For the third year in a row, Arc is proud to offer the community of writers a chance to work with influential Canadian poets. This year’s Poet-in-Residence, Rob Winger, is a poet, editor and teacher. His first book, Muybridge’s Horse, was named a Globe and Mail Best Book and shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, the Ottawa Book Award, and Trillium Book Award for Poetry. His latest is a book of ghazals, The Chimney Stone. Arc chatted him up before the hordes of aspiring poets marched forth…
Arc: Who have your mentors been?
Rob Winger: Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the most encouraging, insightful reader I’ve ever had, a man who just died this past summer: Arthur Motyer, a good friend and committed teacher and generous soul. Doesn’t it make such a difference when you first start out and someone takes you seriously, takes time enough to help you hope you might get somewhere and eventually say something worth reading? He would take drafts of these terrible, early poems, read and re-read them over hours, then emerge from his study or kitchen with the most valuable, most encouraging suggestions and ideas. A wonderful, rare man. I’ve got many other mentors, of course, not all of whom are writers. But Arthur stands out these days.
Arc: What’s pinned above your desk?
Arc: What is your idea of happiness?
RW: When the guitar bits start at the beginning of “Ceremony.”
Arc: What is your idea of misery?
RW: Factory workers moulding plastic things for Wal-Mart.
Arc: What fault do you most tolerate in others?
Arc: What poetic tic or habit of yours do you most wish you could change?
Arc: What trends (themes, schools, retroactive or reactive movements, etc) do you foresee in poetry?
RW: None. Most of these, I think, are named by critics rather than writers, and I say this as a part-time critic, myself. The ones named by poets are inspired and I have no idea how they happen. The ones named by critics usually have a different kind of tunnel vision since any historical or subjective explanation for artistic movements happen can only really be made convincingly in retrospect, often by editing out the inevitable disagreement and discord every historical group has. I think even the named movements that seem to arrive organically on the scene are almost always in conversation with what other types of people are thinking in any given situation or era. There’s no beginning, no magical key that can really tell you how Modernism or Cubism or Eco-poetics began, for example, no perfect moment for evolution. And I wonder what happens if we change this question to the present tense instead of the future? Does asking about now give us the chance to see where we are instead of where we might fantasize about being, later? Or would it just leave us overthinking and stuck?
Arc: Death of the book foretold—nevah gonna happen, or can’t be helped?
RW: I think this depends on what we mean by ‘book’? If we mean the technology made of trees, printed with endangered oils, and sandwiched between post-consumer French flaps, I’m not sure it matters much whether that technology is replaced, despite nostalgia for actual pages and spines. If we mean something else—as in the post-apocalyptic end of creativity—I think people are unlikely to stop writing or making things; and I think things tend to stay the same more than they change from any given historical epoch to another. Our age, as far as I can tell, is no different than any other in its self-important attempts to say we’re in more crisis, in more trouble, more stressed out than anyone else ever before. I wonder if they used to debate and then lament the death of the quill.
Arc: What is your present state of mind?
RW: One surrounded by the Andaman Sea.
Arc: Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
RW: Nope. And that’s probably a good thing. My bet is it rhymed (forcibly). And was angry (blindly). And was about love and death (self-indulgently). And Icarus—doesn’t every young writer make an Icarus poem?
Arc: What poem would you most like to have written, and why?
RW: There’s just too many to really answer this truthfully, and every time I read a new one that sets me on fire, it becomes a new answer that I find totally convincing! As a younger writer, I’d have said Ondaatje’s Billy the Kid. A bit older: Howl and/or Leaves of Grass or Neruda. In grad school: any minimalist lyric by W.C. Williams. And more recently? Dionne Brand’s ferocity; Adrienne Rich’s intelligence; Basho’s long-lost roads; “Caledonia” in Ken Babstock’s new book; and the list goes on!
Arc: What super-power would you most like to possess?
RW: I’d like to be clever, here, but I still have realistic dreams about this, so feel I should bend in the direction of honesty: plain, old flight.
All those who submit their poems to Arc may be considered for participation in the Arc Poet-in-Residence program.