Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Poets in Profile: Jack Hannan

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Open Book is celebrating National Poetry Month with daily profiles of today's "unacknowledged legislators of the world." Find out what inspires, confounds and delights the poets behind this spring's new releases by following our series.

Though he's been an important player in the publishing industry for over 40 years, Jack Hannan has been one of Canadian poetry’s best-kept secrets. With the release of Some Frames (Cormorant Books), readers can now feast on Hannan's new work as well as enjoy a number of remarkable poems that have so far only appeared in limited-edition chapbooks and magazines during the late 1970s and 1980s. Hannan’s poetry, which has been compared to Stephane Mallarmé’s and John Ashbery’s, is mysterious and fluid, hermetic and hypnotic, evoking the crescendo of a music score or the emotional pull of an oil painting.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Jack Hannan:

It runs in the family. We share these interests. There was a grand-uncle in Ireland who was a poet, published in various places, and my uncle Brendan Griffin was a poet too, and a novelist, and an actor, and he is the person who gave me my first job in a bookstore, which opened up this whole world for me. Spread around the family tree there are a few writers, some musicians and two dancers that I know of. My mother was once booed off the stage at Carnegie Hall, and apparently had a lot of fun that night. My grandmother was a painter, so there's probably one or two children who are following along that line too, though I don't know who they are yet.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


It seems that everything I read was in the English tradition, or music, until I came upon Lorca's Gypsy Ballads and found that really thrilling. I looked at the book again this morning and I think maybe I could say "The Ballad of the Sleepwalker." I carried the book around for weeks, reading on the bus, sitting in coffee shops, and it led me to Pablo Neruda, and André Breton and on from there, taking the scenic route around to North America.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


This is impossible to answer. It might be easier to name a poem I wish I hadn't written. I have been really excited and carried along by many poems — it happens often, I come across poems pretty regularly that I find thrilling, they inspire me, but I don't wish I had written them. And trying to name one poem that I really like makes me feel like a centipede, I keep thinking “but what about...”


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


There is a poem made up completely of lines taken from the subject headings in email spam.


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?


I went through a period of more than 20 years when I didn't write at all, so I guess I'm the sort of person to put things aside, wait it out. Ideas go into the memory pool and seem to pop up years later.


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?


The Whole Island: Sixty Years of Cuban Poetry (University of California Press, 2009), edited by Mark Weiss. (It's just a coincidence that this isn't the English tradition.) I just special-ordered Magenta Soul Whip (Coach House Books, 2009) by Lisa Robertson. I haven't read it yet, but I'm looking forward to that.


What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?


I like to be writing, the focus that can feel a little like a trance, encompassing. It seems like that feeling of having a song stuck in your head, except you like it a lot and it keeps growing, you don't want it to stop. It can also feel pretty good sometimes when someone else reads what I wrote. The worst is when the mind is blank, dull. Or sometimes that feeling of “Oh, why did I write that down?”

Jack Hannan is a poet and the sales manager at McGill-Queen’s University Press. He has worked in the book industry for over 40 years.

For more information about Some Frames please visit the Cormorant Books website.

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

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