canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Philip Quinn

Toronto author Philip Quinn discusses his most recent book The Subway (Book Thug, 2008), a book in which "The Toronto subway system functions like a mirror, you see what you want to see; sometimes acts of inexpressible kindness and beauty, and often just that cold paralyzing indifference that exists between strangers." Plus Quinn discusses what he's up to next, and the difference between writing poetry and prose in this TDR micro-profile...

In 2000, Quinn published a collection of short fiction entitled Dis Location, Stories After the Flood with Gutter Press. The Double, a novel, was published by Gutter in June 2003.

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May 2009


TDR: How is your 'voice' different when focusing on poetry?

PQ: With longer narrative, a short story or even a novel, there's usually an ongoing event that holds the words together even if they're, god forbid, edging towards the typical.

In poetry, I think one struggles to say something new and to find new ways to do that even dropping completely the idea of trying to say anything (no ideas but in things) and just letting the words, letters, and sometimes images collide. I must admit during my ride aboard The SubWay I shared the train at different times with Messrs. nichol, mccaffery, flarf, bok, and as per Victor Coleman's comment, Raymond Souster. I tried to raise my voice above all the noise and conversation though at times it felt strained or muted.

TDR: When did you start working on the subway?

PQ: The idea came to me years ago during a breakup with a woman that I had been living with. The male train, the female tunnel etc. That supplied the 'sexual' component to the subway. The other elements much like the development of subway itself were added as I tunneled through the various poetic strata in my attempt to reach something fresh.

TDR: Is transit a metaphor for our own limitations, frustrations and loneliness?

PQ: Actually it's a metaphor for this 'wipe-out' of personality so in a way it's an escape from one's limitations, frustrations and loneliness. As Keats once talked about how even in a roomful of children, his own sense of himself would disappear, I experience that feeling while riding the subway. Included in that wipe-out is also the idea that the rider ends up so far into his 'triune brain' that words become unnecessary, and that one just slithers along much like a snake and thoughts are communicated almost telepathetically between riders. There's an underground mind if you will and the best pieces express that.

TDR: What was your experience like working with Book Thug?

PQ: Jay MillAr, the ultimate book thug, helped me to punch and wrestle the disparate poems and poetic styles into a book. He also suggested that I increase the historical content which I did. I might have also over-complicated the cover so we both struggled with that for a while until I luckily came across that great time tunnel photo courtesy of the Toronto Archives. Jay's one of the good guys of Can/Lit, possibly channeling bpNichol in the way he's open to working with such a wide variety of writers, very non-cliquish and somewhat selfless. He's also very funny.

TDR: What are you working on these days?

PQ: I'm putting the finishing touches to a novel called The Skeleton Dance which will be published this fall by Vancouver's Anvil Press. It's about two best friends who rip and tear at each other until they produce a massive blood splatter. I'm also working on a Bollywood type novel set in Toronto which in terms of weird exuberance is a logical successor to my earlier novel, The Double.




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