Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Michael Boughn

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Michael Boughn

Michael Boughn is the author of Great Canadian Poems for the Aged (BookThug). In the book, Michael, a multi-genre writer and university professor, has some fun with the straight-laced conventions of Canadian poetry.

Today Michael speaks with Open Book about the slippery concept of Canadian identity, his all-time favourites in the genre and what's up next for him.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Great Canadian Poems for the Aged.

Michael Boughn:

Great Canadian Poems for the Aged Vol. 1 Illus. Ed. is a bit of a hoot. As a Recovering GG Loser, I thought I would get a head start on the next Racing Season and write some Great Canadian Poems which would position me as a shoo-in for the Big Prizes. They want Literary Excellence? I’ll give them Literary Excellence up the wazoo. And in the process I have answered all those boring, repetitive questions about Canadian Identity once and for all so you no longer have to listen to them tell us we don’t have one. The next time some pundit says Canadians have no identity, just refer them to my book — Great Canadian Poems for the Aged Vol. 1 Illus. Ed. If you are after Literary Excellence and you want to know all the answers to the questions about Canadian Identity, this is definitely the book for you.


You're having some irreverent fun with some of the tropes of Canadian poetry in this book. Do you think Canadians take themselves too seriously?


Irreverent? Me? I think Canadians — wait — I don’t know all Canadians. I know a few. The ones I do know have great senses of humour. Poets like Peter Culley, Nicole Markotic, and Victor Coleman consistently crack me up with their fabulous work. Mind you, they never win any prizes, because the Judges have all had the humour beaten out of them by laughter-challenged Creative Writing Instructors wielding long, hard extended metaphors . Then of course there’s George Bowering who is terrifically funny, whichever way he’s hitting. On the other hand, the inevitable narratives about incest and cannabalism on the Mirimachi that seem to provide the gist for a lot of what people call Canlit — sounds a little like a lite (0% fat), processed meat product to me – has resulted in a rampant humourlessness that threatens suck us all into a vortex of lingering Calvinism replete with Orange parades, dry Sundays, and really Serious Literature (with high moral themes).


What do you think the place of poetry is in the evolution of Canadian identity? Do Canadians have a unique relationship with poetry?


Oh boy, more Canadian identity questions. I guess I asked for it, eh? Poetry? Well, it is difficult to imagine Canadian Identity without thinking about Robert Service who played an immense role in Canadian evolution. Wait. What was the question? A unique relationship? Is that some kind of S&M thing? With poetry? What would you do to it, especially if you are Canadian? Make it wear a toque and flatten its hair? Or dress it up like a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and push it out in the snow?


You're also a teacher. How do you balance your teaching and writing? Are they complementary in any way?


My writing and my teaching are mutually parasitic. They nourish each other. I am fortunate to be able to read some really great writing with some fabulous, enthusiastic, smart students. How lucky can you get?


What are some of your all-time favourite books of Canadian poetry? And who are the contemporary poets about whom you're most excited?


Well, they change all the time. Love the one you’re with, as they say. Contrary to the ignorance of all those anthologizing professors, who are probably also moonlighting as Creative Writing Instructors, I consider Robin Blaser to be a Canadian poet since he was a Canadian citizen for nearly 50 years and published most of his work here, so I am going to put The Holy Forest right up there as one of the great books of Canadian poetry. Since I have solved the problem of Canadian Identity in Great Canadian Poems for the Aged, that should be the last word on that.

I already mentioned Peter Culley, Nicole Markotic, and Victor Coleman. I also read Sharon Thesen and Meredith Quartermain with delight. Bowering, always — My Darling Nelly Gray is just fabulous — and Fred Wah, of course. A student just lent me M. Nourbese Philip’s ZONG! which is a knock out.

And there is a younger group of writers coming out of Victor Coleman’s advanced writing workshop who are doing some amazing stuff with words. You’ll be able to read them in a forthcoming issue of Rampike. David Peter Clark, Oliver Cusimano, Jonathan Pappo, Andrew McEwan . . . very exciting stuff.


What are you working on now?


I am in the midst of a book called City. It was provoked by my reading of Charles Olson’s “Poem 143 — The Festival Aspect” where he writes about the “three towns.” I wanted to delve more deeply into that. It is in three books, each of which has three parts, each of which has six longish poems. I have all the titles and I’ve finished Book One. I am flailing around in the second one now, occasionally finding traction — certainly having fun.

Michael Boughn is a writer and teacher whose published works include poetry, literary essays, short stories and young adult non-fiction. He has also taught part-time at the University of Toronto since 1993, covering courses in post-modern fiction, poetry, children’s literature, American literature, detective fiction and science fiction, among others.

For more information about Great Canadian Poems for the Aged please visit the BookThug website.

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

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

1 comment

Enjoyed the interview with Mike! Thanks, OB Toronto.

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