For earlier installments of Greg Santos's interview with Canadian poet Jason Camlot, click here:
GS: Rob Allen was your teacher but also a colleague and a
friend of yours. The whole last part of
The Debaucher was dedicated to him, as well as your poem “Bewildered” from
Attention All Typewriters. Could you
talk about Allen’s influence on you and your work?
JC: Subtle, I suppose. He wasn’t an overbearing mentor in any way. I was his roommate while I was still an undergraduate and he seemed to have no qualms about that. He wasn’t much of a father figure, in that way. But he was probably one of the first people just to treat me like a writer. Like a peer. Even though I wasn’t his peer by any means. But he treated me that way. That was worth an awful lot when I was young, that’s for sure. In treating me as a peer that meant just allowing me to be around him and to watch him. You hear rookie hockey players talk about what it’s like to be in the dressing room with veterans and seeing how they prepare for the game. . . I still don’t know what that means exactly but I can sort of understand by analogy. When I lived with Rob, watching him how he went about his day and when he read, when he wrote, when he thought, and so that was influential. I like his writing a lot. I suppose I was influenced by him more than I know because he worked well in short lyric forms and he was in certain ways a lyric poet but he also worked very well in long serial forms. One of his teachers at Cornell was A.R. Ammons. He introduced me to Ammons as well in poems. So I think he was a major influence in the way I approach poetry formally, as well. Although, like I said, it was always a subtle influence because he never imposed anything on me. He let me hang around his bookshelf and I would pull things off myself. Occasionally he would give me a book but it was usually a Gilbert Sorrentino novel. Who he just adored. So, he was a great influence but in great part by being a great friend.
GS: Have friendships been important to you in your literary career?
JC: They’ve been super important. I think they’ve been a huge motivation to write. I think I wouldn’t have written my first book if Rob hadn’t encouraged me to do it. David, I’d say singlehandedly told me to write The Debaucher. In certain ways, I write for them. Also, I write for myself but their friendship is a huge motivation to work and to write because I want to share it with them. At Jon Paul’s book launch for Stripmalling, I had a feeling of an atmosphere that I hadn’t felt in a long time. There was a kind of, and this may come back to the very first questions you asked me about what it means to be a Montreal poet, there is a certain sense of feeling like you’re performing a show in an empty theater and so you can do whatever the hell you want and that’s especially fun if you’re doing it with a bunch of friends who feel the same way. I think we used to have that feeling quite a lot. Partly we had more time to have that feeling because I didn’t have kids and I didn’t have a job with as many responsibilities as I have now. We were doing it really as much for getting a rise out of each other than anything. It had a bit of that feeling or the memory of that feeling at the book launch the other day. There was a kind of festive I don’t give a shit attitude that reminded me how creative that attitude can be. I think it’s partly fueled by friendship and by a shared sense of not caring what everyone thinks because you have that bond of friendship to protect you from any other kinds of scrutiny.
GS: What do you think David McGimpsey, Todd Swift, Jon Paul Fiorentino, and yourself have in common with each other?
JC: I learn a lot from all of them. Probably what I have in common with them is what I’ve learned from reading their poetry. I hope that they also learned certain things from me or were inspired to try things out because of my writing. I think we all write poems from the prospective of imagined personae so I think that may be one thing you’d find across the board in our work. I think we’re eclectic in our formal choices. I think Todd, Jon Paul, and David are all very funny writers, in their own ways, so I think humor is a component of all of our work. I think we’re all pretty good readers of our own poetry, too.
GS: What is your hope for poetry in North America?
JC: I don’t know how one hopes for poetry. On a personal and maybe even selfish level, I hope I continue to find ways of writing poetry that excite me because it’s an important part of my life. I think that would also mean I hope that there continue to be books of poetry to be published to inspire me to write interesting books of my own, so guess in that sense I do have some hopes for poetry. But as far as any overarching way as to what poetry can accomplish or anything like that, I’m not sure that I have hopes for poetry in that way. I hope people continue to write it.