Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Amanda Earl

F WORD WARNING

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Amanda Earl

is a Canadian poet, publisher, prose-writer, visual poet and editor who lives in Ottawa, Ontario. Her first and only poetry book so far is Kiki (Chaudiere Books, 2014). Amanda is the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. Connect with Amanda on Twitter @KikiFolle or visit AmandaEarl.com for more information.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I didn’t even realize I was writing poetry until my mid thirties. I scrawled on pads of paper from my parents’ workplaces, all kinds of confessional stuff and complaints and lists. I made notes on index cards about everyone I knew and filed them in a metal box. I just wrote. I didn’t label it. I heard nothing but poetry by men from early childhood and up, whether it was in school or recitations by my father: Shakespeare, Victorian morality poetry, Edward Leer. I liked the rhyming and the sound play, and the images, but I rarely related to it. I dismissed the thought of poetry from my head.

In my mid-thirties, I was going through a period of depression and searched the Internet for solace. I came across the poet Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, Lorna Crozier’s Carrots (https://jeveraspoetryanthology.weebly.com/carrots.html) poem and also Gwendolyn MacEwen’s fascinating and dark mythological poems. These excited me and made me realize that perhaps I was also writing what could be called poetry. I still wasn’t sure.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My father, I suppose, but it didn’t feel like an introduction. He was always reciting poetry to me as a child.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

More like the domineering presence. Since school curricula for literature were dominated by dead white men, I knew nothing about women poets until I found them in my Internet search in the 90s.  I wish I’d known about Plath and Sexton in my teenage years; although what darkness I would have dredged up back then under their influences… When I first started to realize I was writing poetry, it took me some time to find out about poets like Anne Carson who is willing to step out of traditional form to make poetry out of the long lost fragments of Sappho, accordion books about grief, little chapbooks placed in a box so readers can rearrange at will. Or Caroline Bergvall and her mesmerizing engagements with Old Norse. There’s just so much possibility out there for poetry and yet quite often the same white men, dead or alive, have their work published again and again and win prizes and are taught as the poetry that matters.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

According to Mason Currey in his book, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, the photographer Diana Arbus ritual was sex. (https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-daily-routines-10-women-artists-joan-mitchell-diane-arbus?fbclid=IwAR2fXdj7OUukk2c_-RUU8mxIhor8FRPaSWU3yJ0_f_W0t_DzUR8LQ3y3ej0) I usually start my day off with a good wank and at least an hour of pervy chat with a few random strangers. I shivered this morning after a particularly good orgasm. After that I drink Irish Breakfast tea, burn some incense and write or go outside, if it’s not too hot or cold, and wander about until I have no choice but to write. I carry a red journal with me for snippets of overheard conversation, some weird sound play that comes to me, or a doodle. My red journals are smeared in paint and tea stains.

5. What motivates you to write?

1. Lorca’s concept of the duende (https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Spanish/LorcaDuende.php) Death is near. I don’t want to be immortal, I just want to continue the conversation. I’m influenced by ghosts, such as Oscar Wilde and Djuna Barnes, Leonora Carrington, Jean Cocteau and Beatrice Wood.

2. Alienation. In some ways I live the standard North American life, but in others I don’t. I write and publish others full-time. I don’t have a nine to five job. I don’t drive. I don’t own property. I live downtown. My husband and I are in a passionate and open marriage. I write to reach out to that one kindred misfit in hope that they feel less alone. The Tragically Hip song “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwNVxvczgCs&feature=youtu.be) comes to mind. “Let’s get friendship right.”

6. What is your work ethic?

I follow three principles: whimsy, exploration and connection. I want to play; I want to learn new stuff and I want to write things that connect with those alienated by convention and the lonely. I punched a timecard as a late teen and I saw my parents punching those same damn cards. I loathe systems and routines and any attempts by external authorities to dictate my time, so I rebel against any system. I write because I breathe. It’s just part of me. Writing isn’t as tough as plumbing or surgery.

I serve the work rather than dictating what the work will be. I once spent three months learning about the sonnet because the manuscript I was working on had to be made up of sonnets, not because I wanted to but because the content required it somehow.  I wrote three of the damn things and gave up. They were awful. That manuscript remains unpublished.

I try to remain grateful and humble to have the opportunity to write. Sometimes my work gets published, which is a huge honour. I try to be careful not to let my ego tell me how great I am, because I’m not. I’m just in the right place at the right time and have found the right publisher somehow. This happens rarely.

