Jacqueline Valencia’s There is no Escape Out of Time (Insomniac Press).
I first met Jacqueline when we were featured together at the EW Reading Series back in March. Next I saw her was at the book launch for There Is No Escape Out Of Time back in July at The Supermarket in Kensington (Toronto) where I became interested in writing a post about the book. This interview came out of our email correspondence earlier this month.
Suzanna Derewicz: Jacqueline, I was at the launch of There Is No Escape Out of Time with Insomniac Press back in July where we briefly spoke about how the collection came about. You mentioned that it is comprised of newer work and older work that you’ve had some time to sit with. I’m interested in knowing a bit more about your process for compiling this book together; how did you choose which pieces made it in?
Jacqueline Valencia: The book’s theme is inspired by one of my favourite science fiction films, Chris Marker’s La Jetée. In the film, the protagonist travels through his timelines and thus, I travel through my own memories in this collection. I’ve pulled from work written when I was a teen to stuff that I wrote in the year it was published.
SD: Was working with Insomniac Press a new experience or was there a relationship with the press previously? What was it like working with them?
JV: It was an entirely new experience. Roxanna Bennett was my editor there and she was most excellent to work with. Her insight and patience gave me a good perspective on how I could present a clearer vision and she added strength to my words.
SD: There is quickness and immediacy in these poems, as though they were written down in the moments the events were happening, or in the moments the memories hit the speaker in the face. We get a quick, honest, and often unfiltered snippet of that moment in time. The poems flash into the past and back to the present, with commentary—specifically in poems like “Looking Through Yellow Photo Albums.” How much of you is in the speaker vs. another character?
JV: Honestly, the only time I read my poetry back to myself is when I’m editing it or if I’m reading it in front of a crowd. At least, that’s how my process has been lately, so I haven’t really thought of my poetry as another character, but what I wrote in the time I was creating it. Now that I think about it, of course it’s a combination of both.
Honestly, the only time I read my poetry back to myself is when I’m editing it or if I’m reading it in front of a crowd.
In the poem you mention, those events are parts of my memories of going to Wasaga Beach with my family, especially the part where the fish are nibbling at my legs. However, the line “don’t touch the bunnies,” was from when we lived in Dallas and went camping. The coming-home-part was from a diary entry last year about coming home drunk and spotting bunnies near my home. I didn’t call my mom to tell her about the bunnies because it was kind of late, but I wish I had. So the speaker is definitely a lot of me in this book and part-fictional me bringing the timelines together.
SD: The back of the book suggests that memory is an “unreliable narrator.” Would you say your work treads those lines between poetry and creative nonfiction or memoir writing? Have you had experience with memoir writing in the past?
JV: Definitely. When I’m writing from memory, especially from so far back as my childhood, there’s an element of creative nonfiction. It’s like when a filmmaker makes a documentary and recreates scenes instead of having actual footage. I remember scents and tastes vividly, like the tanginess of a cold orange Fanta when my mother picked me up from daycare, but I don’t remember if it was a hot day or what I was wearing or feeling. That sense of taste can bring up emotions that I haven’t felt in while, but I can’t trust that that’s what I was feeling at the moment with my mom.
I keep diaries and journals and have since I was about seven years old. Very often I start them and throw them out. Very rarely do I keep them. I guess the closest I’ve come to keeping one religiously was back in the early days of blogging and that was through Livejournal or my own personal blog. I’ve gotten back to paper journalling as of late to get away from very confessional Facebooking. It helps.
SD: There is deep nostalgia in so much of this work. References to pop culture and mass media of the ’80s and ’90s, especially from film, TV, and radio become talismans for the speaker. In pieces like “Taxi Driver Tracy,” you actually take excerpts from a screenplay and experiment with it. How would you say your background in film influences your poetry?
