Interview with David O’Meara — continued from Previous Page
D.O.: Well, human beings are story-tellers. Something happens to us in one room, and we go into the next and try to describe that event to someone else in a way that seems most effective. This happened, then this happened, then this…And for a long time we accepted that time unfolds in a linear fashion and the way we chose to communicate mirrors that supposition. It’s how our brain works. Now science, for example quantum physics, has questioned this notion, and literature is trying to keep current by matching the illogic of those discoveries. But language and narrative is ultimately meant to serve communication, and I’ll be the first person to notice a scientist reverting to metaphor in order to get their theory across. Pure mathematics is notoriously difficult to describe, while narrative and metaphor are endlessly effective ways to leave an impression. Also, I think a poet’s task is to transfer a feeling or idea to another person through memorable language. These feelings and ideas often occur inside a narrative, so it’s natural to place them in this context. But again, I’m not arguing that it’s the only way. The “Walking Around” section of my last book is a deliberate attempt to approach a more impressionistic, pure lyric mode of communication. Sometimes breaking down meaning or narrative is necessary in order for it to become clearer.
A.E.: In your collection, The Vicinity, place, and the environment seem to play an important thematic role. Does your keen observation of place have to do with your travels and working with people – for example working at bartending?
D.O.: The Vicinity was an attempt to approach the city as a theme, a place that has become civilization’s principal environment. The book was certainly influenced by travels and places I’ve lived—Tunisia, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Vancouver, Montreal—but it also, probably moreso, arose from my reading on architecture and urban planning. The book is a sort of love/hate letter to the cities I’ve lived in.
A.E.: Lived experience is of course important in any writer’s work. How has your experience of places, faces and the landscapes impacted on your poetic sensibility?
D.O.: Lived experience is always in the background, but most of my poetry arises from the tensions of environment, memory, and thought clashing with the possibilities and limitations of language. I would say it has to be for the poem to work as poetry. There’s always that tension. Basil Bunting said, “You don’t set out to make a poem of your experience. You set out to make a shape. A shape of sounds.” I see a lot of truth in that. To put it another way: what are my influences? The dictionary; all its vowels and consonants.
A.E.: Your poetry reminds me somehow of Adam Dickinson’s work. Are you familiar with his poetry?
D.O.: Yes, I do know Adam’s work, and admire his book, Cartography and Walking. He has a very fine talent for images. He does what a lot of poets fail to do, which is to make their images accurate. When he uses a verb, it might sound strange at first, but on reflection, it’s also fitting. Surprise and recognition: is there a better way to get a reader’s attention? But I imagine you are referring to our shared interest in the ambulatory theme of our walking poems. It’s something I’ve never talked to him about. Strangely we seemed to be working on a similar aesthetic simultaneously, though his walking is rural, mine urban. Beyond that, I don’t know. But I’ll take it as a compliment.
A.E.: You seem to have a busy life working around people. Is this a hindrance to that “over-faint quietness” that “should seem to strew the house for poets”, according to Sir Philip Sidney in “In defence of Poesie”?
D.O.: I probably look busier that I am, because my job is public and social (bartending). But it suits me because I only work two shifts, and the rest of the week is free to concentrate on writing. Two shifts! All the nine-to-fivers out there are salivating. But at least they’ll get a pension some day, and can write comfortably in their retirement years. Basically I’m doomed to poverty, but at least I’ve got time to write now. It’s extremely important to me to find as much solitude as possible, in order to clear my head. I like Ottawa for that. There’s a small literary scene, but it’s not intrusive.
SENTINEL POETRY (ONLINE) #42
The International Journal of Poetry & Graphics...since 2002
MAY 2006 ISSN 1479-425X Editor: Amatoritsero Ede