8-Ball: Interview with Ariel Gordon

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg-based writer and editor. Her first full collection of poetry is slated for publication with Palimpsest Press in spring 2010. She is a regular contributor to the Winnipeg Free Press’ books section and, each September, is Blogger-in-Chief of HOT AIR, the official blog of THIN AIR (i.e. the Winnipeg International Writers Festival). She also works part-time as Events Coordinator at Aqua Books. When not being bookish, Ariel likes tromping through the woods and taking macro photographs of mushrooms.

1. What do you want to talk about—which question do you wish interviewers would ask, and what is your answer?

Most of the interviews I’ve done so far have been with other poets, who mostly ask congenial questions.

Once the necessary biographical information has been conveyed, I’m most interested in perceptions/linkages/ideas about and around the work that hadn’t occurred to me… in the form of questions.

The only downside to these kinds of questions (having attempted to ask them of other writers) is that when they’re posed to you, it takes time to absorb the implications, to shift your thinking on something you’re so dreadfully intimate with. So most of the answers tend to be along the lines of “Oh. Really?”

Which doesn’t make for good copy.

So if I can’t be knocked on my ass by interviewers and their pesky questions, I’d like to be flattered heaps. And have the wherewithal to respond meaningfully to said flattery.

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take your writing seriously?

I can’t think of anything. Advice is for suckers! (I also don’t do resolutions.)

Seriously, most of the advice I heard when I first started to take my writing seriously was either insulting (“Read. Write.” Um. Yeah.) or very obviously the very specific result of one writer’s negotiation with the rest of their life and their work habits (“Write in the mornings when you’re freshest.”).

Unfortunately, everyone’s mostly got to figure it out for themselves…

3. What is wrong with the publishing industry, and what are they getting right?

I couldn’t tell you, given my relative newness to the whole game. Except that I fervently hope print literary magazines in some form exist in ten years, given that they’re an essential proving ground.

4. How will technology change writing?

The writing of it, not a whit. I compose directly on a computer about half the time now but still rely heavily on a notebook and pencil. (And not even a mechanical pencil – hateful things!)

While I prefer not to think of myself as typical, I think I’m probably representative of most working writers today.

The reading of it… well, I’m not sure. I read my first book on a device this year (for the record, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, on a hotel pull-out in Montreal), gulping it down. But I’m not sure I’d read anything I wanted to inhabit for longer than an evening electronically…

Besides the fact that poetry apparently doesn’t yet work on e-readers, paper-and-glue books are also such wonderful artifacts. It’d be a REAL shame if we were to give them up…

That said, technology, as you put it, has also greatly facilitated the connecting of writers/writing to readers and even to other writers, both of which I think are useful.

5. What is your process for a typical piece of writing, from idea to publication? (Give a specific example.)

This feels like a fairly precious excavation, but the process is typical of many of my recent poems. And I enjoyed the process of writing so specifically about my process, so…

I wrote a 28-line/171 word poem sometime in the summer of 2005. I know I was working on it when I was a fellow at the International Retreat for Writers at Hawthornden Castle in June, because I remember a fellow Fellow seeing a print out of it on my desk and asking to read it. (I only really remember because I was a really REALLY junior Fellow and she said nice things…)

I think the poem had its beginning one hot night when I couldn’t sleep because M was snoring. And my eyes felt like they’d been salted and the sheets were rumpled and gritty and I hated the buzz of the streetlight outside and the person that was honking their horn halfway down the block instead of getting out of their g-d car and knocking to say, ‘hello, I’m here…’ but somehow in the midst of all my hating-the-world-and-especially-M my brain switched on. And so I turned on my bedside light and started to write.

The poem continues the tradition of love poems I’ve written to M, in that it looks like a love poem but is really about how he snores.

Anyways, I posted the poem to my blog in August 2005 with the title Bedding, which is later than I usually write/post poems – it’s usually the same day if at all. I think I was anxious about having no content AT ALL on the blog during the month of July, post-Hawthornden, and so put it up.

That fall, I submitted it in response to a call for submissions by Lantzville, BC-based publisher Leaf Press for a love-themed anthology they were doing. It was accepted and published by them in December 2005 with very few changes… except that the editor asked me to add either punctuation or line breaks in order to clarify a few lines. Since that book was restricted to poems of 30 lines or less, I regretfully punctuated.

In September 2008, it was published in a chapbook called The navel gaze by Kingsville, ON-based Palimpsest Press. Since the chappie was exclusively pregnancy poems, each of which had a date stamp as well as a title (i.e. Seven months: the navel gaze), the poem became known as Pre-conception: bedding.

The poem was written before I was knocked up, unlike the later preggers poems which were written because I had committed to a daily writing/posting schedule as a part of the May Day Poetry Project when I was 8 months along. Being heavily pregnant was all I could talk about and so all I could write about too. But when I was putting together the chapbook manuscript, I felt the need somehow to preface the swelling lump of poems. And Bedding (now Pre-conception: bedding, remember) seemed to do the trick. By this point, the poem was 26 lines and 182 words.

Finally, the poem will appear in my forthcoming collection of poetry, Hump, also with Palimpsest. As I recall, Jeanette Lynes (my editor) didn’t have very much to say about this one. I prefer to think she liked it enough not to say that she disliked it, which she did for a very few poems in the ms. The final version is 27 lines and 177 words.

(The poem isn’t promiscuous! I swear!)

6. What are your daily habits as a writer, and as a reader?

It depends what season it is, what holiday is coming up, and if we’re moving house. But if all my deadlines have aligned, I have two days a week to myself to write/edit and several scrounged evenings to read.

Given the fact that I have a small child around and about, I think I’m doing okay.

Which is not to say that I write every day or even every week, but I recently realized that I get more writing done at home, when the routine is singing, than on retreat or at workshops like the Sage Hill Writing Experience or The Banff Centre.

Which is not to say that I won’t continue to retreat (RETREAT!) if only for the brisk shake-up of ideas that comes with a new location, if only for the kindred souls you gather to yourself… because there’s writing and then there’s the writing life.

Getting to know other young-ish writers – and, more recently, other young-ish writers with kids – have kept me from getting too reliant on the community in Winnipeg. Which is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t like being dependent.

7. What is your ambition as a writer—what do you want to accomplish, personally and professionally?

I see books – and individual units of writing such as poems, poem sequences, short stories, and novels – as records of human endeavour. We natter to ourselves, we natter to our readers. Something changes.

As someone whose first book is coming out this year, I’m greatly anticipating being part of the larger conversation…

Beyond that, I mostly want to be able to negotiate a relatively secure insecurity for myself, which translates into time and space in which to write the next thing and the thing after that, always reaching for what I’m not currently capable of.

The rest of it I have very little control over, so I won’t speculate.

8. Why don’t you quit?

You first.