JV: I take excerpts from the screenplay and all I change is the gender (and maybe a few other things for coherence). I’ve done it on my blog with Fight Club, Reservoir Dogs, Rambo, and a few others. As a female film critic, I see a lot of film, but rarely are those films aimed at a female audience. I often think that films like Taxi Driver would be a heck of a lot more poignant from the perspective of a woman. There’s a movie I like to show as an alternative to Taxi Driver and it’s Barbara Loden’s Wanda. The film is about a depressed woman who’s got bit of a sociopathic streak in her. It’s a low-key look into her state of mind and not one often seen as “interesting” to a male-dominated industry such as film.
I see no difference between film, poetry, writing, and art. It’s all the same, just various media bringing the fuller expression of experience and thought.
SD: In the same vein, we see you re-mixing the work of iconic poets, for example, James Joyce, Allen Ginsberg, and Gertrude Stein. It almost feels like a mixtape, like the kinds DJs would make in the ’90s. What was the impetus behind this? What does remixing the work of other poets help you get out of their work?
JV: Long story short: I read Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing and it made a huge impact on me. It provoked me to take my most influential author, James Joyce, and copy his work word-for-word, via typing or by hand. I wasn’t doing much beforehand except the occasional poem or story while being a stay-at-home mom. I felt like I had become stagnant creatively. Writing out Joyce’s work got me out of that.
I felt like I had become stagnant creatively. Writing out Joyce’s work got me out of that.
As a DJ, it’s funny you mention mixtapes as something from the ’90s. We still make mixtapes today even though it means remixing, sampling, and playing other people’s work. A DJ expresses their version of a previously made piece of art. You could say this book is a bit of mixtape of my life too. Ha.
SD: Who designed the illustrations in the book, and what was your intention behind those pages? Underneath these images we see the time and a short couplet or line. Do they divide the collection into sections? If so, what does each different section represent?
JV: I don’t think it’s mentioned in the book, but I drew the illustrations. I’m not an illustrator, although I paint and draw, but that medium I’m not entirely skilled at. I carry my sketchbook when I go for walks in the city and the ones in the book are from that. They’re kind of randomly put in but fit the timelines in an interesting way.
The lines underneath are from things I’ve emailed myself after waking up or from movies.
SD: There are more ethereal-feeling poems like “The Dreaming Celestial,” but we also have poems that are direct references to Toronto, like “Bar—Hole In The Wall”—that’s one of my favourite bars. What inspires the more lyrical poetry? What inspires the poems that are rough around the edges and set within an explicit urban landscape?
JV: I love the Hole In the Wall and the many bars around the Junction. I used to frequently go and sit at the bar with a book and a beer as a nightcap after I put the kids to sleep. It’s a good place to be left with your thoughts even though it fills up fast since the place is so tiny. It has such a homey atmosphere.
There’s something about a constraint in a ghazal that really challenges a poet to think about what they are trying to say, why they are saying it, and how they want to colour it. It’s also another reason why I find both lyrical and conceptual poetry come from the common space of personal expression. You can tell me a robot made a poem, but who made the robot? Why does it move the way it does? Why does it choose specific words to create? It’s all human-made. It’s lyrical or conceptual because we’re using language. Language is a living breathing beast in itself.
SD: Do you have a favourite poem or piece within this work? What makes it so?
Insomniac Press is a Canadian independent book publisher founded in 1992.
JV: I would say it’s probably “You Know Nothing.” It is the first poem I’ve ever read out loud to an audience. I read it at an open mic at the first Art Bar I ever attended. I wrote that poem after having my daughter and coming out of post-partum depression. That was a game-changing time in my life. Both of my kids have been a driving force for everything in my life since they came into it. I get kind of emotional reading it and it’s also fun shooting off lines about math in relation to my body and life.
SD: Finally, what’s on the horizon for you as a writer? Are you working on anything new right now? Where can we see you next?
JV: I’m working on my first novel. It’s part sci-fi, part occult, and all set in the future. You can see me maybe at a few local readings, but most likely wandering the city looking for work and writing materials.
Toronto-based writer, DJ, and film/music/literary critic Jacqueline Valencia earned her Honours BA in English at the University of Toronto. Jacqueline is currently a freelancer, senior literary editor at The Rusty Toque, critic at Broken Pencil Magazine, founding editor of These Girls On Film, and a film journalist and senior staff film critic at Next Projection.