Rob Budde teaches creative writing at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. He has published seven books (poetry, novels, interviews, and short fiction), his most recent books being Finding Ft. George, a book of poetry from Caitlin Press and declining america from BookThug. Find him at writingwaynorth.blogspot.com.
1. What do you want to talk about—which question do you wish interviewers would ask, and what is your answer?
I like it when interviewers 1) ask a specific question about a passage or element to one of my books just b/c it means they read the darn thing or 2) like it when they ask me what I am working on now b/c frankly once a book is out it is old and I have a hard time getting in that mindspace again. What I am working on now is far more ‘on my mind’ obviously. So, glad you asked! I am working on a book about a plant called (variously) Devil’s Club, Hoolhghulh, or Oplopanax Horridus. I don’t know if you know Laurie Ricou’s recent work but I am guessing what I am doing is along those lines: a study that includes science, visuals, poetry, personal essay, etc. Hoolhghulh is a distinctly west-coast plant (though apparently there are some patches in Michigan) that shocked me when I came from Winnipeg. It was definitely NOT a prairie plant. It’s big and fierce and hurt me the first time I met one. There was something about the plant that caught me (other than the thorns) and I have been studying it now for a good two years. I took a Carrier (Nak’azdli First Nation) language course to learn its local name. It has extensive uses in First Nations’ medicine/spirituality across the province. The book so far is called Panax. Also working on a science fiction novel called The Overcode. The best way to describe it (even though it seems a contradiction in terms) is a utopian cyberpunk novel. And just finished (I think) a book of poems called Poem’s Poems which is a series of poems about a character called Poem.
2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take your writing seriously?
Well, this was advice I think I received but didn’t listen to: take care of your body. My mentor now is Ken Belford and he has taught me a lot about health and how a poet should think like an athlete and how a fit body thinks better. It sounds simple but the brain is, after all, part of our body. When I was a new writer I thought writers had to drink themselves into a stupor.
3. What is wrong with the publishing industry, and what are they getting right?
I don’t know if there is anything ‘wrong’ with publishing in Canada—it’s just a tough go because of shifts in culture and a lack of government support. I think it will swing back and times will get better. I think Canadian small presses are brilliantly diverse and making fabulous books that are admired world-wide. I especially like all the under-the-radar chapbook presses and stuff like that. That’s where the real work is getting done.
4. How will technology change writing?
Not as much as we think. I think there is great energy and potential in online writing (i.e. writing form-fitted to html and animation etc) but it will be one kind of writing, not a replacement. I can’t read very much/long online and, even though I think screens will get more eye-friendly, we will still read in a variety of forms.
5. What is your process for a typical piece of writing, from idea to publication? (Give a specific example.)
The last book, declining america (BookThug) began as a title: “my american movie.” I was reading Baudrillard’s America and jotting down notes, his ideas, lines of poetry off his ideas, etc. It turned into a long poem by that name that became a wink chapbook (my chapbook press). I had envisioned the series as a string of shouted rants but when I read them to an audience they didn’t work that way and I had to revisit them. I was travelling quite a bit in the states at this time a couple more longer poems started that focused on various aspects of “america”: a poem about airports and security (“Cramped O’Hare Writing”), a poem about illnesses and broken bodies (“Software Tracks”) . . . The last two poems that came out of this time of thinking were about economics (“Indices”) and torture (“KUBARK”) and they solidified the sense of the collection as a book—they provided enough unity that I began to save the separate pieces in a folder (that I titled for a long while as “my american movie”—I don’t know maybe that should have been the title of the book after all!). I had been in conversation with Jay MillAr at BookThug for various reasons (including a couple readings he did in Prince George). I told him I had this odd manuscript and, well, you know how he likes odd manuscripts! He had Stephen Cain edit it and that really helped catch some of the sloppy or lazy bits. I came up with the cover and then it was a book. We launched it here in PG and in Toronto via video feed.
6. What are your daily habits as a writer, and as a reader?
I’ve been asked this before and don’t have a really interesting answer. I am all over the place and have no routine. I find routines can stultify my writing. I like trying to write in new places and new times. The only place a write reliably is airports and airplanes. I have four kids and it is really hard to just block off a regular time to write. I just squeeze it in here and there and that seems to work for me. I remember watching Dennis Cooley writing a poem at a university meeting of some sort and I think I just adopted that flexibility he has. I read haphazardly too—picking up what happens to fall in front of me or randomly from the library. I understand it might not work for others though so don’t recommend it necessarily.
7. What is your ambition as a writer—what do you want to accomplish, personally and professionally?
I want to write until I am 110 years old. I hope I can keep sharp and keep moving (physically and mentally) when I am older. He is still a spry crow, but I love the way Kroetsch has stayed open-minded and fluid in his thinking. I admire that. I also don’t want to write the same book twice—I want each book to almost be by another author.
8. Why don’t you quit?
I couldn’t quit writing. I would die. Sounds melodramatic but it’s true. I could stop publishing and I think I would be fine with that. As long as I could send poems to Belford and a few others friends, I’d be happy. Writing is part of how I think now. You can’t just stop thinking can you?