Sentinel Poetry (Online) #55 ISSN 1479-425X
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...since December 2002
Editor-in-Chief: Amatoritsero Ede
The Heart of the Matter
Amatoritsero Ede: It is a pleasure to have this conversation with you. It has taken us quite a while. I would like to refer to your work. Your poetry has a lyrical sweep, which I can only compare to a George Elliott Clarke, from my little acquaintance with contemporary Canadian poetry, so far. It is not merely descriptive as some Canadian poetry tend to be. You and some very few Canadian poets seem to stand apart in this uniqueness. Is your muse in Europe - by which I mean are your influences more from outside of Canada?
Peter Van Toorn: Ummm, is that the question?
P.V. T.: By muse, you mean things that give you a thrill when you are younger?
A.E.: - your Inspiration; the poets that influenced you; the literary works.
P.V.T.: Ok! They are all over the place. Living here the first things I came across are American and British, you know?
P.V.T.: But After that – of course Canada is the colony…One of my very favourite books in the world – of poetry – is a myth, it’s, eh, Loa Tsu. Tao Te Ching; it’s high poetry. It’s Taoism; it’s high philosophy, really.
A.E.: So the lyricism that I mentioned could also have a kinship to that kind of spirituality that you find in Lao Tsu?
P.V.T.: I am not hearing you well, Ama; sorry… I didn’t quite catch that.
A.E.: I asked if the lyricism that I find in your work could be equated with the kind of spiritual lyricism you find in a Lao Tsu? Something like that.
P.V.T.: Oh, oh! That’s eh, wait a minute…It’s what it all is in the end, eh. In a way, everything is a narrating of the spirit, in one way or the other, you know.
A.E.: Yeah; true.
P.V.T.: but even as I say that… I like the physical world, you know. You remember Wallace Stephens saying in a poem … ‘the greatest poverty is not to live in a physical world.’
A.E.: Which is true…but, you see, when I am trying to compare lyricism and spirituality…it’s because, although you live in a material world, you still have a kind of contact with the spiritual world too. And the poet does that by...it is like pressing the finger to the spiritual cloud, so to speak. So in that way he is connected to the spiritual world through poetry.
P.V.T.: eh, yes, yeah; for sure!
A.E. yeah…definitely we all…
P.V.T.: all the big things are in fact spiritual , your know; all big things are, in fact… spiritual – clouds, wilds , whatever...But still you have to express them in real terms, you know…Real clouds , real dogs, real trees and so on, whatever!
A.E.: Definitely…but… oh yes, the spiritual and the material go together. They have to…
P.V.T.: they are one, they are the same thing.
A.E.: exactly…But it takes a very wise poet to understand that, you understand?; to appreciate that. Not everybody does.
P.V.T.: I am not sure I do either!
A.E.: anyway, if you remember this essay – I think the “Empathy in Modern Verse”, the essay in the book Insecurity of Art…Stephen Brockwell, in that essay speaks, eloquently “of an empathic relation” (17) with art or ‘Einfeuhlung’, which he describes as being able to “feel-in”; that is, the observer not only views the artwork but becomes one with it. That ‘sich in etwas einfeuhlen’, to cast it in its proper reflexive German verb form; this feeling of one’s self into the poetry while writing suggests an absent trend in most Canadian poetry. Is there a school of poetry here engaged in this kind of self-dissolution?
P.V.T.: I’m not sure about that, Ama…I did not quite hear you well.
A.E: I can repeat it. I wanted to know if there is a school of poetry in Canada which practices the kind of self-dissolution suggested in Stephen Brockwell’s essay, “Empathy in Modern Verse”. In German it is called ‘sich in etwas einfeuhllen’…because I speak German, I studied German.
P.V.T.: I do too
A.E.: Oh, yeah?
A.E.: I did not know that!
P.V.T.: How is it…what are you contrasting it with? This feeling of one’s self into the poetry. What’s the opposite of it; what are you comparing it with, or what other practices…
A.E.: The opposite would be a mechanical and formulaic kind of writing.
P.V.T.: say that again, mechanical…?
A.E.: Mechanical and formulaic.
