Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit, the new chapbook by Vancouver’s Poet Laureate Rachel Rose burns fiercely in its righteous fury at the unbridled misogyny, homophobia and racism that is quietly condoned in our literary community. Here, critical bigotry becomes a tool of analysis, a text in which Rachel Rose romps and riffs, deconstructs and decodes, simultaneously mocking those who install themselves as gatekeepers of the literary canon, while inviting them to reconsider what they might be missing by adherence to flawed ideologies.
Selected for BookThug’s Summer Chapbook season, this collection boldly looks at sexism in the writing community. Amy Loyst, an English Master’s student, and BookThug intern, recently sat down with Rachel to discuss her newest collection Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit.
Listen to Rachel Rose read an excerpt from Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit on the Books on the Radio soundcloud page here
AL: What inspired you to write this piece?
RR: I was motivated by a desire to change the way certain people think in our literary community. I have probably failed.
AL: Why did you want to have a Canadian presence in this collection? How has Canadian literature shaped you as a writer?
RR: Canada is my home, and of course the literature of this place shapes the way I think and write; it could not be otherwise.
AL: The Canadian influence is present in the title along with the number of sections your poetry is divided into; does that number have a special meaning for you? A lot of the sections varied in length and theme and I was wondering what inspired you to set it up that way.
RR: Well, I was referring to Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I needed many angles to look at the ways sexism, racist and homophobic attitudes affect our literary culture in Canada. Thirteen seemed like a good start. I love how the blackbird just keeps appearing in Stevens’ poems, in different images and different forms, and so too do these little bigotries keep appearing, keep calling out for attention.
AL: At the end of the piece you cite works that you have referenced in Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit, how did these other works influence your writing and how did you find incorporating them into your own piece?
RR: Much of my writing is a conversation with other texts, other bodies of work, as is true for most authors. Because this was a playful piece, a rant, I made the conversation explicit.
AL: Throughout this collection you explore a lot of sexual themes, what motivated you to look at sexuality in such an open way?
RR: Sexist comments are difficult to respond to, because the responses are also evaluated and discredited on the basis of sex: one is either shrill, or a bitch, or taking such attacks personally, which one is not allowed to do. The expected response is, of course, silence. I chose to be outrageous, to follow where the critics gestured, and then to go further than any decent woman writer would. It seemed to me sensible to riff on the subtext, which was all about sex.
Reviews and articles:
“Rose’s poems […] revel in a particular kind of seductive play that also pushes to explore, criticize and indict a level of complacency in Canadian poetry. We need more poems (and criticism) that call us on our shit.” – rob mclennan
Thinking Publicly: What We Can Learn from Sina Queyras and Lemon Hound, which features a discussion about Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit by Rachel Rose, by Domenica Martinello for The Town Crier
A post on the publication of Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit on Rachel’s blog can be read here.
Rachel Rose (http://rachelsprose.weebly.com/) is a dual American/Canadian citizen whose work has appeared in various journals in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand and Japan, including Poetry, The Malahat Review and The Best American Poetry, as well as numerous anthologies. Her most recent book, Song & Spectacle (2012) won the Audre Lorde Poetry Award in the U.S. and the Pat Lowther Award in Canada. She was the librettist for When The Sun Comes Out, Canada’s first lesbian opera, which grappled with fundamentalism and forbidden love. The opera premiered in Vancouver in 2013 and in Toronto in 2014. She is the winner of the Peterson Memorial Prize for poetry and the Bronwen Wallace award for fiction, and the recipient of a 2014 Pushcart Prize, and two nominations for a Pushcart 2015. She is the Poet Laureate of Vancouver for 2014-2017.
Amy Loyst is an avid reader and book lover from Pickering, Ontario. She holds a BAH in English Literature from Queen’s University and is currently completing her MA in the Literatures of Modernity at Ryerson.