canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Finding Prince George: An Interview with Rob Budde

conducted by rob mclennan

This interview was conducted over email from December 2003 to August 2006

Rob Budde teaches Creative Writing and Critical Theory at the University of Northern BC and has taught previously at the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba. He has published five books (two poetry—Catch as Catch and traffick, two novels—Misshapen and The Dying Poem, and, most recently, short fiction--Flicker). In 2002, Rob facilitated a collection of interviews (In Muddy Water: Conversations with 11 Poets). He has been a finalist for the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer and the McNally-Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year. In 1995, Budde completed a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Calgary. In 2007, he will have two poetry books out—Finding Ft. George and declining america. Check out his online literary journal called stonestone ( and his local writing/cultural site ( Rob lives in Prince George with his partner, Debbie Keahey, and four children.

(TDR: September 2007)


the vasectomy

the split between subject
and object,XXXXXXXXXXXXa releasing
of chance and the unplanned
fall of prepositions,XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXa gap
of love, indeterminate, concrete purple,

a way of knowing
history, its absences, the way
we forget,XXXXXXjust like that
the next word,XXXXXXXXXXXXwhere
it goes

the message doesn’t change, it skids
and frolics,XXXXXXXXXXXXambient in its delinquent delay
of please stay or don’t go or am iXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXgood enough
the message doesn’t change, it fiddles
with the lockXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXtries on nylons

it just doesn’t meanXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXas much anymore


rob budde
august 2003

rob mclennan: Let’s start off with something deceptively simple. How long have you been writing, and what started you?

Rob Budde: I refuse to answer this question because it will date me.

Okay, but no dates. Started writing in Dennis Cooley’s Canadian poetry class at the University of Manitoba because:

1) I read Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue and loved that “playing dirty” and “gunny sacks” were in a poem; or
2) I was in love. I fell in love every two weeks at this point in my life. Poetry was inevitable. And it was poetry aimed at wooing–the worst kind;
3) Cooley got me drunk and tricked me into it.

Shortly after this I hooked up with some other undergrad poets (Todd Bruce was one of them) in Kroetsch’s creative writing class and then there was no hope. We started a little magazine called can(N)on and did odd things with hot knives.

After that I entered the MA program at the University of Manitoba and wrote Catch as Catch as my thesis.

rm: That pretty much confirms what I read in your work, the prairie base, so to speak, of Cooley and Kroetsch. Would they have been inevitable influences, do you think, even without being teachers of yours? Both of their work seem pervasive throughout the prairies.

RB: Inevitable because they tricked me. Got me drunk and whispered, “Hey buddy, ya wanna read a poem outside.” Dealers they are. Their work was a departure from what was studied in Canadian Poetry typically. They opened up a space where there was none. Their lack of pretension was astounding.

But when I got to Calgary and my influence switched to Fred Wah, Aritha van Herk, American language poets, tequila, and bad punk bands. Cooley and Kroestch heavily influenced Catch as Catch but less so traffick. Less even more what I am writing now. This is not to diminish their role–I am forever grateful for their curse on me–but I also think other things have swung my writing thisaway and thataway.

Influence is a tricky thing because it weaves in and out, arrives in the middle of the night when you don’t even know it, and leaves you at the drop of a chat.

rm: Since you brought it up, let’s talk about traffick. It was one of only a few books that I’ve seen over the last few years (along with Mark Cochrane’s Change Room, and maybe a few others) that, when I saw it, filled me with this wonderful sense of awe and envy. There are some terrific things happening in that book, and to me, seems the best that you’ve accomplished so far. How did that collection come about?

RB: Hmmm, I don’t know Cochrane’s book–I’ll have to find it. Thanks rob–your awe (sans shock) and envy means a lot knowing your work and how much you read around. traffick is a collection of long poems–my first book of poems in that Catch as Catch is one poem, not technically a book of poems. Long poems were all I seemed to write at that time–I may have written 20 single-page poems in 10 years. Everything I start seems to bloom outwards into something serial, or nomadic, or cumulative. It’s a curse. “The pizza guy” is the piece most similar to Catch as Catch in its anecdotal, collage-like quality. Very Kroetschian with a dash of Ondaatje (Coming Through Slaughter). It is somewhere between a long poem and a short story. “Muscle Tone” came out of reading bp Nichol’s Selected Organs. Like Nichol, I try to write autobiographies of various parts of my body, specifically muscles. I was after a much more condensed lyric in that series although some of the pieces ran away with me (the blood and tongue ones especially). 

