AS IN MY WIFE JUDE’S paintings, I have always been fascinated in my writing by experiments that have tried to mix realist elements with an equivalent bold use of color and form that pushes language beyond realist constraints.
That’s been important to me from the beginning. As a result I followed modernist art movements carefully in my writing life, and was especially attracted to writers who began in the realist mode but broke past it: Marcel Proust, Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis, T S Eliot, David Jones, Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, Malcolm Lowry, Virginia Woolf, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Sheila Watson, Alistair MacLeod, Margaret Laurence, Timothy Findlay, Leonard Cohen, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, John Berger, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon and William Gass. You know how it is. When you’re making lists like this, you feel the pomposity of them on the one hand, and the fact that you’ve missed some gem of an influence on the other. So forgive me in advance. I am hopelessly Canadian and equally hopelessly in love with these considerations and have been since 1969.
What I’m trying to do is provide an accessible artistic context for the kind of writing I have made and am still making in both poetry and prose, and in the essays I have written on other writers over the same years. We have been working through some exciting shifts in form and content in Western writing in the 20th Century. These shifts first surfaced in the modernist art movements, and then were refined and transformed by postmodern art movements. Though there are, I know, many ways to understand these shifts and experiments in artistic form and material, for me the most down-to-earth way to catch these changes is to imagine them as one gigantic and complex shift from temporal forms to spatial forms.
I got a great start in these pursuits because I was lucky enough to have strong mentors who were willing to point the way forward for me and challenge me: Sheila Watson, Wilfred Watson, Dianne Bessai, Robert Kroetsch, Don Summerhayes, Lucille Herbert, Annabel Patterson, Don Coles and Gene Dawson. I was equally lucky to have editors of journals, periodicals and publishing houses pick up some of my early work and give it a more public voice; I am thinking especially of The NeWest Review, Matrix, Waves, Event, The Malahat Review, and Dreadnaught Press, Harbour Publishing and, in time, the incredible generosity and support of Thistledown Press in Saskatoon, a press that gave me everything.
From A Rock Solid on, my poems and short stories, my novels and reviews and essays on writers have all pursued a rather singular quest: to make the shift inward into the material of consciousness become as outward as possible as art: to give it a body: the word made flesh: incarnation. In order to do this I have used many techniques invented to accommodate different modes of stream of consciousness fiction, and have experimented in a wide variety of techniques that implement aspects of collage, montage, juxtaposition of panels—-in order to attempt to seize, each time, a bigger story, a bigger, more dense, more compressed ‘real.’
Robert Kroetsch and I approached this kind of ‘real’ over and over again in a book of conversations called Abundance (Kalamalka Press, 2005), and Jake Kennedy and I discuss and display these kinds of artistic shapes in Marshal Fields. My next book of poems, A Matins Flywheel (Thistledown Press, 2019), reaches for this compressed ‘real’ with the most demanding grab at such material I have ever made.
My next project is to return to the writing of a novel called The Kitchen Sessions which attempts a parallel grab but in fiction, especially in its mixing of narrative and musical forms.