P.V.T.: Oh, like formula, formulaic!
P.V.T.: You know the avant-Garde does that these days, they have some formula; you have to follow the formula, and you have a poem. It's like pre-fabricated…
P.V.T.: burruum-burrum-bang-bumm-burrum-bang-bing-bong! You play with formula and anyone can do it, then it is over!
P.V.T.: Anybody can do it. That’s the opposite of…the whole idea of poetry is exactly not to make formula!
A.E.: That’s exactly why I am asking you this question. Is there a school of poetry in this kind of self-dissolution, where you are not aware; you are just carried on with what you are doing; you have this epiphany?
P.V.T.: You mean free association kind of; letting everything go!
P.V.T.: Aha! You know, I am a sort of a complicated guy; I sort like Stravinsky. You know Stravinsky, composer?
A.E.: Yeah. Igor Stravinsky
P.V.T.: What? Wes.. Stravinsky. Yes, him – good name for my next dog, Igorrr! – Anyway, the thing is, he said somewhere, he said: ‘the more worked, and on and definite and limited and specific a work of art becomes the free-er it becomes.’
A.E.: the more limited it is?
P.V.T.: in other words – he doesn’t mean limited in any… the more something becomes disciplined or definite, in a way that’s when the system happens. The one you are proposing – the school, the so-called school of letting it all go… probably… there is no real release; there is no freedom in that, because there is no real constraint. This is like the well-wrought, earned school of poetry versus the Allen Ginsberg school; you know what I mean?
A.E.: What I am trying to say is that…
P.V.T.: that would be the corollary – if you let everything go, then you have like, Allen Ginsberg, the sanctity of the uncorrected first draft!
A.E.: that’s not what I mean, I am talking about the poet becoming the medium through which the poetry comes out.
A.E.: This is what I’am saying. It’s almost like you are the ‘medium’.
P.V.T.: Now I understand what you are saying! You know, when you start a new project, you know – how do I put this… If you are between books, you finished the last book, time goes by. It might take a long time, who knows. You start a new book. For me this is a very personal thing. I sort of feel that the first poem needs to come from somewhere – unexpected, that you really don’t expect at all. And by its very nature – it’s stealthy, it has a certain rhythm; you know right away, this is a voice calling from – a specific voice, very far away.
P.V.T.: You have no control, you didn’t even know it existed before. But when you meet it, you suddenly realise everything you hadn’t realised; everything is familiar – (but it’s plastic, that letting it go that you are talking about) – and those other things are written like spontaneous, out of a dream – letting it go – like a piece of diamond; there is no straining, there is no effort. But that’s rare – this meeting of a voice from far away, is rare. When you ‘meet’ it, you feel good. That’s not so frequent, not necessarily.
A.E.: Yes. But even if there is no effort you still have to have control; you are the medium, the voice and something comes to you, you still have to actualise it in the material.
A.E.: And then your discipline as a craftsman comes in but without you being formulaic, that’s why I said ‘letting it go’. No formula.
P.V.T.: But in the end, you know, ah, I am not sure about that either, Ama. It just seems to me that, well, in the end the greatest poetry is part of a system; it is systematic, not random.
A.E.: No, no! I am not saying there should be a complete breakdown of control. That’s why I said ‘craft’, there has to be craft. But the craft is not the kind of craft that is completely rule-bound even within those rules.
P.V.T.: Aha! Yeah yeah!
A.E.: It is very creative…it is craft that transcends itself, that is not limited to the everyday kind of thing that we know.
A.E.: It is craft that sort of gets up off the ground and floats in the air, and take poetry with it to the sky. Something like this.
P.V.T.: Yeah, yeah! Umm-ummh! It depends on the resources that are there, I guess. Umm, I like the idea that, eh…well I guess it depends on the way of western traditions – there are so many – for how this works. I like that, I like the idea that in the end poetry should be higher than the craft. Remember when Marshall McLuhan…He said: ‘when you feel the art of publication was that of composition, you demote poetry from an art to a craft.’ He makes this old Greek distinction between art and craft.
A.E.: We are saying the same thing in different ways.
