Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our Poets in Profile series.
Today the multi-talented Mark Lavoratotells Open Book about when he found his poetic voice, why Hughes' "The Jaguar" still stalks him, and how poetry intersects with science, fiction and just about everything else.
Mark will launch his debut collection of poetry, Wayworn Wooden Floors (The Porcupine's Quill), at Nicholas Hoare Books in Toronto this Thursday, June 21st. Visit our Events page for details. To view a trailer for his book, click here.
For a taste of what you'll find in this stunning collection, here is Mark Lavorato's poem, "How to Make a Cake from Scratch." These are instructions that any poet — or reader — might take to heart.
How to Make a Cake from Scratch
First you will need to take out your recipe,
as well as every recipe you’ve ever been given
and burn them. It is critical you disregard
anything anyone has ever told you about making
cake. A jerry can of gasoline and match facilitate.
The ingredients are complex. They will change
when you wish they would not. Avoid gathering
all your favourite tastes and textures. If you do so
the overall flavour will be bland and lack colour.
A zest of lemon in some form or another is best.
Your oven will need stoking, so you must leave
the comfort of your home, and go to the place that you
have been advised never to go. It is a place where the wood
is hard, the soil precarious, the air volatile. Go there.
Stand thin at its centre. Now close your eyes. And begin.
— Mark Lavorato, from Wayworn Wooden Floors
Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?
Like everyone, I’m sure, on earth, I wrote poetry when I was young. Then, in adolescence I stopped (thank god), but I did continue to read it, voraciously. I always had a couple of novels on the go as well as a collection or anthology of poetry, no matter what. I think, long before I ever thought of being a poet, I was actively developing my aversions and leanings, and eventually got to the point when I knew exactly the kind of poem that I wanted to read. There was a specific voice that I was always looking for, and instantly knew when I stumbled across. At some point, it occurred to me that I could write in that voice, using my own experiences as fodder.
What is the first poem you remember being affected by?
"The Jaguar," by Ted Hughes. I remember this kind of slap-in-the face realization that poetry could be completely unromantic, that it was there only to convey what was raw and powerful and true. I remember noticing the craft of the poem as well, understanding that there was a discipline here, in shaping the words. I remember wanting to know, to understand, much more.
What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?
Wayworn Wooden Floors is dedicated to the memory of Alden Nowlan, who wrote some amazing Canadian poems. My favourite of his is “Weakness.” It is, I think, a pitch-perfect poem. Or at least it’s everything I believe poetry should be:
Old mare whose eyes
are like cracked marbles,
drools blood in her mash,
shivers in her jute blanket.
My father hates weakness worse than hail;
in the morning
he will shoot her in the ear, once,
shovel her under in the north pasture.
leaving the stables
he stands his lantern on an overturned water pail,
cursing her for a bad bargain,
and spreads his coat
carefully over her sick shoulders.
— Alden Nowlan
What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?
Science journals. While we perceive art and science to be at odds, I don’t think they are. Like the left and right hemispheres of the brain, they can simply be different ways of viewing the world, which, when put that way, can even be complimentary. Science probes into some of the deepest questions we can ask, striving to understand where we come from and how we fit into the world around us. In many ways, its fundamental aim is the same as that of literature.
What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?
I throw it away. Or rather, I file it into a folder on my computer called Poems that aren’t that great. Like conventional trash, sometimes things can be creatively recycled out of it. But mostly not.
What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?
I absolutely loved A Village Life by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010). I’m not one of those people that requires a collection join together as a cohesive whole (I only want vibrant individual poems, and don’t really care how they’re linked), but this collection captured a tiny village, and society as a whole, in such a thematically consistent, quiet and powerful way. And it took some belief and risk on the poet’s part to introduce a different and more narrative voice in her writing. It’s really an excellent book.
What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?
The worst thing is having to dissect and navigate the politics of the publishing industry. The best is the daily challenge of trying to see my experiences in new and engaging ways. Poetry is a lens that we use to see the ordinary world in an extraordinary way. In fact, this is the theme of my second novel, Believing Cedric(2011), which uses poetry as a device throughout.
Mark Lavorato was raised on the Canadian Prairies, but has spent most of his adult life living, working, and writing on his travels throughout Central and North America, the Caribbean and Europe. He was inspired to begin writing while living in the Austrian Alps, reflecting on unsettling true stories he’d heard in the jungles of Guatemala. Aside from his writing, Mark is also a photographer and composer. Wayworn Wooden Floors is his first poetry collection. Visit Mark at his website, marklavorato.com.
For more information about Wayworn Wooden Floors please visit the Porcupine's Quill website.