It’s a busy time for past-Puritan authors: no fewer than 10 of their books are being published this spring. So we decided to check in on them and ask them one question each. First up: Chris Hutchinson, Peter Norman, Suzannah Showler, and Mike Spry. Stay tuned for more.

Chris Hutchinson

Chris Hutchinson: demons on the brain.

Chris Hutchinson’s A Brief History of the Short-Lived was reviewed in Issue 19 of The Puritan. He also wrote a post on “the patron demon of scribes” for The Town Crier. His fourth and latest book, Jonas in Frames, is now available from Ice House.

Q: Significant parts of the prose in Jonas in Frames could easily be broken into lines and even made to end rhyme. A proposition: if prose moves sideways—so as to flow—and poetry also moves down the page—so as to expose structures in the language—a rhyme embedded in a prose line is pushing in two directions. As you composed Jonas in Frames, did you feel yourself pushing in two directions in that way?

A: Ezra Pound once asserted that “poetry should be at least as well-written as prose.” But I’ll happily misread Pound and claim conversely that any poet who turns to writing prose should aspire to a kind of prose that is at least as well-written as poetry.

Which is a slippery way of suggesting that poetry and prose, in their ideal forms, are merely different expressions of a larger and more inscrutable category—something we might simply call good writing. Which is a slippery way to avoid your question, so let me try again: I love the idea that “poetry moves down the page—so as to expose structures in the language,” although my sense is that it is primarily lineation that creates this effect, whereas sounds and cadences are what ferry us along, in both poetry and prose, with a lateral kind of movement. So while I was writing Jonas in Frames, even when the prose style became more aestheticized, I never felt I was pushing in any direction other than forward—at best away from the page altogether and, with a little help from Apollo and his priests, in the direction of the reader.

Peter Norman

Peter Norman gives his long-awaited novel the thousand-yard stare.

Peter Norman was featured in Issue 20 of The Puritan, and he’s been featured in The Town Crier before as well. After publishing two books of poetry, his first novel Emberton is out from Douglas & McIntyre. He is a featured author of 2014’s IFOA.

Q: The history of your first novel’s publication has been quite the odyssey (ten years to make? Five years to publish?). Also, I know you’re a hockey fan. So I’ll ask: How did it feel (clichés accepted) when that buzzer went and you finally knew your book would come out?

A: It’s a long season[1], but you have to take it shift by shift[2], give 110%[3], never get too high or too low. When the buzzer sounded, mostly I felt relief.

[1] I got the idea c. 1997; started writing it c. 2002; completed three chapters and an outline c. 2003; five years later, I finished a first draft, which my agent asked me to rewrite; sold the new version c. 2009, but was asked by my editor to rewrite it a few more times; publisher went bankrupt in 2012 and was rescued in 2013; finally now the book’s out. So yeah, a long season.

[2] At certain key junctures, I was able to carve out literal shifts. At one point it was 9–11 a.m. every morning, before turning to my freelance editing workload; during another stretch it was 6–7 p.m. every weekday, after I got home from work.

[3] Over those many years, sometimes the novel dominated my attention, but at other times it was forced to the back-burner. I can’t say I ever violated the laws of mathematics and managed to give 110%.

Suzannah Showler

Suzannah Showler, thriving before bricks.

Suzannah Showler was featured in Issue 13 of The Puritan. Her first book, Failure to Thrive was published this spring by ECW Press.

Q: In Failure to Thrive, much of the poetry deals with anxiety about the future, relationships, institutions, and living arrangements. Given your recent “life successes,” would you say that in fact your book is a manual of sorts on how to thrive despite failure? Or how someone might fail to fail to thrive?

A: This question is causing me anxiety! You’re right: I’m in a particularly happy-go-lucky (emphasis on the lucky) life streak at the moment that’s coincided with the publication of a book about how everything is a bit shitty. The irony is certainly not lost on me.

I really hope no one reads Failure to Thrive as a manual for anything. They’ll be very disappointed with the results (don’t try this at home, kids). The book doesn’t advise, but maybe it does document some of the contradictions in my personality and my attempts to muddle through them—like, for example, a strangely insuppressible (if wonky and ill-managed) ambition that keeps me pitching forward in spite of all my cynical nay-saying.

I wrote so much of this book trying to keep the confessional at arm’s length, but now it seems obvious that a whole lot myself and my worldview from my early-to-mid-20s has been preserved in it anyway. Now I’m on the shady end of that decade, and maybe these so-called “life-successes” will force me to outgrow the place I was in when I wrote Failure to Thrive. But I’m more tempted to think that success is fleeting, and anxiety is a way of life. It’s good to be prepared for failure as much as for success. Neither one is easy.

Mike Spry

Mike Spry laughs to see such sport.

Mike Spry was featured in Issue 8 of The Puritan, and he’s answered questions on The Crier before. His third book (and second book of poetry), Bourbon & Eventide, is now out from Invisible Publishing and launches Friday, April 25th in Montreal at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Bernard Ouest, at 7 p.m.

Q: In tone and content, Bourbon & Eventide reminds me of a poem of yours (“Atrophy and Labour Day Baseball”) I read closely in the Crier last summer, which manages to shrink a relationship into the viewing of a single baseball game. This time the relationship is spread out through a whole book, in short snippets. I’m curious about how you select the instances you include. They are most often both casual and funny and loaded with meaning. They are also connected to the whole and independent. What was it like ordering these poems, and choosing what to include and discard?

A: I began writing the book after I moved from Montreal to Toronto three years ago (I’ve since moved back, thankfully), so at the time I was quite interested in memory and memories. Recollections have no chronology, and no logic attached to why one moment stays with you while another is lost in the ether. So, I wanted to write a book with that in mind. I wanted to revisit the history and mythology of the past by way of fragments of memory, which is why I chose to write the book entirely in untitled poems composed of one tercet each.

I like to think the poems stand on their own as a tangible, individual narrative or piece, and yet when put together, tell a larger story. I hope that the book could be read in any order that the reader chooses, as well. There’s no real beginning or end. There are just memories; some funny, some sad, some hopeful, some violent, but all true to the conceit of the imagined narrative.

Ordering had mostly to do with the aesthetic of the book, how it physically looked on the page. I knew I wanted the first poem to be first, and the last three to be last. Other than that, it was mostly me and my editor finding what felt right, what allowed for each poem to best stand on its own and contribute to the whole.

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