By Gillian Sze and Fred Wah
POET GILLIAN SZE SPEAKS WITH GOVERNOR GENERAL LITERARY ARTS AWARD WINNING POET FRED WAH ABOUT HIS LATEST BOOK OF POETRY, IS A DOOR.
GILLIAN SZE: Your most recent book, is a door, is a collection that includes a chapbook, poetry projects, and incidental poems previously published in magazines and small presses. How did you envision is a door in terms of how the poems work with each other in this single collection?
FRED WAH: Notions of the “book” or a “collection” are both generative and problematic for most poets. My book before this one, Sentenced to Light, was a collection of poetic texts that shared their performance as part of collaborations with visual artists. is a door is a more fragmented, and somewhat more common, book of poems, not necessarily related to one another formally or thematically. At the same time, though three of the four sections are from separate “projects,” I see the poems, finally, as participating in certain themes and attention that have become iterative in just about all my writing: race, hybridity, citizenship, place, and other things. There’s a certain “fakery” involved in almost any book of poetry that also has to do with “packaging.” Such qualifications as a “first” book, the “most recent” book, the “selected” or “collected,” and so forth, are part of performing the work in public. Publishing and publishers are a consequential part of literary production, and having an editor like Karl Siegler at Talonbooks—someone I’ve worked with for over twenty years—has become part of the writing process for me.
GILLIAN: In Poetics & Hybridity, you write: “Writing would have a lot to do with ‘place,’ the spiritual and spatial localities of the writer. I see things from where I am, my viewpoint, and I measure and imagine a world from there.”
What does Mister In-Between serve for you as a writer, “standing in the doorway / Minding the commotion”? How’s the view? – Gillian to Fred
In is a door, poems are generated by your travels (Telchac Puerto, Thailand and Laos) and the speakers are often “in-between”: between beach and water, puerto and puerta, between the fingernails, between the pieces, or standing in the doorway neither “in” nor “out.” At the end of your poem, “Sheet Music,” after the speaker questions why one should not “mess with pandemony,” he states, “Word’s out / What I need to do is mess around / with Mister In-Between.” The first section, Isadora Blue, concludes with the poem, “Mister In-Between,” and I want to ask: what does Mister In-Between serve for you as a writer, “standing in the doorway / Minding the commotion”? How’s the view?
FRED: The poetics around/of hybridity that I’ve been trying to unpack for many years is on constant lookout for any dynamic that might help substantiate the site of “betweeness.” Mister In-Between, as I remember hearing it sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrews sisters, poses that sometimes energizing force of “going against the grain” as a kind of mindfulness, a way of being present that, because of its agonizing (and frictional) position brings heightened awareness to an otherwise controlled and frequently tyrannical world. Sometimes the dirt is where the roots are.
GILLIAN: That reminds me of something you had written in your critical essays: “To write is to move.” Specifically, “to move past the comfort of a ruled discourse; in order, to move on, beyond order.” I’m thinking about your poem, “Race, to go,” and its interrogative style, the insistence of the “she” to categorize or label:
You ever been to ethni-city?
How ‘bout multi-culti?
What are you, banana
or egg? Coconut
What side of John A. Macdonald’s tracks you on anyway?
A question that’s always up for debate is: what constitutes a Canadian author? In Ken McGoogan’s essay, “You, you and you, but not you” (Aug. 7/09), he states: “To my mind, Canadian literature is variously bilingual, multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic, postcolonial, postmodern and even multinational.” Following, to some degree, McGoogan, can we say that Canadian identity is a problem that must be faced by Canadian authors? What I mean by “problem” is something open to various “solutions” but none that can ever be definitive or determinative. So being a Canadian author means nothing more and nothing less than confronting a problem that evolves by means of responses to it—even as it transcends them.