Checking In: With Grant Wilkins

Grant Wilkins may be familiar to you through sound poetry performance. [“A very small bunny!” or duotones.] Or through book making places where he sells handmade paper and letterpress things. He avowed a couple decades ago that he was a poetry appreciator, not a poet. The sandstone of observation gradually crumbled into being a maker as well. The siren song of making is hard to resist over the jingles and melodies of consuming.

He describes himself as “an occasional printer, papermaker and poet from Ottawa who has made a practice of doing strange things to other people’s words. He has degrees in History & Classical Civilization and in English, and he likes ink, metal, paper, letters, sounds and words, and combinations thereof.”

PP: You have a new book and I haven’t interviewed you about that in particular…

GW: In term of books, chapbooks or book-like things, yes, my newest work is Reading The Great Classics Of Canlit in Book 5 of bpNichol’s The Martyrology, a chapbook out from above/ground in June. 

Before that, Literary Type, my first solo publication (aside from the few things I’ve printed myself over the years), came out with nOIR:Z in 2020.

PP: Oh right. I have yet to read that as it arrived during my concussion. I should be capable now. Speaking of reading, what have you read lately that lit you up? Add a why or how for the shoutout.

GW: The Black Debt (Nightwood Editions, 1989) is one of those brilliant pieces by Steve McCaffrey that manages to be really interesting to read (though possibly best approached in small doses) and really hard to penetrate. There are two texts in the book – one of which is structured by the use of commas, while the other by the complete absence of any punctuation at all. I doubt I’ll ever figure out exactly what he did here – or what he did it to – but I’m going to enjoy trying.

Leslie Scalapino’s Crowd and not evening or light (O Books, 2010) (thanks, Chris Turnbull!) is a production of fragments (which seems to be a recurring theme in my literary interests these days) in which the author has managed to create a really interesting long poem out a series of short, shattered, almost inarticulate stanzas that are themselves constructed out of very short, broken, fugitive phrases & words – accompanied by a series of equally fugitive vacation photos. It took me a while to get into this one, but once I did it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet (this edition from New Directions, 2017, edited by Jerónimo Pizarro & translated by Margaret Jull Costa): I’ve been recently getting into Fernando Pessoa – he of the 70+ heteronyms – and am currently working my way through his Book of Disquiet. It’s a fascinating collection of very short, often fragmentary (!) prose pieces that feel like a combination of autobiography (if that notion even works with Pessoa), meditation, diary and essay. They remind me – unexpectedly, at least to me – of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”.

PP: I love Meditations. I read it first as a teen and am reading for a third time at the moment. What else ya got?

GW: But the sun, and the ships, and the fish, and the waves (Anvil Press, 2022) is Conyer Clayton’s latest book, and it’s the best book of surrealist poetry by a contemporary writer that I’ve read in a long time. There are a few writers who do a good job of throwing together a wild scatter of images, emotions & ideas in a way that creates a crazy, oppositional borderline-incoherent text that’s still engaging & entertaining to read – Stuart Ross, for instance, is a master of this sort of thing. Clayton does all of this expertly – while managing to leave just enough cracks around the edges of the text that you can see the shadows of real life in behind the kaleidoscope of images. It’s great.

PP: Wow, that sounds fabulous. And she has another book underway too.

GW: Ken Norris’ Vishyun (Ekstasis Editions, 2022): I started reading Norris a few years ago – I think maybe Bob Hogg suggested him – and I’ve really liked his “Report on The Second Half of The Twentieth Century” series, with his great ability to pop back and forth between lyricism and almost essayistic prose poetry and travelogue. Inspired by bill bissett, Vishyn is more focused on the lyric than his earlier work, while retaining his time-zone spanning capaciousness, as he looks at notions of landscape, travel and the movement of (or through) culture.

I’m also most of the way through re-reading Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World (Norton, 2008) (thanks, Marije Bijl!), a dissection of the often unseen and really fairly absurd workings of the contemporary art world. The author manages to do a good job of getting into the details of the way this world works, while managing to avoid the tendency to overcook, overstate and oversell that the denizens of the art world are so prone to doing themselves. An interesting read, for anyone who’s interested in the art world.

Lisa Robertson’s Boat (Coach House Books, 2022) has been right at the top of my “To Read” list for a little while now. I’m a huge fan of Robertson’s work – she’s one of a small number of contemporary writers who I will happily follow over any literary cliff. I kind of feel like I should have my poetic decks at least mostly cleared before I jump into the book though, so I can give it the proper attention. 

PP: Boat was easily in my favourite books of the year and it spurred a new manuscript. So, to change tack, and sail in a new direction, what’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

GW: I seem to be mostly focused on literary projects these days. I keep trying to talk myself into getting back into papermaking and letterpress work, but I’ve just been finding the literary stuff way more engaging and way more rewarding over the last couple of years. Way less messy, too, it has to be said.

I also spent a good chunk of time over the last year trying to get my French up to snuff… with limited, but positive, results.

PP: Excellent. I want to do the same. What is underway or forthcoming? Anything you can tell?

GW: As always, I have several poetry projects that are ongoing, in various states of disrepair. Most of what I write is just a matter of me coming upon an idea I like, and following it through ’til I decide that it’s done, or that I’ve had enough of it. At the moment I’m in the midst of what amounts to a recycling project, where I’m reworking the text and supporting material left over from my entry in CV2’s most recent “2 Day Poem” contest.

I do have a second chapbook from above/ground in the works too, wherein I do a read-through/mash-up of Archibald Lampman and Arthur Rimbaud.

PP: Fun.

GW: I’m also involved in a really interesting collaboration with a group of artists and poets. It’s been a slow-gestating thing, but these are interesting people to work with, and I’m really enjoying the process. I think it’s going to produce some really good work, when it comes together.

PP:What work can people read? (list of publications or mag places so I don’t miss any of your titles)

GW: The new chapbook is my biggest recent thing: [pictured above]

I did have a sequence in above/ground’s recent “Anstee Society” report for Cameron Anstee:

I’ve also had long poems come out in the 1st issue of Warren Dean Fulton’s “Centipede Cha-Cha” this spring…

…as well as in the 2nd issue of nul pointer press’ “+doc” last winter:

Over the last year, various bits and pieces have shown up online in…

I have to say that the “Feral Gods” sequence in +doc.2 and the “Hummingbirds” thing on periodicities were the recent works that I most enjoyed writing.

EXILE Quarterly printed a selection of pieces from my Gwendolyn MacEwen prize winning entry last winter (issue # 44.3), but the issue hasn’t made it up onto their website yet:

And I really do want to plug Literary Type, which was printed by the fine folks at nOIR:Z two years ago:

PP: Any author site, social media urls or things you’d like to plug?

GW: No… but I really should be doing this stuff, shouldn’t I?

PP: Not necessarily. Some of the most interesting writers don’t. And some of them do. Should is a wash.