Every Thursday for the next few months, we’ll be taking a peek back in time to look at authors and stories from past issues. And during the week they’re featured, you, dear reader, can pick up the issue at the author price of 25% off! This Thursday, we head back to the opening pages of Issue 21, Winter 2019, with …
Evelyn has the distinction of being both an author and a poet, but for the pages of Pulp Literature Issue 21, she pulled on her credentials as Vancouver’s Poet Laureate (2011-2014) and offered three poems riddled with grief and stolen moments. Daniel Cowper, our poetry editor, gained insight into Evelyn’s process, feelings, and appraisal of poetry through a brief interview, published in Issue 21.
Interview by Daniel Cowper
Daniel Cowper: Do you like to write on paper or directly in electronic format? What kind of paper do you like to use? How much do you care about the material tools of writing?
Evelyn Lau: First drafts always have to be written by hand. I’m not fussy about paper, usually it’s the blank side of a stack of bills, student poems, and correspondence that would otherwise go into recycling. I still can’t imagine composing poetry on a screen, but the computer is useful for editing the numerous drafts that follow. Material tools aren’t so important, but silence and solitude are.
DC: Richard Wilbur commented that poetry is always in danger of cocooning itself, and that to be worth its salt, it needs to be continually bashing itself against real things. What do you think about that dictum? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
EL: Hmm … thumbs sideways? I both agree and disagree. Just being alive means constantly bashing ourselves against things, even if you’re cocooned in your tiny apartment. You can hardly escape the news, the intrusion of people who need you, the haunting of past experiences. I think a poem that is purely personal and interior, or meditative and serene, is just as valid as one that engages with the noisy headlines.
DC: The language and narration in ‘Forest Edge’ feels incredibly accurate and honest to me, although I have no idea how it relates to anyone’s true biography. To me, the emotional accuracy makes it a true story, whether or not it is based on real-life events. Do you think it is easier to write such a persuasive poem about true or imagined facts?
EL: Yes, emotional accuracy is always what I am seeking, both as a reader and a writer.
This poem was based on a true experience, but of course that didn’t make it necessarily “easier” to write. Perhaps harder! Of course, emotion is easier to access when it’s in your own life; the challenge is to convey that intensity of feeling without hitting the reader over the head with it.
DC: Throughout these poems, the alien makes incursions into the ordinary, to great effect. For example, in ‘Forest Edge’, you describe the subject of the poem as being overtaken by a metaphorical sandstorm in the Ontario countryside, and you make the reader feel that sandstorm of grief. Do you intend incursions like that as surprises, or is the surprise a side effect of the emotionally apt image?
EL: I like to be surprised by images and metaphors, so I stretch for those moments in my own writing. The difficult balance is finding metaphors that aren’t completely outlandish but still feel original in some way.
DC: In your poem ‘Once Upon a Time’, a bear captures a child, intending to eat it, but instead adopts the child. What is it that appeals to you about the ambiguity of a story that can be described either as “he had saved her or snatched her?”
EL: When you are taken from your own family, or choose to leave of your own accord, are you being saved or destroyed? Perhaps this is something I’ve struggled with subconsciously, as I’ve been estranged from my own family since running away at fourteen. Of course this changed the trajectory of my life; it felt necessary for my survival, but it has also had many lasting negative repercussions.
DC: The final image of ‘Once Upon a Time’, the remembrance of the bear’s mouth opening to eat the child, feels gorgeous and oddly tender. What do you think can transmute a threat to tenderness in recollection? Is nostalgia enough, or is more than that needed? Is a kind of forgetting at work?
EL: I like ambiguity, and the idea that no experience is ever entirely one thing or another, but shaded. There is also comfort in the familiar, no matter how awful or lacking. I never realized the role of nostalgia in my work until it was pointed out to me; maybe a preoccupation with one’s past always holds an element of nostalgia?
DC: All three of these poems are, to some degree, centred on the weight of the past. “It isn’t even past,” Faulkner says, and these poems seem to prove him right. Do you think there is a meaningful distinction between being oriented to the past, the present, or the future? How do you think those three temporal orientations, so far as they are meaningful, relate to your work?
EL: I’m drawn to the fluidity of time, the concept that it’s all one day. Too often, we either replicate or repudiate the past in our present relationships, our daily decisions.
DC: Lightning round: In ten words or less, what do you think about the relationship between good prose and good poetry?
EL: Ideally, both will have breathtaking lines and lasting emotional impact.
Read Evelyn’s stunning poems ‘Gone’, ‘Forest Edge’, and ‘Once Upon a Time’ in Pulp Literature Issue 21, Winter 2019 at the author price of 25% off.
$5 3.75 digital