Since traffick was published I’ve actually gone on and continued the “traffick” piece in another poem called “Assuming Depth”–I may republish “traffick” in the declining america book with the added pages. In retrospect, I regret the Notes section; I thought it would help new readers but it comes across a little prescriptive. Markotic thought so too. I think I wrote the notes because I liked the way Fred Wah did a notes section in Alley Alley Home Free. I guess he just did it better than me. Don’t know what else to say–I don’t remember much more about the genesis of the book. I requested the cover design details–wanted something clean and text-based. Turnstone and especially Manuela Diaz (I miss her) were always willing to take a chance on a weird book and did a great job with a difficult text (they’d had a lot of experience with Cooley books). declining america will be similar in that it will be 5 or 6 long poems.

rm: That’s interesting, because recently, other writers such as Fred Wah, Jeff Derksen and Stephen Cain have done work that references America; Wah’s chapbook ALL AMERICANS from housepress, for example. Does this come as a reaction to Americanization/globalization? Your title suggests as much. What is your declining america working from?

RB: Yes, how can we (poets) not be thinking of such things? declining america is not polemic and does not so much address America the nation (if such a thing exists), but is rather an exploration of “america” as a linguistic strategy. The book represents American language as a habit, a way of life we all (in Canada and throughout much of the world) engage in; it parodies and offers some alternative language strategies. A long poem called “my american movie” address issues most directly but is in the form of performance rants/monologues. This piece was written in response to Beaudrillard’s book America in which he travels, philosophically, through the American southwest. Another long poem, “software tracks” is subtitled “a cubist ct scan of the american body” and is a series of Stein-like (Tender Buttons) sections each titled with a bodily affliction (“lung cancer,” “apathy,” “depression,” “obesity,” etc). It is a book written out of fear but also through issues of language politics not overt politics. Chomsky, Roy, Moore, and Nader have done enough in that area; there’s only so much Adbusters we can take.

rm: You seem, in your poetry, to work almost exclusively in the long poem; with the book as compositional unit. This seems to very much be a “prairie thing” over the past twenty years or so, with dozens of poets working within the same – Melanie Cameron, Sarah Gordon, Nicole Markotic, Jon Paul Fiorentino, even Patrick Friesen, in his own way. What do you think this comes from? 

RB: Yes, it is a prairie thing, and spreading. I think it comes from an tradition that culminated in the Long Poem Anthologies which had many prairie poets in them. Hard to over-estimate the influence of something like Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue or Cooley’s Bloody Jack or Ontaatje’s Collected Works of Billy the Kid (not so prairie). For me, anyway. I just find the long poem freeing. It allows for easy evasion of the page-long-lyric-poem-consumer-package. It’s more like a good ol’ prairie smorg. But low fat. Finding Ft. George is a collection of short poems. Really. Honest. Short. Well, one longer one.

rm: How do you think the notion of the long poem in prairie poetry compares with, say, the “book as unit of composition” idea that bpNichol worked? And even with your collection of short poems, won’t it simply be a version of the same? A single unit broken down into different units, being the single pieces?

RB: Yeah, good point. The book is always there as a unit. I think though, the generative process and compositional style of the long poem distinguishes itself: pastiche, 'found' material, polyvalence, multivocal, metapoetic, fragmentation. I don't want to make too much of it--all we're talking about here is a micro-tradition within Canadian literature, a small movement of influence and critical awareness. But it certainly opened the door for my creative momentum. bp was more interested in the materiality of the book and writing the poem against itself. With bp and McCaffery (and Bök, Wershler-Henry, maybe Wah Music at the Heart of Thinking, Blaser, even Bowering) you have that book as unit tradition (another sub-tradition).

Do writers necessarily write toward the idea of the book? I do, I suppose. At a certain stage, when I start to see the shape of the thing. Not at first though. At first I’m just prodding and testing and venturing ('filament, filament') to see what I've got coming. Maybe at 50 pages do I suddenly see the book as a whole. Hardly a compositional unit in that case eh. Maybe this is because I am still a beginning writer. The book is out of my hands. Only recently with traffick and The Dying Poem did I dare try to dictate the manner of bookness.

rm: You’re hardly a beginning writer, but a writer still learning how to write, perhaps. Any good writer never stops. Has your compositional style changed dramatically from your first book to your current work? Are you now working within that long poem style you suggest, of “pastiche, 'found' material, polyvalence, multivocal, metapoetic, fragmentation”?