P.V.T.: For the Greeks, democracy- it worked but based on conquering nations, right, right!?
P.V.T.: And , eh, so the Greeks had this idea that things that involved manual labour or anything, mechanical, formulaic or physical was a lower kind of accomplishment than the spiritual, intellectual or whatever, you know.
P.V.T.: They played that distinction. I don’t know, we all call it… I am getting off the topic. I am not sure I am answering your question.
A.E.: well, you answered it by saying, you know, that there is a difference between composition and craft. So I am saying that composition is the dry, formulaic, mechanical thing that I was talking of before. And craft is that thing that transcends craft. It (poetry) has a kind of technical surrounding but it transcends technique, in a mechanical artificial sense.
P.V.T.: I understand. I get it; I am probably hearing you now! You know, Ezra Pound wrote a statement about… ‘technique is the test of a man or a woman’s sincerity in poetry, in art. In other words technique becomes a kind be all and end all. That’s not good.
P.V.T.: But on the other hand I like to think of …you know the guitarist, the jazz guitarist, Joe Pass?
A.E.: No, I don’t know him.
P.V.T.: Okay. He is one of the greatest poets in the world, in America, carlifornian, probably dead now, I don’t even know. Joe Pass got to be so fluid and accomplished, virtuoso in his technique. My idea would be if you are that good technically, you have done it all. Like the Harlem Globetrotters…the way they can make the ball do anything, you know. When you get to that point, you probably have to take a break because. Technique...like the Haiku guy would say, ‘if you are pointing your finger at the mole in a haiku, don’t be wearing a big flashing ring that distracts from it.’ No technique, you know! Technique if it is there, then you can become wise again like a child – you can do anything you want. You know that any note you make – if you are a musician – your finger is going to find it right away, it will come, like that. Then you don’t worry about that.
P.V.T.: Now you can think about important issues like, eh , how many toes does the clouds have, something like that, whatever. You know what I mean?
P.V.T.: Then you become released from that and, perhaps, you can speak more from the heart; ultimately that’s the important issue – to speak from the heart, though.
A.E.: So the important thing is to know technique so much that it becomes irrelevant in your work.
A.E.: To know it so much that you transcend the rules.
P.V.T.: You need one to work with, though. You see recently, I had a friend, she is a poet. She committed suicide. We don’t really know but in a way she committed suicide. Drinking and certain kind of medication problem, you know. She was more your freestyle person, you know. I felt rotten. And I said to myself that’s the whole problem there- form and content. She wrote poems that was very…audaciously… You know. And just wrote the proper things, you know. She didn’t wrestle with the form, let’s say a strict form, lets say a sonnet or haiku, whatever. She never struggled with all those elements. In her life – she needed to struggle with those in the poem – so that in her life she can do it. I would have saved her life; I knew it!
A.E.: That’s interesting. But the thing is, what about free verse then?
P.V.T.: ‘No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job.’ Who said that, T.S. Elliot?
A.E.: I am not sure. Yes, that’s true. You still have to have some discipline.
P.V.T.: And Frost said ‘free verse is like playing tennis without a net’.
A.E.: What I was trying to say with that is that there is always some discipline in any kind of writing whether its free verse or a sonnet or – actually I find sometimes that the rhyme scheme is rather artificial.
P.V.T.: Yeah, they are!
A.E.: I prefer that the poetry should live closer to the spirit of everyday speech but at the same time transcend it.
P.V.T.: Being in tandem with everyday speech – for me it is a very good asset.
A.E.: Like in your poetry where you are talking about, eh… You know the poem where you are talking about a walking stick, somebody taking a walk with a walking stick?
P.V.T.: Oh, yeah, yeah! I remember that it is “Mountain Stick”.
A.E.: “Full of good oak”! I was reading that with Stephen Brockwell. We sat down and had a beer, and I was telling him how your work is under-appreciated or you are under-appreciated in Canada as a poet. This is what I am saying, that I could compare your work to that of a few poets in the world that I know. And some old master, like, say T.S Elliot. And that brings me to the imagery. I say here that your work is very imagistic and picturesque. It breathes and pulsates with the wind rushing through…
P.V.T.: Say that again, I didn’t quite catch that.
