Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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As a species, humanity has made poetry for as long as we've had language. It's one of our most ancient, and innate, forms of creative expression. And for almost as long as we have had poetry, we have had those naysayers who predict its doom. Local poet Jacob McArthur Mooney, for one, has had enough of the nattering nabobs of negativism. He believes we have beaten the inevitability of the death of poetry to death just a little bit, and now he's doing something about it. This April, which happens to be national poetry month, he's teaming up with local affairs blog The Torontoist, and together they are calling on young and aspiring poets to say why they're optimistic about the future of poetry in Canada. He's calling it The Optimisms Project, and he recently sat down with me to tell me all about it.

Paul Vermeersch: What is “The Optimisms Project”, and why are you and The Torontoist doing it?

Jacob McArthur Mooney: I can’t speak for the Torontoist really, except that they are very kind and open to all of my weird ideas. For me personally, I like watching people have to work against type. And young poets are, for reasons I can’t imagine, among the dourest and most pessimistic lucky bastards I’ve ever seen.

The Optimisms Project is a month-long parade of short, open-format testimonials from young Canadian poets. Each testimonial might want to answer one of the two following questions: 1. What about the Canadian poetry scene today makes you optimistic about the future of that scene in the years to come? or, if that’s a little too happy for you, 2. What would you like to see change about the Canadian poetry scene in the next few years?

For the purposes of the project, we’re considering “young” to be, generally speaking, 30 years old or younger. But if you’re close, you should still submit. And don’t be surprised if a couple older poets stop by as well.

PV: Why the age limit?

JMM: Some people have already written me about this. I know it’s simplistic and reducing. And I know older poets tend to be better optimists. But, again, that’s the point. Does nobody in my generation appreciate how incredibly lucky we are to get to participate in this art form? I know there are specific, even systemic, reasons to be pessimistic. God knows, it’s been a notably draining year. But I’m tired of this kind of pessimism-as-shorthand-for-thoughtfulness that I see paraded around the community. It’s easy to be taken seriously if you hate everything. This project is challenging, and interesting, I think, because it requires another layer of thought.

And I know 30 is a harsh limit. And I know many septuagenarian poets that qualify, in every way it really matters, as “young”. But I don’t doubt their capacities for optimism. My doubts lie in the hoards of mumble-mouthed twenty-something downers I know and love. Those are the people I’d like to hear from now.

PV: Why “optimisms project”, and not the singular “optimism project”?

JMM: Because everyone has their own definition of progress. One poet’s heaven is another poet’s Hades. I’m looking forward to aspirations that are so diverse that they move toward mutual exclusion. I want appeals for a return to formalists roots set against demands for post-linguistic experimentation. I don’t want agreement, I want cacophony, polyphony, chaos.

PV: How does a person submit to this project?

JMM: You write a 150-word testimonial. This can be an answer to one of the questions above, or something else entirely. The prompt word is “optimism”, whatever it means to you. You include a quick (25 word) bio, and links to any online material you may have. Maybe a photo would be nice. Then you email all this good stuff to me at Sound good? Okay, now here’s the catch. You need to do this SOON. Spaces are filling up, and there’s only so many days in the month of April (we plan on showcasing one optimism a day). So get on it.

PV: Finally, who should submit? Is it for published poets? Unpublished ones?

JMM: I’d like to get a mix of both. Whether you’re two books down and soaked in accolades, or you’re in high school and you just started writing poems this year. I want everybody. College students would be great. The never-published would be great. Spoken word artists would be great. If you have a book coming out soon, and are looking to pad your self-marketing a bit, this would be a wonderful and easy way to do that, methinks. No one should feel unqualified for optimism. Optimism wants to hear from you.

Jacob McArthur Mooney is the author of the poetry collection The New Layman's Almanac, published in 2008 by McClelland & Stewart. His next collection is scheduled to be published in 2011.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch is the author of The Reinvention of the Human Hand (McClelland & Stewart, 2010) and three other collections of poetry. He is also the editor of The I.V. Lounge Reader and The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology.

Go to Paul Vermeersch’s Author Page