RB: I find, with declining america and Finding Ft. George, that I am influenced by other poetics now: declining america is in a tradition occupied by Jeff Derksen or Steve McCaffery while Finding Ft. George is very much a Barry McKinnon and Ken Belford influenced poetics. I like trying on things. If I ever write the same book twice, shoot me. Maybe we all are composites. What do you think?

rm: Easily, I’d say any poet’s work is a composite of their own reading, among a host of other influences. I think of a piece by the late artist Greg Curnoe, “Drawer full of stuff” that is literally made up of random items, placed by his hand in a seemingly-random order to produce “art.” Is this how you see your work, as a collection of pieces found and hammered together? Or do you see yourself as more a translator, re-packaging ideas and ideals into another form that is fully your own? Or all of the above? Or none? How do you see what it is you’re doing?

RB: One of the joys of reading is the puzzle of influence and tracing someone’s work back through other sources. I have noticed that I try more and more to place cues in my text to lead readers to certain other texts that will amplify what I am doing. Epigraphs are the most obvious but there are all sorts of ways to nudge readers onto other texts. Like a treasure hunt. And it always leads back to Plato’s cave...

rm: Does this mean, then, that your whole work so far is one extended piece?

RB: Naw. Not everything. There are some small links between the novels. And the poetry runs together in some ways—but not like RK’s Collected Field Notes. When I talk intertextuality, it most often is traces of other author’s influences. More like inlayed homages.

Also, I am a bit frustrated with the limitations of the book unit. For example, that poem I had published in traffick that I’ve continued. I think it’s done now – but maybe not. I like how Marlatt returned to Steveston and Ana Historic in Salvage.

A book is never, and in no terms, finished.

rm: But how absolute is that? Some writers get lucky, like Dennis Cooley, who got to rework Bloody Jack, and have a new edition appear nearly twenty years after the first one, but very few get the chance to return to a work. Is a work simply not ever finished, evolving as the considerations of the author evolves, or is it a matter of some pieces feeling more finished than others? Will we be seeing new editions of traffick down the road completely reworked? And does the same hold true for your other works?

RB: I think “not finished” in the sense that other books change it. Other books of mine that connect and recontextualize. Other books that are responses. For example, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has become a different book in the context of Chinua Achbe’s work, fictional and critical. Or Timothy Findley’s Headhunter. The book is the book, but the reading of it constantly evolves.

Really, too, a book is just a part of a life work (bp Nichol). A book frame is like a chapter break. You have to keep reading.

rm: How are you connecting to a Prince George poetry aesthetic?

RB: Slowly but surely. It always takes a while to learn the poetic history of a place and then find your place in it. I have spent the last few years trying to promote what’s here because it is rich and relatively unheralded. By hanging out with Barry McKinnon and Ken Belford I began to soak up the place. I learned Prince George politics and history through them. And John Harris and Brian Fawcett. Now I see a whole whack of newer poets coming up – they’re going to knock the Can Lit scene on its ass. I think you know this – through your connection to PG and Barry you can tell his influence has rippled through the town. He doesn’t think so but it has. I build on what he has done and people are starting to talk about PG more, in Calgary, in Ottawa (your blog), in Winnipeg, and they sense a literary renaissance may be taking place there.

rm: What do you think you’ve learned from the Prince George scene, specifically McKinnon and Belford, and how different is it from your previous poetic?

RB: There is so much going on in their work it’s hard to pinpoint. I can just start listing. McKinnon has re-affirmed my belief in the power of chapbooks, his poetic integrity (in the sense of stick-to-it-ness and bravery in the face of persecution), his sense of the page-space and sound, his generative models, his principles of assemblage, his poetic apprehension of place as identity, his dark sarcasm, his art of whining... Belford’s line I’ve imitated a lot, his ecological awareness (he once wrote me a 5 page love song to steelhead trout), his knowledge of the healthy writing body, his politics, his openness to everything from langpo to hip-hop, his gentleness... The influences that are more predominant here than in Winnipeg are Creeley (he’s everywhere – came up a few times for pivotal, influential readings), Spicer (via Stanley), Bowering (for some reason I can’t remember Bowering ever reading in Winnipeg), Fawcett (although that’s love/hate). It’s very male – something I worry about.

rm: But certainly that’s a consideration of the place itself, isn’t it? You can’t simply alter the writers or the writing of a geography simply because you worry about the slanting of your own aesthetic, can you? And there are certainly female writers around I know that have influenced you, whether Nicole Markotic or Meira Cook. Is it the maleness in the writing of Prince George you worry about, or the maleness of your own work?

