Ewan Whyte is a poet, reviewer, translator, and bookseller living in Toronto
Entrainment explores interrelatedness, the intellectual, and the ubiquitous with lyrical vision. Ewan Whyte’s debut poetry collection follows up a translation of the poetry of Catullus which Ewan published in 2004. His passion for art, the absurdity of life, and presenting a real characterization (hallucinating vagrants singing to vegetables, the end of the medieval Cathar and Albigensian crusades) in his poetry are only some of the hidden moments found in Whyte’s unique work. A bookseller, book reviewer, poet, and translator, Ewan Whyte lives and works in Toronto where he contributes to periodicals such as The Globe & Mail and The Literary Review of Canada.
Ray McCLaughlin: Who are some contemporary poets you admire?
Ewan Whyte: There are many. To name a few, Mark Strand, Anne Carson, Durs Grunbein, Molly Peacock, and for humour and stage presence, Bernhard Christiansen.
RM: When did you know you had enough poems together to start approaching publishers?
EW: I have had enough for two books of poetry for a number of years. I delayed for a long time getting a book of poetry published. Poetry is not really much of a career choice and I kept getting distracted enjoying others work.
RM: Who are some of your antique influences?
EW: I am not going to claim to be influenced by such great writers. I love a good chunk of the outrageous low and high-brow passages out of Juvenal and Catullus and long stretches of Homer and Horace. Horace when he is accessible is a really wonderful poet.
Horace Bk. 1 Ode 22
Integer vitae scelerisque puris …
The man with a true heart
who is free of malice
needs no Mauritanian spears
or poison arrows.
Even if he goes out beyond
the burning Syrtes or the
rough Caucasus or fabulous
places touched by the Hydapes.
Once deep in the Sabine forest
I was alone and unarmed
singing freely, there a great
wolf in my path ran from me.
Such a mysterious creature warlike
Daunia would never feed in her broad-
oaked forests. Neither did the land
of Juba, nurse of lions give it birth.
Place me in harsh plains where
there is no tree to be brushed
by the summer wind in a hostile
place open to storms and angry Jupiter.
Place me under the chariot of the sun
as he scorches the earth in his rounds
alone on the unfriendly earth I will sing
my songs walking peacefully, gently speaking.
RM: What is your writing process like?
EW: I think there is a constant interest in how others create things. The underlying thing is, can we also engage in the act of creation. At first this engagement with creation is done through imitation, Aristotle’s mimesis. Later we might convince ourselves we have the right way of doing it. With a bit more time we may think there is no right way, just different ways, and some more efficient than others. Yehudi Menuhin might argue with this and may well be right in terms of some ‘highball’ aesthetic art but this is a non-answer from a more mortal standpoint.
RM: Will you tell us a bit about your artistic background?
EW: I have always loved the brief moments of eternity that we can sometimes get in great aesthetic art—moments where we have no sense of time or where time goes vertical (for a while). Glenn Gould calls this god directed art (in a secular sense). The ubiquitous part of Bach’s cantata 147, “Joy of man’s desiring” is a Gouldian example of this. For me passages like this from Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” are similar.
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning! there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Mænad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm.
Poetry like this is written with the same intensity as prayer, although it is entirely secular. It occupies the same part of our imaginations as mythic or religious thought does, which, like human sacrifice and all sorts of dreadful things like scapegoating (if we can believe French anthropologist René Girard) is hardwired in us. We just have to look at ancient rituals and texts (all the way to our own time) for a short while and it becomes embarrassingly clear.
I like and can appreciate all sorts of art and writing but I always come back to aesthetic (or so to speak god directed) art.
Ewan Whyte is a writer and translator. His short stories, poetry, translations, reviews and essays have been published in literary journals and magazines. His translation of the poetry of Catullus was published in 2004. He recently completed a book of poetry and is finishing a memoir about his early life in extreme religious cults in the US and Canada.