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Letter.Box.Stamp.Collect. Poets, Letterboxing

Letter.Box.Stamp.Collect. Poet: Jacqueline Turner

anticipation and reception

align and the desire side

of the curve slips and so

it gushes forth without end

 ~ from ‘Perpetual’ by Jacqueline Turner

Canadian poet Jacqueline Turner was the inaugural Poet-in-Residence and makes a welcome return with the Letter.Box.Stamp.Collect. project. She is appearing at the Queensland Poetry Festival this year and talks about the transformation of language, not having control issues, and her involvement in the project.


This project has a direct link between poetry, the visual and the tactile. You have been heavily involved in the dialogue between visual art and poetry, such as your work with Artspeak. How do you identify with this relationship in your own work and in poetry in general?

I tend to consider the visual materiality of language itself in the process of writing. I’ve always considered the page as the space of composition and I write with that in mind at the outset. I’m attracted to image text work, but it’s also about using language to build an image in a reader’s mind however that reader might process it based on the repertoires that might attract them to poetry. Artspeak uses language as a mode to respond to art practices and installations in such a way that the movement can be more back and forth. I moderated a series of talks about writing and contemporary art at Artspeak a few years ago featuring the poet Charles Bernstein on the connection between poetry and art criticism.

I still think more things happen in poetic modes of language because poetry is a space that tolerates and enacts contradiction. As a poet you’re not necessarily working in the service of critique or narrative or argument. You make your own structures, you must.

And since I teach art students, I’m always thinking of the visual referent whether I’m talking about essay writing or constructing a poem.

The tactile and interactive connections, as well as the historical referent, make this letterboxing project entirely compelling as it literally allows an imprinting of the material language which then transforms into an object that the reader can take away. That moment of transformation is important. Language is always being passed around. This project makes that movement evident.

The piece we chose to use for the project is called Flourish and makes use of your signature concision, melding emotion with the concrete. It brings to mind the concepts of time, beginnings/endings, and the passage of growth and survival. Could you explain the creative process and ideas behind writing the poem?

I was walking in a park in North Vancouver where I live, writing lines into my iPhone. This park is adjacent to a large mall and surrounded by condos, but once you’re in the park those urban signifiers disappear. You’re in a forest in late spring, green bursting everywhere and you’re walking in a loop, listening to a creek rush past after it’s rained and the path is muddy and “nature” is all there seems to be. So I’m interested in those interfaces between the urban and the natural which is something Vancouver is pretty famous for. Here is the MacKay Creek Greenbelt map.

It’s also like Slavoj Zizek’s notion of “disavowal” in that I know the city exists, but I pretend it doesn’t. Writing on my iPhone is a way to dislodge the purity of that notion by engaging the technological within the supposedly natural setting. Something is always being covered over, yet something else always persists.

I was also thinking about what it means to flourish. I know how to write out of pain and struggle and the end of things — my new book is called The Ends of the Earth after all, but I wanted to consider how the creative process functions when things are going well. Our culture seems to like when people struggle, particularly women, I’m thinking of that recent Vice fashion shoot where women writers’ suicides were portrayed. The writer Jon Paul Fiorentino wrote an amazing response to that issue.

I was also thinking about all the work that has been done by Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) investigating issues of how women’s writing often doesn’t get valued or reviewed.

But I also think it’s important to conceptualize a way in which things could be better, to try and look forward to a space where creative work could flourish. Again, the word persists seem particularly powerful in that way. We are frustrated and yet we persist. The work we do isn’t valued by our culture and yet we persist. Being a poet seems impossible and yet.

In terms of concision, I guess I still subscribe to the modernist adage attributed to William Carlos Williams: “No ideas but in things.” Splicing emotion onto an object is definitely a go to strategy for me.

If I was going to link Flourish to a visual signifier it might by Kathy Slade’s Orange Pom Pom or Eli Bornowsky’s dot series.

You are a regular collaborator, such as with artist Shima Iuchi on the interactive project ‘Reading Kamloops’. How do you relate to the process of collaborating?

I love the way ideas get elevated in the process of collaboration. Maybe I don’t have control issues, but I absolutely adore watching things develop when I’m working with another writer or artist or even when I’m having a really great conversation or a good discussion in a class I’m teaching. It’s like I can see the thoughts bouncing around the room and connecting. It’s magic. Even when I’m writing by myself, I’m often responding to readings or images and that’s a form of collaboration too. All my writing is collaborative in that sense.

It is fantastic to have you return to the Queensland Poetry Festival in artefact form. What have you been up to since you were the inaugural Poet in Residence in 2005? (note: since conducting this interview, it has been revealed that Jacqueline is also featuring physically at QPF).

I’m returning in real life form and I couldn’t be more excited. I made some fabulous friends in 2005. I’ve also been back to Brisbane in 2007 to launch my Queensland book called Seven into Even and I’ve been to Tasmania twice. It has been so amazing to maintain those writerly and personal connections. The world has changed since then! Social media has amped up its game and that has really helped me feel connected to Brisbane and Launceston in particular. I still await the invention of teleportation though.

I’ve published a couple of books, one of which I’ll launch at the festival. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching art students and that has been amazing.

Both of my sons grew up and I put a lot of work into those projects!

I sent and responded to a lot of emails. I edited some Australian manuscripts. I had great visits from Australian friends. I wrote a lot of poetry reviews for The Georgia Straight. I recently wrote about dogs for Artspeak.  I participated in Margaret Christakos’ Influency Salon, which is a really great model for experiencing poetry.

I fell in love again. I’m learning to sail. I went to a lot of poetry readings. Time flies and bends. I’m lucky.

Jacqueline will be appearing at The Queensland Poetry Festival in Set Fire to the Air and Domestic Hardcore and launches her new book The Ends of the Earth.


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