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Adventurize Your Summer: An Interview with Chris Pannell
Today we chat with award-winning poet Chris Pannell about his latest work, Adventurize Your Summer! (Wolsak and Wynn)—a collection of poems that contemplates travel, art, and humanity—and how his love/hate relationship with cruise vessels inspired the poem “The Captain’s Voice.” Read our short interview with Chris and a poem from his collection, below.
All Lit Up: Travel is a real theme in your latest collection, Adventurize Your Summer. Why are you drawn to writing about it?
Chris Pannell: I’d guess I’m drawn to travel for the same reasons that most people with some money to spare are:
- to escape from my routines,
- to enjoy potential new discoveries, to learn
- for a new perspective on myself, or my views of the world,
- for the sense of freedom one has before all the hotel, food, and transportation bills become visible on my next credit card statement.
The writing happens for me then because to be away from home is to also have time to record some of what I see, to brood on unresolved issues (mostly personal ones), and to vacate the old structures where I live in favour of travel plans (which are easier to change). I get space to think. Travel makes new ideas abundant. New places and new people lead to new poems. Every book of mine has contained at least some travel poetry. Adventurize Your Summer! puts this kind of writing front and centre.
Additionally, my parents took me across the Atlantic on an ocean vessel three times before I was seven years old. (As part of their emigration odyssey.) Each trip lasted approximately a week. Though the details I have of those “first travels” are few, some have been captured in the poem “Passports” in my 2016 book Love Despite the Ache. Major early life experiences can have a powerful influence on the adults we become. I have a great comfort in going to, or being in, new surroundings. (On land, or at sea.)
ALU: There is also a current of amusement and/or amazement at the experience of traveling that is captured in these poems. What is it about travel that creates these moments?
CP: The amusement/amazement you cite is—I think—my response to the nuttiness of other tourists. Here I’m thinking of “By the Portrait of the Polish Gentleman” and “Field Guide to the Kootenay Mountain Tourist.” To travel is to be tested and often our fellow travellers, either individuals or crowds of them, behave so badly I am embarrassed to be likely considered one of them.
ALU: Tell us about the poem that gives the book its title? What is the story behind it?
CP: “The Captain’s Voice” is about my love/hate relationship with cruise vessels, especially the large, opulent kind. Family members thought it would be nice to go to cruise to Alaska. And so, nine of us went from Vancouver up the Pacific coast to see the natural splendors: glaciers, mountains, and some wildlife—bears, whales, eagles, and so on. As the poem shows, the management of the cruise line forgot to stop selling the trip to the customers, even though we had all said “yes” to the deal. The marketing got in the way of the abundant benefits of being in Alaska. A poet’s frustration, if unrelieved sometimes leads to fantasies of dying, as at the poem’s end. The captain of the much smaller Egyptian cruise vessel on The Nile (see “In the Locks Between Luxor and Edfu”) is more supportive of the characters and the gestation of the poetry. He spoke like a poet himself.
Read “The Captain’s Voice”
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
The stillness that fills me with peace.
– Robert Service, “The Spell of the Yukon”
From the port bow, the mountain is
a massive pair of dog paws at water’s edge
ice white and grey with gravel.
Above, bared peaks sharpen the Alaskan air.
Meanwhile, the chatterbox of the intercom, the director of upsell
We have tickets to Wine Tasting Events!
Don’t miss tonight’s Musical Stylings of Don Dinatello!
He doesn’t report that too few pedicures and facials
have been sold on deck seven. He really wants to know
if the diamond shops in town got all your money today.
From steel speakers on the promenade deck, the captain’s voice
volleys over the sleeping and the partying cruise patrons.
Marketing students in summer jobs learn the lingo.
Nouns! Seize this chance to become a verb!
Adventurize your summer!
The story of the Klondike, like mountains and sky
is easy to grasp. It’s a disappearance the locals are trying
to preserve. Greed, like dying for gold, has
bequeathed us a scenic railway.
Our enormous ship carefully drifts
into a dwindling supply of wilderness experiences.
We remain deaf to the silence, the lapping inlets
where otters and humpback whales know their way.
I am a page that would be free of this floating book –
one of many salmon that didn’t make the spawning ground
and now lie dead, in the riverbed, or ashore, mauled by a bear
after the attempt.
Oh, the dull edge of having it all.
(How excited I should be!)
See that gravelanche, scree down the mountainside?
By the milky green water of the bay,
silent, I will lie.
* * *
Chris Pannell’s A Nervous City (2013) won the Kerry Schooley Book Award from the Hamilton Arts Council. In 2010, his book Drive (2009) won the Acorn-Plantos Award for Peoples Poetry and the Hamilton Literary Award for Poetry. From 1993 to 2005 he ran the new writing workshop and published two anthologies of work by that group. He is a former board member of the gritLIT Literary Festival and a former DARTS bus driver. He hosts and helps organize the monthly Hamilton reading series Lit Live. His latest book of poetry—Love, Despite the Ache (2016)—won the 2017 Literary Award for Poetry from the Hamilton Arts Council.