A.E.: Imagistic, Picturesque – like a picture
P.V.T.: Oh, I see. Picturesque, yes!
A.E.: It breathes and pulsates with the wind rushing through the open wild plains. This reminds one of the introit to “In Guildenstein county”, and of “Wawa: Slipped Beat”. The onomatopoetic wealth of the whole collection is evocative. These are poems that remind one of the modernist verisimilitude, which Brockwell, in the essay mentioned earlier, accuses some old English poets of lacking. Would you describe your work as modernist?
P.V.T.: Who; Me?!
A.E.: Yeah! Would you say you are a modernist?
P.V.T.: I – I never think of it in those terms at all!
A.E.: But you know, if were to –
P.V.T.: What’s modernist again? Lets go over that.
A.E.: The modernists are like, you know, are people like Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot. Was it Ezra Pound, who was saying “make it new”?
P.V.T.: Oh, yeah, I suppose it’s true, that’s true. I was very influenced by Ezra Pound, I suppose; for sure! “Make it new”. You should know where I get that more from though, not from those poets; I will tell you what, though, Ama. When I was young I was a musician. I started out writing poetry and music score at the same time. At high school, my band used to play at the dances: make a little money and watch the girls’ dresses – and, you know, latter on I played in a jazz band, the blues band and – one of the best blues band in Montréal at the blues festival for years. I was a musician for years. And a musician is like that – that ‘make it new’ right now, Now! Spiritually it is happening now! It doesn’t matter – latter on we call will it something. It doesn’t matter. Okay ‘we gonna put out an album, what the fuck we gonna call it?’
A.E.: Like a jam session.
P.V.T.: Yeah, yeah, Yeah!
P.V.T.: The thing is, in poetry, it is more complicated. That’s why I gave up music – because I needed to be in a quiet little room with my lights and books; a place to work these things and hammer them out, cut it. It’s forever ‘visions’ and ‘revisions.’
A.E.: Yes, yes!
P.V.T.: At least you got – I don’t mean you, am talking for myself – it’s always kind of un-doing things. We have a lot of things to refine, you know. As a medium, in a way, as you have said, if you receive something properly, you have to be very clear like a bowl, like a bowl for peanuts or for soup, you know. If the bowl got marbles in it or if it got flowers in it, you can’t use it; it’s already been used. For a long time if it is useful, it’s like empty, when it’s empty, when the mind is truly empty and in a receptive mode, now it can get something new. In that moment. You know what I mean?
P.V.T.: So, I was very influenced by the whole music thing. But in poetry you read over a draft endlessly. One poem I worked on – I went over it 500 times! Every time I would find something that would bother me. It’s like… you look at a line and…it doesn’t have the right buzz.
A.E.: I know what you mean.
P.V.T.: You know, the words are dead; one next to another is dead!
A.E.: This reminds me of…You know, someone asked me recently about being prolific. And there is this tendency… If you read my June editorial – people count how many books you have rather than: what’s the quality?
P.V.T.: That’s the point! In this work…statistics, statistics! Like the number really makes it any better!
P.V.T.: There is nothing there, only a lot of lines. It is like hundreds of books. Fuck, its like mass production; who cares!
P.V.T.: Poetry shouldn’t be mass produced. If it is there…then its there; it might take many years..? And that’s it!
A.E.: No! It reminds me… how many books does T.S. Elliot have? I don’t think he has 20 collections.
P.V.T.: I don’t know…
A.E.: I don’t think he wrote 20 collections of poems before he died.
P.V.T.: No, not poetry, no. Essays, his prose…
A.E.: I am talking of poetry.
P.V.T.: well, there is the wastelands; there is observations – Prufrock, and the his prose, plays and his essays.
A.E.: No, no. Just the poetry.
A.E.: Its not even up to 20. he made his reputation on a few books, very solid work but in Canada I discover that every blurb writer talks about …‘this is his 6th collection, this his 8th, this his 13th collection’, and then you look at the book, you cant read it from cover to cover. So what would you say is the reason for the fallen standard of poetry in Canada?
