The poems in Margaret Christakos's new collection
charger (Talonbooks) consider how our technology delivers us to each other: what part does our digital world play between the private and social, between mortal and virtual? Below, Margaret delves deeper into these questions, and chats with us about walking as a place to consider her second-generation-Canadian body in history, her own adventure story, and shares a poetry prompt. Read on for our interview and a poem from charger.
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Interview with Margaret Christakos
All Lit Up: What did you learn writing charger?
Margaret Christakos: charger is a suite of 12 longer poems with a coda, and the first thing a reader will note is that throughout the 200+ pages, the poems are widely dispersed across the page space. The initial reading encounter is one of "loosening" oneself into a text that is less dense and more flotational than the standard free verse lyric. The question that opens up is: How do I read and hang out in this text? The text seems highly fragmentary and possibly a little "exploded." Is it the remnants of an older continuous lyric or the inchoate beginnings of a new one?
This question of how to perceive a path through disorienting fragments is one we encounter every day in the digital world. Ultimately, it turns out, we have to read differently than we're used to. The normative way to read an English book is page by page, top to bottom, recto to verso. In the case of the charger poems, reading that way will put the reader in a very disjunctive space where the poems seem broken and telegraphic. How else can the poems be read? What other qualities emerge in a counter-reading in terms of pacing and temporality? This is the space I was exploring writing charger, and the invitation the poems make to readers.
I multiplied my sense of how the lyric poem can fluctuate in temporality and pace, applying the visual idea of figure-ground doubleness to poetic text on the page. When two images exist simultaneously, we explore out how to toggle back and forth between figure and ground. Both exist—and this tends to be exhilarating, and a little unnerving, to recognize. Reading charger across the gutter renders a version of the text that is charged with narrative momentum. In this way, a less normative reading produces a higher degree of connection and "meaning"—which is also the result of how we read, now, as if by reflex, online.
Writing charger also gave me more evidence of how, for me, poems can so beautifully carry memory and grieving. These poems think about how, as we're inevitably waiting for our chargers to charge, we still have to grapple with the reach of mourning across death. We have to consider how our technology is used to regulate who lives and dies, and how to sustain connections with the physical world.
Beyond the free verse lyric poem, I learned about spatialized poetics in the early 1980s from the open field approaches of some of my early poetry mentors, bp Nichol and Daphne Marlatt in particular. Thinking about the page as a spacious field instead of a void, a ground that speaks its own rhythm and presence, a body in fact that breathes and moves. This aesthetic also invites attention to individual letters, words and phrases loosened from the sentence, and casts attention upon the sonorities of language, including rhythmic, assonant, and consonant pattern across words. It's been interesting to think about how to materialize the page as a poetic field in light of the dispersive digital environment writing moves in now.
ALU: If you were a character in a Choose Your Own Adventure story, what kind of quest would you be on? What three things would you have with you on your journey?
MC: Funny, I definitely hear "Choose Your Own Ending." The adventure for me is how to travel across the living-dead divide, except not to have to put up with the drag of bodily decay. I'd bring along food—maybe pizza—Inger Christensen's Alphabet, and a good pair of earrings. The earrings would sing a duet, so I could happily eat and read.
I tend always to think of both/and in addition to either/or—maybe it's my bisexuality talking, or being a mom of multiples.
ALU: Where do you draw inspiration from outside of poetry?
MC: What is outside of poetry? Poetry is what makes life bearable, therefore it is all that is life. You can't be dead inside of poetry.
Walking in the metropolis is a huge inspiration—an inhalation—exhalation—and repeat. Being among difference. The metropolis expands and includes, if we fight for it to do so. Canadian cities are founded on swindled Indigenous land, a fiction of freedom. Walking is a place to consider my second-generation-Canadian body in history, and to ask how this story moves forward.
ALU: Help us with a poetry prompt for our readers. Can you come up with a writing prompt for our readers to write their own poetry?
MC: I'm thinking about how charger challenges the normative reading practice that English speakers have to consider the page a unit of space for both writing and reading. Conventionally, when we come to a book, we still read single pages from left to right, top to bottom, and then we move on to the next page and do the same thing. But what happens if the unit of composition and reading is the two-page spread instead of the page? What options open up to you as a writer and as a reader?
Here's a prompt: Take any book and transcribe the text you get when you read lines continuously across the gutter of a two-page spread. Then cut up the resulting flow of text into lines of some regulated length, six or eight words per line. Build a poem with the lines, in any order. See if anything interesting comes of this enfolding, especially when read aloud. That is my main question for poetry: Is it interesting? If yes, go on. If not, pick a new book and try again.
Margaret Christakos reads from charger on YouTube.
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Margaret Christakos is attached to this earth. Born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario, she has worked as a poet, writer, editor, instructor, and poetry-culture builder in Toronto since the late 1980s. Her body of work includes nine collections of poetry, numerous chapbooks, a novel, and an inter-genre memoir. She has been shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, and is a recipient of the ReLit Award for poetry and the Bliss Carman Award. Space Between Her Lips: The Poetry of Margaret Christakos was published in 2017 (Laurier Poetry series). She has held appointments as Writer in Residence at the University of Windsor, Western University, London Public Library, and the University of Alberta. She is associate faculty with the MFA program in creative writing at University of Guelph-Humber and has taught widely as a sessional, most recently at Ryerson University. In 2018–2019, she was Barker Fairley Distinguished Visitor at University College, University of Toronto. She has three adult children and lives in Toronto.
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During the month of April, you can buy
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