It includes among many features an interview with current writer-in-residence Alan Davies. Here is that highlight.
by offSIDE intern Laryssa Brooks
Alan Davies, poet and essayist, is the current writer-in-residence at the University of Windsor. He has worked with writers such as Robert Creeley and John Wieners, and has done extensive scholarship on the Language Poets. His most recent essay, “Prelinguistic Thinking,” discusses the feeling that poetry brings to its writers and readers. His writer-in-residence position not only involves working with students during office hours and classes, but also in leading a “Course in Melancholy,” examining writings on the humour in detail.
offSIDE had the chance to sit down with Alan Davies to talk to him about writing and his position at the University of Windsor.
As a creative writing student here at the University of Windsor, I’m excited that you’re the writer-in-residence here! Have you been one before? When you were in school was there a writer-in-residence available to you?
No, this is my first time. When I was in school, there were teachers that offered creative writing courses, so there was some creative writing coursework available, but there was no writer-in-residence.
Do you think that not having one changed the direction of your writing?
No, because I wanted to be a writer. I already knew that it was what I wanted to work on.
You are known for your poetry and essays, so is this what you’ll be helping the students with the most? How will you help the novelists and short story writers while you’re here?
Well, one of the people that comes to me the most often actually is a short story author, and some of the same rules apply to both [poetry and fiction] I think — the same guidelines — and I read a lot of fiction. So not only am I able to help him with his own writing, but also make suggestions about what he should read, that would help him with his writing.
What things do you think short story writers should work on in general?
Well, it depends a lot on the type of short stories that they’re writing. The person that comes to me writes a lot of fantasy westerns. So in my opinion, I think that fantasy fiction benefits a lot from being in the moment, like photographs, or movies. People don’t read it for the story so much as the quality of the surroundings. If someone were to write a different kind of fiction, then different things would become important — structure, sentences, and grammar would have more of a place in different kinds of writing.
You’ve been working a lot with the senior creative writing class this year. Is there a particular aspect of writing you’d like to encourage the university’s students to work on?
I’d like to try to encourage young writers to think about their relationship to writing, and their relationship to life in general, and other people. To see how our writing comes out of our own lives; to see how we can use that as writers, and how writing affects the lives of other people. We do know it influences them; it changes lives. So that’s what I want to focus on.
You’ve said that a poet’s duty is to bring a ‘prelinguistic feeling’ to readers. Do you think that this should be more prevalent in the work you’re seeing here at the university?
I think the prelinguistic can come to you in any way possible. Many different things can be used to create that feeling of ‘before words.’ Obviously the difficulty, as I mentioned to a class earlier, is using words to talk about what it’s like without words — it’s a paradox. We have to overcome that in one way or another. Probably the best way is to not focus on sound, but on concision. To try to be concise in the use of words, and to be candid — automatic honesty, honesty without forethought or meditation. I think those things make it possible to create something like the prelinguistic feeling/the experience of it. I think that all pieces, no matter how clear or how muddled they are, always have meaning. At that point, as a writer, it depends upon what your content is; what you’re trying to convey; what emotion you’re trying to focus on. And still, I think that concision and candor, quick openness of mind, a mental gesture and listening gesture, can help bring that about.
You’ve jumped right into your writer-in-residence position with your “Course in Melancholy.” What do you hope people take away from it?
I just became interested in melancholy a few years ago; I’ve experienced depression myself, and I always liked the title of Robert Burton’s book, The Anatomy of Melancholy. I started to think about it, and ideas and counter texts came along that seemed to deal with it. I don’t have any wish that the participants change or learn anything from it in any way. I just want them to enjoy reading in relation to a particular subject. When I like an author, I read all their novels, poems, journals, and biographies. I think that the “Course in Melancholy” will help people see the pleasure in doing something like that, and reading in a certain area. Of the pleasure of becoming immersed in reading, and doing it in a planned, or obsessive, way. Of staying with one topic or author, and to exhaust whatever you can from them at that point in time. I want to encourage and share this type of reading experience.
What keys to succeeding as a writer do you hope to share with Windsor for the duration of your stay?
I hope that readers will recognize the importance of being honest, caring for other people, and being passionate. I hope they will be able to see the relationship between these personal qualities and doing good writing, and helping people. Particular tools or a craft have to be learned individually; in the individual sessions I have with people here in my office hours, we’re able to focus on those kinds of things. In a more general way, I hope that they will recognize writing relates to life, comes out of it, and goes back into life, influencing people. That comes with a certain amount of responsibility. I don’t expect that everyone will respond to it in the same way though. I didn’t feel it originally, but I didn’t have to work on it. It developed over time. I felt it in the beginning in the sense that I wanted to be very careful about how I made things out of words. But the full sense of it now as I write was nurtured in me by time. I think it’s a lifetime process; never stop learning and never stop growing. Some people do, they get themselves into a dead end going to work and then coming home to the television. I hope that creative writing will help people avoid that dead end existence, and that it will help them live in a way that will expose them to constant change; the fact that things don’t stay the way that they are.
What do you hope to take away from the writer-in-residence position?
I hope that I’m encouraged to write by helping others, seeing them develop and go through the process of growing as writers and readers.