RUSTY TALK WITH LIZ HOWARD, WINNER OF THE GRIFFIN POETRY PRIZE 2016
In my poetry I hunger to reside, if even uncomfortably, within the pyroclastic flow of my own consciousness. What can I offer to anyone? What account is most significant? How do I write about the deeply, darkly personal with rigour and beauty? How to not turn my face away?
Jacqueline Valencia: First, I heard you're more of a cake than a pie person. Why is this? Why your dislike for pie? What's your favourite cake?
Liz Howard: Pie has always struck me as uncanny. There is something repellent for me about the notion of cooked berries or fruit. A berry is best consumed raw, to my taste, at a temperature no greater than being warmed by direct Boreal sunlight in the afternoon hours of July 22nd, 1997. In childhood I witnessed the entombment of thousands of wild blueberries in pie crust. Pie, for me, is a fearful thing, a depravity.
Cake is a different matter. It comes from a box and your mother bakes it for you on your birthday. Cake is therefore a manifestation of filial love. Let us all eat cake. Let it be chocolate, especially.
JV: If you were a Ghostbuster who could bust ghosts using poetry, what poem would you use against a ghost?
LH: I believe I would use Fever 103° by Sylvia Plath. Its intensity, accusations and radical shifts in mood would no doubt cause the ghost to say that it realizes it hasn’t yet gotten over a prior haunting and needs time alone to reconnect with itself.
JV: Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent is very organic and very visceral. I find you're fearless in your pursuit of existential earthly answers. What do you hunger for in your poetry? What do you search out in the world of poetry?
LH: In my poetry I hunger to reside, if even uncomfortably, within the pyroclastic flow of my own consciousness. What can I offer to anyone? What account is most significant? How do I write about the deeply, darkly personal with rigour and beauty? How to not turn my face away? I hunger for moose meat and clarity. I hunger for dreams and to never awake. I hunger for the strangest phrase, for the night to continue, for my father to be alive. I hunger to express the irrepressible effects of being a creature who has born witness to and so far survived the effects of colonial late capitalism.
In the world of poetry I hunger for a feminist utopia wherein not one of us is afraid to name, say or make.
JV: ”No one occupies me like me. And no one / makes me lonelier” In terms of an independent being in a world of mass independent beings, what are your thoughts on breaking free from colonialism now, especially in literature?
LH: Talk about the tie that binds. As in double bind. As in, “I hate you, never leave me.” I was born a problem and I endeavour to remain thus. Kathy Acker wrote, “Life doesn’t exist inside of language: too bad for me.” My life is under threat inside of colonialism and so I must try and write outside it while dwelling within it and paying its bills. It is a cruel madness, unending.
JV: This is your debut collection. How does it feel for you to have your words out there? Tell me about the process of letting go of the work and your book now having a life of its own apart from you?
LH: The feeling is oddly taxidermic. As if I’ve flayed my own skin and transposed it onto a shape that vaguely resembles me, and then that is conceived into a reproducible format. I have been fortunate in that my work has been received well. I have no idea what my book is doing out there without me and this is at once exciting and mortifying.
I feel as though I never really had an opportunity to “let go” of the work. Everything happened and continues to happen so fast. I can barely keep up with my own monstrosity. A rich embarrassment.
JV: What's on the agenda for the future? Is there something you've always wanted to work with outside of literature or as in a collaboration?
LH: The future is the greatest uncanny valley. That being said I suppose I’m working on an extended account of my life and the history of Northern Ontario. I hope to work on a sound-based performance and write about indigenous dance practice. Mostly I hope to craft a life that is liveable for me and be kind to the ones who love me. Fundamentally, I hope to continue to survive.
Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent
Description from the publisher:
In Liz Howard’s wild, scintillating debut, the mechanisms we use to make sense of our worlds – even our direct intimate experiences of it – come under constant scrutiny and a pressure that feels like love. What Howard can accomplish with language strikes us as electric, a kind of alchemy of perception and catastrophe, fidelity and apocalypse. The waters of Northern Ontario shield country are the toxic origin and an image of potential. A subject, a woman, a consumer, a polluter; an erotic force, a confused brilliance, a very necessary form of urgency – all are loosely tethered together and made somehow to resonate with our own devotions and fears; made “to be small and dreaming parallel / to ceremony and decay.” Liz Howard is what contemporary poetry needs right now.
EVERY HUMAN HEART IS HUMAN
I could call this
a streamlet a better
in the trafficking
style no matter
any purple sky
or blue vapour
working the real
number is even
when I was
cunting in the fields for that fallow
had escaped me
in some marsh
of insufficient housing
all the time Christ thought me
I, Minnehaha, a small LOL
to quarry a nation
I gave you this name then said
Rusty Talk Editor:
The Rusty Toque interviews published writers, filmmakers, editors, publishers on writing, inspiration, craft, drafting, revision, editing, publishing, and community.
Unless otherwise stated all interviews are conducted by email.
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