Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Great Canadian Writer's Craft Interview: Christine Leclerc

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Christine Leclerc

This spring, students from Malvern Collegiate Institute's Writer's Craft class conducted interviews with Canadian poets as part of a class project. The interviews will be posted on The Great Canadian Writer's Craft page on Open Book throughout June and July. In this interview, poet Christine Leclerc speaks with students Adam Ammirato and Sam Alkins .

Hello, Ms. Leclerc. Before we begin we would like to thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Our names are Adam Ammirato and Sam Alkins and we are currently in grade 12 at Malvern Collegiate Institute in John Ouzas’ Writer’s Craft class. We both find your poetry interesting and courageous. The fact that you have such a strong message within your writing is very inspiring. We respect and admire your beliefs and the way you are able to incorporate them into your poetry. So, without any further delay, let us begin.

Adam asks: At the end of your poem Oilywood, it is stated that you currently reside in Vancouver. Were you born there? If not, where are you from, and why did you choose Vancouver over your hometown? Is it the social and political freedoms offered by the city that draws you to it, or the natural beauty that inspires your art?

I’ve been in Vancouver for 13 years, but grew up in a suburb of Montreal called Dollard-des-Ormeaux. I came to Vancouver after living in Tempe for a few years. My partner and I were going to school in Arizona and we chose Vancouver as our home for a few reasons:

- It was close to where my partner’s family lived.
- It was in Canada and because we were a same sex couple and because we were from different countries, it was going to be easier for us to live together in Canada than it would have been for us to keep living together in the U.S., which is where my partner was from.
- I had been to Vancouver and had considered setting down roots here previous to living in Arizona.
When I visited Vancouver I ate at a famous breakfast joint called “The Elbow Room,” which was run by a gay man and his gay son and both were unafraid to make overtly sexual jokes to their customers (even families!). I was blown away by the lack of appearances in the city. I thought Toronto to be open, but I was obviously wrong. Would you ever consider moving to Toronto, or to any other city for that matter?

I haven’t considered moving to another city for quite some time. Definitely like to travel and am planning a trip to the Yukon for this summer, but am happy with Vancouver as a place to live. I have good community here.

Adam asks: I am unsure if you are acquainted with the terms “anxiety of influence” and “literary cannon,” but we have studied both in class and I am interested in your view on both. In broad strokes, the “anxiety of influence” is a theory that we, as artists, creators, writers, or whatever you will have us called, have, for lack of a better term, “literary parents” whom have shaped and affected our own writing in both style and subject, while the “literary cannon” is composed of those writers, such as Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, whom are widely considered examples of exceptional writing.

So, my question to you is, who would you consider to be your literary parents? I noticed you lived in Coast Salish Territory, which I discovered was a Native group. Are you Native American, and do you take much inspiration from their teachings? I asked because environmentalism is obviously a subject which is close to your heart. Are legendary Canadian singers such as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young whom, while not technically poets, have written much poetry in the form of song lyrics, and are avid environmentalists, inspirations for you?

I do appreciate Joni Mitchell and Neil Young’s music, but in terms of people who have influenced the way I approach poetry, I would have to say that the work of Betsy Warland, Lisa Robertson and Russell Edson were major. They influenced the way I approach the page, ideas and prose within poetry.

I am not First Nations, but much of B.C. is unceded territory, so I like to remind myself of the history of the place I call home and respect those who have made their homes here since time immemorial.

I know that the T’Sleil Waututh nation recently sued the federal government ove the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion National Energy Board application and support this action to stop this tar sands pipeline.

Sam asks: Although Oilywood is one long poem there seem to be breaks where new ideas come forth. One of these sections really sparked an interest and almost emotional feeling. On page 10-11 you write first about having wonderful marvelous days and you speak about the beach. This has a calm and peaceful feel to it. You then take a 180 and begin to write about Kinder Morgan and the copious amount of money they are spending on expanding business on a new ethanol venture. There’s a great contrast between these two topics. Kinder Morgan has a very negative and dark feel to it, whereas when you write about the beach there is a positive and hopeful feeling within the words. Were these two ideas put together for a specific reason? What feeling did you wish your reader to have while reading this section? What feeling do you have towards this section of your poem?

Thanks for your observation. Oilywood is largely a collage poem. It collages excerpts from interviews with people I met at the beaches of Burrard Inlet with text from Kinder Morgan news releases. So although I had a hand in editing the text together, the tones of the expressions come out of the source text and are intensified by the contrast between what the beachgoers and Kinder Morgan had to say.

The sections grew out of a sense of movement as I organized the text. It also relates to the number of months I had news releases for.

