There’s a Poem for That: Joshua Chris Bouchard + Burn Diary

Even with the days growing longer, there’s still a lot of time for dark, pensive nights and with them, the unapologetic and gritty poems of Joshua Chris Bouchard’s debut collection Burn Diary (Wolsak & Wynn).

A graphic reading "There's a poem for...dark nights" with the cover of Burn Diary and a photo of Joshua Chris Bouchard.


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There's a poem for that... NPM on All Lit Up.

An interview with poet Joshua Chris Bouchard

All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about Burn Diary and how it came to be?

The cover of Burn Diary by Joshua Chris Bouchard.

Joshua Chris Bouchard: Burn Diary evolved from ideas about nature, the body, family, and a sort of emotional desolation. The poems try to stake a firm balance between violence and beauty, love and abandonment. I started with a distorted version of my hometown, an isolated mining area in northern Ontario. I created a caricature of it in my mind and tried to express that on the page. In the foreground are these various speakers and scenes that express abuse, trauma, memory, growing, moving on. Maybe it’s a coming-of-age type of thing in some ways, not unlike most debuts. Ultimately it came from a feeling of desperation.

ALU: Are there poetry collections you can’t get out of your head years later? Tell us about them.

Joshua Chris Bouchard: Satan Says by Sharon Olds. I use a portion of the title poem as an epigraph in my book. It’s no secret that Olds is one of the best poets in North America, and for good reason, in my opinion. All her work tends to have a raw cleanliness and emotional vigour, but Satan Says especially is intense and devastating. I’ll think of it often when I’m at my most down or lost.

ALU: Has your idea of poetry changed since you began writing?

Joshua Chris Bouchard: My ideas of it are always changing. When I was young, poetry was an artistic form of rebellion. I thought it had no rules or constraints. I could express myself without question, say anything I wanted, and try to understand whatever it was I was feeling. Sometimes everything is so overwhelming when we’re young. Now, it’s still like that, but there is a much more deliberate consideration for the craft of writing and the eventual reader. Poetry isn’t just for me anymore. It’s a conveyer between the world and me. A collaboration. Poetry, now, is no longer a vacuum like it once was.

ALU: If you were to set your collection to a soundtrack, what song is at the top of the listing?

Joshua Chris Bouchard: I love this question. I think it’s a close tie between Section VII. of Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich and Farewell Transmission by Songs: Ohia. Look them up if you’ve never heard them. Music for 18 Musicians in general is deceptively minimal, but underneath there are dense layers of polyrhythms over a relentless thematic crux – repetition, 6/8 time, and tempo. It’s brilliant. Farewell Transmission is just one of those nearly perfect rock/folk songs. You hear it and just fall in. It makes anything good just by being associated with it.

ALU: Can you discuss the significance of language and word choice in your collection? How did you land on which words to use?

Joshua Chris Bouchard: My poems usually start out very long and verbose. Everything is laid out on the page in a frenzy. The language will often vary. The editing cuts through all of that with a focus on simple, basic diction, lines, and syntax. I think I’m not so much concerned with the language as much as I am with the final image. So, I’ll do whatever it takes to get there, but with a focus on simplicity and rhythm. I think that was important to Burn Diary because it’s a book mostly grounded in vignetted images to convey intense emotion. I felt that those emotions would be lost if I strayed from language and words at their conversational core.

There’s a poem for dark nights…
“I Am Also the Night” from Burn Diary

I am the house’s abandoned
rooms and I am the open window.

In long hours I stay broken
with the night lights

and give them my open hands.
I say, Please make me whole

but only if I am worthy.
Sometimes I dream of electric tombs,

puzzled bodies and my photograph
of the night. I bend my body back

and open my eyes wide,
say, Ah, I am also the photograph.

The lies of me I learn to keep
like heirlooms in cold corners

and imagine how it feels to be
only a name, a single body.

I hate the night, but I am also
the night, and I am barely human

in the tender carnage of daybreak.
I never see it coming

as it unfurls from the ends of my teeth
and paints the walls with light

and I kneel. Thank you for not killing me,
there’s still so much to live in.

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A black and white photo of poet Joshua Chris Bouchard. He is a light-skin-toned man wearing a small toque and wire-rimmed glasses, and he has a thick beard.

Joshua Chris Bouchard is the author of Let This Be the End of Me (Bad Books Press), which was shortlisted for the 2019 bpNichol Chapbook Award. He wrote or co-wrote five chapbooks, and his poetry appears in Event, CV2, Carousel, Poetry Is Dead, PRISM international, Arc, The Ex-Puritan and more.

Photo of Joshua by Yuli Scheidt.

* * *

Thanks to Joshua Chris Bouchard for answering our questions, and to Wolsak & Wynn for the text of “I Am Also the Night” from Burn Diary, which is available to order now (and get 15% off with the code THERESAPROMO4THAT until April 30!).

For more poetry month, catch up on our “there’s a poem for that” series here, and visit our poetry shop here.