Happy Publication Day to Duct-Taped Roses by Billeh Nickerson! In his most recent poetry collection, Nickerson shares heartbreaks and offers odes and elegies in reflections on family, community, life, and loss. The poignancy of his relationship with his father is celebrated in the long poem “Skies,” whereas other poems reminisce about love and the complex resiliency of gay men. With his signature irreverence, honesty, and wit, Nickerson explores what can be repaired, what must be celebrated, and what—inevitably—is lost to time. “Nickerson looks up at his community from the gutter, not down from the condo loft—and therefore, as Wilde taught us, he can also see the stars,” wrote the late RM Vaughan, who was a dear friend of the author.
We talked to Billeh about changing rituals, the finality of the delete button, and vintage kitchenware.
B*H: What are you currently writing?
BN: I was working on something about airplanes and airports. Thanks pandemic.
B*H: What are you currently reading?
BN: I just finished Aislinn Hunter’s The Certainties and am reading Kristyn Dunnion’s short story collection Stoop City. My fave poetry collection from the past year has been Chantal Gibson’s How She Read.
B*H: Why do you write?
BN: I’m not sure anymore. It’s not as impulsive an act as it used to be. It feels more like I’m taking old school Polaroids now. Capturing or documenting or some other investigative -ing verb.
B*H: Who, where, when, and what influences your writing?
BN: My poems usually start from observations or by making connections between patterns and parallels. Sometimes it’s by what intrigues me or what makes me curious. I’m never quite sure why thoughts/moments/images speak to me. I’m fond of saying I like the good, the bad, the ugly and the snuggly. I like to find the funny in unexpected places. Bittersweet.
B*H: Where do you write?
BN: I don’t know anymore! I used to write in cafés prior to the pandemic. I also used to write in the wee hours of the night, but have become more of a morning person these past few years. All my rituals have been thrown into a blender to make a new ritual smoothie.
B*H: What does and doesn’t help you write?
BN: Help: I’ve found that listening to the same song on repeat has allowed me to zone out while I write.
Not a help: needy cats, leaf blowers, garbage trucks and telephone spam calls.
B*H: What do you write with?
BN: Pen and paper for first drafts and then I make the leap to laptop. If you cross something off in paper, it’s still there the next morning. That’s not the case with the delete button.
B*H: What makes you happy?
BN: Wine gums, shiny things, 1970s vintage kitchenware. (This question makes me think I’m being interviewed for a Playboy centrefold.)
B*H: How did you know that your most recently written book was finished?
BN: You know when you eat too much at a holiday dinner and feel full? It was the opposite of that.
B*H: Do you drink tea, coffee, neither, or both?
BN: I am a sucker for a good almond milk latte. I also like peppermint teas.
B*H: Do you have a preference for fiction, nonfiction, or poetry in your reading or writing?
BN: Most of my writing comes out in poetry, though I do occasionally write nonfiction. Sentences are hard!
B*H: Describe your favourite article of clothing.
BN: Leopard-print Chuck Tailor Converse shoes. I also love my Apocalypse Meow t-shirt.
B*H: Describe the sky where you are.
BN: You’ll need to read the section “Skies” from my book.
B*H: Tell us a very short story, or write a very short poem.
BN: I’ve placed a poem in here in the world’s smallest font.
B*H: Tell us your favourite word, and why it’s your favourite.
BN: I’ve always liked the word “soup” as it’s very soup. I also like fun-sounding phrases such as “tickety-boo” and “rococo.” I don’t get to say rococo very often though.
Billeh Nickerson is the author of six previous books, including Artificial Cherry, which was nominated for the City of Vancouver Book Award. He a past editor of both Event and Prism International, and co-editor of the groundbreaking anthology Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets. He lives and works in Vancouver where he is the co-chair of the Creative Writing Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.