25th Trillium Award

Lonely As a Cloud, with Stewart Cole of Fish Quill Poetry Boat

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The Fish Quill Poetry Boat is set to launch their canoes down the Grand River once again, giving poetry readings and musical performances at cafes, 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 kick their tour off with a reading at Toronto's Tranzac Club on Thursday, June 13. Additional performances will follow in Elora, West Montrose, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Paris, Brantford and Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. 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, Stewart Cole tells us about his book, Questions in Bed (Goose Lane Editions), a book written in Eastern Canada, Morocco, Jamaica and England, countries that reveal themselves as "a truer fiction than home."

Open Book:

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

Stewart Cole:

Questions in Bed is my first collection, published in the fall of 2012. When people ask what it?s ?about?, I usually say that it derives its inspiration from things we might lie awake at night thinking about — which is obviously a cop-out, because that means just about anything. I conceived of it as a kind of coherent miscellany, unifying its diverse formal and thematic approaches through voice and (for lack of a better word) mood. It does also have three title poems, all twenty lines long and consisting solely of questions, which serve as conceptual hinges, evenly spaced throughout the book in lieu of section breaks.


Where did you compose most of these poems?


Primarily in Toronto and Frederiction, but also in Morocco, Jamaica and various places around England.


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


Besides serving as sites of composition, places I?ve travelled have given me fresh images, new words and access to experiences and worldviews remote from my own. I think that the great Romantic imperative to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange is still one of poetry?s worthiest ends, and travel helps us experience such defamiliarization first-hand. Most importantly for my work, travel has allowed me to experience myself as alien, to see the contingency and (often) absurdity of my personal beliefs, rituals and assumptions — and those of the society that shaped me. There are several explicit travel poems in Questions in Bed, and in one of them the traveller-speaker observes, ?this country is a truer fiction than home.? That line sums up much of the importance of travel to my writing: it helps reveal the fictions we live by, the essential literariness of so much of what we mistake for reality.


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


For sheer pleasure, Vancouver Island. I lived in Victoria for six years and haven?t been back since 2004, and I miss the ocean and the beautiful trees: garry oaks, arbutus, sequoias. So that would be for pure ?inspirational? purposes. Out of curiosity, Newfoundland. I?ve never been, but I have a feeling I?d love the culture, and I have some good poet-friends there. For practical research reasons, one of the quaint rural towns along the Rideau Canal between Ottawa and Kingston. I spent much of my formative life in the area — born in Kingston, grew up in a small town outside Ottawa, and spent lots of time at various spots along the Rideau River — and I?ve long wanted to do some writing about the Canal, one of the staggering early feats of engineering in Canada.


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


Depends where you?re going. For example, I?m heading to Manchester later this summer, and I?ll be reading Friedrich Engels?s The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844), his account of the industrial revolution and the dilemmas of the emerging urban proletariat, largely centered on Manchester. I?ll also be taking along books by Carol Ann Duffy, Tony Harrison and Sean O?Brien — three poets with strong and vivid linkages to England?s industrial north.

Stewart Cole grew up in the Rideau Valley south of Ottawa and has since lived in Victoria, Montreal, Fredericton and Toronto. His poetry and reviews have appeared in a variety of publications across Canada. His chapbook Sirens was published by Cactus Press in 2011. He now lives in London, Ontario.

Visit Stewart's blog, The Urge, each month for a new review of Canadian poetry.

For more information about Questions in Bed please visit the Goose Lane Editions website.

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

Find out more about the Fish Quill Poetry Boat on their Facebook page.

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