Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Jeff Latosik

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Ten Questions with Jeff Latosik

Author Jeff Latosik talks to Open Book about his first publication, advice to writers and his book, Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, which is set to launch through Insomniac Press on May 11.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

Jeff Latosik:

My latest book, also my first, is a collection of poems called Tiny, Frantic, Stronger. I suppose the poems in the book are some formulation of what might be called a surreal lyric, which is work that draws on both lyric and surrealist traditions. They're not about anything specific, but they are indebted to the idea that art should leave a space for the audience to enter but shouldn't fetishize subtlety and indirectness to the point of no communication.

If there's a larger aim to the book, it's a kind of questioning of comfort in various personal and communal manifestations. A poem is in many ways a planned difficulty. Now, I don't mean that a poem can't be enjoyable. On the contrary. Enjoyment is one of the things I value most in great art. But there should be a kind of shaking, a disturbance, going on. We gravitate to those who can do that kind of friendship work for us. Oh yes, I knew it was that way, but I forgot. Poetry can do that for us.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

JL:

Honestly, no. I can see other instances where such a thing would be useful, noble even. But in poetry, it's difficult. The hope is that the readership will surprise you, or, that the book will have some life outside of the predictable channels (family, friends, etc.). For this to happen, I mean, you just try to make the work good.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JL:

On a bus going somewhere. Granted, that doesn't happen every day. So a clean, well-lit place.


OBT:

What was your first publication?

JL:

The first thing I wrote that had some kind of circulation was a piece on alternative medicine in my university newspaper probably ten years ago. I consider this a publication. It had the framework: a laborious, more-time-than-needed-to-be-spent genesis, a passing through an editorial presence, and a sense after that it was out there in the world.

OBT:

Who are your literary influences?

JL:

Well, a first book tends to be a potpourri of influences, I guess, but I can tell you where I started. The (and this is my terminology) "metaphorical" poetry of Don McKay and Tomas Transtromer was a big lift: by reading that work I was able to see what poetry could be, or, what it could do uniquely. I saw a space where younger poets like Karen Solie, Jeramy Dodds and Jason Heroux were continuing that tradition in important ways.

My reading became irresponsible, but I think it probably has to. Something somewhere swerved me in the direction of Elizabeth Bishop, and her work became a kind of anchor. Her poems are just such bright distillations of imagination at work. If scholars say "life of the mind" Bishop makes me want to say "life of the imagination."

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

JL:

Book 1: Andre Alexis -- Childhood.
Book 2: Carl Wilson -- Let's Talk About Love: Journey to the End of Taste.
Book 3: Naomi Klein -- No Logo

Having just name-dropped these books, I feel the need to explain, but I'm not sure what I can offer. I think all of these books will surprise and delight. I'm confident these books will whet the hypothetical visitor's appetite.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JL:

I just finished reading Don Paterson's Rain. It's a brilliant little book. I mean, Paterson is a perfect example that subtle tectonic shifts from book to book with a clear, intuitive understanding of poetic tradition is enough to be a great, lasting poet. We'll be reading Paterson in 50 years. The book is more Armitage and Frost than Muldoon, but still decidedly Paterson.

Here's a clip of him reading one of the absolute best poems in the book,"Why Do You Stay Up So Late?"

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

JL:

Embrace the absurdity (of writing poetry seriously). Not accept. Embrace. I'll be honest: there are resistances I have to poetry-as-a-calling, even though I love it.

But how can you contribute to something meaningfully unless you throw yourself entirely at it? I'm still working on that. I can't say my resistances are worn away (maybe they're good for one's constitution, who knows?), but the advice has appreciated over time. Let go of the anxiety of cultural impact.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

JL:

It's difficult to say. Everyone finds their way in differently. Trying to publish is an exercise in being obstinate. I think it would be better if we had thicker skins. It's hard to ask that of writers, though. Not impossible, but something like obstinateness is needed. Not in the consideration of the work per say, but in the managing of the goal.

OBT:

What is your next project?

JL:

Probably more poetry but it's too early to tell what, why or how.

Jeff Latosik's first book, Tiny, Frantic Stronger, will be published in May 2010. His work has appeared in magazines and journals across the country. In 2009, he was a finalist for the Bronwen Wallace award.

For more information about Tiny, Frantic Stronger please visit the Insomniac Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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