"The Other Side of Ourselves" Book Launch - Meet Aislinn Hunter

As regularly readers of this blog will know, I'm launching my first collection of poems, The Other Side of Ourselves, this Saturday night. The evening will feature a reading from myself, as well as a reading by Aislinn Hunter and music from Jasper Sloan Yip. The details:
The Other Side of Ourselves Launch
Saturday, May 14th, 6:30 doors, 7:00 PM start
Rowan's Roof Restaurant and Lounge
2340 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver
Featuring: Readings by Rob Taylor and Aislinn Hunter, music by Jasper Sloan Yip
Free, including free appetizers
In my efforts to MAXIMIZE THE HYPE I'm profiling the other two artists performing on Saturday. On Tuesday, I profiled Jasper Sloan Yip, and now it's Aislinn Hunter 's turn.

Yes, Aislinn, it's your turn!

Unlike Jasper Sloan Yip, who I know only through his work, I know Aislinn personally. She has been one of the great teachers in my life, and the teacher most directly associated with my writing. Similar to Jasper, though, it was her work that brought us together.

I read Aislinn's second book of poems, The Possible Past, in 2006 and couldn't believe that something that good was written by someone living in my city. A year later, I found the courage to ask Kwantlen University (where Aislinn teaches) if I could audit one of Aislinn's creative writing classes. They said no. So I enrolled (and have my one course of credit at KU to this day!). I won't go on too much here about how influential that course, and Aislinn's counsel since, have been on my writing life. I'm fairly certain, though, that I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am now without her advice and the influence of her writing.

Speaking of her writing, there is a disappointingly small amount of it available online. Here's a poem, though. And here are three more. To make up for the dearth of Aislinn Hunter stuff on the Internet, Aislinn offered original content for this post: an excerpt from The Possible Past and a short, but generous, Q+A.

from Barriers, in Six Parts by Aislinn Hunter

Refusal: the words no, never, I will not.
Scott's abhorrence at being asked
to turn back. Any word indicating sheer
implausibility. The way we speak in negatives
after a war. The addition of the word again.
The sound the body makes while dying.
The writer eyeing his second to last sentence.
The final foothold coming over the wall.

Rob: My favourite poem of yours is "Barriers, in Six Parts" from The Possible Past. Could you tell me a little about its composition? What drew you to the story of Scott's failed Antarctic expedition (the sheer drama of it, or something else)? How did you come to the structure of the six sections, one for each "barrier"?

Aislinn: Scott came late to the party actually. Over the years I guess I had been reading a fair bit of exploration non-fiction - Shackleton, Mallory, the Franklin expedition and so on, not with purpose but just in the way that as one gets older one wants to get a sense of the story behind the name. In this way Scott was there when I needed him but he wasn't my starting point. The idea for the series came out of The Possible Past's larger experiment: trying to see if the tenets of post-modern historical fiction could be applied to or enacted in poems. One of the things post-modern historical fiction tends to insist on is a barrier between the past and the present. My thinking at the time was that there are all kinds of barriers - literal ones and liminal ones, abstract ones and so on - but also that barriers accrue. The formal contrivance - to insert each barrier into the next poem and grow the poem by two lines at a time - came out of that idea of accrual.

Rob: Your latest book, A Peepshow with Views of the Interior: paratexts, is a collection of lyric essays on things, and how they resonate. Has your research on thing-theory changed the way you look at poems? At poetry books? If so, how?

Aislinn: I'd like to think I've always been sensitive to the poem as a physical object. Maybe because I come from a place and generation that tended to discover poems in books or on the page (in my case it was sneaking into my older sister's high school textbook to read Purdy and Atwood). Stories seem to come to us more naturally and in a variety of forms - I mean you get them in the playground, on TV - but we don't often turn on the radio and find a poem, or hear them recited at parties. This, I think, makes its space, the 'locale' the poem inhabits, special. I remember once on the board at Prism the idea, in a funding crisis, of placing small ads at the bottom of some of the journal's pages and how vehemently I was against it, especially for poems. I may have eventually caved on small literary ads after the short fiction - I'm ashamed to say - though neither came to pass.

