(Women's) Writer's Block: Margaret Christakos

October 26, 2016

For Women's History Month, we've saved Wednesdays for highlighting Canadian women writers, their latest work, and their writing process. This final October Wednesday, we have an interview with poet and writer Margaret Christakos, author most recently of  Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex, Blood, Loss, & Selfies (BookThug), a book of personal essays examining the age-old relationships between family members, reproductive changes, and women's identities, and how they all intersect with the modern invent of social media. In fact, some of the book is written as social media posts. A love song to her daughter, Her Paraphernalia is incisive, deeply intimate, and utterly unique.

Today, Margaret shares with us her influences, the joy of discovering ready-made coffee, and why she's "all about the art making."

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womenswritersblock_header_updated

For Women's History Month, we've saved Wednesdays for highlighting Canadian women writers, their latest work, and their writing process. This final October Wednesday, we have an interview with poet and writer Margaret Christakos, author most recently of  Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss, & Selfies (BookThug), a book of personal essays examining the age-old relationships between family members, reproductive changes, and women's identities, and how they all intersect with the modern invent of social media. In fact, some of the book is written as social media posts. A love song to her daughter, Her Paraphernalia is incisive, deeply intimate, and utterly unique.

Today, Margaret shares with us her influences, the joy of discovering ready-made coffee, and why she's "all about the art making."

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Why do you write?

I write to make new art in the world. I’m all about the art making. I want there to be more art, and for art to weigh us to the ground. And to ask who’s the us, and how’s the we. Each surge of intentional thinking is a compositional gesture or movement that contributes to the making of art. I’m most interested in the revising and redoubling sequences involved in composition. There are surges that emblazon and surges that delete, defer and kick me back to square one. Square two and three are always at stake: will a piece of writing get there, get “anywhere”—I am interested in multidirectionality and simultaneity. I think at the heart of this aesthetic is relationality, of seeing the self in the context of selves, and the moment in the context of time’s expansiveness.

There’s also a lot of humour in my increments of writing, as if wryness connects to aliveness. I’m totally unfunny in person, awkward and forgetful. But in my head it’s a lot of fun. Yes, I think maybe I write not to fade completely out.

 

If you wrote a memoir, what would it be called?

Funny you should ask! I didn’t map it out in advance, or tightly yank the reins, but this past spring I did publish an inter-genre memoir called Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies, with BookThug. It chronicles thoughts, memories and experiences that have imprinted on my conception of being continuous with my own mother and the other women of my family lines. It also is a space where I write about having the most enormous writer’s block in my life as a writer — the combined effects of loss of parents, end of marriage, change of life — and making my way through it. 

 

Is there one stand-out moment or experience you had that helped you realize you wanted to become a writer? 

Not one moment, but a series of encounters. As a person in university I began gradually to move from making drawings and paintings and thinking about installation, sculpture, and time-based performance to writing poems and reading them aloud to groups at public readings, and I liked the immediacy of contact between everyone in the room. It was terrifying and also incredibly socially locating. Reading aloud is like giving myself a good shove into a room and deciding to be present. It’s a crossing into company. The deeper question I think is how did I land on writing instead of either a choral, sung or instrumental music practice, to which I’m also drawn. There is something about speech, and the voice when speaking, which is summoned into writing and then re-inhabited when reading aloud, that for me fully exposes the communicative musicality/tonality/embodiment of language. I like how utterly stripped clear one voice in a room can be. It is spiritual. Spacy.

margaretreading

 

Which writers have influenced you or had the most impact on your own writing? 

Hands down, bpNichol and Erin Moure have been the two most abiding influences on my poetics; their underailable innovation and witty, heartmoored inquiry. And what ears! What surges!

 

What was your most rewarding moment as a writer? 

On July 9, 2010, at The Scream Literary Festival in Toronto my poetry collection Excessive Love Prostheses was given a booklength reading dinner. Jenny Sampirisi art-directed the event, and it was held at the historic Women’s Art Association building, a gathering space for the city’s early 20th century community of female painters and sculptors. I got to incorporate costumed elements to bring out some of the absurdist theatre of the text and to stage reading the different sections in several different spaces in the house — bearing out my fascination with durational and site-specific performance. Just an awesome privilege.

 

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Margaret's workspace.

Describe your perfect writing day. 

Like most writers, I think, my life is made of many chunks where I need to incorporate various kinds of work including domestic tasks, parenting, coordinational work for events and editorial projects, prepping and delivering teaching, drumming up writing funding through grant writing and other investigation. Plus of course walking, biking, food making, sweeping; I don’t want those parts of every day not to be there. So a perfect writing day involves kissing everybody good morning and being delighted that another family member has already made coffee (O thrill!), doing a very energizing but disciplined hour on social media (if you believe that you’ll believe anything!), reading the paper, reading other people’s work, researching (which usually turns into more sweeping), and then at about three distinct intervals entering an intensively engaged place of thinking, writing and consolidating. More and more I end up doing something with visual imagery, creating an aggregate of photographs filtered through hand held phone/laptop/larger monitor screen shots, and springing from this activity back toward writing either fiction or poetry. I think the most “perfect” writing day, though, is the one where some immediate idea upon waking dislodges the hold of all the regular stuff above and I just get to it and by noon I’m panting and wrung out and cheek-flushed from the work, whatever it is.

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Margaret's advice: "you can have a wistful moment followed by a vigorous gallop in the chest"

Have you ever experienced writer’s block? What did you do about it?

Well, it’s not an infinite well. I want to reload my imagination and thinking with other people’s art a lot. All the time in fact. Going to galleries, films, staged dance or theatre, online research. To which, two things happen. The first is I become completely silenced by the thrilling brilliance of other people’s work — and I mean in all mediums. Just devastated into self-erasure. And almost at the identical moment sometimes I sense my own compositional intellect firing. Often enough, I get going again. I almost always pursue a procedural approach to writing, enacting gestures upon the phrase to multiply and move it into a plural form of presence. I am also really interested in how we read, and receive text, and how we take part in filling in the momentary ellipsis of meaning’s slippage, wrassling with it, until pop it means something. The interval where the unknown becomes somehow admissible: this is both writing and reading as well as forming social communion and community.  

For the last four years cellphone photography has been a constant co-practice, and I often entwine making, framing, reframing and layering photographic compositions alongside and within writing. Much of this I do through and inside of social media platforms, and the embodiment of time in these makings is a larger and larger portion of what my work is about. Here’s an example:

margaretworkspace

 

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herparaphernalia

About Margaret: Margaret Christakos lives in a curious sentence made of mobile vowels and consonants. She is constantly looking for a view with a room, preferably with incoming waves and wavers.

Christakos has published nine collections of poetry and a novel. Her most recent book is an intre-genre memoir, published by BookThug in 2016 called Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies — see a brief interview here.

Find her on Twitter @MChristakos and at Coach House Books.

 

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Thanks so much to Margaret for fielding our questions, and to Hazel from BookThug for connecting us! To see the rest of our featured women authors from this month, click here.


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