canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


TDR Interview: Alex Boyd

Alex Boyd is the host of the IV lounge reading series in Toronto, Ontario. He took over from Paul Vermeersch, the series' founder on May 9, 2003.

Alex is a writer of poems, essays and fiction. His creative writing has appeared in WORD, Ink magazine, dig, Taddle Creek, and various other places, while essays and articles have appeared in The Globe and Mail, Books in Canada, The Danforth Review, and Quill and Quire. After living in St. Catharines to attend university, and Scotland to learn a little more about his roots, Alex considers Toronto his home once again. Danielle Couture interviewed Alex in May 2003.

To read some of Alexís work, visit his web site: www.alexboyd.com

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Have you done your taxes yet?

Um, no. But my taxes are very simple, actually. I try and lead a very simple life.

Who is Alex Boyd? Please tell us who you are and where you've come from.

I was raised here in Toronto, and began writing poetry fifteen years ago. There were a couple of moments that helped define me, as a writer and as a person: I wrote throughout university, and showed some poems to a cranky old professor I knew would be honest. Aside from pointing out that I needed to know verse and structure Ė even if it was just to discard them, sometimes Ė he was very critical of one poem Iíd written. He said it was pure rant, without a drop of empathy for anything else in the world. I had thought it was enough to be sassy and clever, as a writer.

If good writing can do anything, it can try and observe and capture something unique. It can fight against cliché, it can remind us that there is more to life than obsessing with our sex lives, watching TV and buying things. There are many good reasons to write (I often think I donít know them all, and maybe shouldnít have it all clearly dissected). Sharon Thesen said in an interview recently that worthwhile poetry is "radical" for being "rooted in a profound sanity." And I thought, "Yes, thatís good poetry too."

Understand, Iím just explaining where Iím coming from, and this is not to say Iím going to be exclusive in the way Iíll book the IV lounge. A good book reviewer puts personal taste aside, and so does a good series organizer. Itís just important to be worthwhile, and there are many ways to do that.

The other event that helped define my writing was in 1995 Ė I was a year out of university my mother died suddenly. While I didnít become fully conscious of it at the time, I spent that summer re-working old poems and writing new ones. It gave an urgency and emotional weight to my desire to clarify and communicate. And it taught me, in no uncertain terms, that I have a finite amount if time to get the writing done.

In your biography on www.alexboyd.com it says that you spent some time in Scotland. How did reconnecting with your roots affect your writing?

I found living in Scotland didnít change my priorities or perspective. Iíve always just written about whatever I think is important, whatever Iíve mentally and/or physically stumbled across. A lot of my poems are about time, change and mortality, so Scotland was interesting in that the history there has a stronger physical presence. My poetry is often designed to be universal, so you wouldnít know some of the poems were written in Scotland rather than Canada.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with the IV lounge can you shed some light onto the proceedings?

Itís fairly straightforward in that itís three worthwhile readers, either published or promising, every other Friday night at the IV Lounge. Paul Vermeersch has done an outstanding job for five years and Iím honoured and excited to take it over. Itís a part of the community, in that people do it for no payment, really, aside from the obvious self-promotion. Iíve always found the crowd at the IV Lounge to be attentive and appreciate, and maybe in some way that comes out of the feeling that the readers are there for the love of it.

Do you feel that reading series like the IV lounge are successful in showcasing fresh talent that would otherwise go unnoticed due to lack of venues for such events? Iíve often noticed a low turn-out at book launches and related events. What could we be doing to bring more attention to new talent?

There is every possibility for success in showcasing new talent, though a reading is only one piece of a larger picture, for an emerging writer. I would hope reading in a series to an appreciative audience offers useful support, as well as useful feedback. Having said that, I donít provide unsolicited feedback, because I just tend think to think someone should ask for criticism before itís offered. I think itís fair to assume writers want to try something out on an audience without anyone necessarily shoveling criticism in their direction afterwards. As for bringing attention to new talent, Iíd personally enjoy seeing more readers read something they admire written by someone else. The trend is for everyone to read his or her own work, but I think itís a decent gesture to read something by someone else, and helps to dispel the feeling that weíre all desperately swimming alone. Of course, a warm reception from an audience does that too. It also makes sense to mix evenings: to combine fiction and poetry on the same evening as a way to try and encourage exposure to more kinds of writing rather than segregate everything.

Are there any new and upcoming Canadian authors that you think the public should be aware of?

Iíll be exposed to more as I go along, and I plan to include some of the diversity we have in Toronto, while remembering to try and catch people from outside the city. Without the budget, currently, to pay for travel expenses, it can get a little tricky. I want to try and put established talent alongside some emerging voices, which goes back to your question about how to bring attention to new talent.

Lately, there seems to be a solid place in the international scene for Canadian writers. Having traveled abroad, how do you feel that Canadian authors are being received outside of Canada?

Bookstores in Scotland had mostly the tip of the iceberg Ė Atwood and Ondaatje. I remember noticing Richler in a German bookstore, and I donít remember bookstores in Italy. I just remember the damn crazy moped things everywhere. It was an interesting experience to still be drawn into bookstores like a magnet, and yet not be able to read a word because of the language barrier. Itís actually very valuable to be given a palpable understanding that not everyone reads in English. Touring overseas with my own book is still in the advance planning stages, you could say.

Finally, the age-old question...what can we expect to see next from you?

Well, Iím fussing over a first novel, and I have enough poetry for a first book of poems. Iíve also been writing reviews in the last few years, and some essays have been published in recent years as well. Some samples of the writing are on my website. I read in the Art Bar series in Toronto in July, and meanwhile I look forward to meeting people at the IV lounge.

Dani Couture is a Toronto-based poet.

 

 

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