RB: Certainly there are many, many women writers who have affected my writing: Markotic, Cook, van Herk, Marlatt, Keahey, Brossard, many more. And there are talented female writers in Prince George, just not many who have achieved recognition. My "worry" is that, yes, both the place and my writing are overly "male" but also that the environment disadvantages newer or younger female writers. As a creative writing teacher that is distressing. But I think you can alter the aesthetic geography of a place through facilitating events, teaching, publishing, and in your own writing. You certainly have altered the literary topography of Ottawa. I have to believe things can change or I wouldn't stay in Prince George…

Prince George, because it's a resource-based town, does have a tendency toward a masculine outlook. The redneck image is a stereotype but it is lodged in real foundations. There are things that counter it though--Ken and I joke about being "girlie boys" and we try to subvert the context. The fallers (and UNBC administration) don't know what to make of us … At UNBC there is a strong feminist presence--in Social Work (Si Transken especially, a powerful activist poet), First Nations Studies, and Gender Studies.

rm: Twenty-odd years ago, in her poem "Long Distance: An Octave," poet Sharon Thesen, who was (I believe) raised in Prince George, wrote:

In Prince George
no one reads
The Pleasure of the Text
Do you think considerations in Prince George have changed at all, between her time there and yours? Alternately, is there a feeling at all that you are building up (as a creative writing teacher) a community of students that will be forced to leave, to continue what it is you started, with their own reading and/or writing interests?

RB: Sharon Thesen only spent a couple of years in Prince George. I asked her recently if she thought of herself as a "Prince George poet" or identified at all with Prince George and she said, unequivocally, no. While I respect her immensely as a poet, I don't think she is representative of Prince George or is in a position to comment on Prince George culture. I do know that Barry McKinnon and Don Precosky (at least) were reading Barthes even when this poem was written.

But, back to Thesen's point. She has something there. It is partially true that "no one reads The Pleasure of the Text" in the sense that it is a working class community. It is a smaller urban centre. And there are other types of wisdom besides the academic or artistic ones. In Prince Goerge I have met many brilliant people who, no, have not read The Pleasure of the Text. But they have built beautiful things, grown perfect food, and do things to make the world better.

Things have changed too, especially with UNBC arriving in 1994. People do read philosophy and there is a rich arts community in Prince George. The image still works against us. But, even so, Prince George is the poetry capital of Canada!

I am not finding that students are forced to leave any more than in other cities. I left. Many of the students and grad students I know from larger centres are forced to do degrees at other institutions. We are a pretty mobile society and especially writers and academics rarely seem to sit still. If students do leave, many tend to come back. With a Creative MA just put in place here at UNBC, a university-based writer can hang their hat in PG more easily now.

rm: Since moving up there, your activity as a publisher, blogger and community activist appears far more public and active than it was in Winnipeg; what is it about the place that has altered your position? You haven’t been there that long, yet when I think of northern British Columbia, I now think of "Rob Budde."

RB: Well, you should be thinking of a few others before me but yes, I have taken on a kind of ambassador role. Part of it is in response to those who thought I was lost to the world by coming up here. The looks of pity. Part of it is seeing first hand the kind of cultural politics that hamper places like Prince George. Part of it is not teaching sessionally any more like I did in Winnipeg; a tenured position has more time to write etc. built in. Part is just my development as a writer and cultural worker. I've always done this kind of thing though: ca(N)non in Winnipeg, I organized a festival there, Staccato chapbooks, . . . . Could be we just never connected in Winnipeg so you didn't know what I was up to.

Hey, while I'm on the subject of lit projects, an anthology of 18 "new Prince George poets" called The Forestry Diversification Project just came out. It is a UNBC Press book I edited. Contact me for a copy. Very exciting.

rm: How did your most recent collection, Finding Ft. George (Nightwood) come about, and how does it fit into your northern aesthetic?

RB: Finding Ft. George will actually be the first book of mine that will reflect a "Prince George aesthetic." It is made up of poems I've written since coming to Prince George and you will see the influences of Ken Belford, George Stanley, and Barry McKinnon in it. It is my discovery of Prince George (and regions around) and also reflects my new-found Green politics. I am co-chair of the provincial Green Party constituency association here. Really think that poetry could delve more into the reason we are trashing the planet. It is nice Harbour/Nightwood is doing the book because it will create an interesting conversation with Belford's Ecologue, which came out last year.

rm: Why do you think it important to establish such a dialogue with Belford's collection?

RB: I am just really into what he is doing now. He is my current mentor and so a lot of the poems come out of conversations and poems we share. I respect him immensely for his politics/poetics and hope to learn a lot more from him as we go on.






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