P.V.T.: OOOhhhh! You want to get me in hot water, eh! Why are things the way they are? You know the trouble with this is… anything we do in this world, is trying to step towards something positive; good vibrations. In the end everything in the world vibrates.
A.E.: Yes, it does
P.V.T.: You know, you can’t see it but…
A.E.: I know! Everything vibrates. The walls
P.V.T.: If you have a heart, in other for it to beat, there has to be room for it to move in. it has to move, so you get a vibration. And if everything is vibrating, then all manner of sympathies, of congenialities… we are not looking for that. Not being negative and forcing things into some quantifying rules. If Pythagoras woke up today from his grave…he once said, you know ‘there is a music of the spheres, one day it will quantify everything... Everything has a mathematics in it’, you know; one day it will quantify everything. But if he wakes up today and sees the quantification going on…he would be feeling bad. Anyway, where am I going with this? I am sorry.
A.E.: I just asked what you think the reason is for the fallen standard of poetry in Canada.
P.V.T.: fallen standards. You are implying there was once one, not a fallen, standard?
A.E.: Okay. I am corrected.
P.V.T.: For me like, you see Lampman is still one of the greatest thing in poetry ever – Archibald Lampman. He is not that big as he should be really. Look at what happened to the group of seven, the painters. You know them, Ama?
A.E.: No. I think I have heard about them. Painters. That’s in Canada, right?
P.V.T.: Yeah. Very Important.
A.E.: I have heard about it.
P.V.T.: It is the biggest collection, the Mcmichael collection. It is in Kleinberg, Ontario; it is like north-east of Toronto; if you hit the museum… very old mud houses. The way Ontario was with tong-tongs you know. And you find the tong-tongs in all the paintings of the group of seven. This was an event in Canadian culture in the last century, which sparked the public imagination. In other words the public saw the paintings and got excited. They started to see themselves in Canada as part of the scene, in canada. Something exciting happened. And this hasn’t happened in poetry, except for Irving Layton, maybe or Leonard – Leonard Cohen. The causes for that are various. Have you read an essay called the “The Divided Mind” by one of the earliest Canadian critics?
A.E.: No, I haven’t read that one.
P.V.T.: He is one the earliest Canadian critics back in the early 20th century. He wrote an essay or a book, I don’t know and he called it “the divided mind.” And he says in Canada there will be never be a great poem, the great poetic spark will not catch unless there is a sense of identity. That was his argument. And we are still dealing with that. It is a vicious circle.
A.E.: Ah! I understand. I think at the beginning Canada wanted to differentiate itself from literature from Britain, poetry from Britain - to do something that’s Canadian, that has the Canadian character and this probably led to all of the experimenting and so this whole issue of national character has to be resolved first. I understand what you are saying.
P.V.T.: yeah. Like in the 60s, when things opened up a bit, there was a little bit of money and poetry was flowing, the Canada council… You had suddenly a million poets…But what was the big deal, technically? They just completely spawned by the Americans. Whatever American that they liked the best… They started sounding like American poets; those things, technically very imitative. So you didn’t see anything really new but vice-versa. We have Britain, we can’t just forget the past. We build on the past. We have to look at what is ‘there’, and what is really beautiful about ‘here’. And I think some poets have caught that now and then – like Lampman is one of them, I think. But he is not like celebrated as much as he should be. That is an Ottawa guy. He used to be in the 19th century.
A.E.: Okay, okay. Very interesting!
P.V.T.: He has beautiful imagery. Take a poem of his like “Heat”…he takes an abstract concept – don’t forget he living in Ottawa, where it is cold most of the time…Even when it is warm the girls are still at the stoves, you know what I mean?
P.V.T.: He writes a poem about heat, almost like Debussy in France wrote a composition in music about heat. It is the same thing. Imagistic. It is like post impressionism: “in the sloped shadow of my hat/ I lean at rest/ and drain the heat.” And he talks about the wagon, how it raises dust. He makes a painting. He puts a human being in the landscape. He humanises the landscape. In Canadian poetry you hardly ever see a human being in a big landscape…because there is always a big landscape somewhere. Canadian poetry exhibits a terror of nature, of the wilderness.
