Rob: Vargas Island is located off Vancouver Island, near Tofino. For a year during my childhood I lived on nearby Flores Island, and we'd pass Vargas on our frequent commutes to and from Tofino. I can't say I've read too many poems about Vargas, though. Can you speak about what took you there, and how your poem took shape?
Mark: To support my writing addiction, I used to house sit in Europe over the winter and run expeditions for Outward Bound Canada in the summer months, saving every penny I could. Mostly I ran mountaineering expeditions, but for two seasons, I ran courses that were half mountaineering and half sea kayaking, all of which was done on Vancouver Island. The sea kayaking portion ran out of Tofino, and over the summer I got to intimately know, and love, the islands just north of it. One year, there were staffing issues, which didn't make for a fantastic working environment, and I remember there being this constant weight on my shoulders. That weight turned me inward and frustrated, and I think it's that emotional state more than anything that inspired the poem.
But as an interesting aside connected to those islands, as I was leaving them, I knew I'd come to love them too much for just a single poem to come out of them, and so I incorporated the area and its beauty into my second novel, Believing Cedric (Brindle & Glass, 2011). In the novel, one of the main characters goes to Tofino for a summer job, and becomes similarly introspective, working at the campground on McKenzie Beach. A small excerpt: "Sometimes, falling asleep to the swelling rumble of the surf, she would think about the waves on McKenzie Beach, the campground’s own, about the way they rolled in so consistently, insistently, unyielding, undying. She would lie in her tiny room that smelled of particleboard and new paint (which was already losing the battle against the mildew) and consider how long these waves had been rolling in for, in exactly the way they were then. And exactly as they are now. Right now. Rolling onto the sand, turning over in the sun, in the dark. Like they have for millennia. Like they will for millennia. Whatever way you stood beside it, the sea had a way of reshaping, of eroding, your humility."
Rob: Keeping on the travel theme, the summary at the back of your book describes a "thousand-kilometre trek" that you undertook, during which you wrote much of this book. Can you speak a little about that trip? What inspired it? Where did you go? And what was your day-to-day writing process like?
Mark: I've heard it said that there are two kinds of writers: those who have enough money but no time, and those who have tons of time but no money. I have to say, I've always been securely in the latter camp, and I'd heard of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, a Christian pilgrimage with almost no Christians on it, where you could walk through beautiful countryside and stay in refuges for incredibly cheap, or even for free. I wanted to travel, walk, and write, but had very little money, so it seemed a perfect match. I hiked the "Norte" and "Primitivo" sections of the trail to have as little traffic as possible, and walked for about two months. I brought only books of my favourite poetry, and a tiny PDA thing that I used as a word processor. I would walk during the day and think about the poems I was writing, or the poems I loved and why I loved them, and would often feel so inspired to write that I would stop and start typing at some point during the day. If not, I would write in cafes in the evening, or in my tent (which I brought along for when the writing took over and I couldn't make it to a refuge), or I would just sit out in the fresh air with a view of the mountains, or the ocean, or both. I'd highly recommend it!