Checking in: With Deborah-Anne Tunney

Deborah-Anne Tunney has been gaining steam on the publishing from since Where There’s Fire, 2013. The View from the Lane was her short story collection of 2014 which launched at Cube Gallery in Hintonburg. A really chic affair. She put out a novel in 2019 that I somehow missed seeing, Winter Willow. And A Different Wolf, her poetry collection of 2020, won the Lampman Award. I’m reading the latter at the moment. We met somewhere around 2008 at the Ruby Tuesdays workshop group.

A Different Wolf (Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series Book 54) by Deborah-Anne Tunney.

PP: So, busy lady, what have you read lately that lit you up? Why or how?

DAT: I am finding, more and more, that reading is becoming rereading. I am amazed by how different a novel, collection of short stories or poetry can seem when you read it at different points in your life. The era I studied and felt the most affinity with was early twentieth century, in particular James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. I have revisited the work of both of these writers during the pandemic and have found much to relate to in their post World War I angst.

PP: Nod, I find myself rereading more as well. Back to Marucs Aurelius and R. Kolewe for me. Any new titles to advise?

DAT: Of new work, I have been particularly impressed by the book No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood. Although at times I found it frustrating I was ultimately left overwhelmed by the beauty of the language and tenderness of the emotion. Hers is a brilliant mind, restless and imaginative.

Another book, completely different from the Lockwood book, but also contemplative so it comes across as powerfully real, is Tove Ditlevsen’s, The Copenhagen Trilogy. I was struck by its veracity and her gift for making us care for the characters in this recollection of her early life.

I’d also recommend the latest collection of poems by Louise Glück, Winter Recipes from the Collective, in particular I love the mystery and calmness of her voice.

An advantage of being part of the Ruby Tuesday’s poetry group is that often you get to read work before it is published, and last year four of the Rubies published either collections or chapbooks.

PP: Wow! Which?

DAT: Jacqueline Bourque’s Repointing the Bricks, from Mansfield Press, which gives expression to her quiet and yet deeply felt emotive response to the people in her family, to the death of a much-loved niece, to solitude itself, left me amazed by the strength of her poetic vision.

I found Jean Van Loon’s Nuclear Family, from McGill-Queen’s Press, to be a profound work of memory, translated for the reader by a formidable intelligence. Reading the book in its totality had the effect of a Molotov cocktail – devastating, and impossible to forget.

Laurie Koensgen’s two chapbooks, headlonging and Blue Moon, Orange Begonias, both display the consuming grace of her language and its precision, its still and accurate beauty, which is indicative of her work generally.

And Susan Atkinson’s The Birthday Party, the Mariachi Player and the Tourist with its passion and humanity augments and continues the brillance of her 2020 book, The Marta Poems.

On the horizon are other books by Rubies which I can’t wait to read. In November, Frances Boyle’s collection entitled Openwork and Limestone will be coming out from Frontenac Press.

Having read some of the poems during our meetings and knowing Frances’s gift for capturing the essence and heart of complex thoughts and emotions in  the richest poetic language, I know this will be an amazing collection, one not to be missed.

Also Sneha Madhaven-Reese’s second collection is forthcoming from Brick and again, having the great honour of reading some of the poems in this upcoming collection, it will be a beautiful and unforgettable book.

Claudia Radmore’s book, Pink Hibiscus: Poems of the South Pacific, from Édition des petite nuages, will be available soon. These rich poems were born from Claudia’s time in the South Pacific and, having read some of them, I know they will allow the reader to experience the beauty, the tranquility and wonder of her life there.

PP: Oh my gosh, so much to look forward to. I’m so out of touch. I didn’t know about Susan’s, Sneha’s or Claudia’s newest.

What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

DAT: I was not one of those lucky writers who was able to create without hesitation during the pandemic. It seemed to have paralyzed me, so that I was a deer in headlights wondering what fresh hell was going to befall us, and of course since the pandemic there have been a few fresh hells to deal with.

PP: Yup. I stopped dead too for quite a few months. What could you do?

DAT: I found at the beginning of the pandemic that I was more able to paint, and I completed three paintings in about three months, which is unusual for me. It often takes years to complete a canvas because I let it sit for long periods of time between painting sessions, until I am finally driven to finish.

PP: Amazing. I want to see them. Love your paintings.

DAT: And I currently have three writing projects at different stages of completion – one is a longer piece about a woman who leaves Canada to live in Ireland in the 1960s, a collection of short stories, entitled At the Edge of the Forest, Close to Home, and a collection of poems I’ve come to think of as my ‘yard’ poems. 