I try not to take up too much space and leave space for writers who do not have the benefits granted by white colonialist publishing policies and attitudes that continue to prevail. I try to promote and publish 2SLGBTQIA, BIPOC, and D/deaf and disabled writers and look for ways I can support them when I can. I don’t do this enough.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I read the Exorcist, Mad Magazine, Archie Comics and Harlequin romance novels as a youngster. These works gave me a sense of irreverence that is important for my writing. In high school and university I studied French, German and Italian and finally got excited by literature. Dante made me fascinated with Heaven and Hell; Kafka made me fear insects; Baudelaire made me want to drink red wine. Rimbaud showed me that synaesthesisa, which I have, was not just something I experienced. Later I read Milton’s Paradise Lost. Early influencers of the long poem, I suppose, and the epic. I am writing an anti-epic these days. Red wine isn’t something I can stomach easily anymore. Now and then I’ll have a little Lagavulin in the tub.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Nathanaël for Je Nathanaël, for working in the spaces between genres and writing so beautifully of the body.
Sandra Ridley for her ability to write long, mesmerizing poems and read them as if they are incantations.
Christine McNair for syntactic daggers, sounds that are bitten off, and charm.
Anne Carson for her sense of play and versatility.
Canisa Lubrin for Voodoo Hypothesis, which is the only book she’s written so far, and it’s brilliant. I am awed by the skill in these poems, not just on a poetic level (diction, imagery, lineation, structure, balance) but also by the power of one writer’s willingness and ability to so effectively dismantle and bring to light the ongoing effects of racism while offering in-depth and tangible illustrations of the othered.
Alice Notley for the Descent of Alette, a most extraordinary long poem.
rob mclennan for his prolific writing and quiet poetry and bizarre wee stories.
Amber Dawn for brave femme truths and incorporating subjects that are traditionally taboo in mainstream CanLit, such as sex work.
Joshua Whitehead for the sheer invention and brilliance of Full Metal Indigiqueer which takes down the literary canon so skillfully.
The writers in the anthology Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back Edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka & Daniel Sluman (http://ninearchespress.com/publications/poetry-collections/stairs%20and%20whispers.html)
for the versatility and beauty of their writing. It’s good writing and more people should be aware of it.
Ian Martin for self-deprecating comedy.
Erín Moure for Elisa Sampedrin.
Lisa Robertson for the gift of the sentence.
Gary Barwin for his whimsy and willingness to play in numerous genres and media.

I wish Djuna Barnes was here. I’m always looking for a modern-day equivalent. Nightwood was an exquisite and poetic novel.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I don’t just write. I also play with paint, make visual poetry, which some might say is a form of writing, run two small presses, which do a bunch of things. I spend too much time on social media. I make countless lists. I watch a lot of films and tv. I listen to music. I wank. I fuck my husband. We cook glorious meals together. I go on long rambles and spend a lot of time in cafés. I cry and worry every day for the persecuted in this topsy turvy era where the Ogre in the House of White is making us all fear that the end of the world is close.

All these activities and emotions enter into my writing in some way.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I don’t know. I focus less on being a writer and more on writing. Writer sounds like a title and titles have a bunch of preconceived expectations I can’t satisfy. Same with poet. I just write.

But I guess, I’d tell them to be gentle on themselves, surround themselves with books, art, film and whatever inspires them. Ignore prescriptive rules, such as write what you know. Heather O’Neill, a fiction writer I admire, once said that for her to write, she has to be angry about something. At least that’s what I remember her saying at an Ottawa International Writers Festival event.

For me, I have to feel emotion of some sort, whether it is anger, sadness, love… I guess I would say to the person who wants to write that they are going to have to make sure that they don’t numb themselves. It’s easy in this era to want to numb ourselves against all the pain and suffering and power games going on, but when we numb ourselves, we don’t feel and if we don’t feel, it’s hard to respond. Writing, whether it’s directly political or not, is a response to what’s around us. I think it takes a great deal of empathy to write. It takes close listening and close watching.

Find a mentor. I’ve been fortunate in that rob mclennan has been extremely supportive of my work. He’s been honest when the stuff is shite. I still remember taking my first of his poetry workshops in 2006 and him telling me I was writing zombie poems.

He’s published many of my chapbooks through above/ground press and my book, Kiki through Chaudiere Books. He always encourages me to write and he has introduced me to many of the poets I mention in my list of influences and more. He does this not only for me, but for numerous others. It’s amazing!

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I was fortunate to have received a grant from the City of Ottawa for Beast Body Epic, a long poem that I began a few years after a major health crisis in 2009 and have been tinkering with ever since. So I’m going to finish tinkering and submit the manuscript for the fourth time toward the end of the year.

I have a smaller manuscript called The Milk Creature and Mother Poetry, inspired by Diana di Prima, one of the women active in the Beat poetry scene.

I’m working on The Vispo Bible, a life’s work to translate every chapter, every book, every verse of the Bible into visual poetry. I began in 2015 and have completed about 300 pages so far.

In 2018, I began work on a novel. Its working title is The Nightmare Dolls’ Imperfect Reunion. It’s about women, health, ageing, friendship, gender, and it has a helluva soundtrack. (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5B1GAgN046EdtrBLXiNoni?si=NIbexI5mQqKnr54qfmJ7ZQ)

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