INTERVIEW WITH QUEER TORONTO POET DANI COUTURE

Dani Couture was born in Toronto and raised on a number of Canadian military bases. She is the author two books of poetry. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have been widely published in newspapers and anthologies. Dani is also the creator of Animal Effigy, a photo-essay on tracking urban prey.

Contact: dani.couture@gmail.com

BCP: Why poetry?

DC: Because the most well-built architecture can carry the heaviest load.

BCP: What is your process?

DC: A quick rough draft and then weeks, if not months, of editing.

BCP: How long have you been writing poetry?

DC: I started writing poetry in high school after a rogue English teacher read Margaret Atwood’s A Women’s Issue in class. I began to write more seriously when I moved to Vancouver in 2001. I think the 72-hour bus ride from Windsor to Vancouver jostled something loose.

BCP: Who are your influences?

DC: The whos: John Berryman, John Ashbery, Karen Solie, Rae Armantrout, Margaret Atwood, Lisa Robertson, Mary Oliver, Tomas Tranströmer, and Dionne Brand to name a few. The whats: freighters, bears, roads, costume jewelery, skyscrapers, rivers, peregrines.

BCP: Your poetry is emotional, honest, and stimulating.  What do you try to convey to your readers?

DC: Like a horror movie, I try to get the reader to take a second look at some commonplace item or idea they think they already know.

BCP: Why the name Sweet for your latest collection?

DC: My editor and publisher, Beth Follett, asked the same question. Sweet is a loaded word. It’s one of those words that depending on intonation or placement can mean any number of things. I enjoy it’s versatility and thought it a fit for the collection.

BCP: How is this second collection, Sweet, different from your first collection?

DC: If Good Meat was away, then Sweet is home.

BCP: My favorite poem in your new collection is War Games.  How and why did this poem come about?

DC: When I lived on C.F.B. Kingston, we had several boxes of K-rations in our attic and my father was always preaching the virtues of being prepared. To this day, I still try to take note of the details of the day — licence plate numbers, the colour of a man’s jacket, the newspaper a woman was reading — in case I need it later. I guess my upbringing was good training for a poet and life in general.

BCP: How do you feel you’ve grown since your last collection?

DC: The writing has changed, there is no question about that, but to identify which roads I took to get from Good Meat to Sweet, I can’t really say. It feels as if I woke up in a different country one day and I didn’t know how I’d arrived there–by land, sea, or air.

BCP: You won first place in fiction for the This Magazine Great Canadian Literary Hunt. Do you feel your poetry has helped with your fiction or vice versa?

DC: Writing fiction helped open Sweet up. In the its initial stages, the poems in Sweet were quite tight, almost hermetic. I put the manuscript away and wrote fiction for several months. When I returned to the collection, I came with a different mindset and the word count grew considerably.

BCP: It is said that poetry and short story are cousins. Do you agree? Why or why not?

DC: Absolutely. With less word count comes more responsibility to get it absolutely right from beginning to end. Any mistep is glaring. I find novel-length fiction to be more flexible in this regard, but one needs to tread carefully there as well.

BCP: Poetry is the genre that gets little respect compared to fiction and non-fiction.  You were one of the few poets to be invited to read at the International Festival of the Authors in Toronto 2009.  How was that?  How do you feel poetry was represented at the IFOA?  How do you feel poetry is represented at literary festivals in general?

DC: I think that poetry garners respect, but also a deep fear among those who are unfamiliar with the form. And for them I offer my grandmother’s advice: Want to know what a poem means? Read it and see how you feel when you’re done.

IFOA was a great experience. The team who put the festival together put on a hell of an event. One of the readings I did was during the crime fiction night. I was worried I might bore the audience, but instead they were kind and curious and even bought some books after the reading. It was surreal to see someone walking around with a book by Ian Rankin in one hand and Good Meat in the other. I also had a good laugh at the number of people who mistook me for Denise Mina (http://www.denisemina.co.uk/) and asked me to sign copies of her books. All it all it was a memorable experience. Festivals are great opportunities for writers to meet other writers and to reach out to larger audiences. I’d love to see more poets invited to read at festivals.

BCP: What are you working on now?

DC: Several poems about freighters.

BCP: When do you expect to have your third collection of poetry published?

DC: Truthfully, I have no idea. I typically like to write to a theme and I’ve been writing to several themes lately. I’m just waiting to see which one wins out over the rest.

BCP: What advice do you have for other writers out there who are having difficulties with their writing, or who have yet to see their work in print, or who are afraid to perform their poetry?

DC: Keep at it. Keep reading, keep writing, keep submitting. If I’m having a problem with a particular poem I either put it away, go for a walk, or rewrite it from a different angle. And keep your drafts. It’s the only way to see where you’ve gone from those first lines.

Tune in to Black Coffee Poet December 17, 2010 for a video of Dani Couture reading poetry at Union Station.

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About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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