A short interview with derek beaulieu

1. Firstly, your thoughts on the book as an exhibition space and how this continues to be a valid site.

i think that the book completely retains the import that it always has. i believe that the worry that digital publishing will supplant or endanger the book aren’t thinking wide enough. the internet and digital publishing can swerve and augment our publishing ideas and how we use the book as an exhibition and distributive space, but it doesn’t endanger it. what writers can do now is think of a means of writing and publishing which more accurately reflects contemporary reading – tablets, PDFs, websites, desktops, icons, swiping, posts, etc. – and see how fiction, poetry and the book can reflect those changes.

2. Could you talk about writing as dialogue and the importance of (unexpected) collaboration. Why small presses are relevant or, going a step further, crucial to expanding dialogue and linking disparate practices?

i post all of my publications as free downloadable PDFs on my website in order to facilitate the unknown. i imagine that the writing set free on the internet is like a student who goes off to college: they come home in the summers with dyed hair, piercings and new points of view – they return stranger, more unusual and exhibit growth (ideally) in ways that their parents wouldn’t expect. THAT is what i want in my own writing – i’m not here to teach with my writing, i’m here to learn from it and from the conversations that it emboldens.

small presses also support that, they can take risks by publishing in forms, papers, inks and formats that are often out of reach of larger presses due to either financial reasons or means of production. by working with smaller presses, authors and artists can learn how their writing can work when allowed to exist within a collaborative conversation of production.

3. Next, can you say a little on the paradoxical liberation often provided by working within strict limitations?

limitations and constraints force the writer to solve problems that they wouldn’t have created otherwise, to build new pathways, new furrows in the fields of their practice. if nothing else it can make writers discover that they can push against their own perceived limitations, which is, in my opinion, why we become artists — to do things we didn’t think we could do.

4. Turning to the act of erasure, in writing, as a creative act, I’m thinking specifically about your ‘a, A novel’ – leaving the punctuation and sounds of the city in place – and ‘Local colour’.

erasure, if done thoughtfully and defensibly, is a way of writing which mines existing texts; it is ultimately a readerly practice – the ultimate close reading. My books Local Colour and a, A Novel both turn to reading as a productive practice — a way of revealing physically the generative quirks in the way that we read, the way that we create meaning. that isn’t to suggest that erasure can be applied without consideration; all artistic gestures should be open to questioning and defense, it’s a conversation.

5. An educator used to ask me “what have you done today?” In a recent interview you spoke about asking your students to write a page a day, a task they said was impossible. Could you explain the rewards that come through a continued engagement with “extreme” projects and a daily practice?

I strive for a daily practice (though recognize that it has been ever harder during CoVid-19). I argue that writers imagine a map in their head of everything that writing could be — the lands of poetry, the mountains or prose, the shoreline of nonfiction — and then walk to the edge of what they can imagine and then add just a little more. find the edge of your map and then see if you can add just a wee bit more to your own understanding — and thus the understanding that we all have.

6. Finally, name a few individuals who have had an influence on your practice – past and present.

certainly the most important influence on my own writing practice is the Canadian poet bpnichol (1944-1988). His believe that he was “an apprentice to language” – not a master of the form or an expert, but an apprentice — continues to remind me of why i want to be a poet; i want to be in apprenticeship to language. There are so many contemporary poets who are creating work who i highly recommend: Nasser Hussain, Gregory Betts, Helen Hajnoczky, Cecilie Bjørgås Jordheim, Jen Bervin, Astra Papachristodoulou, Nick Montfort, Christian Bok, Kevin Stebner — each of them is creating work surprising me and enthralling me and each is redefining what a poet can create.



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