25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Wayne Clifford

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Wayne Clifford

Wayne Clifford talks to Open Book about The Dirt?s Passion Is Flesh Sorrow, the third volume of The Exile?s Papers, how he came up with the idea for The Exile Papers and how a sonnet is never finished.

Open Book:

Tell us about The Dirt?s Passion Is Flesh Sorrow, the third volume of The Exile?s Papers.

Wayne Clifford:

Obviously, Part Three follows Part Two, The Face as its Thousand Ships, which in turn follows Part One, The Duplicity of Autobiography. Part One reiterates the cultural truth that all stories are versions, and all versions are lies, and provides three major narrative threads to demonstrate. Part Two presents the female in several aspects, goddesses, daughters, lovers, dogs, set in the cultural and ordinary matrix of the narrator?s time and untime. Part Three is perhaps closest to Dante?s Purgatorio, one of the salients that inspired the project. And Part Four, Just Beneath Your Skin, the Dark Begins, brings all those willing to trudge the journey to an X on the map that seems familiar in its strangeness, because all versions are, after all, the truth.


How did you get the idea for the project? Is it turning out the way you visualized?


I was snipping out lines from a Scientific American article about the sewing up of kittens? eyes, and the later dissection of the kittens? brains, in a =L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E= manipulation that still couldn?t remove me from the ghost of the suffering of the kittens for science?s sake, when an insight that felt quite profound let me understand the vacuous triviality of most modern and post-modern art. The first thing I decided was never to support General Idea or Gilbert & George again in any way into the future, and the second was to try again to write a sonnet, because there may be a connection between form and function. This epiphany led to On Abducting the ?Cello, a prototype for The Exile?s Papers.


When you finish writing a sonnet, what criteria do you use to decide if it belongs in the next volume or is simply meant for something else?


I never finish writing a sonnet. Everything?s temporary. Everything?s a jury-rig. Things fit or I throw them away.


You were born in the 1940s and published your first book of poetry in 1965. Has a certain decade informed your poetry more than others?


Time, when I look out the window, or love my sweetie, is always now, and pop culture has never much interested me. I read Wallace Stevens as if he were still alive, because, when I read him, he is. Or Chaucer. Or Rimbaud. Mick Jagger is the face of unfortunate teenaged angst. I wish the boy would get laid satisfactorily, or grow up, one or the other, but get his leer out of the public face.


How has pop culture manifested itself in your work?


Pop culture is the only culture we share in common in Canada. Read any Urdu poetry lately? Any Serbian stories? When a Sri Lankan raised in British boarding schools can win us over with a cowboy tale from the wild U.S., we know in our hearts we have naught but the descendants of AM radio.


Are you working on any other projects?


Of course. The dementia is not so far advanced.


What has poetry taught you?


Everything. Nothing.

Wayne Clifford was born in Toronto in 1944. He studied English at University College at the University of Toronto in the mid-60s during which time he came to be associated with a small coterie of students that included Stan Bevington, Dennis Reid, Doris and Judith Cowan, and David Bolduc. Wayne also remembers Tangiers Al, but not clearly, which says something about the time. While still an undergraduate Wayne won numerous Norma Epstein prizes for his poetry and also one E. J. Pratt Award (1967) that he shared with Michael Ondaatje. (One poet kept the money, the other, the medal. In the end each felt equally cheated.)

For more information about The Dirt?s Passion Is Flesh Sorrow please visit the The Porcupine?s Quill website.

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

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