Friday, November 05, 2004

Reads from Said Like Reeds or Things

Below is an article based on an e-mail interview Chris Watson conducted with me, from Hamilton's View magazine. I'm not sure I believe my own answers. I may have been talking about my next book.

Warning: What follows is not for those easily offended by pseudo-theoretical bombast. I wrote my answers on my lunch at work and didn't have a chance to check them for silliness.

By Chris Watson

Reads from Said Like
Reeds or Things

Saturday November 6, 7pm
270 Sherman Ave. N

Poet Mark Truscott has a way with words—or maybe, to
be more precise, a way without them. His new book of
poems, Said Like Reeds or Things, gives ample
evidence of this. His brief, precise pieces offer readers
moments of insight into not only what they’re reading,
but also why.

Through the magic of e–mail, View had a chance to
speak with the ex–Burlington/Hamiltonian and McMast-
er graduate about his poetry, poetry in general, and
whether he thinks the form even plays a role in today’s

“I’m the a product of a capitalist country, so I’ve inherited
the impulse to look for purpose or payoff,” Truscott
admits. “I have always been skeptical of this way of
thinking and, in some sense, this book is an attempt to
get beyond it. Many of the poems frustrate readings that
seek the payoff of a literal meaning, and I think it’s useful
to consider this in economic terms. In a way, some of my
poetry is less than purposeless; it’s wasteful. I’m not sure
how to think of my poetry’s or poetry’s role in general
under these circumstances.”

There are some truly beautiful passages in Said Like
Reeds or Things.
The pieces can be very evocative and
even emotive, both despite their brevity and because of

“I like short poems,” Truscott says, “because they give
the reader an opportunity to pay attention to the smallest
of linguistic behaviours. When faced with a poem of five
words in which almost nothing is happening in the
referential sense, the reader has to, for instance, look at
the relationships among letters or at the balance or lack
thereof among the lengths of the words. A five–word
poem also encourages the reader to ask why these five
words are a poem, so there’s the possibility of some form
of questioning of definitions and, well, institutions."

“Some of the poems are distillations of much longer
pieces. 'Circularity,' for instance, had 157 words when it
was published in the Malahat Review, and now it’s down
to eight including the title. Many of them began short
though. “I’ve just started reading these poems in public,
and I think their brevity is sometimes a little startling to
people, which is good I suppose. I think some people
find the brevity funny, and that’s definitely a good thing.”

Truscott’s work confronts and challenges people’s
assumptions about how and even why they read. How
does he recommend a reader approach his work, or
poetry in general?

“I think if this book is 'about' anything,” he replies, “it’s
about the fact that language always exceeds our reading
of it, and I think that what occurs in my book occurs in
any use of language, though maybe not as obviously. I
hope that readers of my book will come away with a felt
sense (and I’d like to underline “felt”) that language is
more than a tool, that while language is the element in
which we live, it is ultimately other than us and beyond

“I think the key to approaching my poetry is to
acknowledge the materiality of the language in addition
to its semantic component. Most poetry solicits this
acknowledgement, though my poetry probably does
more insistently than the average contemporary poem.”

Truscott’s gritLIT reading won’t be his only in Hamilton
next week—he’s also launching his book on November
4 at the You Me Gallery. Another thing next week’s
readings won’t be? Truscott’s first time in the region.

“I’m thrilled to have a launch for my book at the You Me
Gallery,” he says, “because Bryce Kanbara, the owner,
taught me how to ask questions about contemporary art
when he was the curator at the Burlington Art Centre
(then the Burlington Cultural Centre) and I was a punky
17–year–old part–time security guard there. Lorraine
York’s modern and contemporary Canadian poetry
classes at McMaster were important first exposures to
many of the poets I still read regularly. Hamilton was a
great place to be during university. It’s a city of humane
size in that it’s big enough to give you the opportunity to
try things out and small enough to allow you to escape
widespread notice when you fail.”

Fortunately for us, Truscott’s poetry is far from failure.
You can verify that fact for yourself when he comes to
town for two separate readings, tonight and Saturday.


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