Some Thoughts on Reading CWILA Interviews Pitched by External Contributors

By andrea bennett and Tina Northrup

The CWILA interviews section is a robust venue for fostering public commentary and conversation about gender in review culture, artistic practice, and literary cultures in Canada. Racialization, ethnicity, and sexuality have become prominent topics in our conversations—issues that are essential to intersectional feminism.

Our interviews editorial team is currently composed of four women with academic, creative, editorial, and journalistic backgrounds. While we as interviews editors solicit and conduct interviews ourselves, we highly value the work of external contributors. The more voices involved, the better!

You can find our new pitching guidelines here: they give an overview of what we’re interested in and what we’re looking for.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve been privileged to have a number of pitches come in from external contributors, and we’ve been thrilled to publish their interviews on the site. Most recently, we shared Shannon Webb-Campbell’s interview with Shalan Joudry, which offers an early glimpse into the motivations and methods that inform Joudry’s first book of poetry, Generations Re-merging (Gaspereau Press, 2014). Joudry, a Mi’kmaw storyteller, poet, and songwriter, discusses how various artistic media can reach audiences differently. She writes: “As an oral or written storyteller, I consider my audience and what they need from me. I was taught that stories can be medicine or tools to teach and this is how I see my role as a storyteller.” In contrast, she characterizes her poetry as “a personal medicine.” Addressing the social and political necessity of seeing more Indigenous presence in the arts and cultures in Canada, Joudry characterizes the present moment as one in which “we need more Indigenous arts and voices more than ever before.” “If non-native families have only the news to understand who we are as Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia,” she writes, “then we will have a difficult time finding a common future.”

Kasia Wotherspoon’s interview with Jane Munro is another conversation that offers a glimpse into a poet’s methods and inspirations. In response to Wotherspoon’s questions about tradition and form, Munro speaks broadly about her experimentation with collaborative writing and linked verse—most notably with the poetry collective Yoko’s Dogs—as well as with forms such as the ghazal, sonnet, and vacana. As Munro warms to her topic, poetry emerges as a medium that “can make visible—and invite us to pay attention to—individual and social shadows.” “A good poem is a bit like a volcanic island,” says Munro, echoing Jane Hirshfield: “In a volcano, the stuff coming up was previously hidden.” “When a poem works, I feel it drops to the bottom of my mind and gleams among other artefacts in an ocean of memory. Or, to use Hirshfield’s metaphor, it surfaces stuff that forms a new terrain.”

Michelle O’Brien’s interview with Lydia Kwa engages with place, ethnicity, community and diaspora, particularly in relation to Kwa’s novels This Place Called Absence (Kensington, 2000) and Pulse (Key Porter Books, 2010). Kwa says that as writers “we remember through our lived experiences, and we re-live memories in our bodies.” Kwa articulates the difference between writing prescriptively about her values versus writing from a wellspring of lived experience as a queer, feminist writer. She says, “I don’t set out to delineate how to communicate my values so much as trust myself to speak and to experiment with voicing the vulnerable, the queer, and those who stand outside of heteronormativity.” Asked to locate her identity as a writer (hybrid? queer? North American Asian?), Kwa writes, “I’ll leave it to my academic fans and enthusiastic supporters of my work to locate me! I refuse to locate myself.”

Following a series of important publications over the past few years, trans women are finally gaining a stronger foothold in the literary world. Morgan M Page’s (Odofemi’s) interview with Trish Salah and Casey Plett poses questions about the nature of trans lit: what is it? how do we define it? how do we navigate the umbrella term “trans”? are there tensions between nonfiction and fiction or poetry that are particular for trans lit? The conversation between Page, Salah, and Plett also draws attention to the particular marginalization and silencing that trans women may face from women’s organizations. Further, Salah makes the salient point that attempts at “diversity” sometimes come with their own forms of marginalization: “There have been, inevitably perhaps, times in which I’ve wondered if my work was solicited in order to ‘increase the diversity’ of an event or a publication, but also kept to margins, as if it wasn’t really understood or entirely welcome.”

Lesley Kenny’s interview with Katherine Leyton, who was the first poet through the door of the Al Purdy house for the inaugural series of A-Frame residencies, provides insight into Leyton’s work; it also offers valuable commentary on literary education in Canada. Leyton writes that her undergraduate degree was in English literature, and “in some ways it was the typical canon—a lot of male authors from a long time ago.” As a younger writer, she says, she felt pressure to write in a “voice and style influenced by a predominantly male canon.” In response to this experience, Leyton now chooses to understand literature as “a conversation”; in addition, she says she now strives to write in a way that feels more authentic to her.

Finally, Andrea Routley’s interview with John Barton speaks to a number of issues surrounding historical and contemporary receptions of queer-authored books in Canada. Responding in part to an “implicitly biased” review of Barton’s collection For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin: Selected Poems (Nightwood Editions, 2012), the interview highlights the power of reviews—whether or not their writers wield it intentionally—to “skew the reception of someone’s work permanently.” That power, as Barton argues, “is why it is crucial sometimes to call reviewers on their ill-considered, thoughtless, if unconscious deficiencies.” As he addresses various manifestations of critical bias and “anxiety” on the part of straight reviewers engaging with queer-authored works, Barton also offers insights into the emergence of queer studies in Canada, as well as into unresolved tensions between heteronormative reviewing cultures and the ever-evolving discourses of LGBTQ+ politics and identities.

If you’ve liked what you’ve read in CWILA’s interviews section—or if you’ve identified a gap you’d like to fill—check out our pitching guidelines and drop us a line at interviews@cwila.com.

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