Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Poets in Profile: Roland Prevost

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Roland Prevost

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our Poets in Profile series. Today we speak with Roland Prevost, whose chapbook Parapagus has just been published with above/ground press. "We are reduced to call upon the eye and ear," writes Roland — and he calls upon both, telling us about French Canadian folk songs, Robert Kroetsch's long poem "The Ledger" and a particular dust mote from 1978.

Roland will launch Parapagus at Ottawa's Factory Reading Series this Saturday, December 15 at 7:30 p.m. He'll be joined by poet Shannon Maguire and fiction writer Craig Calhoun. Visit our Events page for details.

Open Book:

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

Roland Prevost:

The first was growing up in a singing family. At most family gatherings, during car rides to the family cottage or other long trips, during weekly campfires by the lake in the summer, we'd sing, often in multi-part harmony. Early on, we'd sing mostly French-Canadian chansons à répondre, but soon enough, my older sisters began to introduce popular English songs they had heard on the radio. We had to remember the words to all these songs, and learn to express them with some degree of feeling and conviction.

The second experience follows from the first, and involves beginning to write my own songs, at the age of 14, particularly in response to the lyrics of songwriters like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn, etc.

And then finally, not too long after that, feeling perhaps a bit emboldened by my experience with writing lyrics, I joined a bi-weekly poetry workshop at Pestalozzi College, on Rideau St. in Ottawa. The writers at this "free school" were all older (University level, whereas I was still in high school). The poems we discussed there and the generous openness of those talks split open my worldview.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


The first actual book of poetry written by a single author that I remember reading was The Collected Poems of Irving Layton. I couldn't believe the vibrancy and freedom of spirit with which he wrote. Again, it seemed like an invitation into a broader, richer perspective on the world.

As for a single poem, I remember first reading e.e.cummings's "anyone lived in a pretty how town". I was fairly young at the time. It seemed a simple rhyming poem, but one that played with language in such unique ways. With lines like:

"he sang his didn't he danced his did"

"bird by snow and stir by still"

"someones married their everyones"

"little by little and was by was"

I recall feeling a bit dizzy after reading it. How much room it suggested we might find inside and between words. Much fun to be had.


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


Ah... that's quite a difficult wish list to winnow down! Pretending for a moment that I'm able to play this ONE-poem-I-wish-I'd-written game, I'd say Robert Kroetsch's "The Ledger". This long poem plays so nimbly and originally with both form and meaning that it repeatedly acts as a catalyst.

I'd seen such explorations before, when reading poetry in my youth, in the works of such people as e.e.cummings and bpnichol. But Kroetsch's particular blend of form and message in "The Ledger" continues to strongly appeal to me. Such a strange and potent magic, there. It's inspired a finer sense of balance regarding WHAT you can say and HOW you can say it, in writing both poetry and short stories.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


In 1978, there was this one particular particle of dust, weightless and suspended in mid-air by the heat of sunlight coming in from tall windows. It rotated very slowly at eye-level, tumbling end-over-end, like a small asteroid. Somehow this struck me as a moment out of time. One that has remained with me since and still contributes a fraction to every poem.


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


Accept that it's not working. Try my best to learn why. Then completely let it go.


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


Monty Reid's The Luskville Reductions (Brick Books, 2008). It has an unbelievable level of quality maintained throughout the entire book, page after page. I'm very impressed by the simplicity and power of his style, his ability to give us so many different slices of a thing on a single page. A fine work indeed.


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


The best, for me, is the amplitude of awareness that a decent poem sparks. It's as if the density of perception increases, metabolizes more fully, when encapsulated in a poem. It acts like a brilliant pair of corrective lenses.

The worst thing is suffering the ratio of rejections to acceptances, especially when you first begin submitting poems armed with a shaky confidence at best. Painfully learning, through this, to separate the goals of writing from the goals of publishing, gradually finding ways to advance on both.

Roland Prevost's poetry appears in Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant Magazine, the Ottawa Arts Review, Bywords Quarterly Journal, The Peter F. Yacht Club, and Ottawater (online). He has three previous chapbooks: Metafizz (2007, Bywords), Dragon Verses (2009, Dusty Owl), and Our/ Are Carried Invisibles (2009, above/ground). He's also been published in three poetry collections by AngelHousePress: Whack of Clouds (2008), Pent Up (2009), and Experiment-O (Issue 1, 2008 online). He won the 2006 John Newlove Poetry Award. He was, for a few years, the managing editor of 17 seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, as well as, both online. He studied English and Psychology at York University and the University of Manitoba. He lives, writes and peers through telescopes in Ottawa.

For more information about Parapagus and to purchase your copy, please visit the above/ground press blog.

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