Jamie Dopp is the author of two collections of poetry, a novel, and many articles and reviews on Canadian subjects. Most recently he has co-edited a collection of essays on hockey with Richard Harrison entitled Now is the Winter, which is forthcoming from Wolsak and Wynn in October 2009. He was born and raised in Waterloo, Ontario and currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia, where he teaches Canadian Literature at the University of Victoria.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
Not really. I just remember quite early on as a child loving the look and sound of poems. I can still recite poems I wrote when I was ten or eleven. “I the lion, King of Beasts… ” Writing poems also seemed to be a way of being “special” somehow, like it meant you were more sensitive, thoughtful, etc. Which was useful when I got to be a teenager. Then I used poems a bit like Al Purdy says he did: a skinny boy’s best hope to impress the girls.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
I write in a lot of different genres. When I turn to poetry, it usually has to do ith something that has a particular emotional charge. An important event in my life, a bit of reading that has moved me in a particular way. Later I can be quite excited about the more technical side of writing, but poems for me usually start in that feeling.
What is your writing process?
I read every day to start for forty minutes or so. This helps to get the words sounding in my head in the right way (the choice or reading is important). Then I try to write. I will write from about 8:30 in the morning until about noon. Maybe an hour or two later if I’m really cooking. This is under idea circumstances, of course. I try as hard as I can to preserve those early hours. If I lose them (say, by having other work to do in the morning) it’s hard for me to write that day.
What is your revision/editing process?
Computers have changed this a lot. Now I write and revise in a continuous process. When I get stuck, I often free write… the computer is great for this, just dash stuff down. Sometimes I handwrite first drafts in one of my notebooks. It’s kind of a nostalgic thing for me, also a way sometimes of forcing myself to slow down and pay better attention to the words as they form.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
See above! Besides love poems (actually they were more like: why don’t you love me?! poems) I wrote political/ecological song lyrics and I was really into Tolkien, so I wrote fantasy stories with heroic poems in the middle of them.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
The main absolutely essential other resource is to read other poets. Especially Canadian poets… poets from your own time and culture, or sub-culture, who write in voices that resonate with your own. I wish I had done more of this when I was younger. In my late teens and early twenties, I read either classics (Shakespeare, the Romantics etc) or famous Dead White Male Modernists like T.S. Eliot or Wallace Stevens. There is, of course, tons to be learned from the classics, but it’s important when you are young, I think, to encounter the living poetry around you first. Poetry is something that happens here and now, everyday, all around you—which is so important to know if you aspire to be a poet, because it tells you that you too can be a poet (ie. you don’t have to be Shakespeare! love the guy though we do).
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
I met Earle Birney when I was about 22. I was deeply in awe of him. All those books. So much amazing writing. I met him after a reading. I’d bought about ten of his books and afterwards had him sign them all. While he was signing all those books, I tried to talk to him. After the “oh gosh Mr. Birney you’re so wonderful,” I asked him what his secret was. He laughed (a bit like Santa Claus with that big white beard). He said, “You know, back when I graduated from U.B.C. there were at least five people in my class who were way better poets than me. The secret to my success is simply that I outlived them all and I kept writing.” I think that is really good advice. Especially the part about living a long life! So much of being successful really just has to do with doing what you want to do. So many people “want” to write but somehow never do. If you want to do it, do it. Do your best, be curious, learn all you can… and who knows. Keep it all in persepective, too. Like Birney also hinted, the point of life really is to live as fully as we can… and writing can be a part of that, it certainly is for me, but it is no substitute for life itself.