Monday, March 07, 2016

derek beaulieu - poet, artist, professor



[Image from: erasingandywarhol]

1 V. S. Naipaul has declared there are not any important writers anymore, Philip Roth has predicted the novel will become a cult activity, Peter Stothard has asked if fiction writing simply used to be better, Cullen Murphy, David Shields, Lee Seigel, and Geoff Dyer have all stated that non-fiction is superior to fiction. The list of people of letters who apparently have lost faith in literary fiction goes on an on; it is clear that an elementary questioning of the novel is not a passing cultural phase. Furthermore, the short story seems to be under siege as well: many agents and multinational publishers do not handle/publish story collections, small magazines seem perpetually underfunded, and a YouTube-ification of text and image seems to be taking short narrative in new directions. Finally, in the 2015/early 2016, it's become common for writers to observe their audience is shrinking rather drastically – what we might call the Smart Phone Effect. 
What is your opinion? Do the novel, poem and short story have a future? If so, what kind? And will e-technology alter the very forms of them? If so, how?

I have no doubt whatsoever that the novel and short story will continue to have a role for readers and writers. Of course they have a future. That said, I believe that it is the responsibility of writers to explore the forms of that future – to craft work that challenges how we understand narrative and find means of crafting those novels and short-stories which reflect changes not only in reading and consuming, but also ways of challenging how we understand the genre. No genre can remain staid and unchanging – it order for a piece to be artful it needs to affect our expectations o the form; it needs to reflect and predict potentialities.

2 Are the very significant structural changes taking place in the publishing industry having an effect on novel or short story writing? If so, how? Is the cutting back of mid-lists and a general cautiousness about taking risks on new or relatively unknown writers affecting the caliber of writing that does manage to get into print?

The major structural change that I’m seeing is a reticence for experimentation and radicality. Publishers seem less inclined to publish work that may not sell well – this is not a surprise as the funding model in Canada is affecting the financial decisions that publishers have to make. But it leads to however, is the publishing of work that stands within currently embraced models and that reflects previous financially viable forms. The radical, the risky, the strange, has less of a voice than it once did … and I think that new publishing models (ie: self-publishing online, POD models, etc) and the small press can continue to make sure that risk can be embraced.

3 Do you have an author's website? Does it help you sell books?

Yes, my website is www.derekbeaulieu.wordpress.com … and while it doesn’t seem to have a direct affect on the selling of books, it does provide a node by which readers can interact with my body of work, find out where I will be speaking, find out more information on public programs I’m working on … and discover opportunities for discussion and contribution. 

4 How do you feel about running an author's website? Do you feel its a labour of love – or an annoying imposition? Or something else altogether?

I think its neither a labour or love nor an imposition – it is simply the best way of distributing the news. I think that authors need to take an active role in promoting their work.

5 Is the selection system for novel, poetry and short story manuscripts fair? Should it be made blind?

I think it’s completely fair; I trust publishers to be able to see how work reflects an author’s progress and overall oeuvre.

6 E-book sales now represent a significant percentage of overall sales. But small bookstores see them as more a threat to their survival than anything else, and a lot of book people remain print people. Are you enthusiastic about e-books? Do they hold the potential for a renaissance in literary publishing? Or are they over-rated and too susceptible to piracy?

I am a vocal supporter of piracy, cutting-and-pasting and the online circulation of work – I believe that anytime an author gives their work away that sales will actually increase in proportion. The more you give your work away the more it will sell.

7 What do you think of literary prizes? As Jason Cowley has commented, they reduce our culture's ability to think in a critically complex fashion. Do they suggest, “this book is worth reading and all these others aren't?”

I believe that literary prizes are worth while BUT that they need to have a greater reflection upon excellence, risk-taking and how the short-listed nominees are challenging our understanding of what the genre can be.

8 Philip Marchand once stated, “Not even the most fervent partisans of Canadian literature will say that Canadians have done fundamentally new things with the novel form, or changed the way we read in the manner, say, of a Joyce, a Kafka, a Nabokov, or a Garcia Marquez.” Marchand is correct as far as perceptions go; Canadian writing is not considered formally or stylistically groundbreaking. However, is this in fact the case when one regards our de facto production? What examples can you think of (including your own work) which would suggest another point of view?.

I think that Canadians have an exceptional reputation for radicality and risk --- it’s a underground genre which seems to be overlooked by literary history … when I travel internationally, audiences are deeply aware of the groundbreaking work being created in Canada. The perception of lack, I believe, only happens at home. We have exceptional scholars, like Gregory Betts, who have explored the history of Canadian avante-gardism. I would point, historically, to the automatistes, Canadian concrete poets like bissett, Nichol, copithorne, riddell (etc); risk-taking fiction writers such as Sheila Watson, Elizabeth Smart (etc), and contemporary poets like Christian Bok, Jonathan Ball, Eric Zboya, Helen Hajnoczky, M. NourbeSe Philip, Lisa Robertson, Sina Queyras …

9 What is the definition of poetry as you see it? That is, what do you say to those who say concrete poetry is visual art, not poetry?

Poetry is the charges use of language to created unexpected and challenging results. Those who believe that concrete poetry isn’t writing are simply ignorant of contemporary media. Writing and reading have become entwined with images, glyphs and logos …. And refusing to integrate that into an understanding of poetry is simply acknowledging your own obsolescence.  

10 You recently organized an event at the University of Calgary entitled “WHERE NEXT: CREATIVE WRITING, NARRATIVE, FILM AND CONTEMPORARY ART”, that took place mid-February of 2016. An event of this scope is hard to summarize in only a few words. Nevertheless, from a personal point of view, are there any particular ideas that stood out for you – new arguments or ways of seeing things that you took from this event?

The aim of that symposium was to explore how writing and narrative work across media – embrace writing an inherently trans-media. The conversations that occurred around weaving, website design, graphic novels, ceramics and pedagogy all suggested that writing will be just fine – that narrative pours into new media without challenge & that our scholars and artists are ready to find new means of writing.

11 What are you working on now that you're excited about?

I am currently working on a durational erasure project whereby I erase all the words from Andy Warhol’s A A NOVEL (1968) leaving only the sound effect words and punctuation. I am posting the results on twitter at @erasingwarhol and encourage artists to reinterpret these images in sound, posting their responses online. This project builds on my concrete-conceptual novels FLATLAND and LOCAL COLOUR, and posit writing as a record of reading.


Bio: A longtime resident of Calgary, beaulieu is the author of eight books of poetry, three volumes of fiction and two volumes of literary criticism. For 17 years he has been developing poetic communities; he has mentored and promoted young and established writers as publisher/editor of housepress, No Press, and as a former editor of Calgarian magazines filling StationdANDelion and Speechless. beaulieu has taught students from grade school to the post-graduate level and has won awards for his current teaching at the Alberta College of Art + Design. In 2013 Wilfrid Laurier University Press published Please, no more poetry: the poetry of derek beaulieu. He has performed and discussed poetry in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, the UK and across North America. beaulieu’s poetry is internationally renowned as challenging, generative and dedicated to conversation.




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