David Eso is a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria, studying the archives of Alden Nowlan from a GeoHumanities and Text World Theory perspective. His writing appears in CV2, filling Station, ARC, Public, and Mosaic. With Jeanette Lynes, Eso co-edited an anthology of poets’ love letters, Where the Nights are Twice as Long (Goose Lane Editions, 2015), and he now serves as a poetry editor for The Malahat Review.
Questions and Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
I was hot on poetry’s trail (or tail) long before I began writing it. Sometime during my notably un-illustrious high-school career, I came across my father’s copy of Gary Geddes’ anthology 20th Century Poetry and Poetics, untouched since his university days (my father’s, not Geddes’). The anthology introduced me to the writing of e. e. cummings, Wallace Stevens, Al Purdy, P. K. Page, Phyllis Webb, Leonard Cohen, Gwendolyn MacEwen and others. The book made a large impact on my reading life, then and now, not only for the high-caliber poetry gathered there but also for the useful statements on poetics contributed by each of the featured poets. I was surprised out of all inherited innocence and patriotically pleased to find that the Canadian poets stood up very well ’against’ the American and British poets in the anthology. Struck by a quality of voice in the work of the Canadian poets that captured the character of my countrymen and women, I found our big, silent landscape brought to life before my mind’s eye, in lyrical, poignant, sophisticated verse.
Throughout elementary and secondary school, I showed a talent for writing, though not an obsessive passion. While I enjoyed most my writing assignments, I did not write for my own pleasure or ambition outside of classroom work. That particular folly did not overtake me until the fall of 2003, when I had already spent 3 years studying literature (and maintaining a special interest for Canadian poetry), at the University of British Columbia. There, I attended a lecture by Stephen Guy-Bray entitled “Poetry is Hard.” Professor Guy-Bray lectured, that Halloween of 2003, on the poetry of Paul Celan. He also described a shift in his strategy for teaching poetry to non-literary students. During the first years of his career, the professor selected highly accessible poems and worked hard to make relevant, for example, Wordsworth, for that year’s crop of science students and scholarship jocks. By the time he addressed his “Poetry is Hard” audience, the professor had begun teaching the most challenging and obscurant poets to such students. Namely, Paul Celan.
After the lecture, I withdrew Celan’s collected poems from the UBC library and read the tome, in one sitting. After many uncounted hours, the back cover fell like a collapsing roof and one of the voices in my head chimed, “I can do that.” It was decided in that moment that poetry must be easier to write than to read and my own poems began to tumble out.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
I find inspiration all too easy to come by. In details of my urban landscape, the culture swirling around me and shifting weather patterns, bits of conversation overheard and misheard, reflection on the habits of the human animal, inner-workings of my own relationships, travels, memories, the meaning the peeks from behind all of these and also the work of other poets – the seeds of new poems prove inescapable. The challenge lies in capturing inspiration when it strikes. I must have a notebook on hand and a pen in my holster. Poetic thoughts are of an ephemeral variety and I find that if I do not capture a sense, a line, a word of my vision immediately, it fleets, flakes and fades no matter how impressed I feel by the occurrence in that instant. I try to capture such moments loosely and save my strained editorial eye for the revision process. It is important to be free and open when capturing or creating raw material that may, or may not, become, in time, a poem.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. books, films, art, websites, text, etc.)?
I would recommend repeat viewings of the many National Film Board documentaries on Canadian writers (bissett, Page, Lowry, Nowlan, Suknaski, Atwood, Purdy, Layton and others) found at nfb.ca. Those films provide a lively introduction to the conversation you wish to join. Scan the shelves at your local or university library (even if you’re not a student). I’ve also successfully reached out to poets I most admire and those boldnesses sparked, to my surprise and pleasure, correspondences and friendships with important poets. This is a small country and a small literary scene – those figures are closer than you imagine. And those connections have been more vital and satisfying than any publication or accolade.