canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Sandra Alland

By Norah Franklin

Part of TDRís Behemoth Gargantuan Canadian Poetry in Review

Sandra is a Scottish-Canadian writer, multimedia artist and activist. 

Sandra's poems, stories, articles, installations, plays, photographs and films have been published and presented across Canada, the US, Mexico, Bermuda, England, Scotland and Spain. 

She has published two books of poetry, Blissful Times (BookThug, 2007) and Proof of a Tongue (McGilligan, 2004). Recent publication highlights include This Magazine, dig., Drunken Boat, make/shift (California), Alucema Review (Spain) and radiant danse uv being: A Poetic Portrait of bill bissett (blewointment, 2006). Her story "Things I Don't Remember" will appear in Broken Pencil's Best Of Fiction anthology (ECW, fall 2009).

Sandra has been away in Scotland. Norah Franklin caught up with her in late autumn 2008.


Can you tell us about your move to Edinburgh? What has been positive about the move? What has been difficult?

The UK is an extremely racist, homophobic and classist place. Itís been difficult to adjust to the high levels of violence and hatred. Canada is also shite, but at least in a large city like Toronto things are slightly better. Edinburgh likes to consider itself a World Class City because it has the Festival and heaps of money, but in fact itís generally a closed-minded place. Iíve been called a dyke more in the past 18 months than in my whole life combined. And thatís nothing. People like to make Polish and Jew jokes quite openlyÖ and we wonít even talk about what gets said to Africans and Arabs. I guess in some ways itís a sad testament to the lack of education and opportunity in Scotland Ė people are hopeless and angry. Also (and although this sounds random I think itís linked), itís weird to see British Army recruitment storefronts in the downtown core, with exciting videos promising "travel and adventure" in Iraq.

Oh yeah, the positive. Haha. Well, Iíve learned I was quite spoiled as a North American. Here we have less space, less heat, less food, less everything. Itís a hard but good lesson. Also Iíve met many wonderful people from everywhere. And the folks who are politicized are really politicized, because the stakes are often higher. The British government is a pretty fascist entity, so communities have to come together or perish. Thereís a real sense of togetherness here. Also the air is fairly clean in Edinburgh, the architecture is gorgeous if creepy, I can go to Paris or Madrid for $60, London is closer than Montreal is to Toronto, Glasgow is only an hour away, the trains are affordable, and the music scene is stupendous.

Are you experiencing any notable differences between the literary scenes in Edinburgh and Toronto?

What literary scene? Okay, itís not that bad, but class again comes into things. In Toronto, we have the class divide between Harbourfront writers and say, Pivot writers. But in Edinburgh most things are Harbourfront. Impenetrable. There are definitely some fantastic indie folks creating work and publishing it in Scotland, but Holy Smokes is Toronto a mecca comparatively. In Edinburgh, we have only one indie bookshop Ė Glasgow has none. Reading series are also scarce, though there are heaps of smashing one-off events. There are also way fewer independent publishers in Scotland than in Canada Ė everyone seems to have lost their shirts long ago. Plus there are only 5 million people in this country, so groups of like-minded folks are rarer and smaller. The one exciting thing about this is that what we cherish what we do have, and people arenít jaded.

As far as the writing goes, much of the most celebrated stuff is stodgy and traditionalÖand in rhyming couplets. People whine about that in Canada, too, but here itís a drug-induced nightmare. Even talking mainstream fiction, itís amazing that the country that produced AL Kennedy, Ali Smith, Jackie Kay and Irvine Welsh still seems embarrassed by bold or inventive new writers. Plus, thereís a bit of a crazed focus on nationalism Ė work thatís truly Scottish (whatever that means). Iím thrilled Scotland is trying to separate from England, but if we start using the same crap ideas about identity, itís a wasted effort.

What influence has the move had on your work?

I do less writing because I have to work more day-job hours to cover the high rent. But Iím doing more readings. And I lucked into a partnership thatís taken me back to my roots as a writer and performer. When I started out in Toronto, I worked with Bermudian poet Andra Simons in a band called Stumbliní Tongues. A year ago I met a Venezuelan musician, Y. Josephine, at a gig in Edinburgh. We were immediately smitten with each otherís stuff, and formed what we call a "poetry-music fusion weirdness" band. Weíre called Zorras, and we blend text, sound poetry, singing, guitar, percussion, megaphones, recordings and video. I havenít been this artistically blissed in 12 years. And even though weíre really freakiní strange and do a bilingual show, people seem to dig us.

Tell us about some of your upcoming projects. What is Found in Translation?

Mainly Iím just gigging with Zorras, though supposedly Iím writing a book of short stories too. That should be done in 2015 or soÖsigh. Found in Translation is a project thatís touring the UK this coming spring, sponsored by Chroma Magazine and Oxford Theatre. It features international artists doing a variety of literature-based collaborations, ranging from storytelling to theatre to music. The focus is on the experience of translating cultures and languages into "British" culture, and then also sometimes re-translating based on the subcultures and countries that exist within that supposedly united entity. Zorras do a 20-minute show for the tour. Also I make weird little videos now. And Zorras are working on a zine and a radio show.

Norah Franklin writes for Broken Pencil all the time.




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