Interview with B.W. Powe
B.W. Powe is a writer whose literary power comes from the multiplicity of his of talents at work. As a poet, academic, teacher and visionary, he communicates a passion about literature and the imagination with an energy seldom seen or felt in the literary or academic worlds. He has studied under the prophetic likes of Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye, and in addition to being the author of several influential books, is a professor of literature at York University. His novella, These Shadows Remain: A Fable, is to be published this winter by Guernica Editions.
McLuhan saw poets and scholars of literature as the ones who could most fully perceive their contexts. He saw poesis, Greek for "making," as the kernel of creative impulse, and that “making, not matching” was the key to meaningful experience.
B.W. Powe can only be described as a matchless author whose writings are cosmic yet grounded in the quest for authenticity, and always bordering on the exegetical. It is clear that poesis is of utmost importance for Powe, in that his craft has itself been made into a way of life.
Open Book takes an esteemed moment in time to interview B.W. Powe.
What was the inspiration for your upcoming work by Guernica Editions, These Shadows Remain: A Fable?
It came in a dream. I don’t always like to pirate my dreams. Sometimes they should be left as they are, to guide your waking life. But this one came intact. I saw the beginning, middle and end, in a moment’s dream. I had no idea what to do with the images. So I wrote what I’d dreamed in a quick outline. I put the outline aside. Then sometime later I dreamed the story again, although this time it was slightly different. I modified and extended what I’d written. More dreams infiltrated the words. And the story grew.
Why a fable? How does the collection function as a fable? Is not all literature part of the reality of "Verum factum" ("we make the truth")?
I liked the sound of the word “fable.” Fables, parables, dreamtales, reveries. I write them quickly. Sometimes it feels like they are springing up intact. Though, I admit, my style, my command of technique, often lags far behind the imaging, the reverie. I’ve yet to find a way to completely capture what happens in this way. My re-visions are just that: ways of trying to clarify or hone or illuminate or make intelligible what I’ve seen. I keep trying to make poems and stories out of what I’ve been given. Something comes, and sometimes I’m up to it. Nevertheless, something comes. These days, whether I will it or not. “Fable”, then, is not truly a category. It is a term that freed me to spin from the dream.
The shadow (or perhaps light) of the prolific Marshall McLuhan, who you knew in person, has found its way in much of your scholarly work as a professor at York University. McLuhan’s probe “making, not matching” has remained dear to me, in that it prompts me to always reconsider the world I live in by considering how I might create new experiences. Poetry, however, is both a creating and re-creating, is it not? And we came to be writers because we feel somewhat “matched” to our literary ancestors, do we not?
I’m often zipped up—hermetic—and writing is my breakaway and energizing. Full-throttle, it beats along almost everyday. But in that beat come other voices too. No matter how much I try to find my own voice, I find that voice inhabited. Sometimes I hear McLuhan’s. Sometimes others. Frye’s too. And those writers I’ve loved. Maybe I should revise The Anxiety of Influence, and write a counter essay that says we are always in an Exodus fervour releasing ourselves from the passions of others, yet again we wander back into the wilderness, desert, tundra, and find strange bleak places flitting with ghosts and calls. Born, reborn, borne, newborn, stillborn, born again; that’s making, not matching. In another way, teaching is also about bringing in voices. I like to glide on the energies of my students, and letting that energy release into the conversational or dialogic air. When I teach works by others, whether it’s McLuhan’s aphorisms or Rimbaud’s prose poetry, or Dickinson’s splinters or Joyce’s esoteric structurings, or Frye’s revelations of the great code, or Plath’s witty kamikaze performances, or the strangely endearing companionship of the self-enclosed Henry Miller, I sometimes sense their presences in the room. I try to let them come through. Better abundance, a surplus, than a meager trickle. The stream of souls is available to us in the words they left us.
Is there a difference between a writer and a visionary writer?
All strong imaginative writers have the trace of the visionary in them. Visionaries can be so without being writers or artists of any kind. I’ve known people who are graced by insight and awareness, and do not write. Visionaries can be musicians, painters, dancers, politicians, healers, teachers, neighbours, pilots, cooks.
Can you list some of your favourite writers?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love In the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude
Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and The Waves
Henry Adam’s The Education of Henry Adams
Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain
Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and The Old Man and the Sea
Poems and Prose by Anne Carson (Canada’s most original writer after McLuhan)
Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace
Whitman’s 1855 version of Leaves of Grass
Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet (one of the great forgotten books of modernism)
Dante’s Divine Comedy (always seeking new translations)
We have gone, somewhat, from an alphabet culture to an android one. Are electronic reading devices (like the Kindle, etc.) the death of the book? Or do they represent the book’s resurrection?
There is no death in the technological metamorphosis. There is only shift, and obsolescence. The printed word is simply becoming something else now—a digit on a screen. It’s all happening faster than anyone can keep pace with. I like the solitude of reading, the tactile artifact of the book. I can’t read much on a screen. This is a preference (a bias), not a final judgment. We’re moving swiftly from the necessity of reading books to the necessity of understanding screens and digits. We’re experiencing a fusion of the natural, the technological and the supernatural, spirit, energy and matter, in speeding agencies. No book will capture this, say in the way Ulysses or Finnegans Wake could capture modernity. I will always prefer reading. I love the talk in books, and the voices and originating pulses in music. But my preferences are not terribly important, when you consider what is evolving-emerging, this jumpstart into supra-consciousness, hyper-sensitivity, receptions of the discarnate and incarnate. Electricity is now the basis of society, money, culture, politics, and contact between people and our souls. Through this opening we ripple, extended, plunging and ascending.
B.W. Powe is the author of several books, including The Unsaid Passing (Guernica, 2005), Towards a Canada of Light (Thomas Allen, 2006) and Mystic Trudeau: The Fire and The Rose (Thomas Allen, 2007).
He is also the founder of McLuhan Initiative for the Study of Literacies at York University, Founders College.
McLuhan Cenentary author of Generation X and Microserfs Douglas Coupland will be at the center to speak with Powe on his new biography of Marshall McLuhan, this Friday, January 28th, from 4-6 p.m. in the Founders College Assembly Hall.
For more information on B.W. Powe's stunning fable, These Shadows Remain: A Fable, please visit the Guernica Editions website.