Words & Curds: Jonas T. Bengtsson, author of A Fairy Tale

On April 16, I met with Danish author Jonas T. Bengtsson, whose newest English translation, A Fairy Tale, has just been published by House of Anansi. He was in town for the IFOA Weekly readings. We visited Smoke's Poutinerie, and upon my suggestion, we both ordered the 'Hogtown' variety (topped with mushrooms, sautéed onions, bacon, and pork sausage). We talked about the fears of fatherhood, murderous furniture-makers and Lego. I finished my poutine. Bengtsson did not. Though it may seem unbelievable, the interview has been edited for length.

Guttersnipes: Mimi Pond

Residential Zoning: Comics, Poutine, and the Publishing Ecosystem

Here's hoping you don't learn anything about me this May.

My name is Evan Munday, and if you've heard of me at all, it was probably through my past publicity work at venerable Canadian indie press Coach House Books, where I worked for eight years. I also write a fairly morbid and (maybe?) funny series of books for young readers (ages 9 to 12), The Dead Kid Detective Agency. But all you need to know right now is that I'm the Open Book Writer in Residence (W.I.R., to the kids) for May (Pet Cancer Month), and I'm planning to talk as little about me, my writing, and my thoughts on writing as possible. Sorry. I'm not a big sharer.


Over the course of the WIR experience, I’ve often used my morning writing time to work on that day’s blog. This is sacred time when I shut the door on all distractions, from phone calls to my cat Iris Belle’s whimpers. I need this time to find my focus; it has to be retrieved each morning. Everyday life might look, on the surface, fairly quiet, living in a small town, just my wife and I, but it ends up most days being fraught with freelance jobs, editorial work, classes to prepare, other people’s poems to find a way into and out of again. Then there are emails, bills to pay, housework, errands. I can only think as far as the next responsibility once I’ve left the holy space of my office. I cease being a poet and become a house owner, husband, citizen, editor, teacher, performer, etc.


Is enjambment supposed to be pronounced with a French accent?

What do you do when you unpack a line and can’t figure out where you thought you were going in the first place?

Is a metaphor just a simile with the “like” or “as” taken out?

Is it true that some great poems were written in ten minutes?

How many times have I used the words ”wrists” and “shimmer” over the course of the last 40 years?

Didn’t I already write this a month ago?

Should you really keep reminding well-meaning friends that they’re called stanzas, not paragraphs?

If everything is a metaphor, then what’s a poem a metaphor for?

Why do words like “bucolic” and “trenchant” always blow their own tone?

How come a good poem sprouts flaws the minute you read it loud to someone else?


Range is something to aim for – a poet’s ability to go multiple, whistle one minute, moan the next. Sound like a basset hound, then go for a high-pitched squawk of geese. Try tender, then bold; try nothing at all, the void in all its glory. Find your own voice, by all means, but take Louise Gluck’s advice: once you’ve got it down pat, shake it up, try something new. Get rid of the tics and tricks. Take chances on being oblique. It’s not a bad thing to get lost every now and again.


Someone asks me what’s the most important skill a poet can have and I start to say the power of observation. The world awaits us with all sorts of small truths that can’t easily be seen. When I lose touch with the details around me, I have a devil of a time expressing myself. I don’t mean facts here; facts aren’t always sacred. But the various ways that life identifies itself, shakes its tail feathers, empties its pockets of coins and stones, bathes in vats of light.


I came across a cat writing contest on the internet. At first I thought that the poems had to be written by cats and was sure that my Iris Belle had a stanza or two inside her just waiting to creep out on four velvety paws. But it turned out to be a human poet writing about his or her cat. I could imagine a plethora of “darting tails” and “whiskers that tickle.” But why was I being so cynical?


Tell a classroom of wannabe writers to try their hands at a poem and the stilted, strangely wrought language that ensues can be alarming. It’s like they’re being told to write in some World War II secret code at gunpoint. How else to explain that something as simple as “This morning” can become “As dawn crept its blood-dyed fingers towards the undeniable throat of a new universe” or “Sunburst hollow toots of chimeras in love with themselves.” Yikes! Or else a sales conference of clichés, everything from “that golden orb” to “The sun smiles in my bedroom window.” Poetic in the worst sense: self-conscious, purple, words skinned of all common sense.

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