P.V.T.: And Lampman wrote the only one book, which lovingly, which point of view would – validate it…it’s amazing, it’s amazing – this country is fucked – its amazing! It has much to do with the classics. It is amazing and beautiful, and yet… It has not resulted in the kind of poetry that celebrates that. Not yet much, I don’t think.
A.E.: Now, that brings me to the kind of poetry that I have personally noted. Usually it is like narrative poetry. It is called what, the prose poem? The prose poem. I know that the prose poem initially was started by the surrealists in France. And that their language …eh, is it Mallarme…
P.V.T.: Stephan Mallarme.
A.E.: Yes. And that they used it in a different way. Simple language but it has a lot of symbols, symbolic content and very…
P.V.T.: Apart from all that there is musicality and nuances in the French language to begin with.
A.E.: Yes. But all of this is missing in the prose poem that we have. Is the prose poem some kind of criminal we need to send the police after?
P.V.T.: Ama, you know prose in poetry is another one, eh! A lot of stuff in Canadian poetry, for me it seems like prose that’s been chopped up and put on the paper to look like poetry, you know.
P.V.T.: There doesn’t have to be an inevitability about it… The Greeks, you know, the ancient Greeks. I always keep going back to them, not because I went to Oxford University or anything weird. Just that their mythologies and the things they make – of beauty – are so durable and lasting; they are keeping well. I was doing a barbecue one day, and you know when you light a barbecue coal, the coals are black and then, after a while, they go grey. All grey like powder and then you think its dead. And you wait and you wait, and you think, ah, shit the thing is not going to work! And you know, and then a little breeze comes by. You light a cigar; a little breeze comes by, and suddenly puff! Flames! That’s the phoenix, the Greek phoenix, you know. The Greeks restored that concept – even the citizens…at the level of the citizen, they restored the image in beautiful poetry, like that. Anyway, sorry, how did I get unto this stuff?!
A.E.: We were talking about…
P.T.V.: Oh, yeah! And the answer to your question – you were talking about imagery, symbolism and poetry missing in Canadian poetry bla-bla-bla! There is an essay by a young fellow recently on my poetry. His name is Zachariah Wells.
P.V.T.: Its called “Jabbed with Plenty”, and he talks exactly about that.
A.E.: I will look for the essay.
P.V.T.: He says ‘why is our national poetry, so like, plain?’ everybody is doing poetry like really humble and plain; they don’t want to use big words because they think the Canadian is honest…he explains it all in terms of Margaret Atwood; things about survival, things about victims, about pathology blah-blah-blah. And then he talks about my poetry as a kind of – you know, bringing wind to the wilderness kind of thing.
A.E.: …Which is what I think too; I am in agreement. Stephen Brockwell – I told him, that I feel that you are a much underappreciated poet in Canada because the emphasis here is on over-production; it is on, eh, bad poetry actually. They expect it to be bad; if you write something unusually good, it is like, woooh, where is this coming from; we don’t know this. This is not Canadian! So I think I will agree with his criticism, this young critic. I will look for the essay to read.
P.V.T.: This young critic, he is smart; he has done a good job. I think he likes my work a lot. I think he is very positive. He says…he explains well… some of the things you are asking me. He does a better job than me, I think.
A.E.: Ok. I will go look for it. You see the point is not whether he like your work, it’s that the work goes beyond, it broke borders; it goes beyond Canada. It is not just Canadian poetry. It is poetry anywhere you bring it to; it can stay beside any good poetry anywhere in the world. That’s what poetry should be.
P.T.V.: He will do a better job than me.
A.E.: I will look for the essay.
P.T.V.: umm-ummh! But there is a tower of Babel. We have all this languages in the world.
A.E.: Yes, so good poetry is like a sifting – within any one language, a sifting of the best the language can allow. You know the essay I call “The Grain and the Chaff” – on sentinel for june… So we have to sift the grain from the chaff as time goes on. Actually, I think time is the only best critic. Memorable literature will outlive time. Most of the stuff that is produced now will become paper to tear and light your fire with.
