25th Trillium Award

The Gutter Series: Between Projects, Poetry Edition with George Amabile

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George Amabile

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Open Book is launching a new series — The Gutter Series: Between Books, Poetry Edition. (The gutter, as any good book geek knows, refers to the inner margins of two facing pages — literally, the in-between.)

Writing a book is a lengthy process and even the most prolific authors need time to work. We rarely have a chance to chat with writers who haven't published in the current season, and we're curious about life between launches.

Award-winning writer George Amabile is the author of eight books. His most recent collection, Dancing, with Mirrors (The Porcupine's Quill, 2011) is the product of over twenty years' work. He talks to Open Book about writing on Ambergris Caye in Belize, the inspiration of a lemon twist and "the becalmed project [that] waits for a fresh wind."

Open Book:

Where do you look for new project ideas? What is one of the most surprising places you've found inspiration?

George Amabile:

I don?t usually look for ideas. I?ve found that I don?t write well if I start with an idea. Most of my writing begins with an image, or a memory, of sensory experience, or with an incident or event, sometimes with, and sometimes without, a context that includes a relationship with others. The most surprising place I think I?ve ever found the beginnings of a poem was a glass of Perrier water with a twist of lemon. It looked like a flicker of yellow wings over the river, and that was the first line.


Do you celebrate when your books come out? How did you celebrate the first time, with Blood Ties (1972)?


Not really, but, I guess a book launch is kind of a celebration, and sometimes I go out afterward for drinks with friends. The first time, I was no longer happy with the book, or the publisher, but my now ex-wife and friends organized a party. It was a good party, but I declined a request to read some poems and a painter friend who was also a folk musician read instead and did so surprisingly well. When my latest book came out, we, that is my partner and our son, decided we should go out to dinner sometime to celebrate, but we still haven?t got around to it, and that was months ago.


Do you tend to overlap projects or wait until what you're working on is finished to start something new?


I usually work on more than one thing at a time. Probably because there is always that point some writers call "the wall" when the project stalls. Sometimes it takes weeks or longer for me to get past the impasse and that?s when I like having something else, even something entirely different, to work on while the becalmed project waits for a fresh wind. The down side of this arrangement is that I?ve occasionally had two books come out in the same year, or even in the same month, then nothing for a very long time.


Do you have a day job? If so, do you find it helping or hindering your writing? How do you balance writing with other professional pursuits?


Not any more, except the usual jobs of living, food, house renovations, car, relationships, etc. I used to teach at university, but retired years ago. But even then, I took a reduction in pay and class time in order to have more time to devote to scribbling. I found it worked out very well. Talking about literature and trying to write it had a sort of symbiotic synchronicity that developed into a very rich creative dynamic.


What would your ideal writing environment look like?


I?m actually in my ideal writing environment as I type out these answers. Last winter, and again this year, I was able to find a small studio apartment on Ambergris Caye in Belize. I have internet, but no radio, no telephone, no car or other vehicle; the TV is unplugged, and my time is almost entirely my own. I play tennis two or three times a week, run intervals on the other days, and do my own shopping and cooking. Aside from that, I?m free to write six or eight hours a day. I find the culture and climate here very relaxing, almost serene, and there?s no pressure except for the excitement of writing itself, which I find is the best possible condition in which to create.


What's up next for you?


I?m going to quote myself here, from an earlier interview. "A book I?ve been working on called Martial Music, poems about war and empire. Then I?ll probably go back to one of the novels I?ve been messing with for years. After that, I?m not sure — whatever comes swimming up while I stare contentedly at the blank page. I?ve learned by now that something always does."

I?ve actually just resumed work on one of the novels and I hope to have this year?s first draught ready by the time I leave Belize.

George Amabile has published his poetry, fiction and non-fiction in the USA, Canada, Europe, England, Wales, South America, Australia and New Zealand in over a hundred anthologies, magazines, journals and periodicals including The New Yorker, Harper?s, Poetry (Chicago) and The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse.

George has edited a dozen titles for Nuage Editions, Signature Editions and Penguin and has published eight books. The Presence of Fire (McClelland & Stewart, 1982), won the CAA National Prize for literature. He is the subject of a special issue of Prairie Fire, (Vol. 21, No. 1, May 2000) and has served as Writer in Residence at the Winnipeg Public library and the University of British Columbia.

His most recent publications are Dancing, With Mirrors (Porcupine?s Quill, 2011), Tasting the Dark: New and Selected Poems (The Muses Company, an imprint of Gordon J. Shillingford Publishing, 2001) and Rumours of Paradise / Rumours of War (McClelland and Stewart, 1995).

For more information about Dancing, with Mirrors please visit the Porcupine's Quill website.

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

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