Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poet in Preview: Stevie Howell

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Poet in Preview: Stevie Howell

BT: Stevie, in 2014 you published your brilliant debut collection, Sharps, with Goose Lane Editions. Not only did you receive numerous rave reviews in The National Post, Canadian Literature, and The New Quarterly, to name a few, but you were also nominated for The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. A lot of writers get asked about the experience of publishing their first book, but I'm more interested in your experience afterward. After such a successful debut, what comes next for Stevie Howell? What have you been up to the last year and what can readers look forward to?

SH: Thanks, Blair. Ok! I hope it’s alright that I'm going to answer by describing what's been working on me, as opposed to what I've been working on—because that's what really happens, right?
For almost a year after Sharps, I couldn’t write a lick (felt naked in public— everyone’s anxiety dream—with my book “out there” in the weather). Saeed Jones wrote that it’s more important to read every day than to write every day, and I was relieved to focus on that. Although, I’d throw in a provisio: it’s important to awe every day—whether that occurs with books, music, film, dance, Astronomy Picture of the Day, or “ordinary” people. (And ya, I just used a noun as a verb. That’s kind of my jam.)
The newer poems I have been writing all seem to be about “men and other places”...if that makes sense...There’s a saying I can’t source, that goes something like: “if you can’t explain something, point at it.” So here’s a bullet list of some of what has me under its spell:

After by Fatimah Asghar, a first chapbook by a phenomenally brave and engaging poet. Sample line: “I always thought I would love a man/with the name of a god.”
• Writing by D.W. Winnicott: “There’s no such thing as a baby,” etc. Till recently, I’ve avoided developmental psychology the way kids are afraid of the dark, the way adults dream about basements.
• Music from 70s/80s New York Kitchen scene—especially Arthur Russell. I’d like anyone and everyone to listen to his album Another Thought, STAT.
• Laurie Anderson’s beautiful film about love and loss, Heart of a Dog. “Is it a pilgrimage? Towards what?”
• Owen Pallett’s In Conflict. In addition to his supreme musicianship, he is one of our country’s finest poets.
• This quote from Jesus: “Beware of Men” (Matthew 10:17). / This Sufi prayer: “O Lord! Increase my bewilderment!”
• The word vouchsafe; the substance ferrofluid.
Works of Love by Kierkegaard. On every page there's ~5 epiphanies. A life-shattering book.
• Lessons from a summer class with the writer Nick Flynn, who is so admirably attuned and compassionate, both in his work and IRL.

BT: Thanks so much Stevie! And thank you for the sneak peak of your new poem below!


Between all matter there’s a fundamental
distinction. Between recall
and recognition. Between past
and present. Between egg
and hen. Between your body, and the one I’m in.

Those who are more porous, more permeable,
are dangerous, at risk. I’m both

in conflict and homesick. The wrong blood
mixes. Antibodies attack antigens.
The first signal of a transfusion gone wrong is
“a feeling of impending doom.”
Speaking as a clinician

the bornness of love demands breaking.
Light displaced, a diffraction X-ray. Maybe.

A man without memory is devoted
to one woman. It’s completely heliocentric.
And medicine can’t falsify his fervor
for her. We’re over-designed
and we complicate everything,

even as our necks lack armour.
That I can close my eyes and make you
mine on loan is a miracle,

God help me—

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.