P.T.V.: Ezra Pound used to say, “news that stays new: Literature.”
A.E.: Thank you. You put that so well. Considering what we ’ve been discussing concerning Canadian poetry, the way it is right now, and the fallen standards… We know there is a lot of experimentation in Canadian poetry today; how successful they are is another matter. In other words, what is your position on the contemporary avant-Garde?
P.V.T.: oh boy! I am hardly aware of them, like I live very much alone in the woods.
A.E.: Perhaps also because you are not part of that circle, that creative circle, you are not into that. I understand. And that’s a big enough answer; so you don’t need to go further! Would you say poetry is less and less relevant today, because another essay in The insecurity of Art – Louis Dudek – asks the same question. He asked in this way: he says, “what ever happened to Poetry?” So may I ask you the same question?
P.V.T.: you asking if poetry is still relevant today?
P.V.T.: I think poetry is always relevant. The world is always waiting for its poets.
A.E.: Okay; good!
P.V.T.: It’s like that Somali proverb: “you know the truth; surprise God”
A.E.: Okay! Now this word – although I get the sense of it in your work – what is that enigmatic ‘wawa’?
P.V.T.: wawa, oh! What is enigmatic about it? It’s a sound.
A.E.: I know. Its onomatopoeia but what brought you to the idea of it; to that kind of sound.
P.V.T.: Well, it’s a sound; it’s a sound I heard as a musician when I was young, you know, eh! ‘Wawa-peddle’ they call it. Sound of the guitar waaaun-waaun.
A.E.: Oh, Okay!
P.V.T.: It is also the name of a county in Ontario. It is legendary in the 60s and 70s. If you get stuck in Wawa, you might never get a ride out of there. It used to be a joke. Wawa is also the sound a baby makes to let its mother know... Wawa is also a kind of wood in Japan they use to make the lowest note in the pipes of the organ cord.
A.E.: Oh! Interesting.
P.V.T.: Wawa is also aboriginal – in Ojibwa; Canadian aboriginal name for talk. Too much talk.
A.E.: What they would call prajapa in Sanskrit.
P.V.T.: It’s also the word for goose, the Canadian goose, in one of the aboriginal languages.
A.E.: But when you use it your poems I was thinking of wind rushing over open wild plains. That’s what I was thinking, waaa-waaa-waaaa, you now, the the wush-wush…
P.V.T.: yes, like the sound of the wind itself.
A.E.: So it means that it packs a lot of Canada in it, that word, ‘wawa’.
P.V.T.: It’s a rhythmic – you know, I think it is called anaphora: a replication of a word or a word cluster as certain syllables in poetry. It’s, eh, a Greek rhetorical term.
A.E.: Yeah. It’s onomatopoeia, I said it.
P.V.T.: its onomatopoeia but it’s also anaphora. it’s that sound, ‘that make it happen now’, now…But it’s difficult to get there sometimes.
A.E.: Some kind of syncopation, lets say in jazz.
P.V.T.: Yeah, like that!
A.E.: You and I…we agree. I, as a working poet, I don’t agree with prolificity. You work on a poem like 500 times…I work hard on it too. But we’ll still love to have a new collection from you. So, when can we expect something?
P.V.T.: Ah, I have no idea!
P.V.T.: I wish I could say I knew. I have a few things here and there from a long time ago. But I still need to find a way to let go, you know. It is like a bird finding a proper place to let it go. I wait, I wait. When I learnt Judo I learnt a Korean proverb: “Things comes to those who wait”.
A.E.: I understand that.
P.V.T.: Like I said earlier, when I start a new work. I have to feel one poem that comes to me from a new territory; that new philosophical spiritual passage that says, ‘I am here’ that I can trap as a kind of touchtone for anything else.
P.V.T.: You understand? Everything is different. At that moment you start receiving what you really have been thinking about but maybe unconsciously; from a video camera in you unconscious at that moment or wherever it comes from.
A.E.: Thank you Peter, for a very interesting conversation.
Peter Van Toorn