The Toronto New School of Writing: OBT Talks to Jenny Sampirisi
The Toronto New School of Writing is opening in March 2010, and it's offering very cool courses, such as "Fearless Poetry: Composing the John Cage Way," "The Long Poem Workshop," "Problems & Possibilities of the Subjective 'I'" and "The Joy (and Ethics) of Not Writing." The school is housed at 283 College Street in "Of Swallows," a new artist collective project. Founded by Jenny Sampirisi and Jay MillAr of BookThug, the school is designed "as a community-building, rather than an academic, endeavor." The courses are led by writers who "specialize in a range of genres that fall under the broad umbrella of experimental poetry or fiction."
We asked co-founder Jenny Sampirisi a few questions about the TNSoW:
Open Book: Toronto:
How did you and Jay MillAr come up with the idea for the Toronto New School of Writing?
There’s a long history of collectives starting up workshop and seminar series. In North Carolina the 1960s there was Black Mountain College, which eventually produced the influential Black Mountain Poets like Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. In Buffalo there have been impromptu and formalized series, and in Canada, the Kootenay School of Writing in B.C., has been host to conferences, workshops, seminars and talks. Jay has been a notable figure in Toronto for years as the publisher of BookThug and has published a great deal of influential Canadian, American and Danish poets. When I came on at BookThug a few years ago, we started thinking out-loud about creating a “school” here in Toronto. Finally, about six or so months ago, we just thought, why aren’t we doing this all ready?
Jason Rovito, who heard about what we wanted to do through a mutual friend, contacted us. His crazy but beautiful idea for a cultural space that can fit different disciplines seemed to exist in a similar vein of thinking I suppose, so he contacted us; the TNSoW will be housed at 283 College Street at Spadina in Jason’s amazing two floored bookshop and artist space called “Of Swallows, Their Deeds, and the Winter Below.”
What makes TNSoW unique?
The whole idea is to fill what we see as a huge gap in the writing and educational communities by offering courses that don't necessarily lead to a "marketable" end product, like a crime novel or a screenplay, but actually engage people in the process and art of thinking about language and writing. With many of the courses that are available through the universities, there’s little room for thinking about writing and language as a practice that is grounded in history, in theory and in experimentation. The writers who facilitate the classes at TNSoW have a genuine curiosity about the topics their courses deal with. It’s not only something they practice, but something they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. They’re invested in and excited about this stuff, and that goes a long way to getting other writers excited about it too.
What can a writer expect from a workshop?
Some classes are writing workshops and others are text-based seminars. So, for instance, we’re offering a 12-week course taught by Mark Goldstein in which students are asked to consider a book in a language they don't know -- the goal is to translate the book into English. Or another 12-week course offered by Jay MillAr that focuses on the challenge of thinking about and writing a long or serial poem. Or a course that will be taught by Angela Carr called "Form and Figura: From Varro to Bergvall" which considers an early Latin linguist and relates it to contemporary conceptual poetries. To complement these sorts of courses there will be close and directed reading courses that focus on a variety of texts.
Hopefully too, participating writers will get a new perspective on their own practice and discover a new writer or idea that they find engaging and exciting.
You offer a course called "The Joy (and Ethics) of Not Writing." What's it about?
I’m really excited for this class. It’s facilitated by Mark Truscott, author of Said Like Reeds or Things (Coach House) and host of the Toronto-based Test Reading Series (currently on hiatus).
As writers we tend to focus relentlessly on writing, and rarely on not writing. This may be a mistake. Truscott’s course will take a theoretical and practical look at what happens in the pre-writing and post-writing not-writing phases of the process. It will look at those conversations we have with ourselves in the lead up and the lead out of writing (or not writing). Mark says, “While the dominant creative workshop ethos emphasizes productivity, speed, trust in impulse, and keeping the pen moving, my workshop will, through exercises and discussion, encourage participants to consider Nietzsche's counsel that "the will must learn to be slow and mistrustful" and explore the important but frequently overlooked 'non-writing' moments of writing.”
How did you select the instructors for TNSoW?
We put out a call for submissions to the BookThug list of writers and had a few other local presses distribute to their authors as well. We asked them to create their ideal course(s) with the only stipulation being that they deal with both the theory and the practice of their subject. We got so many great submissions, some of which will make up our next round of workshops. We're hoping that we'll be able to get some visiting writers to offer classes as well to really get a dialogue going that extends far outside Toronto.
Where do I sign up?
You can go to www.tnsow.com/courses. Once you’ve found a course you like, click on REGISTER NOW and you’ll be prompted from there. I plan on taking a few myself, so hope to see you there!