Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Jack Hannan

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Jack Hannan

It's that time of year again — spring flowers, sunshine and poetry! April is National Poetry Month and Open Book is thrilled to celebrate by hosting interviews with some of Canada's finest poets. Our Poets in Profile series digs into what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets and today we are hosting Jack Hannan, the author of A Rhythm to Stand Beside (Cormorant Books).

Jack speaks to Open Book about dreams made up of words, bookstore condos and his poetic relationship with Oprah Winfrey's husband.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Jack Hannan:

It started at home, my mother and her Irish family with their interests. They were quite a number of school teachers. I have copies of a few poems that were written by a great-uncle and published in a Cork newspaper around 1900, anonymously. When I was 18 years old, my uncle Brendan Griffin gave me a job at Browsers’ Book Shop in Montreal, near McGill University. I was dusting shelves and very happy. I paid attention. Books were my interest. I touched them every day. I began to read Neruda, Yeats, Beckett, Lorca, Rimbaud, Rimbaud, Andre Breton. I loved Andre Breton, even more than Rimbaud. All the novels of Carlos Fuentes. Carrying them around by myself on the bus (From Andre Breton, it’s easy to get to Jackson MacLow, bp nichol, the four horsemen). I had dreams without images at all, only words coming on and on like a book was going through my head.

From there I worked at Mansfield Book Mart for 10 years. The store had an extensive section devoted to art, and the owner encouraged me to build up a pretty large section of contemporary poetry too. I mean contemporary in terms of people like me, 20 years old, unknown even to each other. A lot of little magazines, and little press chapbooks and pamphlets, broadsides, from local writers as well as writers from all over North America. The beginning of Vehicule Press. Villeneuve Publications. The eccentric shapes and sizes and even the textures of Swamp Press. Runcible Spoon Press, Little Dinosaur, ll editions, Assembling Press, and all the little chapbooks that the writers had published themselves. The store even began to publish a few chapbooks itself, MBM Editions published David Solway, Barbara Guest, Michael Davidson, and Alec Lucas. There weren’t so many people in the city who were interested in this, of course, not nearly enough that most stores would spend the money on it now. My colleague called these books “the spineless wonders,” but some of us were very interested. Through these books I began to meet people, and made friends with others who were writing too, we’d have long discussions about poetry, sitting in La Bodega talking about sentences, commas. It showed me what was going on. Today I can buy a condo where La Bodega used to be. They are called the La Bodega condominiums, fine living in the center of Montreal, just being built. As much as we used to joke about living at La Bodega, it seems the time has passed.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


It’s quite arbitrary to name one, and I don’t wish that I had written it, but here’s a poem I liked a lot: "Coming Home: From the Journals of John Clare". This is a poem that Anthony Hecht wrote, using lines or suggestions from the journals of John Clare. When I first read it, a long time ago, I typed it out and copied it into a few little pamphlets to give to friends.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


Oprah Winfrey’s husband.


What do you do when a poem is not working?


I say, clutter, delete, this stupid poem about Oprah Winfrey’s husband.


What was the last book of poetry that really knocked your socks off?


I am reading The New Measures, by A. F. Moritz, and Wavelengths of Your Song, by Eleonore Schonmaier, these are the books I carry around on the bus. I like them both a lot.

I like to read anthologies, they are piled around the house and I pick them up kind of randomly. I have reached the point lately that I usually don’t really know who wrote the poem I am reading.
Other than that, I read a lot of contemporary poetry on the internet, every day, but these aren’t books anymore.


What is the best thing about being a poet….and what is the worst?


“... a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.” Joan Didion. Now, with this laptop, the words aren’t even on paper, they’re just floating in the air, it can be a little like a dream sometimes.

I don’t find the difficulties so bad, not enough to be worth mentioning.

Jack Hannan's first full-length poetry collection, Some Frames, was published by Cormorant Books in 2011 and short-listed for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. Since then, Hannan has given public readings in Quebec and Ontario, and has been working on a project with dancers, combining poetry with dance performance. He lives in Montreal with his family, and works at McGill-Queen's University Press.

For more information about A Rhythm to Stand Beside please visit the Cormorant Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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