Brian Henderson is a busy man; not only has he published ten books of poetry, he is also the director of Wilfrid Laurier Press, an editor of several poetry anthologies, and a literary critic whose work has been published in many literary journals since 1974. On top of all that, he has been shortlisted for many prizes, including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 2007. He came to gritLit Thursday night to read from his latest book, Sharawadji, and sat down to with us about the past, present, and future of poetry.
How is the poetry scene in Ontario, do you find it welcoming?
I think the literary community is quite cohesive; of course it’s filled with factions, but the poetry scene is really vibrant, and there’s so much happening. there are reading everywhere and in all kinds of cities. I’m not that familiar with what goes on in Hamilton but I’ve been here to read twice and it’s been fun and everyone’s been great. I think what’s starting to happen is a new generation of folks are getting into it; there was a while where nothing much was going on- just geezers like me, and there was a divide, but there’s a whole new wave of stuff happening and there’s all kinds of exciting things being published.
How do you find time to sit down and write?
My writing always comes first, so don’t tell the president of the university this, but when something’s happening for me I am always jotting stuff down. I always have, well it used to be a notebook, now I use my iPhone, although I must say I have lost stuff on [the iPhone app] Pages because it didn’t upload to changes I had made, so a whole thing just vanished. If you write it down on paper it’s always there and it’s always findable, so that was a hugely frustrating experience. But whatever I have at hand I scribble stuff down, so when I’m writing stuff or reading stuff often I get all kinds of ideas and I jot stuff down. It’s often like a centrifugal process, things start to cohere, this happens, that happens, and you start to see a pattern pulling together.
You’ve said your poetry reflects your age, do you think as society moves on with you that it affects what you write? Or are you always looking back?
The technology of writing I don’t think has not substantially changed, nor has the technology of reading. Even though the devices are different, the human technology hasn’t changed. I can see at some future point that we reconsider what a book is, but it’s still content in some way, and so what that’s going to look like it’s still going to be words but it may be other stuff. But here’s the question I think: is a writer a gamer? Does a writer actually want to create games or that kind of environment? It’s perfectly feasible to see narrative worlds being created in that kind of way because games are that already. I think writer are writers, not game creators. There may be overlaps or some kind of bleeding between those genres, but I really don’t see how people think about the enhanced eBook now as being really viable; so you’ve got a book of text that has some hyperlinks or some music or video stuck in it, great. But there are some interesting experiments online in terms of narrative and poetry.
Do you see the future of poetry changing at all?
It’s always going to be changing, but the core of poetry? No. If you take one of the main strands of poetry- like lyric- that sense of personal, self-expression, the Internet is only enhancing that kind of stuff. One of the things I find really interesting in the last 8 years or so, in Canadian poetry anyway, younger poets are turning away from the classical Can-lit lyric and are starting to be quite experimental and take into account some of the early modernist stuff- surrealist, Dadaist- and I love that kind of stuff, so that’s a lot of fun to see. So that kind of thing, the style, the fashion, the approach- that’s always going to change. And I think that’s technology independent, that’s driven by the tradition.