Adam Dickinson’s work has appeared in a number of literary journals and in anthologies such as Breathing Fire 2: Canada’s New Poets, Post Prairie, and The Shape of Content, an anthology of creative writing in mathematics and science. He is the author of Cartography and Walking, which was short listed for an Alberta Book Award, and Kingdom, Phylum, a finalist for the 2007 Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Adam is currently professor of poetics at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he teaches poetry, creative writing, and literary theory, and also serves as co-editor of Brock’s literary journal PRECIPICe.
Questions & Answers
Adam Dickinson on poetry
I don’t remember what prompted me to borrow Dylan Thomas’s collected poems from the high school library that spring day, but the significance of the decision made itself readily apparent to me in the late-afternoon after I missed the bus home. As I settled in to the lengthy walk, I read the poems and delighted in their irreverence, in their baffling electricity. I didn’t understand what any of the poems meant, but I didn’t care. How could someone do this with language? Why did I like it so much? I was deeply intrigued and hopelessly hooked on poetry from that point onward. I joined a creative writing group in high school run by a very generous teacher who devoted his time to leading early-morning workshops. I learned how to edit and how to take criticism. Sometimes in collaboration with friends, I started publishing small chapbooks made with rudimentary computer technology and illicit use of the high school photocopiers. I started reading as much poetry as I could. Reading was the single most valuable activity for my writing (and it continues to be); I learned what techniques other writers had used, I learned what kinds of subjects poets wrote about, and I learned what I liked and didn’t like. I didn’t meet any contemporary poets until I went away to university, but I recently had the chance to go back to my high school and speak to some classes—I know I would have been fascinated to meet a real live poet if I had had the chance. I probably would have wanted to know how they get their ideas. Of course, I now know that such questions are misplaced. Ideas are everywhere; it’s how you write about them that matters, not so much what you write about. I have in my own work become increasingly interested in matters of process and form over matters of content and rhetoric. I have been exploring compositional techniques that remove myself as the generator of content. What happens when you apply selection techniques to existing texts, or combine haphazard interventions from environmental factors to the framing of texts? Who can be said to be the author of such poems? What does the poem reveal about our relationship to the world around us? In many ways I still find myself delighted and confused, just as I was with Dylan Thomas on my long walk home.