Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

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I finished reading The Yage Letters by Burroughs and Ginsberg this weekend (I'd set it down and picked it up again; it's short enough to read in a single sitting if you feel like it) and it got me to thinking about the effect of friendship on a writer's development. I was going to write "literary friendship," but that qualification seems pointless. A good friendship includes a healthy discussion of ideas and world views and the sharing of sources and obsessions, regardless of whether or not both parties follow the same artistic or career path. To paraphrase an anti-racism public service announcement from my childhood, I think of my friends who write as my friends, not as my Writer Friends. But having said that, there is a distinct tone to the relationships writers have with each other. Who else would be willing to discuss something as trade-specific as line breaks?

Until I moved to Toronto, about seven years ago now, most of my friends were musicians or involved in the independent music business/scene in one way or another (bar owners, show promoters, record label folks, etc.). I learned a lot from them and I continue to draw a lot of inspiration from these people. But after working as the arts editor at Eye Weekly from 2003-2008 (and running a literary-based performance series for a few of those years), I met and forged deep friendships with a number of Toronto writers. I've also been fortunate enough to make and maintain friendships with writers who live in other cities after meeting them through graduate school (I went to Bennington, a low-residency program in Vermont), my involvement with the Scream Literary Festival, and attending the Griffin Poetry Prize events every year. And all of these writers have helped me, a few quite directly, as readers of my work, and many indirectly, by providing models for the different ways this life can be led.

When I was at Bennington, the founder and director of the program, the late poet Liam Rector, used to talk about how it only takes five to seven people to start a movement. He urged his students to find fellow writers who lit them up, to "seek rapport and then proceed." Writing may be a solitary act, but I find that living is not. Cultural history is full of examples of how friendship forms a foundation for great work, from the Romantics to the New York School poets.

And so that brings me back to Burroughs and Ginsberg — I don't think either would have become the writers they became without the mutual support provided by their unique alliance. Whether you worship at their altar or they make you roll your eyes, the Beats offer a clear illustration of how our connections with others can lead us further into our own practice. Anxiety of influence aside, I agree with my former teacher Liam — following rapport is the way forward. And my interpretation of this is pretty broad; sometimes we feel it with writers who have been dead for centuries. It's a chemical reaction, almost out of our control. It's an act of falling in love and sometimes not everyone approves of its effect:

But as Woody Allen has said, the heart wants what it wants. Like art itself, rapport is all trust and instinct.

And with that, I'd like to thank my friends.

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.

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Damian Rogers

Damian Rogers lives in Toronto. Paper Radio (ECW Press) is her first book.

Go to Damian Rogers’s Author Page