Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Suzannah Showler

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Suzannah Showler's desk

Suzannah Showler racked up some impressive credits before her first book even hit the shelves: she was shortlisted the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, won the prestigious Matrix LitPOP Award for Poetry and had writing published in the likes of The Walrus, Hazlitt and Maisonneuve. Now readers can enjoy Suzannah cover to cover with the publication of Failure to Thrive (ECW Press). The collection contains poems where the question of a failing world is treated with pointed wit, lively wordplay and outlandish hope.

Today Suzannah joins us 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.

She talks with Open Book about the ergonomics of the petite, couch-surfing in Georgia and a truly ghastly graduation gift.

I’ll begin an exegesis of my own desk with two confessions: 1) I didn’t actually write my book here, and 2) in order to take this photo, I removed three giant piles of books (mostly from the library, mostly overdue) and one pile of assorted papers and mail (mostly important, mostly related to taxes, mostly things I’m afraid to open).

The desk itself isn’t much to me: it’s virgin IKEA wood I’ve failed to stain with anything but coffee rings, and it’s a bit too tall, so I always wind up in weird, less-than-ergonomic positions working here. (I have a fantasy of a workspace that actually fits me, that will make me feel the way I do when I try on clothes in the ‘petite’ section and discover that long sleeves are supposed to actually stop at your wrist.)

Anyway, the desk itself isn’t really the thing: it’s all the amulets and talismans and charms adorning it, and those have been an evolving fixture over several desks now. I surrounded myself with symbols that I hope will subtly trick me into writing. Also things I just like to look at.

Here are some of my favourites:

Time-wasting Triptych
I am forever enamoured with these three pieces by Portland-based printmaker Alyson Provax from her “Time Wasting Experiment” series. I keep them where I work both to acknowledge how it is I actually spend my time, and also to protect against indulging myself too far in the less healthy aspects of my “creative process,” such as it is. I also like how the quantity of time in the three pieces adds up to two hours. In some superstitious way, this triptych is a kind of deal with myself that I not spend more than two hours at a stretch marinating in my own dread.

American Karma
In the top left corner of my corkboard there’s an American dollar bill origamied into a bleeding heart. It used to have a quarter clutched in the centre. Two years ago, en route to make a recluse of myself in a South Carolinian cabin and finish writing my book, I spent a night couch-surfing in Savannah, Georgia with a crowd of super-fearless, idealistic, extra-young artists. They were so cool, and I was in this weird, between-things, hovering sort of time. One of them made me this little karmic symbol, and I love it.

Letterpress, Bitches!
This was handmade by my friend and forthcoming sister-in-law, Claire Battershill, who is also launching her first book in April.

La Pluie
In the bottom right corner of the corkboard there’s a postcard depicting frames from the short film La Pluie by Marcel Broodthaers from 1969. In the film, a man sits at a desk and very calmly tries to write with a pen and ink while buckets of rain dump down on him and turn everything into a mess. I bought this postcard in 2006 when I was briefly living in France and pretty bored and miserable. The metaphor in the film is simultaneously lovely and heavy-handed, which I dig.

Lucky Rabbit Limb
This rabbit leg given to me by Michael Winter might well be the creepiest thing I own. He gave one to each member of my graduating class at U of T, and I managed to grab the most disturbing one. It’s really a whole limb rather than just a foot, and there’s this bit of bone and gristle sticking out the end. I love how ghastly it is.

— Suzannah Showler

Suzannah Showler's writing has appeared places, including The Walrus, Maisonneuve, Hazlitt and Joyland. She was a finalist for the 2013 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and winner of the 2012 Matrix LitPOP Award for Poetry.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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