Interview: Ariel Gordon

Thursday, 30 April 2015
You know who needs a break from time to time? Our tireless independent booksellers. We're lucky to have a number of them in Hamilton. They're the ones who have grown used to answering our questions: "I'm looking for a book. It's blue, I think. I read about it in a magazine. Which magazine? Oh, I can't remember." They're at the front lines of Hamilton's literary scene making sure we all get the books we want without having to line-up at Chapters. 

In a collaborative effort between authors and independent bookstores, booksellers will get a bit of a break on Saturday as 600 authors volunteer as guest booksellers at 120 bookstores across Canada for Authors For Indies. 

In Hamilton, stop by Bryan Prince, Bookseller (Schedule here) to meet authors Sally Cooper, Krista Foss, David Collier, Aimee Reid, Ross Pennie, Gillian Chan, John Lawrence Reynolds, Bonnie Lendrum, Jill Downie, Joanne Levy. Or visit Epic Books on Locke Street, which is hosting authors Amanda Leduc, Ariel Gordon, Gary Barwin, Gisela Sherman, Sally Cooper, and Sylvia McNicoll (Schedule here). 

I had the chance to chat with participating author Ariel Gordon, who will also be reading at Lit Live on Sunday night.

Not My Typewriter: You're visiting Hamilton this weekend. Can you tell us a little bit about what's bringing you here and what you're looking forward to?

Ariel Gordon: First, I’ll be taking a shift at Epic Books on May 2 from 1-3 pm for Authors for Indies day, hand-selling books by my favourite Winnipeg writers: Robert Kroetsch, Alison Calder, and Roewan Crowe. They all try to write to/against the idea of ‘the prairies,’ so I thought you southern Ontario folk might find that interesting. Or, at least, a break from the usual idea about literature from western Canada.

And then I’m going to settle in with a cup of tea and watch Gary Barwin write a story with assistance from visiting customers. I might heckle him every now and then, just for fun …

Next, I’m going to be reading with a pile of other great writers — Andrew Forbes, Valerie Nielsen, Patrick Friesen, and Amber McMillan as well as emerging writers Nicholas Papaxanthos and Michael Casteels — at the Lit Live Reading Series on May 3.

I’m looking forward to all the readings, but am most excited to read with Patrick Friesen, a fine poet of Mennonite extraction who spent most of his adult life in Winnipeg. Which makes him a once-and-forever Winnipegger. (We’re not like the East Coast, where you’re a Come-From-Away even if you’ve lived there for twenty years. In Winnipeg, if you’ve spent more than three weeks there, you’re in!)

NMT: Why is participating in Authors for Indies important to you?

AG: I worked at an independent bookstore for a few years, organizing events but also hand-selling my favourite books. It was strange fun, finding ‘the blue book that I saw on TV last week.’ I also sort of addicted to the bookish elation that comes out of a connection between a writer, her work, and an audience that happens at good events.

Now, as a writer, I work really hard to try to create that feeling at my own events, with the support of great booksellers like McNally Robinson in Winnipeg, where I’m from, and Epic Books in Hamilton, where I’ll be on Authors for Indies day.

Also, my lit shopping habits are mostly the same as my everyday buying habits: I prefer to buy local or at least Canadian. Who wants tired, shipped-in cucumbers when you can get ones grown nearby? Similarly, I like my authors fresh and crunchy …

NMT: To borrow from your usual line of questioning, what do you want people to know about your second collection of poetry, Stowaways?

AG: Turnabout, eh? Hmm. This question is harder than I thought …

Well, Stowaways just was awarded the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry at the 2015 Manitoba Book Awards gala, so maybe I’ll share the judges’ comments instead of coming up with something original.

"Stowaways is well imagined and well crafted, each poem tight, the poet’s attention evident. From wildlife to the clutter of the everyday to “how-to” offerings, the reader is charmed and enticed by the poet’s light touch and sure pen. Images jump out at us, grab us by the throat, leave us gasping. Ariel Gordon’s second collection is as strong as the parts of its sum.” — Margaret Michele Cook, Katia Grubisic, and Paul Savoie, judges, 2015 Lansdowne Prize for Poetry / Prix Lansdowne de Poesie.

NMT: In Stowaways acknowledgements, you write "I am a sucker for art/writing cross-polination." Can you ellaborate on this and tell us how this influenced the writing of this book?

AG: I really like the energy of first draft writing. I also like editing, which feels more like fixing a broken vase than just moving words around and fiddling with punctuation.

But collaboration? That’s the most fun you can have with another artist.

It’s work and play, just like solo writing. And there are so many ways to collaborate. So far, I’ve worked with a visual artist or two, another writer, and a multi-disciplinary pack of dancers/actors/musicians, but I’m always open for more...

NMT: Stowaways is rife with sensory imagery, exploring all five senses. Is there a sense you most enjoy putting into words, and if so, why?

AG: Thanks for that. My writing tends to be very visual, so even though I’m committed to using concrete imagery I sometimes have to remind myself to include the other senses. Smell is the worst one for me, because I have virtually no sense of smell…

NMT: What book has had you buzzing recently? If you could recommend just one recent release to the world, what would it be?

AG: I’ve been enjoying getting to know Tracy Hamon’s Red Curls, which focuses on Austrian artist Egon Schiele and his mistress/model Valerie Neuzil. Hamon works with ekphrasis, biography, and travel poetry in really interesting ways and just got the Regina Book Award at the Saskatchewan Book Awards for her trouble.

NMT: Sum up in a tweet (140 characters or less) why people should join you at Authors for Indies on Saturday.

AG: @JaneDayReader: I'll be bringing #poets & troublemakers, the city & the prairie, to @epic_books on Saturday for #Authors4Indies. See you there?



Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer. Her first book of poetry, Hump, won the 2011 Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. Most recently, her chapbook How to Make a Collage won Kalamalka Press's inaugural John Lent Poetry-Prose Award. When not being bookish, Ariel likes tromping through the woods and taking macro photographs of mushrooms. 


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