Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Camille Martin

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Camille Martin. Photo credit: Jiri Novak

Camille Martin talks to Open Book about her work as a visual artist, the development of her writing, her upcoming poetry collection, Looms, and more.

Open Book:

Tell us about your recent collection Looms.

Camille Martin:

It’s interesting that book projects can seem to take on a life of their own and evolve into what they “want” to be despite original intentions. Before I started the poems in Looms, I had just published 100 sonnets exploring various approaches to the ancient tradition of 14-line meditations — in the case of Sonnets, meditations on the nature of self, memory and cognition.

Wanting to write longer poems but still under the spell of that book, I started writing double sonnets. But the poems soon broke out of that too-restrictive mould and began telling strange stories that are often dream-like in the sense of being multi-layered and making unexpected shifts. They are still concerned with questions about self and other and about the nature of human thought. However, in Looms I began delving into narrative in relation to the formation of identity from many different and constantly shifting stories.

The image of a loom represents, to my mind, the idea of the complex, interwoven narratives that form the evanescent fabrics of perception and memory.


What was the most challenging part of writing this collection?


Editing it — though I think of editing as a process every bit as creative and rewarding as composing. It often involves honing the poem so that there’s a balance between, on the one hand, focus and clarity, and on the other, the feeling of the poem’s semantic field being open to possibilities.


What recurring themes do you notice turning up in your writing?


I find myself returning to the theme of impermanence. I think this is partly a result of my father’s death, my mother slowly losing her mental faculties to Alzheimer’s and my own experience with cancer a few years ago.

In my poetry I’m also dealing with the nature of human thought, especially ways in which people come to believe — I’m referring not only to religious belief, but also to the mental processes that cause us to evaluate and the role that emotion plays in that evaluation. I’m wondering about the cultural suppositions that nudge us to interpret the unfamiliar into something that makes some kind of sense to us.

In a nutshell, I’d say that my poetry questions habits of thought.


How does your work as a visual artist affect your writing process?


When I first started making collages, it was the other way around: my “ransom note” collages were poems composed of words cut from magazines, sometimes with added images. In these, I was inspired by similar techniques used by Charles Henri Ford in Silver Flower Coo.

Now my collages almost exclusively use images cut from a variety of sources.

The collages and the poetry feed into and inspire each other: both create mysterious juxtapositions that invite the viewer to weave them into a story or a philosophical meditation, yet perhaps also allowing something of the uncanny to remain.


Who are some people who have deeply influenced your writing life?


That kind of question always simultaneously fills me with delight (remembering with gratitude the many writers who have profoundly affected my work) and dread (realizing the necessity of excluding so many in such a relatively short space). I’ll just say that I’m constantly reading poetry and discovering new favourites. When I come across a book or poem that particularly intrigues me, I’ll sometimes write a review or close reading in my blog, Rogue Embryo.

My work has also been shaped by readings in the sciences: cognitive science and evolutionary biology, for example.


Do you feel your writing has changed over the years? If so, how?


I’m developing a deeper sense of the kinds of questions I want to explore, while allowing the playful impulse to engage those questions in ways that create a sort of dance between the familiar and the mysterious.


What are you working on now?


The work-in-progress that’s getting the most attention these days is a collection entitled “Blueshift Road.”

Camille Martin is the author of three published collections of poetry: Sonnets (Shearsman Books, 2010), Codes of Public Sleep (BookThug, 2007) and Sesame Kiosk (Potes & Poets, 2001). She has also published chapbooks, including If Leaf, Then Arpeggio (Above/Ground Press, 2011).

For more information about Camille’s work, please visit her website.

Buy her books at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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