How many nervous breakdowns have you had in your life?
Well, “nervous breakdown” is a slippery category; people mean different things by it. I have spent a lot of my life anxious and/or depressed, unfortunately, although I do seem to be improving in this respect, with age. But in terms of serious breaks from “reality,” loosely defined, with delusional and alarming, in retrospect, thought processes, I’d say four. Although a lot of the fourth I don’t remember so well.
Would you care to go into more detail on that?
How the hell did someone like you end up writing poetry, anyway?
Well, in fact some of the first “creative writing” I did was poetry. This was in my mid-twenties or so. When I was twelve or thirteen I wrote a short story for a competition and won a book. The book was The Fatal Impact
, by Alan Moorehead. I seemed to have promptly forgotten about that for about a decade though, because throughout school and university I didn’t feel entitled, basically, to do anything I thought of as “creative” or “artistic.” I remember secretly wanting to, but my understanding was that such things were for special, talented people. People knew who those people were, and I wasn’t one of them. And in high school I had a crazy idea in my head that I was going to be a professional tennis player. I spent most of those years playing tennis. And everyone knows that tennis players don’t write.
You seem to have taken a detour. Are you going to answer the question?
Yes. I’m getting there. So in my early twenties I guess, I started keeping journals, basically for my own mental health, to unload all the crazy shit that I couldn’t really tell anyone about. So then one day, and I actually remember it striking me – I was walking along in Toronto, I think I was Church Street, somewhere around there, east of Yonge – when I suddenly thought: You know all those journal entries you write? Yeah, I said. You should like, make them into stories. You wouldn’t even have to like, change that much. You might even be able to get money for them. Money? My frozen ears (it was winter) perked up.
The question was about poetry, right?
Yep. I’m getting there. So I had my first short story published at the end of 2002, inTaddle Creek
magazine. I got a copy and took it straight to the pub, which was like my second home, and which was where all my friends were. Some of them even read it, in a manner of speaking. Some of them even said they liked
it. I didn’t get paid, but it was all quite thrilling.
Right! So I was writing both fiction and poetry, from that beginning, is the answer. I usually enjoyed poetry more but I thought I should write fiction because at least with that there was the remote possibility of being paid, at least, one day, maybe…. Concentrating on poetry said to me, well, you’ve just given up completely, on being paid.
You seem to have an obsession with getting paid?
Well, I’ve never been very good at finding a regular job, so there’s pretty much always a shortage, finances-wise. Well, actually, often I could find jobs, but I just couldn’t keep them. I’ve quit quite a few jobs, mid-shift. One I remember I quit before I even got there, on the first day. This was as a dental receptionist in Toronto. Or was it the vet’s office? It was one of them, anyway. I was on the bus and it was ridiculously early and crowded and freezing and I thought, well, this is just a miserable commute. I can’t see myself doing this too often, can you? So I got off the bus, crossed the road, and got the bus straight back home.
You sound like you take quite a bit of pride in being such a f*** up.
Yes, it’s true. It’s a character defect. It may be related to a deeper insecurity over this issue. Or it may just be a defect.
F*** up was a bit harsh wasn’t it?
Well, yes – or no. It depends on your perspective.
OK. Um, this poem here, it’s not from your book, to the river. What gives?
Right, this poem isn’t from that book, recently published by the wonderful Artistically Declined Press. 🙂 It’s from a new manuscript I’ve finished. I’m looking for a publisher for that one.