Tanya Evanson is one of Canada’s best-kept secrets. Because of the form that she uses and the fact that her work straddles the worlds of music, poetry, performance and production, she defies categorization in a way that makes her completely unique – and she’s getting noticed.
Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent won the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize, the first time the prize has been awarded to a debut collection. It was also a finalist for the 2015 Governor General’s Award for Poetry and received an honourable mention for the Alanna Bondar Memorial Book Prize. Howard received an Honours Bachelor of Science with High Distinction from the University of Toronto, and an MFA in Creative Writing through the University of Guelph.
carte blanche Editor-in-Chief Klara du Plessis recently spoke to Liz about translation, the construction of the self, translation, and navigating the contemporary literary landscape.
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 often use humour as a mechanism to encourage the reader to keep reading, but humour is like Sriracha for me, it has a very strong taste. If you’re not careful, it can drown everything else out. I want humour to be just one mechanism inside a bigger thing, like, it’s funny but it’s not only funny.
I think the writing that interests me most these days is the writing that pushes past the persona rather than leaning on it. And when I do that kind of thing, like write from a more emotional, less jokey place, it isn’t like people are jarred so there must be a shared feeling to it, one source from which it all comes.
Every aspect of life is “poetic”. Each day wasted to Facebook, each sip of Starbucks, each trip to Wilkes-Barre-Scranton. But, the cultural things that are not poetry which inform my poetry are, in order, literature that is not poetry (fiction, history, etc etc), music, art, television, movies, the internet, texting, sports, tourism, politics, dining, and shopping. The artists who are not poets who have influenced my work the most are Alice Cooper and David Letterman.
In general, I like leaps between forms and genres. In my final year in high school, my calculus teacher allowed us to do a final project where we approached any math topic of our choice in any way we chose. So I went down to the art room and worked on a painting of the Archimedean spiral. But an interest in the combination between the textual and visual started, I would say, as early as children’s books. It’s a visible engagement with language that I think gets lost when we grow up and start reading novels that have no pictures. The visual seems to be a natural place to turn in poetry.
I guess I like the idea of blurring the lines between what we call genre and what we don’t. I always find it strange, for instance, to see a writer like Neil Gaiman or Ursula K. LeGuin ghettoized on their own “science fiction” shelf in bookstores. The whole question of what is or is not “literary” also entertains me. I read all kinds of fiction and nonfiction, both within and outside supposed “genres”.
For me, it’s just a question of how to most fully and appropriately explore a particular observation or idea. Sometimes, for example, I’ll be working on a poem and find that it is actually the beginning of a story or even something that needs to get worked out with the help of outside sources, as with an academic paper. My approach in all cases is to follow the thread of an idea as best as I can according to the constraints of the form, all the while remaining, on the one hand, as open as possible to the connections and the diversions that necessarily arise, and, on the other, trying never to lose sight of the project’s inspiration or goal.