25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Kemeny Babineau

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Kemeny Babineau

Poet Kemeny Babineau talks to Open Book about generational angst, a translated haiku that rattled him, how Leonard Cohen was his first love and his new chapbook After Progress (above/ground press).

After Progress is available from above/ground press for $4. Those who subscribe to above/ground press will receive a complimentary copy. For more information, visit the website.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new chapbook, After Progress.

Kemeny Babineau:

I took the title from the first poem of the series which is a tip of the hat to American poet Barrett Watten. The poem is written in the style of poems from Watten?s book titled Progress. Of course, I like the sardonic intimations of After Progress. It seems apt. The poems are loosely gathered comments on poetry and the current age. Ironically, I spent about 10 years trying to get the ego out of the poem, and now, I think, I?m trying to put it back, but differently. I see this as an attempt at such.


How would you describe your writing process?


Unintentional, improvisational, aleatory. I don?t work by proscription, I rarely sit down with the intent of writing a poem, it is the poem that sits me down and writes me.


There seems to be a thread connecting the title of your last work, After the 6ix O?clock News, to your new work, After Progress. What is the significance of ?after??


I hadn?t noticed. Not intentional. However, the first full-length manuscript (unpublished) of poetry I put together is called ?What Remains.? So there is a kind of thread there. What Remains is essentially what is there after. I think there may be a sense of generational angst in it, or a generational grudge. The X generation comes right on the heels of the boomers, and of boom times. This is the first generation to feel that most of the pie has already been eaten, and what?s left is tainted. I mean America burned up all its oil in about 30 years, spilling it out in big cars, sprawling cities, hot war, cold war, weapons. This is indicative. A great waste.


Why did you decide to start Laurel Reed Books, the poetry micro-press you run out of Mt. Pleasant?


So that I could get published of course, at first, and then, so that I could publish the work of people whose writing I admired.


How have poets Leonard Cohen, Milton Acorn and Susan Musgrave influenced the way you perceive poetry?


I?m wondering why you chose those three, curiously they all had a big impact on me as a teenager. Cohen was my first love, he made me want to be a poet, wise romantic and rebellious. Milton Acorn, while I admire many of his poems to this day, made me reach for the impossible. And by that I mean I chased for a long time the notion of people?s poetry. I no longer think such a thing is possible, but mostly because people don?t want it. Also, the circumstances of the modern artist are such that they are forced to be counter-cultural. Susan Musgrave was the first poet to scare me, her poems were not afraid to look into the darkness. This is obligatory.


How would you define the state of contemporary poetry in Canada?


There are the living, and the living dead. Canadian poetry is somewhat haunted by its great figures from the boomer generation, but I think a new poetry is beginning to peak out from under the plinth. Trouble is I don?t know if it?s taking an audience with it.


What was the last poem you read that rattled you?


That would be a haiku by Japanese poet Ransetsu. The version I read was translated into Spanish by Ecuadorian poet Jorge Carrera Andrade and then translated from Spanish into English by an editor.

Higashi, the mountain,
like a body
beneath a sheet.

Micrograms (Wave Books, 2011), Jorge Carrera Andrade

Kemeny Babineau lives outside Brantford Ontario with his wife and two daughters. He edits an independent literary rag called The New Chief Tongue that appears courtesy of Laurel Reed Books. Babineau?s most recent work is After the 6ix O?Clock News published by BookThug.

For more information about After Progress please visit the above/ground press website.

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