We’re starting off our Woven Odes series with a heavyweight in the Canadian poetry community. Barry Dempster has been twice nominated for the Governor General’s Award, won the 2005 Canadian Authors Association Chalmers Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the 2010 Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts. His latest collection, Disturbing the Buddha, is Dempster’s fifteenth collection and was published just last month by poetry press Brick Books.
We’re starting off our Woven Odes series with a heavyweight in the Canadian poetry community. Barry Dempster has been twice nominated for the Governor General’s Award, won the 2005 Canadian Authors Association Chalmers Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the 2010 Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts. His latest collection, Disturbing the Buddha, is Dempster’s fifteenth collection and was published just last month by poetry press Brick Books.As the title suggests, incorporated in this collection are mystic and Buddhist learnings as Dempster explores the richness of life, even when grappling with loss, loneliness, and a lack of luck. Disturbing the Buddha embraces the flaws we find in life, allowing readers to take for granted the courage needed to survive these lows while celebrating the highs and respecting the unknown.Read on for an excerpt from “Wu-men” and a short interview with Barry Dempster himself.ALU: Which particular poet or poetry collections have most inspired your writing (in general or for this particular collection)?BD: I’ve always been drawn to poets who have an almost physical relationship with the words, who, whether they use the colloquial voice or the classical energy of strict form, are inventing as well as discovering, making up a new language all their own. First there was Rilke, then Eliot, then Neruda, immersions as life-changing as baptisms. For Disturbing the Buddha I spent a lot of time diving into Stephen Mitchell’s 1989 anthology, The Enlightened Heart, Chinese poets like Lao Tzu and Wu-Men, and the great Persian poet, Rumi. These voices in turn led me to Dean Young and Louise Gluck who became constant companions, a mix of splashy surrealism and severity served straight up.ALU: Are you inspired by a particular place, thing, or someone other than another poet? BD: Other art forms like film, painting, and dance often inspire me to try something new. I have great admiration for anyone who takes risks with their creative selves: scientists, philosophers, architects, chefs, teachers, etc.Everywhere I go has a powerful effect on me. Some days I swear that I’m comprised of weather alone. I love being around languages that I don’t understand, how they alchemize letters into pure music.I’m always wowed by how focused animals are on the moment; squirrels, for example, just a twitch of that magnificent tail and they become artist acrobats. Or the way my tortoiseshell cat rebukes gravity by pouncing on anything that stirs.One of my favourite pastimes is to people watch. We don’t always realize how wildly alike we are, how much we depend on each other.ALU: Do you have any particular writing rituals?BD: Less than I used to. At one time, I had to go through a labyrinth of preparations in order to access my unconscious. But a ritual can so easily become a neurosis. One day my last Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint rolling ball pen dried up on me and I couldn’t write a word without it. Who was the writer here, and who was the tool?* * *Follow along all April long with our Woven Odes series, in celebration of National Poetry Month. If you love Barry Dempster, check out our interactive poetry web to see which poets you might like to read after Disturbing the Buddha.