Quarrels (Anvil Press)has seen some major buzz since recently winning the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize. Eve joins us on the All Lit Up blog to share more about how french poetry has inspired her first collection of prose poetry, how solitude helps her write, and her focus on minute bits of reality in creating a world-without-borders feeling within her work.
All Lit Up: Quarrels was recently selected as the winner of the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize. Can you tell us a bit about the collection and how it came to be?
Eve Joseph: Quarrels is my first collection of prose poetry. I became interested in the form years before I attempted to write any pieces. I was intrigued by the earlier French prose poets (Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Aloysius Bertrand) and how they broke with traditional verse, introducing a hybrid that was neither prose nor poetry. I am drawn strongly to the indecision at the heart of the form. The tension between the prosaic and the poetic and how they wrestle with each other.
My first prose poems were not bold enough…I was still conditioned by the rational and by narrative. This book came out of my desire to leave the known behind and to enter the unknown. To give form to the extraordinary.
ALU: The cover of Quarrels is wonderfully surreal. Can you share a bit about the concept and the design process?
EJ: Marijke Friesen, my husband Patrick Friesen’s daughter, is a book designer. I sent her the manuscript and she came up with the cover image of a bird-headed girl gingerly stepping over a city. I loved everything about it when I saw it. She managed to perfectly catch the surreal nature of the poems with one image. The most brilliant covers catch the eye and hint at what might be inside a book – I can’t imagine a better cover than the one Marijke came up with.
ALU: Griffin Poetry Prize jurors have been quoted as saying this about you: “The poet has surrendered herself to the realm of the illogical, trusting that it has a logic of its own, and the outcome is, indeed, a new music. These poems are intriguing spaces and moments defeating the boundaries of the real.” (Globe and Mail, Apr 9) Can you tell us more about creating these, "realms of the illogical" or spaces of unreality in your poetry and what it takes to fully surrender to them in your writing? What do you hope the impact upon readers will be by creating poetry without borders?
EJ: In his book of prose poems A World Rich in Anniversaries Jean Follain wrote: “Close attention to things may make them seem strange.” I love that idea. My experience working with these poems was exactly that: the closer I looked at my own life, at the world around me, the stranger, more surreal things seemed. All the poems, even the most unlikely ones, come out of real experiences. I trusted the poems themselves to lead me to their own conclusions. I recently read a quote by Alice Oswald in which she said, “Poems like dreams, have a visible object and an invisible one. The invisible one is the one you can’t choose, the one that writes itself.” Again, these words catch the essence of what it was like to write the poems in Quarrels. I was continually surprised by the play between the visible and the invisible, between the known and the unknown. I don’t think of these poems as not having borders; rather, I see them as tapping into a borderless imagination. A space where anything is possible.
ALU: What, outside of other books/writers, inspires your writing?
EJ: Solitude. I need to be alone in order to write new work. I love how the known world recedes when I’m on my own and another one begins to take over. I fall into different rhythms. The quieter it gets the more I am able to hear other voices. I need to make space in order to listen and to remember.
ALU: You're the only survivor living in a post-apocalyptic world where all books but one have perished. Which book is it and why?
EJ: When I was a kid this question was posed as “what book would you take with you to a desert island?” At that time, any Hardy Boys volume would have done it. I never wondered why I might be banished to a desert island. It’s way harder to come up with one book now after a lifetime of reading. I could try to be clever and come up with a wonderful literary tome but the truth is if I was the last person on earth I would want one of my husband’s books of poetry with me so that I could remember love. What it was like to love and to have been loved.
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A big thank you to Cara at Anvil Press and to Eve Joseph for sharing more about her work.
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