On the way to a reading, Kaveh Akbar talked to Tess Liem about his debut full-length collection of poetry, Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books 2017). Among other things, the two discuss the addiction recovery narrative, writing in proximity to violence, and how to allow silence into a poem.
THIS YEAR SHOULD HAVE been an auspicious one for CanLit. As Canada celebrates the sesquicentennial, it seems every newspaper, blog, and bookshop has a “top 150 Canadian books” list to push. Canada’s 150th also evokes fond memories of the 1967 centennial, when CanLit was just coming into its own. But for many, those 150 lists, chock full of CanLit luminaries like Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood, are hard to stomach right now.
I DON’T REMEMBER WHEN I first heard of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, though I do remember the first time I lied to seem more impressive. I was six-years-old at the Jewish Public Library in Montréal, as was my childhood ritual. The library was a short walk away from the duplex I lived in facing a park. My older cousin was there—he was, very impressively, seven years old and a boy.
EVERY COUPLE OF WEEKS, Robert Edison Sandiford calls me from Barbados. Robert is one of this year’s Quebec Writers’ Federation mentors and I am his protégé. We’ve made arrangements to speak at 5 pm via Skype so this interview would feel more face-to-face. At 5:10, we still have no audio so he switches from his laptop to his desktop. At 5:25 the recording app on my phone stops working. At 5:37 we decide we’ll have to hobble back and forth between the computers, a phone, and another phone app to make it work. Afterwards, when it’s all sorted, he say: “Well, there’s a lesson about tenacity.”
I WAS IN MY mid-to-late twenties when I decided to write in English. A few obvious obstacles stood out: I wasn’t a native speaker and I was working in a totally unrelated field: software engineering. However, I was an immigrant in Canada, and had been lectured more than once on how people in Canada could pursue what their heart desired (a female friend with a knack in operatic singing, unable to officially practice it in Iran, found her voice here in Canada; others in engineering backgrounds formed bands; etc.). The optimism of my age made me venture into uncharted territory. However, there was another less obvious challenge ahead of me: what to write about?