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10 Questions with Rob Winger

From Open Book Ontario's Ten Questions with Rob Winger:

OB: You wrote this book while writing a dissertation on the roots of the Canadian free-verse ghazal — so you were basically eating, sleeping and breathing the form. Why did you decide to turn your creative as well as academic attentions to the ghazal?

RW: That’s right; it was all ghazals all the time for a few years there! I found the best way to understand what a poet like Thompson was doing was to try to write these things myself. Talk about a humbling experience! I quickly realized two things: I needed to read more widely to understand where these kinds of poem had come from; and I needed to reject imitation, since nobody can step in and just emulate what Thompson or Rich or Webb or Ghalib does with the form. What Webb once said about Thompson being a powerful influence when she did her own ghazal sequences has stuck with me: she called this dynamic "the influence of anxiety," inverting Harold Bloom's old, crusty concept that she identifies as "devastatingly masculine." That's part of what I was doing by combining the so-called "academic" and "creative" writing: using the influence of historical literary precedents to try to break through into my own ways of working.

OB: Your first collection of poetry, Muybridge's Horse (Nightwood Editions, 2007), is quite different than The Chimney Stone in both form and content. How did your writing process differ for each of these books?

RW: Muybridge was limited by what weird old Eadweard did in his life, and involved a lot of realism, research, logical analysis of the concept of history — that kind of thing. So it was plotted and intentional, very carefully planned in its overall shape, predicted, written to. The ghazals, thank god, were free, and I followed them where they led. This, of course, changed in rewrites and editing, but the spirit of the poems demanded this sort of liberty, for me at least. Unlike Thompson's ghazals, mine are focused by specific titles, launched out onto the page by bracketing a specific angle of experience, and then seeing where that kind of focus leads. If any poems in either book work, I think, it's probably because they try to bridge the gap between these kinds of working: planning but being open to surprise; staying open-ended but aware of the value of limits.

OB: What is one poem that you wish you had been the one to write?

RW: That's a tall order! Just one? "Song of Myself"? "Diving into the Wreck"? The Basho haiku that inspires all those frog matches? Ginsberg’s "America"? "The Red Wheel Barrow"? "The Circus Animals’ Desertion"? Naked Poems? (and these are just the first to come to mind; there are hundreds!)

Read the other seven questions on the Open Book website