Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Jason Christie : Writing a life

I have written in a mechanical room, a boiler room, on a roof, and between the floors of a department store. I've managed to survive as a writer by abandoning the pursuit of an ideal state for writing. It took a lot of effort to unhinge the idea that I needed to preserve time and space in my life in order to write poetry. I had to question my assumptions about what constituted good writing, a good poet, a creative life. Instead of abandoning writing, or making my life flex and contort to fit poetry into it, I realized that the stuff of my life, the living of my life was the space and time I needed for thinking about poetry. I let the conditions of my life shape my poetry, I removed the false barrier between living and writing by merging them together, and embracing the messy, chaotic joy of life with two small children.

That's all fine as some kind of cerebral experiment, but what does it mean in practice? I'm privileged enough to have a new-ish smart phone and the ability to afford access to a program that allows me to sync files across multiple devices. I broke myself of the need to write at my desk or in a notebook. I wrote Unknown Actor on my phone while riding the bus to work in Vancouver. Changing my approach to writing, and being able to use the technology available to me, means that I can write whenever I want or wherever I happen to be.

Having two small children means that I had another opportunity to revise my relationship to my poetry. My next book features many longpoems, but I don't have the attention span for that kind of effort. As a result of sleep deprivation, and driven by necessity, I have hit upon a strategy for writing new poems that fits within the jumble of my life. While I was unemployed, when we only had one child, and had recently moved to Ottawa, I tried to stay sharp by writing something new every morning. I would open a file and add to it while having a coffee with no preconceived notions or judgment.

I stopped writing like that when I finally found work, but while unemployed I had amassed around one hundred pages of mostly terrible poetry about caffeination, life with a small child, the poetry world in Canada, the move to Ottawa, and various other things. It was garbage. But I wanted to try to reclaim something from all that effort. So, I came up with a few Python scripts that I could use to scramble the source material and generate from it a unique line of poetry. If I find myself with some time now, I will run those scripts to crank out a few new lines. I'm honing the output to the point that it is almost impossible to tell that it was generated programmatically. I'm calling this soft conceptualism, following in the footsteps of Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett. These poems are my Bean Spasms. I have published a few of them in various places online and in print under the title glass language (excerpt).

I find it amazing that whether I'm awake at five in the morning with the baby, or with my older son, between meetings at work, or sitting in our office in the attic, I can write or edit poetry. At the moment, I have the luxury of sitting in the attic, at my desk, but this evening I will probably finish writing this on my phone while my son plays at the playground. Poetry is never far from my thoughts, and my life is never far from poetry.

Jason Christie is the author of Canada Post (Snare), i-ROBOT (Edge/Tesseract), Unknown Actor (Insomniac), and a co-editor of Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (Mercury). He has five chapbooks from above/ground press, including: The Charm (2015), and random_lines = random.choice (2017). His next book will be published in the Spring of 2019. He is currently writing poetry about (being) objects, and exaltation.

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