Poetry Quebec: Are you a native Quebecer? If not, where are you originally from? Why did you come to Quebec?
Mark Lavorato: I was born in raised in Alberta, but began travelling as soon as I was finished school. I lived most of my adult life in Europe, and always felt incredibly at home and comfortable there. When it came time to return to Canada for good, I thought of all the travelling I had done across the country and realized there was really only one place I could live, a place where I would feel as home as I felt in Europe. And that was Montreal. It is probably my favourite city in the world, and I’m proud to call it home.
PQ: When and how did you encounter your first Quebec poem?
ML: I think my favourite aspect of poetry is that it is borderless. I see great poets and great poems as belonging to the open and inclusive country of literature. I don’t think I would recognize a Quebec poem, in the same way I wouldn’t identify a poem as being Manitoban, American, or Irish. What makes a poem exceptional is when it is human, when it belongs to all of us.
PQ: When and how did you first become interested in poetry?
ML: I think, like most poets, at a very young age. I’ve been reading poetry all my life, but only started writing it in my late 20s.
PQ: What is your working definition of a poem?
ML: A poem is essential human experience reduced to its most pungent form. A tincture of life and of living.
PQ: Do you have a writing ritual? If so, provide details.
ML: Because I’m also a novelist, I’m quite regimented and methodical about writing–or nothing would get written! I set an alarm early in the morning, and write until I can’t anymore, which is usually early in the afternoon.
PQ: What is your approach to writing of poems: inspiration driven, structural, social, thematic, other?
ML: My first two collections (Wayworn Wooden Floors, Porcupine’s Quill, 2012; and Blowing Grass Empire, forthcoming) were inspiration driven. My next collection, which I’m working on now, is thematic, and it’s quite exciting to lean on a theme in terms of an engine for new ideas and content.
PQ: Do you think that being a minority in Quebec (i.e. English-speaking) affects your writing? If so, how?
ML: No, I don’t. English is the dominant language in American and Canadian media (Hollywood, the music industry, news conglomerates), and it’s the official business language of the world and unofficial language of the Internet. I think being an anglophone and writing to and for other anglophones, it’s hard to feel like a minority anywhere at the moment.
PQ: Do you think that writing in English in Quebec is a political act? Why or why not?
ML: Again, not so much. I think writing in French, as an island of language surrounded by a much more pervasive language like English on all sides of it, is much more of a political act. There is a defiance and constant struggle in keeping French alive and flourishing in North America. A struggle that English will never have to deal with, for obvious reasons.
PQ: Why do you write?
ML: Because part of me feels I have to, that the days I haven’t written are somehow lost. There are so many stories to tell, and so many ways to tell them.
PQ: Who is your audience?
ML: I hope to reach a broad audience. I write to anyone who will take the time to listen on the other end.
PQ: Do you think there is an audience, outside of friends or other poets, for poetry?
ML: Absolutely. Poetry is alive and well, even thriving, in Canada at the moment. We’ve got talent coming from every corner of this country, published by passionate Canadian presses, small and large.
PQ: Does your day job impact on your writing? How?
ML: No. I currently freelance copy edit and copy write, which are things I can do in the afternoon, after I’ve done my own writing for the day.
PQ: How many drafts (beer, too) do you usually go through before you are satisfied/finished with a poem?
ML: Many. It’s very much a work in progress for a long while before I’m satisfied. I only know that I’m finished when I can read over a poem months after finishing it, and not change a thing.
PQ: Do you write with the intention of “growing a manuscript” or do you work on individual poems that are later collected into a book?
ML: I have only written with collections in mind, though there are some straggler poems that had to be written outside of that context, which I end up stuffing into collections if they work within.
PQ: What is the toughest part of writing for you?
ML: The absurdly long spans of time between writing and seeing one’s book in print. I’m sure that most non-writers would be shocked to learn that words that sound so immediate on the page took a slothful two, three, or even four or more years to get there.
PQ: What is your idea of a muse?
ML: Strangely, I seem to have non-stop ideas and inspiration flowing through me while at live concerts. It’s even annoying, in that I’m always taken out of the moment and have to run around finding pieces of paper to write ideas down so I don’t forget them. Basically, I’m a believer in “good art in, good art out.”
PQ: Do you have a favourite time and place to write?
ML: Yes, I really enjoy writing ‘on the trail’, meaning my favourite place to write poetry is in transit, while travelling. Most of my first collection, Wayworn Wooden Floors was written on a thousand-kilometre trek through northern Spain.
PQ: Do you like to travel? Is travel important to your writing? Explain.
ML: I think travel and change is essential to writing, in that it keeps your perspectives fresh and your eyes and mind hungry to understand.
PQ: Do you have a favourite Quebec poet? If yes who and why?
ML: I’m very excited about the work of younger poets in Quebec at the moment. Darren Bifford, Katia Grubisic, Josh Trotter, Asa Boxer, Gabe Foreman, and now Sue Sinclair and Nick Thran have moved to Montreal as well. It’s a fine age for poetry in Quebec!
PQ: Do you write about Quebec? If so, how and why? If not, why not?
ML: Of course. It is a place that I deeply love, and a place that anchors me. That my identity and work should become enmeshed with it is completely natural. Many poems in my two collections are both about Quebec and take place here. Almost the entirety of my third novel is set here (Burning-In, House of Anansi, 2014), and my third collection will be loosely based on the metropolis of Montreal. I feel like I’m here to stay in this city, and that Montreal is here to stay in me.