Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

On Writing, with Steven Price

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[Photo credit: Esi Edugyan]

Steven Price talks to Open Book about his newest poetry collection, Omens in the Year of the Ox, including classical characters into his work and what is currently eating up most of his time.

Steven will be at the INCITE Series in Vancouver on March 7, 2012, at 7:30 p.m. Check out the website for more details.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new poetry collection, Omens in the Year of the Ox.

Steven Price:

I?ll quote from the back cover: ?Part of a long-lived struggle to address the mysteries that both surround and inhabit us, to address the moral lack in the human heart and the labour of living with such a heart.


You reference Gerard Manley Hopkins in the poem "The Crossing," and the rhythm of this poem is indeed spell-binding. Could you tell us about the importance of rhythm in your poetry? How conscious are you of rhythm at work?


I don?t know. Rhythm?s a hard thing for me to get away from, certainly. I wonder if it?s any different for any poet though. The relation of stressed to unstressed syllables, their shifting patterns of sound, these are an essential part of anyone?s ?ear? in poetry, I?d think. Hopkins had a beautiful, bizarre music, beautiful in its ugliness. He was the first poet I encountered in whom I heard something of myself echoing back to me, something I recognized that was in me as well. It might very well have been a part of his rhythm, I?m not sure. Whatever it was, there was that essential shock of the strange and the familiar. But his life too, fixed by faith, filled with all sorts of despair and rage and humility, has served as both an exemplar and a caution to anyone with ambitions in poetry. If he casts any kind of shadow over ?The Crossing,? it?s that as well.


The poems in Omens in the Year of the Ox are interspersed with a series of "Chorus" poems, which have a flavour all their own. What are these poems doing in the context of the collection?


I?ve never really been certain. But I think now perhaps that is part of their point. I do know that I wanted to find some way to accommodate an uneasiness I was feeling about the entire project. This took several other forms during the writing, but none of them felt quite honest, none of them felt like there was enough of ?me? in the bafflement. Running counter and strange to any line I hear in my head at any particular moment is a kind of nonsense music, a forcing of the play of sound and sense. The Chorus poems offered an opportunity to let those voices out. A quarrelling and testing, which is otherwise elided into the fixed line. Each Chorus came very quickly, once their play was allowed.


You reference a number of classical characters in these poems. Why were you drawn to these narratives and how do you see your own reworking of them?


I suppose they serve a similar purpose to the character of Houdini in my first book, Anatomy of Keys. By which I mean they serve as stand-ins for myself, for my own concerns, for episodes and obsessions in my own life that needed a kind of distancing. The risk is always the appearance of ?shorthand,? of easy associations, Icarus for inspiration, Penelope for patience, and so forth. The ambition is to hold an ambiguity in the images, to find something bottomless in them. The challenge is to make them new.


Last year you published your first novel, Into That Darkness (Thomas Allen Publishers). Were you working on these books concurrently? How did the two projects inform and affect each other?


The two books are in many ways companion pieces to each other. They were being written at the same time, over the same several years, each exploring the outer limits of what was permissible, what was right, the problem and impact of certain kinds of evil in the world. But each finds its own respective way towards a different kind of solace. Or so I?d hope. It?s tempting always to talk about one?s ambitions for a book, rather than the book itself.


What does poetry ? your own and that of others ? do for you?


Ask me this on any particular day and you?ll hear a different answer. I honestly don?t know how to reply to this. I?ve always been very impatient with overly romantic or dreamy notions of poetry, of the poet?s life, of the sudden flash of inspiration. And yet, despite this, there is something ineffable and frightening about poetry that is very hard to talk about, but nevertheless undeniably there. Of course poetry?s only one of several ways of approaching the problem of how to be in the world. But it?s one of the oldest, and seems to offer something our essential selves need and have always needed. I might add that part of its efficacy lies in the difficulty of talking about its efficacy, I think.


What are you working on now?


Oh, reading, if anything. Our first daughter was born six months ago, and she?s just been devouring my attention. But happily, happily.

Steven Price was born and raised in Colwood, BC. His first collection of poetry, Anatomy of Keys (Brick Books, 2006), won the Gerald Lampert Award and was named a Globe & Mail Book of the Year. His work has appeared in Canadian and American literary journals. He is one of the poets in Breathing Fire 2: Canada's New Poets, edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane. Price graduated from the University of Virginia Writing Program, and currently teaches poetry and writing at the University of Victoria.

For more information about Omen in the Year of the Ox please visit the Brick Books website.

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

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