Poets in Profile: Adam Dickinson

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Adam Dickinson

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our Poets in Profile series. In today's feature, poet and professor Adam Dickinson talks to Open Book about nuisance bears, embalming fluid, self-doubt and other sources of poetry. His hard-hitting and resonant second collection, Kingdom, Phylum, is published by Brick Books.

Adam Dickinson will read from Kingdom, Phylum and from new work as part of the Niagara Literary Arts Festival in St. Catharines at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 19th. Joining him are Brick Books authors Karen Enns, Julia McCarthy and Brian Henderson. For more details please visit our Events page.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Adam Dickinson:

In the area where I grew up there was no municipal garbage service. Instead we had to take our waste to a small landfill site on a rural road. Bears would frequent the garbage bins, which meant that traps were occasionally installed to catch and remove them to more distant locales. The traps were large sections of caged culvert. Once enticed inside by bait, the cage door would slam shut behind the bear. I remember my father taking me as a child to the dump a few times to see bears. My heart would pound as I crept up towards the cages. I came away with many strange and unanswerable questions.

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

AD:

I remember encountering Dylan Thomas’s poems in the library as a teenager. I loved how they baffled me. “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower” was one in particular that I remember being affected by. I wanted to play with language like that.

OB:

What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?

AD:

Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

AD:

Because I have been trying constantly to seek out unlikely sources, I suppose the most unlikely unlikely source would in fact be something quite lyrically likely. Let’s say the elegiac implications of the embalming fluid used to prepare my dead relatives.

OB:

What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?

AD:

I cannibalize it for parts.

OB:

What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?

AD:

Charles Bernstein’s All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems (FSG, 2010) is so utterly delightful to wander through as a means of revisiting and appreciating his innovative and varied career. In terms of recent collections, I would say Andy Weaver’s Gangson (NeWest Press, 2011) knocked my socks off. It deftly combines experimental technique with lyrical virtuosity.

OB:

What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?

AD:

One of the things I like best about being a poet (this goes for any artist, I suspect) is the compulsion I feel to play. Whether it is putting things together in strange constellations or taking them apart according to unlikely filters or frames, the playful disjunctive imperatives of what if? are never far from my mind. This makes the world an endlessly fascinating place, even when it is a terribly depressing place.

The worst things about being a poet are paper cuts, eye-strain and self-doubt.

Adam Dickinson’s poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies such as Breathing Fire 2: Canada’s New Poets. His first book, Cartography and Walking (Brick Books), was short listed for an Alberta Book Award in 2003. His second book, Kingdom, Phylum, was a finalist for the 2007 Trillium Book Award for Poetry. He teaches at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.

For more information about Kingdom, Phylum please visit the Brick Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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