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Q & A with Amanda Earl
Interview by Ren Tomovcik
( Photos of Amanda by Charles Earl)
Poet, publisher and wordsmith extraordinaire, Amanda Earl has been a major contributor to Ottawa's literary community for several years.
_______________________Amanda, how long have you been living and writing in Ottawa? I’ve lived here since 1986. I didn’t start sharing my writing publicly until 2000, but I’ve always written.
If you were describing Ottawa in just a few words for someone who had never been here, what would you say about our city?People assume that it’s boring. They confuse Ottawa, the city with Ottawa, the seat of boring politics. It’s true that politics and bureaucracy are a snooze fest, but this city is overflowing with creativity, independence and anarchy. It’s because we have to put up with the ridiculous bureaucracy that we end up busting loose. There are so many interesting groups and things to do here and most of these things have nothing to do with being Canada’s National Capital.
For an excellent insider’s guide to Ottawa, I recommend rob mclennan’s book “Ottawa, the Unknown City” (Arsenal Pulp Press).
Where in the city do you go when you need to find some inspiration for your writing?With a good friend to the National Gallery and pubs in the afternoons and sometimes late into the night; my bathtub where I have a good long soak and listen to Lightnin’ Hopkins while sipping on a tumbler of whiskey, cafes, libraries, Facebook (especially those silly quizzes!) the O-Train, the airport, the bus depot, the train station...
What are the Ottawa lit blogs and websites you visit most?Bywords.ca, Ottawater.com, 17 Seconds, rob mclennan, Pearl Pirie, Kathryn Hunt...
You often read your work at local events. Do you prefer reading your work out loud or writing it on paper?Both are essential. Reading to an audience is a stage in the writing process for me. I also revise by reading aloud to myself and to my first reader, who is my husband, Charles. We’re fortunate in Ottawa, where there are lots of reading series with open mics where you can share your work. (See the calendar of events at Bywords.ca!)
Who is currently inspiring you locally? Globally?Locally, Jamie Bradley, Sandra Ridley, Marcus McCann, Pearl Pirie, Roland Prevost, Christine McNair and former local Sean Moreland, members of my poetry group and poets I’ve published through AngelHousePress.
Globally, Anne Carson. Carson is a Canadian but with global influence. She is one of the most versatile writers I’ve encountered. She plays with form, she experiments with language and she writes in a multitude of genres, even mingling poetry with the essay form. I’ve only just started to discover her work but I plan to dedicate myself to reading her work and reading about her writing after I’m finished with a long poem in progress. Basically I’m going to go to Anne Carson school.
Which writer's work has had a lasting impact on you and why?Gwendolyn MacEwen, because of the way she weaved mythology through her writing and her strong imagery, which still stays with me. “The Red Bird You Wait For” is still my favourite poem. I want my work to have the ability to mesmerize as Ms. MacEwen did.
Exile Books put out a wonderful selected a few years ago, which I recommend for anyone who wants to read her work.
You often listen to certain music to get into the right mind space when you create. Can you describe this process and how it helps/inspires you?I’m a music addict. I’m always listening to music and love getting suggestions for more. I make playlists based on the poems I write and also to help me with inspiration for the poem.
I work primarily in the long poem form. This requires me to get into a groove and keep going. Depending on the project, music can sometimes help me with the pacing. not always, but as an example, when I was writing “Sessions from the Dream House Aria,” a long poem which features white and winter, ghosts and Vikings, I listened to Ghosts I-IV, a 36 track instrumental collection by Nine Inch Nails, which a good friend recommended. It changes pace and rhythms and different parts work for different parts of the poem.
I have synaesthesia, which means that some senses are blended for me. Colour and sound are inextricably linked so that when I work with imagery and sounds, I like to have music that matches those sounds.
You recently got (more) into photography. Tell us a little bit about your journey into another art form. How does looking at the world through a lens help you focus your creative mind? Charles, my husband, is an amazing photographer. Over the years, I’ve been actively involved in his photography, seeing him shoot, seeing and discussing with him the decisions he’s made in processing and helping him to decide on which photos to post on his daily photo site, Through The Broken Viewfinder. I guess I’ve developed an eye. I used to have trouble describing things physically, preferring to talk about emotion or tone. But looking through a lens has honed that ability. That’s good for my poetry too. Poetry for me begins in the moment. Photography also captures moments. Such images can initiate a poem.
P H O T O S B Y A M A N D A E A R L
You have a Masters in French literature. How did choosing this particular path of study change you, and how is its influence present in your literary work today?I needed to study French in order to become a translator, which I was for a few years. When I studied French literature I developed an appreciation for writers such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Victor Hugo, Jean Cocteau, Camus, and Antoine de St.-Exupéry. Studying French along with other languages also improved my English, because I had to learn grammar as opposed to in my English classes where no grammar was taught. Learning grammar gave me a vocabulary which is universal and essential to work as an editor and with other editors.
I have always loved other languages and cultures, and particularly French. I’ve also written a long poem called Eleanor (above/ground press, 2007), in which the medieval Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was queen of both France and England and the mother of Richard the Lionhearted, wanders through current day Ottawa. Basically I’ve always been fascinated with the history and culture of France and the influences this culture has had on Canada, particularly in Francophone regions such as Québec, which is a province I adore.
