaze, and flowers biting “their filthy lips.” Ladouceur is sincerely cocksure in his poetry, delivering lines like “Every morning, a light that is newer than ever / is greeted by our oldest bodies yet” in the poem “Transaction.” Or “All wounds are / good wounds, so long as you wake up / one morning—a man resting by your side.”

By far my favourite poem in the collection, “Goodbye, Cruel World,” closes the book. In a poetic fury, there are meditations on living. The last two stanzas of the poem could almost be chanted—“We wore condoms as the day broke. / We wore toques whose pompoms / leapt off—goodbye, cruel world!—/ because that year the cold came quick. / All of that is water now. / As in, beneath the bridge.”

Ladouceur’s poems read like an offering, a confession and declaration. These are explorations of love, sex, friendship, life, and death. Readers are invited to tumble into bed, stay the night, and savour these poems over breakfast like a lover.

Ladouceur relocated to Toronto from Ottawa three years ago, but there are many who know of his work from the time he was part of Carleton University’s In/Words, during a period he emerged as a poet alongside Cameron Anstee, Jeff Blackman, Rachael Simpson and Justin Million, among others. Prior to the publication of Otter, he published a small slew of poetry chapbooks, incrementally displaying a sharp wit and compact line, including: Three Knit Hats (Ottawa: In/Words, 2007), Dust and the Colour Orange (Ottawa: In/Words, 2008), Nuuk (Ottawa: In/Words, 2008), Alert (Ottawa: AngelHousePress, 2009), The Argossey (Ottawa: Apt. 9 Press, 2009), self-portrait as the bottom of the sea at the beginning of time (Ottawa: The Moose & Pussy Chapbook Press, 2011), LIME KILN QUAY ROAD (Ottawa: above/ground press, 2011; reprinted, 2013), Mutt (Ottawa: Odourless Press, 2011), Impossibly Handsome (Toronto: Ferno House, 2013) and Poem About The Train (Ottawa: Apt. 9 Press, 2014). In his review of LIME KILN QUAY ROAD over at the ottawa poetry newsletter, Ryan Pratt writes:

In tandem with its domesticated arrangement, Lime Kiln Quay Road stubbornly refuses to break silences. Any travelogue opportunities that might’ve distinguished the cities for which these poems were dedicated – all English boroughs – are likewise dashed. These omissions are brave, reinforcing Ladouceur’s careful tone and paving the way for a last page confessional, an epilogue where shades of Gluck’s longing and joy meet in aftermath. As averse to excitement as this chapbook seems to be, there’s a ramshackle appeal to the way Ladouceur whittles away a season or so of this formative period.

One of his poems from PRISM International was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his work has been shortlisted for the 2008 Bywords John Newlove Poetry Award, runner-up for both the 2008 George Johnston Poetry Prize and the 2011 Carleton University Writing Contest, nominated for the 2013 John Lent Poetry Prize, and winner of the 2013 Earle Birney Poetry Prize. As part of his “The WAR Series: Writers as Readers” interview last year, he describes some of his influences:

Love Alone by Paul Monette. Showed me that poems written for therapeutic reasons can still be meaningful to people aside from the author. Also, White Stone by Stephanie Bolster, which showed me that a book of poems can be way more than the sum of its parts if you work crazy hard. Also, Super Flat Times by Matthew Derby. Also, Purgatorio and King Lear and A Wrinkle In Time and everything by PK Page, and many of the chapbooks that were published by Carleton University’s In/Words Magazine during my undergrad.

As part of an interview posted through the Ruckus Readings, he discusses some of his earlier influences:

The very, very first books to reach out and grab me? I am not ashamed to cite R. L. Stine’s “Give Yourself Goosebumps” (choose your own adventure) series, which were first published in 1995, when I was eight years old. I ate those books up. I can see why literary fiction and CYOA books have not, to my knowledge, done much commingling. However, I think the CYOA genre and lyric poetry have some common ground—most prominently, the use of the second person singular. It helps me to think of the beloved (the “you”) as a particular person—a reader who is following my instructions, taking my characterizations to heart, and enjoying the journey from point A to point B.

More recently, Ladouceur has been moving into other kinds of writing. He wrote the pilot “Other Men,” which premiered in June 2014 as part of Inside Out Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

rob mclennan:

You are one of an increasing number of writers emerging from Ottawa over the past few years to publish first books, alongside Suzannah Showler, Andrew Faulkner, Leigh Nash and Spencer Gordon. What do you feel Ottawa allowed you as a writer, and how do you feel your work has shifted now that you’ve settled into Toronto?

