Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Steven Ross Smith

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Steven Ross Smith

As a sound poet, Steven Ross Smith is used to pushing the boundaries of traditional literary genres. He continues to do so in his unique life-poem (a long poem encompassing a life), Emanations. He recently published the sixth installation in the series, Emanations: fluttertongue 6 (BookThug).

The sixth book marks a return to verse, while retaining Steven's characteristic focus on sound and visual structure. With connections and allusions to bp Nichol, Federico Garcia Lorca and more, Emanations: fluttertongue 6 is a wildly innovative work, charged with an energy that will excite fans of experimental and adventurous writing.

Steven joins us today as part of Open Book's At The Desk series, in which writers pull back the curtain on their workspaces and give us a peek into their writing processes. He tells us about an epic outdoor writing spot, the importance of a daily writing practice and why we need more Dada in contemporary literature.

I have two favourite places to write. One is in my home study in Banff, Alberta, where I have my library which contains all my favourite and essential books for casual reading or research. It's a pine panelled attic loft — very cozy, often cluttered, but quiet and conducive to concentration. It has just one small window, which, if I think to look up, or if the wind whistling through the window gap catches my attention, I can see Mount Norquay. Sometimes that mountain peak reminds me to aim higher.

My other favourite place is at a picnic table in Bellhouse Park on Galiano Island, British Columbia, overlooking Active Pass and the Strait of Georgia, toward Mayne Island or the mainland. Here, sometimes, the bald eagles call from high in the fir trees or a pod of whales may swim through the pass if I'm lucky. The sound of the waves crashing on the sandstone rock feeds me in some unknown way.

Otherwise I just try to write wherever I am. I believe in daily practice whenever possible. Consistency leads to creativity and possibly to inspiration.

In any place I'm writing I try to do something I have not done before, either in the form of the work, or in the structure, or in the syntax, or using new generative or constraint methods — something to push me outside my comfort zone. I'm speaking here of my fiction and poetry. Sometimes I'm successful and sometimes I'm not. And by success I don't mean market success, or prize success, but success in writing beyond the normative, and beyond myself. I try to work against convention, to break the rules as I perceive them. And I try to give up control and intention and let language lead me. Language has more to say than I do. I say what language leads me to.

I have many influences, but chief among them is Dada. We need more Dada — the revolutionary art movement of the early 20th century — in literature today. We are at risk of becoming stuffy and predictable. Look at the state of our present world. It is brutal and surrealistic, and often corrupt. It requires artists to be Dada — anti, bold, confrontational, and risky. I try to make my writing practice with Dada in mind.

All this seems in contrast with the conventional and idyllic writing places I mentioned earlier. I can't account for this. I guess the real place I write in and from is the synapses, the neurons, the networks inside my head and the sinews and ligaments and soft tissue in my body. And I think those are gnarly places.

Think Dada.


Steven Ross Smith

Steven Ross Smith is a sound and performance poet, as well as a writer of fiction and poetry. He has served as publisher/editor at Underwhich Editions, business manager of Grain magazine, managing editor for Banff Centre Press, and as editor of the online magazine Boulderpavement. He has been publishing books since the 1970s, and was a member of the legendary sound poetry group, Owen Sound. Smith’s book fluttertongue 3: disarray won the 2005 Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award. In 2008, he became Director of Literary Arts at The Banff Centre, where he served until February 2014. Smith currently lives in Banff, Alberta.

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