think the presupposition of audience, which is a determining factor for any
kind of poetry, is an interesting question to ask about poetry that’s written
in English and Quebec. I taught a
graduate course on English language poetry from Quebec last summer and we
looked at this book by Carmine Starnino called With English Subtitles and the
thing that I found interesting about the book was the vagueness, the
strangeness of his presupposed audience. He seems to be talking to some imagined international audience of
intellectuals. Or he addresses you very aggressively and idiomatically as
though you grew up on the same street as him.
It’s all over the place in terms of the presupposed audience and I think
that’s pretty typical of a lot of English language poetry written from
here. Partly because there’s license to
imagine any audience because there is in a sense no local audience for poetry,
per se, I mean there is because there are a lot of students here and there are
a lot of readings, so that is one audience. But in another sense I think it allows you to imagine yourself into all
kinds of fictional or to presuppose all kinds of fictional audiences. The fact is in many ways my audience is
David McGimpsey or the few poets that I actually share work with and that’s
probably typical of poets anywhere. In
that sense it is an Anglo_Quebec audience because it’s David McGimpsey or it’s
Todd Swift because those are poets I send my work to, so it’s the individuals
who may get things that others wouldn’t because they’re from here.
GS: Who do you consider influential over your career as a poet?
JC: It changes all the time. I’m always looking out for new poets. My colleague whose office is next door, Judith Herz, is always sending me the names of poets she’s just discovered so I really appreciate that. I think when I was young, poets who were important to me were songwriters. Bob Dylan was a huge influence as soon as I started writing songs, and the Beatles. As for poets who have been influential on the poetry I’ve actually published when I was an adult, I’d say, Elizabeth Bishop. Zbigniew Herbert is a Polish poet who I’ve read and loved for quite a few years. A lot of Montreal poets, like Layton and Cohen, whom I discovered as soon as I left Montreal and started reading seriously. Peter Van Toorn, another local poet whom I read when I was quite young and really dug and loved. A.R. Ammons, Robert Creeley, a lot of Modern American poetry. There are others but those would be a few names that just popped to mind.
GS: It’s interesting that you mentioned Elizabeth Bishop because one of the poems I really enjoyed in The Debaucher was “Mouse Memorial.” It made me think of Bishop’s poem, “The Monument” and I was wondering if Bishop’s poem was an inspiration?
JC: Not consciously but it is very possible. It is a poem that I admire a lot. There’s a poem in The Animal Library spoken from the perspective of a narwhal who’s going to have its tusk cut off. The poem is called “Narwhal” and I was thinking of Bishop’s poem, “The Fish.” This is the only poem I can think of where Bishop was very consciously on my mind. There’s another poet who’s good at long poems and very constrictive formal poems. I just love the apparent accessibility of her poetry and I think Geography III as a book, is like a long poem, and is one of the most coherent and just beautifully crafted total books imaginable so it’s such a great model for what a volume of poetry can be.