25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Lise Downe

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Lise Downe. Photo by Tristan Downe-Dewdney.

So you think you know detective fiction...you've followed every adventure of Sherlock Holmes, and you know Miss Marple better than your own grandmother. Writer and visual artist Lise Downe has a different take on the mystery genre. In her new collection of poetry, This Way (BookThug), she follows the twists, turns and contradictions of life to find evidence of even deeper mystery. Today, Lise helps to demystify the writer's work, telling us more about This Way and how important it is to sometimes forget what we are looking at — in order to see it anew.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, This Way.

Lise Downe:

The presence of oppositional impulses, a tension and balancing of complementary tendencies, informs much of the writing in my most recent book This Way. The cover image is the first clue, given that the arrow directs us to go both right and left at the same time. The poems all present or contend with mysteries, be they existential, poetic, or nods to the genre of detective writing. In a sense they are evidence of a process of sorting out the real from the imagined, a useful bit of knowledge from something that is inconsequential, a red herring from a concrete fact. A lot of the mystery is in the act of writing and in balancing or allowing space for the irrational or inexplicable.


How do you see This Way in relation to your previous work? Is it a departure or the continuation of an ongoing project?


Essentially, This Way is a progression of previous work; a consideration of how we are confounded by seeming contradictions in life and a need to loosen habitual ways of thinking or approaching the world and language so that it is possible to experience it as something new.


You are a painter, a sculptor and a jewelry maker as well as a poet. How does your work as a visual artist inform your poetry?


I suspect that there is a deep influence on my writing from my visual work.

One of the most important suggestions a drawing teacher gave me years ago was to forget about what it was I was looking at. In that particular instance it was a model?s face, and I was having difficulty drawing the relationship of the mouth to the chin. Once I dropped giving that ?thing? a name and looked at it purely as structure, light and shade, and so on, I was able to see and render it. In other words, I had to suspend a preconceived definition in order to see.


What writers have most influenced your work?


This is an impossible question to answer. If I am to whittle it down to the writers I have read and re-read the most over many years, then they are John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop and Michael Palmer.


Describe your ideal creative environment.


My ideal creative environment is one that provides uninterrupted time and space to work on my own, and that includes frequent contact with other artists/writers.


What is your writing community like? Would you describe yourself as a collaborative writer who thrives on feedback and discussion, or are you more solitary?


I am fairly solitary, although I enjoy readings and other events. I had been ?out of the loop? for awhile and am gradually re-entering it. My biggest lament is that I have little time for my work.


What are you working on now?


I?ve started writing some new poems, but these are early days. I?ve yet to see where they will lead.

Lise Downe grew up in London, Ontario, where she experienced the art of Londoners Greg Curnoe, Jack Chambers and Patterson Ewen, among others. After completing a major in printmaking at the Beal Art Annex, she then spent a year in England studying sculpture. On her return to Canada she painted for many years before turning her hand to writing, and later, to studying jewellery at George Brown College and OCAD. She has three previously published books of poetry: A Velvet Increase of Curiosity, The SoftSignature and Disturbances of Progress. She has exhibited her art and jewellery in Toronto and across Canada. Lise lives in Toronto, where she continues to write and make jewellery and other small sculptures.

For more information about This Way please visit the BookThug Press website.

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

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