We sat down with poet Troy Harkin to talk about his latest collection, Casting Shadows, published this month by ChiZine. We asked him a series of penetrating questions, but not before a little warm-up:
1. Mr. Harkin, do you read or write poetry on the toilet? Why or why don’t you?
“In general I don’t aim to write on the shitter. That doesn’t mean inspiration hasn’t struck while in action. As I’ve gotten older, I aim to practice mindfulness. So if I’m on the toilet, I try to be in the moment.”
No smartphone? Amazing.
2. Can poetry overthrow a dictatorship? Why or why not?
“Poets can overthrow dictatorships, but sadly a poem is just a poem. If I could end Canadian apartheid in the north with a poem, I would do it in a second. Even someone like Gord Downie couldn’t affect change simply through The Secret Path. He knew it took work. I suppose it’s a little like the line from St. Peter: ‘Faith without works is dead.’”
3. Bonus skill-testing not-question: turn a Trump tweet into poetry.
Hamburger helpers hallucinate . . .
In my belly. Trim. SO trim.
Side of fries. No Taco Belles
Latinas lie. SAD. Kellyanne
Gone away. SAD wallflower covfefe
Forever fallen. Diet coke humpty
Diet coke dump shit hole serenity
Polystyrene penis pump. SAD.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Harkin. The warmup over, we set our fun and games aside to talk more about Casting Shadows:
4. What inspired you to write your new collection?
“It’s impossible for me to talk about my poetry at this point in the game without talking about Sandra Kasturi. We’ve known each other for close to thirty years, and she’s always been my Annie Wilkes. We used to do poetry readings together at the U of T, and she was the one who ask me to contribute to the Hart House Review while she was the editor there. After university I continued to write verse but focused on other forms of writing, predominantly prose and screenplays, but I always hoped to cull the best of my poetry into a proper collection. Sandra and I talked about this on and off over the years, but stars finally aligned in 2019, and here it is.”
5. Describe writing your new collection. What was hard about writing it, what was easy?
“Not hard at all, as it’s not so much a greatest hits package but more of an overview sampler. The heavy lifting fell on the shoulders of my editor, the above-mentioned S. Kasturi, who suggested sequencing the poems.”
6. What do you want readers to gather from it?
“I hope that readers who love the anarchy in language find Casting Shadows. I hope those who are open to playfulness and surprise also read it.”
7. What are your most favourite and least favourite poems that you’ve written, and why?
“Favourite poems in Casting Shadows. I think I have two, and their both relatively newer works, and I like them for very different reasons. “Handjob Jane” is one of them. That poem came while I was sitting in a Walmart parking lot. It came pretty much fully formed like a gift from the Gods. Yeah, the Gods can give some pretty weird gifts sometimes. But I trusted in the voice, and I was ready to write, and that’s really half the battle—be ready when inspiration strikes and no when to leave well enough alone. On the other side of the spectrum is “Dead Language Interface,” the longest poem in the collection. It’s one that began as a series of stream-of-consciousness segments, but then I spent hours reworking, rewriting, moving pieces around until I was happy with it. Essentially, it’s about the limitations of language, so I had to be careful not to be too explicit in terms of meaning, but I was and still am quite happy with it.”
8. What does poetry mean to you?
“To quote F. Murray Abraham’s character in Inside Llewyn Davis: “I don’t see much money in this.” And I think that’s one of the appeals of poetry. Poetry really is its own reward.”
Casting Shadows is now available. Order your copy today.
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