How has your first book changed your life?
70. Angela Carr
How did your manuscript happen to be picked up by Snare Books?
Robert Allen and Jon Paul Fiorentino had started up this press just last year and through it they hoped to be able to print unconventional texts by first-time authors, to act as an alternative to a conservative publishing industry. To date Snare has printed, with the exception of one, I think, only first-time authors... Anyways, I like the coincidence of rope and snare, rope being a possible material for a snare. And a lot of that book is about knots.
Rob, who had read that manuscript in a very different version, suggested Ropewalk be one of Snare's first first-books. That was just in the winter of 2006, and so I found myself in a whirlwind of editing.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
I don't remember--no, no, I do remember... It looked completely different than I'd imagined, unrecognizable. Lovely. I loved that book. I was ecstatic. I stuck my head in the box and inhaled.
What I remember clearly is the first time I read from that book, just a week before the launch, at the Atwater Library in Montreal. I signed my first book to Erin Moure and totally botched up her copy with my nervous scrawl. And then she came back to the table to get a second copy and that was a strange moment, imagining my book reaching someone I'd never met. That a reader would access my work without access to me! This is the obvious point of publication, but it surprised me.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
Jon and I decided together on just text, and he did the design. We discussed colours. He suggested a precious metal like gold or silver, but I think it's oxidized copper in the end. It's a roof. What is a cover? How does it function? Does it stabilize a reader?
I think the cover is supposed to represent the currency of the book, to show its value. It is supposed to be an indisputable denominator in the market place of books. That and the title. I don't know how the cover of my book functions in this market place sense. It's a word on a page.
Perhaps the cover is just the site of a leak?
I've got an idea for the cover of the manuscript I'm working on now. Which is different, because I had no plan for Ropewalk until I was suddenly spinning in the editorial process.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
I really didn't have any expectations. So anything that happened was surprising. One fun set of coincidences led to me interviewing Lisa Robertson in Montreal (a walking interview, to be published in Matrix 78). Another, to participating in the Translating Translating Montreal events in Calgary with Robert Majzels, Erin Moure and Oana Avasilichioaei. And now I am having fun working on sound pieces with Michele Anderson starting with one of the poems in Ropewalk and then translating it across media.
What surprised me is that I had a desire--fleeting--to continue the "Ropewalk" part of the book. I thought, I could have written a whole book about rope. I finally bought a copy of The Arcades Project, which led me to thinking about starting a new rope folder.
When I'd first finished editing Ropewalk for Snare in the summer, last summer, I started another project and forgot about that book. So I was surprised by the creative impulse to continue the work. It's a strange tension. One part of me resisted potential nostalgia, and urged pushing ahead with new projects, but another part of me resisted the closure of publication... maybe simply out of a preference for openness, an open text, a text in process.
I've discovered that readings are a wonderful venue for enacting these continuums.
What have you been doing to promote the book and what are those experiences like for you?
How my feelings about reading have changed. I used to be nervous about reading because I thought of it as an exposure of me, the invert, but I'm feeling less and less precious and shy about the process. Oana Avasilichioaei read with me at our Boa launch and we improvised a bilingual reading just by juxtaposing some lines from Labe's sonnets beside the poems in Ropewalk. We read on the inside of lines, single words, or by line, creating hybrid loops with repetition of language that wasn't necessarily in the book. I have been conceiving of the public reading more and more as a venue to sound out work, as part of the writing process, instead of as this refined presentation of polished work, which is how I used to conceive of it. So what started out as promotional work, the reading, is amazingly helpful to my writing process.
When I read with Melissa Thompson at the Ottawa Art Gallery, the last piece I read was about an emergency exit in an art gallery. I hadn't written that piece for such a purpose, but it became a performative piece due to the circumstance of that reading.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?
I've been lucky to have heard wonderful advice from amazing writers, intelligent and unconventional women who write what they want, how they want. From Nicole Brossard I learned to quell concerns about audience, concerns about connecting with an audience. From her I learned to coast on the belief that my writing would necessarily connect with someone, somewhere, and not worry about it. When I was working on the Labe poems I was worried no one would connect with them, they were this bizarre hybrid of French from the 16th century intentionally only halfway translated and sometimes poking through threadbare English. A hybrid of critical writing and over-the-top lyric, which I feared would have no audience. But it is important to take risks when the writing requires them, and the writers I most admire take risks all the time. And when I talk about risks, I obviously don't mean the confessional risk of detailing one's vulnerabilities on paper, but the risk involved in approaching language as one desires.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
There is so much more fluidity and flexibility in my process now. I've got four different projects going on, and that's ok. I'm thinking about all of them in terms of booklength works instead of short pieces. I can see that it's not such an awesome task to make a book, and I'm not scared of working towards that. I have to say that is a huge change in my writing, in my perception of writing.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?
Critical response was something I thought I should avoid, but actually it's been fine. I hope it helps to sell books? I am happy to read reviews where the reviewer gets that the work is playful and has a playful response.
Do you want your life to change?
I welcome change. Right now I want to learn to write in French. I read in French, I translate from French, I live in Montreal, I speak French, but I am so ridiculously nervous about writing in French, the main language. Everyone tells me how difficult it is. Talk to anyone about writing in French and they'll tell you. That is a change I desire now... I live in this multilingual city and I want to write in languages, more than one.
from The Louise Labé Poems
In long and narrow alleyways yarns are stretched out between revolving hooks 300 yards apart. These yarns are wound into ropes suitably long for use on tall ships. This method of rope-making, the rope-walk, was in use during the Renaissance; ropes were made from flax or hemp; the part of the plant used was the bast; the strength of the rope was measured in grams/denier (an old silk measure).
Of bow strings none remain.
Whenever I braid my hair, the mistaking of one smaller strand makes for an unbalanced plait, one that is impossible to complete, for the thinner strand slips from my finger, unwinding. It is easier to achieve two strands of equal strength; balance is given more easily to two than three; strolling groups diverge into couples; the Easter sun races through dusk, night and day forming the largest portion. So the braid undoes itself.
This is the case with Louise Labe, myself, and the much conjectured third party who was the object of her sonnets, her lover. One of us is too thin; most often it is myself or the beloved (whom I have called H). One of us is too thin, the braid unwinds, the hair is wild, words flying left and right with no rational temper. I know too little about myself, and even less about the beloved, the ghost of a ghost.
The beloved I call
The beloved I call H after Henri, the French dauphin and then king in Louise's lifetime. According to myth, Louise single-handedly defeated an entire army at Perpignan when accompanying this future king to war. A second story places her, in the same year, participating in a fencing tournament for the dauphin during a carnival to celebrate his appearance in Lyons. Whether she fought, really, or figuratively, in the year 1542, with a sword in one hand, is a question. In this capacity, the swordswoman, she is known as le Capitaine Loys. That she loved Henri is a rumour.
capitaine loys facts infrequent
The beloved I call H after history, for it is an historical act to give a name.
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next interview: Dana Teen Lomax
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