Susan Holbrook Interview @ The Torontoist

An interview I conducted with the poet Susan Holbrook about her new book Joy is So Exhausting is now up on The Torontoist’s book page. A selection:


Mooney: I really like that idea of “interrogation.” I wonder, in the Harper Sudoku or the found-text stuff like “Insert”, the tampon application poem, what’s doing the interrogating? Is it the form and structure of the poem or the words that make it up? Part of what made those pieces so interesting for me was how they felt like conceptual art, like the ideas behind them were as important as the specific texts those ideas generated. Maybe that’s just a fun way of reading them, but of no value when it comes to having to write them, I don’t know. Anyway, were you ever aware, while doing this book, of the tension between the big ideas behind some of the poems and the pressure those ideas might put on the actual texts? I guess what I’m asking is, were you ever afraid of being perceived as writing gimmickry?

Holbrook: I do worry about poems coming off as easy, cheap, gimmicky, but that’s a concern no matter what the formal choice. The epiphanic or overly poignant cadence of some standard lyric poems seems to me very “gimmicky.” We might see the sonnet form as a gimmick – oh, there’s that rhyming couplet again! No matter what the initial concept, or the various compositional strategies contributing to a final work, it’s important to be thoughtful, to make meaningful, challenging choices. I think when I feel a procedure might lead to one-dimensionality, I switch course a bit; the tampon poem was originally an Oulipean S + 7 (replacing all nouns in the source text with nouns 7 entries down in the dictionary), but I wanted to exert a little more influence there, so I decided to select nouns close by in the dictionary. The fun, absurd effect is still there, but I’m able to choose and develop a couple of thematic threads. I have been described as “wearing my compositional methods on my sleeve.” I don’t want the reader to spend undue effort figuring out my methods (that would feel gimmicky); the reader can usually see how I’ve proceeded, and can (I hope) enjoy all the dynamics of form/content that procedure allows.


The interview also includes the full text of Susan’s poem, “Editing the Erotica Issue”.

Explore posts in the same categories: Canadian Literature, Interviews, Poems in the Wider World

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