PP: Cool, is that what’s forthcoming?

DAT: I hope so. I’ve noticed over the years that often my poems involve a yard, be it the yard out the back windows of my current home, the yard of the house where I grew up, or just the general concept of yard. It seems to me that so much of what will happen to us can be mirrored there – the way a day will move across the sky, through the trees and bushes, or the way a season affects everything in the yard, as well as how years will bring so much change, birth and death.

Ultimately, I had a file of about 160 poems in various stages of completion, some I wanted to work on and others which were not as successful. So I am working on reducing that number down to those poems that are closer to doing what I want them to do. 

Last year I worked with Isabel Huggan on a collection of short stories and that manuscript is now out with a few publishers for their consideration. Some of the stories in that manuscript have been published or will be shortly – notably in The New Quarterly, Threepenny Review, Event, South Carolina Review, Exile, among others. Unlike my first collection these stories are not linked, or not deliberately linked. I did see themes emerging, such as what it is like to be female and to have grown up when and where I did. I’m hoping of course that there will be something of universal interest which can be intuited from the work and give it resonance beyond the personal.

PP: Wow, amazing. (Am I saying amazing too much.) Wonderful to see you producing and putting works out there for others to see. Your first collection of poetry, A Different Wolf, used Alfred Hitchcock’s work and life as it’s topic. Why did you decide to make that the focus of your collection?

DAT: I have two answers for this question. Years ago, my friend Jean Van Loon recommended to Lise Rochefort that I be part of the Ruby Tuesdays poetry group and at the time I was concentrating on writing short stories and had been for years, while working through Humber School for Writers. This is not to say I didn’t write poetry, and it was through poetry that I started writing as a young teenager (a common entry point), but my poetry always seemed so personal and not to be shared.

Right around this time when I was watching Vertigo, I wrote the line “I understand that view out of the rear window of the De Soto” and ended up writing a poem about Vertigo. I was working with my mentor, Isabel Huggan, at Humber on the collection of short stories that became my first published book, The View from the Lane. I shared the poem with Isabel, and she said (I remember her words clearly) “Brilliant. You should write a book.” So when I had the offer from Lise to join Rubies I thought I could concentrate on Hitchcock. I suppose I thought that would help make the work a little less personal, but that proved wrong because the collection ultimately used my life as its foundation as much as it used the character of Hitchcock.

The other answer to that question is Hitchcock was at the height of his creative power in the 1960s and that was the time I was starting to move out into the world from the closed and insular space of my childhood. There were so many assumptions in Hitchcock’s vision – about the way women should be and the idea of masculinity, mysteries to my young mind. His female characters were always complex and often the engine of the plot (perhaps much of the depth of these characters can be attributed to his listening to, and respect for, his wife, Alma, the person who was often responsible for editing his scripts, although uncredited).

A lesser artist would put women in a more passive role, so that they would not have full representation. Instead the characters in relation to the plot create a sort of dialogue with the culture and allows us to uncover some of the assumptions that are at the heart of gender definition in that era. In this way, I believe Hitchcock gave us a sort of artefact that we can use to explore and examine biases implicit in the culture at large, biases that to a lesser degree have remained. This was always what interested me in his work – to understand the idea of feminity as a construct created by the demands of an era, and how that role of being female can hinder or even benefit a character as she attempts (and maybe even realises) self-actualization. It was this push and pull that fascinated me, even when I was quite young, when I didn’t quite understand what I was viewing.  

PP: Wow, fascinating. It adds another level to reading your poems. Last question: Any advice you would give to someone who would like to use an artist from another discipline as their writing subject.

DAT: Make sure whomever you chose is someone who fascinates you enough that you will not get bored with the topic. In my case, I knew that the questions Hitchcock’s work posed were not easily answered and could take a lot of scrutiny and still not be known or reduced to an answer.

Some people think today that Hithcock had, if not a misogynistic view, than a view that did not allow full personhood of his female characters and I would argue that to reject his work as unenlightened, would be to reject what I see as his true gift, which is the complex interaction of characterization with social norms. To appreciate his relevance one needs to understand the creative impulse at its core, be it his personal impulse, born of a specific psychological bent, mixed with the assumptions of the time. This combination of influences is worthy of examination to fully realise what are the undercurrents and the consequences implicit in his art.

PP: Wow, so much to think about and look forward to. Thank you.