Ben Ladouceur:

Ottawa gave me access to two invaluable institutions: Canterbury High School’s Literary Arts Program (“Lit”), and Carleton University’s In/Words Magazine community. The main things Lit gave me were discipline and context. By the time I finished Lit I understood why you have to work insanely hard, why you need to edit, and how you do both those things. Regarding context, a lot of the time in Lit was spent learning things like: this is what a poet is, this is what literary magazines are, this is their role in the world, this is a chapbook, this is a reading, this how a workshop goes down, this is what constructive criticism feels like. Then I went to university and didn’t meet many other poets for a while. Getting involved with In/Words near the end of my undergrad was very fortunate. More discipline and more context. And lots of gross beers at Mike’s Place.

I don’t know how to measure the effect of Toronto on my writing. I haven’t lived in Ottawa for three years, so of course my writing has changed, but I don’t know what to blame or thank Toronto for. In terms of content, I’ve always written lots about both cities, regardless of which one I’m in. (I write a lot about Kingston, too, which I’ve never even lived in.) Moving between cities doesn’t seem to put a huge dent in my work, but moving from city to countryside does. If I think of the time I’ve spent in rural areas… that always makes for a sizeable “shift” in both content and approach. I’ll be residing at the Al Purdy A-Frame late next year and it remains to be seen what that will do to my brain.


In both the short poem and the extended sequence, you seem to favour a particular form of lyrical density. Who have your models been over the years, and how do you feel they’ve influenced your work? And now that Otter has achieved publication, where do you see your writing headed?


I like the works of Mark Doty, Paul Monette, Frank O’Hara, Phyllis Webb, Earle Birney, Wilfred Owen, Louis Dudek, John Barton… If I could easily verbalize how they’ve influenced my writing, the poems, I feel, would be harder to write. Or maybe they’d be essays instead.

Where’s my writing headed? That question bums me out. It’s like the time I was graduating university and this CTV reporter asked me if I had a job lined up. She had a camera and everything. I was like, “I’m still wearing the gown.” I wrote a poem about space the other day. So it’s definitely safe to say that my next book will be all about space and that Chris Hadfield will write the blurb.


I’m fascinated by your move into writing for film, such as the web series pilot “Other Men.” How did this project come about, and how does your film writing interact with your poetry? Is script work something you see yourself moving deeper into?


I haven’t written about that experience so excuse the wall of text. Ahem:

It started when I wrote a short film and shared it with a few friends, including filmmaker Illya Klymkiw. Illya and I knew each other through In/Words community, actually. We’d both been in The Moose & Pussy and we liked each other’s works and became pals. We spent some time working on it, and went through several drafts. He suggested I rewrite the whole thing as a webseries.

I had just sent the Otter manuscript out, and I needed a project to keep myself sane. I wrote the scripts with budget in mind. My brother owned a motorbike so I wrote that into it, that kind of thing. A scene at a crowded bar was probably as impractical as things got. Illya and his girlfriend (now wife) Stephanie Coffey were so patient. I didn’t know how to write a proper screenplay. Stephanie, a cinematographer, was looking for something to direct, and we figured we’d make the first episode ourselves. It was an experience from which we all stood to benefit, creatively and professionally.

We got a cinematographer on board and began casting. That took ages, but thankfully we found the actors we did. A lot of it was filmed over the course of a weekend, mostly in my apartment. We had camera assistants, production assistants, a make-up artist, an editor. There was a full crew working for zero dollars because they liked the project. If we’d been paying properly for that labour it would have been very costly. We knew we’d need plenty of money if we wanted to make the rest of it.

The trailer caught the attention of TIFF’s queer film festival, Inside Out. Premiering the pilot there made the project a successful one. We were so delighted and so proud of each other. We never found a big enough source of financial support to make the whole thing, and we all got busy with other, more gainful projects, so it’s just the one episode.

I loved writing the scripts for “Other Men” but right now, I’m not looking to take part in another film project. There are many, many intermediaries between the screenwriter and the film, and I think my background as a poet really messed with me on that front. I’m not used to such necessarily collaborative work. Plus, the idea of money (or lack thereof) effecting the quality of the final product is frustrating and frightening. It takes one person and no money to make a poem. When the writer is finished writing a poem, there are no more steps or people, the poem is done. That’s crazy! After I was done the “Other Men” scripts, it took a while to make poems again. Once that happened, my fondness for the medium had evidently been strengthened. A handful of the poems in Otter’s third section come from that time. It was delightful, if unavoidably lonely, to be the only person again.

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa with his brilliantly talented wife, the poet, editor and bookbinder Christine McNair, and their daughter, Rose. 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 (with Christine McNair), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (, Touch the Donkey ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He also curates the weekly “Tuesday poem” series at the dusie blog, and the “On Writing” series at the ottawa poetry newsletter. 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 He currently spends his days full-time with toddler Rose, writing entirely at the whims of her nap-schedule.


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