Recounting a year in the life of poet Aaron Tucker,
Catalogue d'oiseaux (Book*hug Press) captures the time, space and love between a couple separated by geographical distance.
In this Poetry Express Q&A, Aaron tells us more about how the collection grew out of daily emails to his partner in Germany, how the shared experience of art seen during their travels helped expand this body of work, and how steering head-on into life's experiences has opened him to his craft.
During the month of April, you can buy any of our featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada. Just use promo code NPMexpress at checkout. Or you can find it at your
local independent bookstore.
All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about your collection and how it came to be?
Aaron Tucker: The collection began as a very private project, and I never really intended to publish it. My partner, Julia, had moved to Mainz, Germany, for a year to teach and some of the initial bones of what would become this collection grew from my daily morning emails to her. The emails themselves were a sort of automatic writing, just me opening up my app and typing around a conceit for two or three sentences.
However, once we were reunited in Toronto, I started writing small ekphrastic pieces in response to the art we had been seeing as we travelled. Again, I never really intended to publish them and it wasn’t until I started to put the two together that a coherent idea started to gel and the poems started to interlock. That was the key turning point for me: I started to see all of the poems working together at a book-length scale and from there the poem sort of emerged relatively naturally.
Looking back at it now, in the middle of COVID-19, editing the book gave the work another life, a way to travel and be joyful in a landscape that was static and, frankly, pretty joyless. I’m grateful to Karen Solie for slicing away the parts of the poem that weren’t working or were redundant and refining what was here into something that I think really flows from vignette to vignette.
Photo of Aaron Tucker (Credit: J. Polyck-O'Neill)
[Image Description: A photo of the author standing, cropped at the knees. He faces forwards with his arms at his sides and looks directly at the camera. He wears a brown blazer with the sleeves rolled above the elbows with a light green shirt underneath, blue-black jeans and a brown strapped watch on his left wrist. He is light-skinned with ear-length brown hair and a light-brown beard. He wears thin-framed glasses. He stands in front of a large grey door punctuated with rectangle holes.]
ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?
AT: I think it had to have been the le palaise de Rumine in Lausanne where I saw all the taxidermized birds, cases upon cases of them, that eventually became a major section of the poem. At that point, I had a bunch of mix-matched feelings and chunks but seeing all of those birds snapped together with the Messiaen piano piece I had been listening to (which the book takes its title from). When writing, I try to make myself as open as possible to such occurrences and to steer into them as much as I can; I have a tendency to analyze and over-think most everything, and so with this book I tried to be more bodily and present and let the really amazing cities and art objects and buildings and landscapes I was privileged enough to see take the lead.
ALU: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?
AT: I think a lot of my core ideas about what I like in a poem have stayed pretty steady. As I’ve grown older, being exposed to a wider variety of poetic objects helped me to understand how wide a range of presentations and affects a poem might take. But, in my heart, I’ve always been drawn to lyric works despite my other work in conceptual writing and computational writing machines; if anything, working on Irresponsible Mediums, a collection of Marcel Duchamp’s chess games algorithmically translated into poems, reminded me that I do really enjoy a well-crafted lyric admission and description. I still return to a number of the texts I found early in my writing of poetry, including Ondaatje’s Cinnamon Peeler, Phyliss Webb’s work, and Gerry Shikatani’s Aqueduct (which is a direct influence on this work).
ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?
AT: For poetry, I usually rely on Kirby, at Knife Fork Books in Toronto, to curate for me: anything I get from Knife Fork is guaranteed to delight and challenge me. Recently, I’ve been doing small reviews of books I like on my Instagram, getting to write about Klara du Plessis’s Hell Light Flesh and Sachiko Murakami’s Render as well as Natasha Ramoutar’s excellent debut Bittersweet. Kirby has also passed onto me other favourites: Alisoun Sings by Caroline Bergvall, The Radiant Life by Chantal Neveu, and Life in Space by Galina Rymbu. I like to read as many different things as I can, and so my mood is almost always informed by this restlessness, alongside wanting to read what my friends are writing and publishing.
ALU: Describe your ideal escape.
AT: Anywhere that is not our apartment! Truthfully, I don’t know when I’ll be ready for a full-out escape, but I think I could warm up with a trip to Northern Ontario where I could do a lot of hiking and breathing. Usually, I travel a couple of times a year to British Columbia, where my family is, and have come to rely on those trips to recharge and shake a bit of Toronto’s pace and noise off; a road trip through the interior and onto Vancouver Island sounds divine. For now I’ll settle for my circuit through Cabbagetown and the quiet spaces I can find in the early morning.
I thought of that night, of Philadelphia, of Berlin, at my desk,
writing to Olivier Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux
solo piano through the birdvocals
atonal & massive, 13 shifts
through Chocard des Alpes, Merle bleu, Chouette hulotte
Merle de roche, Courlis cendré, Alouette lulu
a marathon over two hours, nonmelody birdsong counterpoint
this catalogue is incomplete but whole
I wrote as you slept in Mainz
Toronto burbling against the
lengthening shadows listening to the composition’s sublime horizon
like the shores of Lake Geneva, Lausanne
where you had a conference & I a day to explore
the unnamed serpentine stone walkways
beginning at la Cathédrale de Lausanne
interior & chancel, a whale skeleton, ribbone blanc
I looked over the uneven roofs that eroded down to the lake
reading Nicole Brossard’s Mauve Desert, New Mexico
“Keep to beauty, have no fear. Muffle civilization’s noises in you.
Learn to bear the unbearable: The raw of all things”
a book about a translator in translation
a nesting doll of language, book inside a book
my knees against my chest at warm noon
when all clocks chimed at once, tidal, cacophonous city music
I walked the steep downhill
ordered a crepe in garbled French
self-consciously repeating stock phrases
overlistening to responses & apologetically replying
at a small bistro table with plastic utensils, a crowd swirled
carrying vegetables in bags, green carrot tops & lettuce, coffees in hand
Aaron Tucker was born and raised on traditional Syilx territory in Lavington B.C. and now lives in Toronto as a guest on the Dish With One Spoon Territory. His novel, Y (2018), was translated into French as Oppenheimer in 2020. He is also the author of two previous poetry collections, including Irresponsible Mediums: The Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp (Book*hug Press, 2017). He is currently a PhD student in the Cinema and Media Studies Department at York University where he is an Elia Scholar, a VISTA Doctoral Scholar, and 2020 recipient of the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Scholarship.
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During the month of April, you can buy
Catalogue d'oiseaux and any one of our other featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code NPMexpress.Or find them at your local independent bookstore with our Shop Local option.
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