Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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A friend confesses that he could spend the rest of his life revising a handful of the same poems. One change leads to another. It’s like a glassblower unsure whether to make a swan or a squirrel, the glass seething as if it were breathing in and out, the heat becoming unbearable, until he stops, lets it cave in, then starts all over again. I know what he means. My poems have multiple personality disorder. One minute I’m being seduced by the muse, the next I’m being slapped across the face. There’s the sweet voice, the monster, the forgotten self, and the one who talks with a foreign accent.

What do we do when we realize that it’s never going to end? My friend and I put our heads together and make all sorts of changes to a poem of his that has been changed so many times before, it’s not really the same poem. We’ve been kidding ourselves. It reminds me of a great documentary called “Gerhard Richter – Painting” that basically just watches Richter painting with a giant squeegee for two hours. He uses one colour, then another, a third, maybe a fourth. Every version has its own personality. Sometimes he knows exactly where to end, while others he ruins with one swish too many.

You have to know when to let go. Driving home from my writing group last night, I wondered how people other than artists deal with obsession. Is there such a thing as an ideal MacDonald’s cheeseburger? Is a jeweler making the same silver wedding band over and over or is she trying for a better gleam, a more startling roundness? I remember my mother scrubbing our kitchen floor, working with a fierceness that used to feel overdone. But now I understand how hard it is to get anything right.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Barry Dempster

Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections, two novels, two volumes of short stories and a children’s book.

Go to Barry Dempster’s Author Page