Tell me the story of your poetic life. How did you know or when did you discover you had been called upon to bear this beautiful burden?
Okay, let me ease into this, though I have a premonition that I won't get as far with it as I should.
You have to start with this: I was born with a brain and brought up in a village. The place is still a village (where you can't buy my books or a copy of Maclean's). So, what was available? Obviously, I wanted to be an arty type of some sort. I joined the high-school choir. I joined the high-school band. I acted in all the high-school plays. I wrote for the village newspaper, The Oliver Chronicle. I had my first one-boy show as an artist/cartoonist when I created giant caricatures of each of the firefighters to put on the wall of the hall where they had their big dance. So, writing was one of the things. I wrote songs with my buddy, Willy, and we sometimes performed them, and sometimes a quartet I called the Troubadors sang them. I did stand-up. But writing was the main thing, and as a high-school boy I wrote poems and stories, all of them, mercifully, gone into the aether.
I wrote poems more and more, starting with narrative poems, leading to lyrics, mainly love poems. And I threw them away. I can remember when I decided to keep them, or at least some of them, something that became a little obsessive, perhaps, later on. It was when I turned 21, and was soon to get out of the RCAF and into UBC. I had already published my first poem while in the Air Force (where I also wrote for the RCAF Macdonald newspaper, The Rocketeer), a 26-stanza poem called The ABCs of the NHL. It was published in a national magazine called Hockey Pictorial. I published a second one there, "The former ABCs of the NHL." I tried out a similar poem on Baseball Digest, but they didn't want it.
See? I don't know whether what we had then was a calling or whatever, but writing poems and stories was something I more and more did, something I expected to do. I was reading several books a week while I was in the RCAF. I guess I was beginning to normalize the idea of being an author of books. I don't think there could have been any question of turning away from poetry (as my friends, Stan Persky and Brian Fawcett, claim to have done). The only other writer I knew in the RCAF was Red Lane, and he said he turned to writing because that's what I was doing. But he had the portable typewriter. I think he won it in a poker game.
Well, once I was in UBC, where you were on something like a stage, I began acting the part of the poet. The poet or Raskolnikov or Meursault. Eventually, after I had read my way through the PS section of the library, I met other young people from hinterland BC, and was luckily introduced to serious poetry. The rest is history. Either history or low comedy.
And yes, all these decades later, I do say, as you hint, that poetry calls upon a person to enact it, eh?
Of the many works with your name on same, which do you still consider standouts?
I just had to do a very meticulous proofreading of Caprice for the new edition. I found myself shaking my head and murmuring, "Geez, this is good." That happens sometimes. So do other things, hmm . . . But, I am like that mum who really extra loves her idiot child specially. I mean, I will trot out my least-known or least-appreciated books and declare them my favourites, eh? I do this, for example, with the long poem-series, Delayed Mercy, or with the novel, Harry's Fragments.
But I usually agree with the critics and chatterers and think that Kerrisdale Elegies is the poem. When I read it I recognize me; but, I am grateful that I managed to find those things that I found. Sometimes, I reread a short story and say, Gee, I wish I had written that - Hey, wait! I did write that. "Watson's Rainbow" would be an example of that. But, here's the main thing: when you reread something and think, Okay, that's pretty good, you also say, There, I don't have to try that again; it's done. Time to try something else.