Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Word on the Street Interview Series: Adam Dickinson

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Adam Dickinson

Open Book: Toronto is thrilled to partner with Canada's national book and magazine festival, The Word on the Street. With readings by some of the country's finest writers in every genre, amazing and interactive children's programming and a marketplace populated by publishers of all your favourite books and magazines, The Word on the Street is a highlight of the literary calendar and a great community celebration of the love of reading.

We launch our 2013 The Word on the Street interview series with poet and professor Adam Dickinson, author of The Polymers.

Structured as an imaginary science project, The Polymers investigates the intersection of poetry and chemicals, specifically plastics, attempting to understand their essential role in culture. The poetry of the molecule and mutation inform this innovative and entirely unique collection. Today, Adam tells us about chemical writing, the best way to appreciate the Canadian Shield and biomonitoring for literature.

Adam will be reading in the Vibrant Voices of Ontario tent at the Toronto The Word on the Street festival on September 22 at 12:00 p.m. The Word on the Street will also take place in Lethbridge, Saskatoon and Halifax on September 22 and on September 21 in Kitchener.

And book lovers, don't miss our exciting contests in partnership with The Word on the Street — you can enter the first one now for a chance to win a set of fantastic books from the Bestsellers Stage!

Open Book:

Tell us about what you’ll be reading in the Vibrant Voices tent.

Adam Dickinson:

I will be reading some chemical-poems. My new book The Polymers (House of Anansi) combines the discourses, theories and experimental methods of the science of plastic materials with the language and culture of plastic behaviour. Polymers are giant molecules composed of smaller repeating parts. They are the basis for all kinds of natural materials like skin, hair and DNA, as well as the synthetic plastics industry. We might say that polymers are a form of chemical writing: through amino acids and proteins they write the physical characteristics of organic bodies; through petroleum-enabled synthetic materials with superior durability and malleability they constitute the alphabet with which we write the architecture, transportation, commerce and food packaging of our modern civilization. I have organized the book around the most common plastic resins (the ones that give us the vast majority of our consumer products), such as polyester, polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, and polystyrene. Each poem from the various sections of the book is an atom in the molecular formula for these resins. The idea is that the poems express the repeating structures (and other formal and thematic characteristics) fundamental to plastic molecules as they appear in chain-like cultural and linguistic activities such as arguments, anxieties and trends (to name but a few).


Have you attended The Word on the Street in the past? If so, tell us about a favourite memory. If not, what are you most looking forward to?


Years ago I attended the Halifax Word on the Street after the publication of my first book (Cartography and Walking). I remember a reading by Erin Mouré that totally blew me away. I have always been a huge fan of her work.


The Vibrant Voices tent celebrates Ontario authored and published books. Tell us about a favourite Ontario author or book.


Erin Knight’s Chaser is an extraordinary book of poetry that uses the trope of consumption to explore pathologies and appetites in economics, illness and artistic creation. It’s a really smart book by a supremely talented writer.


What’s the best advice about public readings you have ever received?


I don’t really have any advice to offer (besides being a gracious, generous, and time-sensitive participant); I think everybody has to feel their way through performance strategies, much like the way birds migrate (which, as I understand it, is said to involve a certain amount of aesthetic judgment; it feels right to go this way…). I will say, however, that reading from The Polymers has been very different for me because of my decision to adopt the persona of the scientist and employ some of the disciplinary trappings. For example, I have been using projected images of molecules to accompany my readings. I hope I will be able to present some of these images at Word on the Street.


Word on the Street is happening simultaneously in Toronto, Lethbridge, Saskatoon and Halifax on September 22 this year (as well as in Kitchener on September 21). If you could be in two places at once, which WOTS festival, in addition to Toronto, would you attend?


I think I would attend Lethbridge’s event because that is the only city on this list that I have never been to.


Do you have a favourite spot in Ontario?


I think Ontario is one of the most interesting and complex parts of the country. I’m not sure how to interpret “spots” of Ontario (in the Wordsworthian sense?). I love that weird mosaic of metamorphic granite that humps out of the ground in Yorkville (near all the tony cafes). Someone in Toronto clearly loves the Canadian Shield as much as I do and agrees that it is best appreciated in the crystalline aftermath of a few drinks.


What can you tell us about your next project?


I am writing a book of poetry about the way the outside (the environment of chemicals and microbes) writes the inside of the body in both necessary ways (intestinal health) and harmful ways (toxic pollution). It’s a sort of chemical/microbial autobiography that involves me subjecting myself to biomonitoring testing (heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs, other chemicals) as well as having my microbiome synthesized. I’ll keep you posted.

Adam Dickinson's poems have appeared in literary journals in Canada and internationally. His first book of poetry, Cartography and Walking (Brick Books), was shortlisted for an Alberta Book Award. His second collection, Kingdom, Phylum (Brick Books), was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. His third collection of poetry, The Polymers is published by House of Anansi Press.

For more information about The Polymers please visit the House of Anansi website.

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

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