Adam asks: Something I found interesting about Oilywood is that, in the acknowledgements, you refer to the work as a poem instead of a book of poetry, despite its length and clearly defined sections. Why is this? What is it about Oilywood that warrants it a single poem? Is it the subject matter, theme, tone, or a combination of all that causes you to view it in such a way?

By the time I finished Oilywood, I felt it was a single poem because I wanted to convey the sense of a continuous inlet shoreline. Online, there is an audio tour of Burrard Inlet. I like to play the recording when I read the poem because I think it helps give a sense of the inlet, rather than just individual beaches. This is important to me because protecting the Inlet is important to me and I don’t think it’s hard to protect something you can’t see as a whole.

I was also interested in the fact that, despite Oilywood being considered a single poem, you decided to separate it into parts by numbering them. What criteria did you use to separate these sections, or was it arbitrary? Why did you forgo titles? Was it to avoid preconceived bias on the part of the reader before being familiar with the work itself? If you were to title a section, what would you call it and why?

I hope I’ve started to speak to the reason for the sections and my conceiving of Oilywood as a single poem. The reason the sections are numbered but don’t have titles is that I thought it was important to organize the poem into sections, but not for the sections to have names.

Sam asks: In Oilywood you consistently present a belief that we need to limit or eliminate the amount of oil we use to produce energy. This is a very idealistic value, but one that may be hard to attain due to the costs of manufacturing the equipment needed to create renewable energy such as solar power. Are there any alternatives you believe will better our environment and help assist in lowering or eliminating the use of oil in Canada? And if so, do you believe that these alternatives are of more worth than keeping Canada’s economy stable considering Canada is the second largest oil reserve in the world, therefore its economy is largely based on its resources?

Good question. I think the important thing to keep in mind is the magnitude of the climate crisis and our current range of accessible renewable energy technologies. There is no single combination of solutions that will work for every region of the planet, but I do think that we are clever enough as a species to act quickly on the need for system change. Whatever resources a country has, they should be used wisely.

Sam asks: After reading through Oilywood, it’s made clear that your poetry is based strongly on issues related to the environment. Your poetry is very experimental and differs greatly from other poets in the sense that there is an element of activism to change the world for the better. The way your poetry helps educate readers of the effects oil and pollution have on our environment is very powerful and inspiring. Do you think that in the future your poetry will have a similar theme to it? Or do you believe you will address other environmental issues as time goes on? How do you wish to help the environment with your poetry?

It’s true that climate change comes up in much of my work. Another common theme in my work has been identity. I expect these themes to continue to appear in my work. One capacity I see for poetry is the ability to help build community. I especially love cultural projects designed to protect the environment. And in terms of poetry helping the environment, I come back to the idea of needing to see something before one can protect it. It can be easy to forget about where all the things we have to make our lives possible and comfortable come from, especially for those of us who live in the city. So I want to keep using creative works to speak with the people in my community and hopefully support courage and engagement on some of the greatest challenges of our times.

Christine Leclerc is a Vancouver-based author and activist. She is the author of Counterfeit (2008) and Oilywood (2013) as well as being an editor of portfolio milieu (2004) and The Enpipe Line: 70,000+ km of poetry written in resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal (2010). Leclerc is a University of British Columbia Creative Writing Program graduate whose poetry, fiction and essays have appeared internationally. She is a Communications Manager by day and has been known to lead community theatre at corporate headquarters and occupy oil rigs at sea.

Adam Ammirato was supposed to be named ‘Christian Ammirato’ but through the divine intervention of his grandmother he escaped such a fate. His father then tried to nickname him ‘A.J.’ but his stubborn nature impeded his attempts. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada he spends most of his days as a typical 2014 teenager does: watching too much T.V., procrastinating major assignments and making worse decisions on the weekends. His only major hobby includes music and the only medals he has won are those for participation, though he was awarded accolades for a 2010 science fair project in which he had zero participation. He currently resides in his childhood bedroom at his parents’ house.

Sam was a young girl from Neverland who enjoyed swimming with the mermaids, flying with the fairies and running with the lost boys. She then decided it was time to grow up. She’s now a young woman attending high school at Malvern Collegiate and planning on leaving the big city for the smaller city Waterloo to pursue Communication Studies. She has a passion for writing short stories and enjoys walking her little dog named Cloud through the beaches where she now lives. She also plans on taking journeys in Greece, France and Italy.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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The Great Canadian Writer's Craft

Each year, students from Malvern Collegiate Institute's Writer’s Craft class interview Canadian poets as part of a class project. The students study Canadian poetry under the collaborative tutelage of teacher John Ouzas and poet a.rawlings. We are delighted to feature the interviews on Open Book.

Go to The Great Canadian Writer's Craft’s Author Page