I met Lorne the way people often tend to meet these days, online. His social media presence is felt strongly in Red Deer where he is known for his work as an instructor at Red Deer College, his consulting firm Grandview Consulting, and his efforts to found a citizens group known as Rethink Red Deer. Lorne grew up in the central Alberta.
A writer on the web, of essays and poetry, I was pleased to learn of his new book of selected poems, Drawing Back to Take a Running Jump. I jumped (ahem) at the chance to ask him questions after I finished reading the collection of poetry, to learn about his writing process and his perspective on verse.
I interviewed Lorne via email.
Andrew Kooman: Who are some of the poets living and dead that you admire and how do they influence you?
Lorne Daniel: Wow, so many. My early passions were for Dylan Thomas and Yeats. I was captivated by that great rolling Welsh voice of Thomas. A number of poets have been mentors over the years, including Gary Botting, the late Marty Oordt and Glen Sorestad. My friend Peter Christensen was a co- conspirator in our early days, when we started a literary magazine called Canada Goose and edited two poetry anthologies – and Peter’s poetry certainly influenced me.
Al Purdy was not only a great influence but gave me my first big ‘break,’ if you can call it that in the narrow niche of poetry, when he included me in the Storm Warning 2 anthology.
I am currently reading everything I can by American poet Stephen Dunn. Wonderfully subtle and perceptive poems.
AK: What do you encourage new or emerging writers to do to develop their craft?
LD: Well, there are two practices that I think are key for all writers, new or established. Those are to read a lot and to write a lot. Writing is like any other skill – whatever your base talent level, it improves with practice. Daily writing should be the goal. I don’t always achieve that but you have to write to improve.
AK: You are someone who blogs frequently and is social media savvy. How do you see the future of the printed word in verse?
LD: Poetry has a bright future. Concise and powerful images and ideas work well in all media. It’s great to see energy around word slams and spoken word – that harkens back to the oral roots of verse. I think print will continue to be important to many readers, alongside social media and interactive media. Print encourages quiet reflection, which is good for poetry. At the same time, short forms in media like Twitter are stimulating and fun.
AK: In this digital world how has your relationship to poetry changed or evolved?
LD: For one thing, as a reader, it’s easier to find a poet’s work. I can not only find collections in online stores but often at libraries and can find sample poems online. So when I read something I like, I can easily chase down more by that poet. On the creative side, the challenge is to get away from the digital stimuli when writing.
Longhand writing still has a more direct connection to our thoughts and emotions, so I usually draft poetry with pen and paper.
AK: What was the trigger that caused you to revisit work from your previous collections and publish this volume of poetry?
LD: This print book was totally triggered by feedback from social media. Readers of my blog, tweets and Facebook page were discovering some of my poetry for the first time. My earlier books were out of print so it seemed like a good idea to get the works back out to new readers. David Weedmark, who I met through Twitter, jumped in and offered to publish it through Weedmark Publishing.
AK: For me the selections of poems really comes alive with “Rituals.” I’m interested to hear from you if you have certain rituals when you sit down to write verse. How is your way of writing poetry different from you than the other ways you write?
LD: For me, poetry requires a more imaginative and less structured frame of mind than other writing. I prefer to work from a clear space with minimal distractions when starting poetry. Lately, most of my poetry writing is done first thing in the morning – before turning on any computers or media. So my ritual is to clear the desk, make a coffee, perhaps read a poem or two by other writers to prime the pump, and then start in with the blank page.
AK: Why do you think rituals are important and what does it mean to record or write them down?
LD: The older I get the more I realize that we just continually recreate ourselves. I read back through old journals and see all the same concerns and initiatives, five or ten years ago, as I am experiencing now – they just manifest themselves in slightly different ways. Rituals bind us to our history.
AK: “The History of Hands” is a haunting, beautiful poem. Much of your work focuses on memory – of touch and other intimate moments – and always seem to be mapped within a clear geography. Why is location so important?
LD: For me, experience is almost always mapped to a geography, as you say. The external places and spaces are interwoven with the internal emotions and thoughts. I am fascinated by the overlay of time. We experience things in the moment but often it takes the memory of experience to make that experience multi-dimensional.
AK: I’m curious about your writing past – what’s your earliest memory of encountering poetry? Can you remember the first poem you wrote down?
LD: Interesting question. No, I can’t remember the first time I wrote something and called it a poem. In my adolescent and teen years I was always interested in music lyrics. The lyrics were what grabbed me – if they were any good. I grew up when Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and others were bringing out popular music that went far beyond ‘boy loses girl’ lyrics and at the same time my school teachers were introducing me to Yeats and T.S. Eliot. Then I started to discover that we had real, live, poets here in Canada. That was a revelation. I remember reading a poem by the late Red Lane, a poem about western Canada, and sitting bolt upright. You mean you can write about the bush, and the prairies? Somewhere in there, I must have seen the invitation to try that myself. I was writing quite a bit by the time I landed in college.
AK: What’s on your writing horizon?
LD: Two projects. I have started a new series of poems that are inspired by gratitude for everyday experiences. When I say gratitude, I don’t necessarily mean overly precious glorifying. Rather, I am trying to watch the smallest details of what we see, touch, do – the complex little flickers in a facial expression, for example – and to acknowledge their importance in our humanity. So I have a growing folder of first draft poems in that category.
Secondly, I am committed to pulling together, reworking and publishing a “memoir of place” that I have been working on for literally 35 years. It is a braided narrative of western central Alberta’s oilpatch country – what we now call oil patch but which of course has had many different meanings to other people in other times. My book weaves my personal experience in the bush with that of my grandparents, the map maker David Thompson, his wife Charlotte Small, the earlier Peigan tribes, and of course industrial developers.
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