My academic work has, if anything, encouraged a slightly lop-sided sensibility toward book things and 'high' aesthetics. I love what's 'beautiful' and living in and studying in the UK has reinforced my preoccupation with classical beauty and the illusion of pre-industrial design. I have Montaigne on my iPhone for example and reading him there in snippets sort of empties the work out for me, ditto the 'poem of the day' I sometimes look at online. There's a kind of, I don't know, tide washing in and washing out feeling about it, and not in a good way. At the British Library website you can 'turn' the pages of a William Blake manuscript on a huge table-size tablet and it is frankly, amazing, but it's amazing because it helps democratize access to Blake's stunning and perishable work, and it preserves it (in so much as a hard drive or flash memory preserves anything). But for me, bratty, puritanical, spoiled me, it's 'less' somehow, though that is borne I think out of my willingness to travel a long way to get to a good museum and the academic privilege of knowing I can have access to the actual thing if I want it.
Aislinn's latest broadside -
click the image to expand

Over the years I've had two poems done up as broadsides, one by a poet/publisher in Chicago who solicited a poem. There is something deep and resonant and scary about seeing your work like that - large and ornate. To think of all the time invested into typography, inks, getting it onto the paper, designing the surround. This is a signed thing in more than just the literal way.

I worry that we take too much for granted. I think my first and second year students sometimes type up their early efforts and think 'Well, it looks like a Seamus Heaney' - and you know what, it does! So, I guess I'm getting picky about the distinction between looking and seeing. Taking a page from Heiddeger I guess I'll say that the thingness of the thing - the poem's giveness - is what happens when we read the work, and that while what we see - it's external thingliness - informs us, it is really what emerges as voice or whisper that shapes our ultimate seeing.

Rob: Your second book of poetry, The Possible Past, came three years after your first, Into the Early Hours. Since then, it's been seven years of poetry-book silence. Did Peepshow let you scratch your lyric itch, or perhaps has the itch naturally diminished over the years? Or is the third book on its way soon?

Aislinn: Well, I did a second Masters degree in there, in Writing and Cultural Politics and I'm half way through my PhD so that has been time consuming. And I'm going on year seven for the bloody novel I'm working on, though I'm making good progress. Part of me doesn't see the point of producing another book - in any genre - if it isn't a leap in craft and idea. Years ago I tucked into my sleeve Ondaatje saying that it took him seven years on average to 'fill the well', it seemed like a reasonable amount of time. I have about half a manuscript of poems in a drawer - a narrative series that came to me in a fit during a writer-in-residence gig in St John's - and about 10 or 12 of the poems have been published in journals. I tried for a Canada Council grant to work on it and got rejected - twice. So I'm not sure if the work is any good. And that's okay. My good friend Joel Thomas Hynes was saying to a group of young writers recently that he had the feeling there were maybe books he had to write to write the book he wanted to write. I think I'm in that with poems. To make a leap means sometimes to leap and land so you can leap from there; not every landing is a destination, it would be arrogance to think so.

Let me leave you with a nice, small thing. Yesterday searching with 'find' in my computer for something to do with a textbook, I found buried in an old file a reference letter I wrote on your behalf a few years ago. It made me laugh a bit, the idea of being a reference for you at all as you seem to me now to be such a full-fledged poet. But what was great was how true the praise seemed then and how true it seems now, how easy it was to use words like curiousity, engagement and rigour. I talked about how startling even your spontaneous writing exercises were, how interested the whole class was in your thinking.

I can't wait to have the collection in hand this Saturday. Congratulations on the book, Rob. It is no small thing.

1 comment:

daniela elza said...

Thanks Rob, for this. I too discovered Aislinn's "The Possible Past" more than five years ago. We were going on a car trip east through the Rockies.

I was very excited to find another local voice that I fell in love with. And I too read the Paratexts book recently and loved it.
You have given me an idea. Now that I have finished my doctorate, I am going to find out how to take a class with Aislinn. That will be a definite treat.