Daphne Marlatt, over these years, has shown a lot of us that serious writing does not have to belong to a specific genre or form or gender or nationality. Anyone who has a larynx or the memory of one is ready to say, and with some hard work can become a writer. Then there is the question of becoming a good one. You need an ear for that. A Marlatt ear. - Poet George Bowering
No celebration of Planetary Poetry Month 2010 could call itself complete without the inclusion of an inter / view with one of Canada's pre-eminent stylists; thus, we at IOW proudly present the following exclusive with Daphne Marlatt, explorer, visionary and, most keenly, an extraordinarily articulate and genuinely open human being whose thoughts on literature, identity and genre exquisitely express a comprehensive worldview in her own words.
"You remember - what is it you remember? the feel of home, that moment of coming into your body . . ." - From The Given (2008)
Born in Melbourne, Australia (1942), Daphne Marlatt - poet, novelist, playwright, editor and feminist theorist - spent a large part of the first decade of her life in Penang, Malaysia before relocating to Vancouver where she would live, learn and ultimately earn her B.A. (1964) from the University of British Columbia. Subsequently, she hop-scotched across North America with her first husband, clinical psychologist G. Alan Marlatt, prior to spending time in Bloomington, IN (where she completed her M.A. in Comparative Literature in 1968). Following her relationship with poet and photographer Roy Kiyooka, she and her son, Kit (b. 1969), settled on Canada's left coast where she continues to live and thrive with her Significant Other, Bridget. An Officer of the Order of Canada, the award-winning OneOf was also honoured with an LL.D. from the University of Western Ontario in 1996.
Can a poem break your heart?
Yes. The same way a piece of music can - that sudden access of emotion. But so much can break our hearts.
If pressed, could you describe or summarize your poetic aesthetic? You tend to break apart language to reassemble it in viscerally searing or illuminating ways. How does that affect your theoretical assessment of what it is you do (and, by extension, cannot but do, make or shape)?
The focus of my aesthetic . . . It's much more to do with the energies that connect disparate phenomena, it's about movement & shift, not essence. This constantly shifting mesh of phenomena that we inhabit on so many different levels at once - tiny nodes of moving connection. How language reflects this. And the despair of trying to register the multi-levelled in a language that builds in linear fashion syntactically. Yet syntax carries the development of thought so we can't do without it.
You're called a lesbian poet. Does such a "label" offend or delight you? Are you not a poet, period, in other words? Also, what does it mean to you if you call yourself a "language poet?" How does this distinguish what you write from, say, another kind of poetry; what do you perceive those other kinds of poetry to be?
Why should I feel offended by a term it's taken women centuries to claim without shame? I don't call myself a language poet, not in the specific sense generated by the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E group. That doesn't mean I'm not interested in how language works.
If told you were forbidden to write as, say, women in Afghanistan are told, how would you deal with that?
I would be very distressed if told I could not read, could not learn. This, it seems to me, is anterior to & fundamental for writing. Without the explorations of thought, which are fuelled by reading/learning, wouldn't writing, if one could write at all, be limited to minimal self-registering - "I was here?"
Here you are: You work in several genres and media; can you say why each attracts you and what differences or challenges you've encountered in each enterprise unique to it or how well one translates to another?
Genres first as that's how it started - a reaction, when I started writing in the '60s, against the strictness of genre categories. As soon as I discovered the prose poem, both contemporary, as in Robert Duncan's Structures of Rime, and further back, William Carlos Williams, Rimbaud and Baudelaire - and then what I would call poetic prose (& I don't just mean lyrical) - HD's novels, & Virginia Woolf's, Sheila Watson, Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley's fiction - that's what I remember reading; and then, what my immediate contemporaries were writing, George Bowering's A Short Sad Book, say, or bp [Nichol's] Journal, I was hooked on the expansive possibilities such writing afforded. A prose that wasn't led by narrative, though it might contain a narrative, but that responded to the associative movements of thought immediate to/with/in language. Immediacy was what it was about, the immediate phenomenality of being alive, responding to the astonishingly vast network of phenomena one was part of, & which, if looked at closely, were part of one's "self."