Right now I’m working on a long poem about Montparnasse, France between the first and second world wars. It was one of the most creative times in history. So many amazing artists and writers all in one place and time. People like Ernest Hemingway, Jean Cocteau, Picasso, André Breton and of course, Kiki de Montparnasse.
Tell us about the Kiki project! How long have you been working on it, and how is it coming along? Left: Kiki de Montparnasse, as painted by Gustaw Gwozdecki.
Kiki de Montparnasse was a painter, cabaret singer and model to many famous artists including Man Ray, who was also her lover. She led a fascinating and wild, hedonistic life, involving sex, love, alcohol, and drugs . I started researching her about three or four years ago when i saw a CBC documentary on Paris called Les Années Folles. I was seduced by the era, which was driven by wild abandon, limitless creativity and camaraderie.
I read her memoirs and I was hooked. Everyone knew her and adored her. She is one of the most photographed, painted and sculpted women of that era, and there were a lot of fascinating people in that era. If I behave myself, I might have a book length manuscript by the end of the year. If I continue to get distracted by love, beauty and Guinness…
You recently received a grant for your work on Kiki. What advice would you give to writers/artists in general about obtaining financial support with art?I actually received two: the first was from the Ontario Arts Council’s Writers’ Reserve Program and the second was from the City of Ottawa. It felt really good to be given support from the provincial and municipal governments. The year has been a happy one for me creatively so far. “Sessions from the Dream House Aria” was short-listed for the Snare Books’ Robert Kroetsch Award. Based on these responses, it feels a bit like I have permission to write, which is kind of goofy, but receiving commendation and money does provide some kind of professional validation.
As to advice…the City turned down my application for Kiki the previous year. This year I reapplied with pretty much the same application. So i guess my advice is that if you are committed to the project, don’t listen if it’s turned down once and just reapply. The juries change apparently.
This year, you stopped blogging after six years of regular updates. Where do you put all that extra creative energy now, and why did you decide to end your blog? When I started to blog in 2003, it was because there was no real documentation of local literary events and small press. Now others, such as rob mclennan, Pearl Pirie, Jessica Ruano and Kathryn Hunt, are blogging about these things and there’s also the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter blog and more culture-based sites cropping up, such as Ottawafocus.com and Apt613.
My literary tastes have also changed a great deal in six years as I read more contemporary writing. I used to blog all events I attended, but now, I do not always engage with the work I hear. Makes it difficult to write about it. Blogging used to be my motivation to research poetics and writers’ work. Now I do that as a regular part of my writing and reading, but it’s more focussed on what I’m working on as opposed to who the featured readers happen to be. I’ll still research a featured reader if I want to know more about that person’s work before I hear him or her.
One series that continues to intrigue with its readers and performers is the A B Series hosted by Max Middle. I usually find myself spending much time researching the upcoming guests so that I can enjoy their work more fully when I hear it. I’m excited that Max is hosting the Be Blank Consort in the fall. This is a sound poetry ensemble and sound poetr y intrigues me but I know little about it. Time to start researching. Some of this research goes into articles that get published elsewhere, such as in an issue of Ottawater.com. I am also really focussed on Kiki right now and i pour a lot of energy into that.
You founded the Bywords Quarterly Journal in 2003. What motivated you to start this project up? The former Bywords, the Bywords Monthly Magazine, existed from 1990-2001. Bywords.ca and the Bywords Quarterly Journal began in 2003. I was motivated by the fact that the Bywords Monthly was a well loved magazine that had a calendar of events people relied on and poetry that represented the community. I found out when I attended a few literary events in the early aughts (2000/2001) that many people missed it.
At the time I had been taking poetry workshops with Professor Seymour Mayne of the University of Ottawa English Department. He was one of the founders of the Bywords Monthly. When I started to take his workshops, the Bywords Monthly ended. It felt like something that should continue.
What keeps Bywords going? Community keeps Bywords going. Writers submit poetry, artists and photographers submit cover art, musicians play at our readings, events organizers and publishers submit events and calls for submission for our calendar and news pages. Also, my husband is a computer guru and makes the site purr. It’s no easy feat to have a site where the content changes dramatically each month. Thanks to Charles, we also have one of the rare automated poetry management systems in existence.
What's in the future for Bywords?The future is an updated web site; Bywords’ seventh year of participation in the Walk for Life to raise funds and Awareness about AIDS/HIV; the annual John Newlove Poetry Award reading at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in October, the November reading to launch the fall issue of the Bywords Quarterly Journal, and right now we are in the planning stages of a secondary school poetry contest to be held in conjunction with the Writers Festival.
MORE FROM AMANDA EARL
Find Amanda's work in these recent publications:The New Chief Tongue, 2009; Ottawater.com 5.0; Variations Zine 9; Van Gogh’s Ear, Volume 6, The Love Edition, edited by Dawn-Michelle Baude, Paris France; The Windsor Review; Peter F. Yacht Club No 13; Drunkenboat.com Issue 10; Pent Up, AngelHousePress.
And on these websites:
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