Category Archives: Interview

Harmonious Dissonance: in Conversation with George Elliott Clarke

To provide Malahat readers with a context in which to read and more deeply appreciate George Elliott Clarke’s “Othello: By Donation Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade,” a bravura long poem appearing in the magazine’s Summer 2016 issue, I explore with the poet his ambitions and the intent he enacts in the writing of such a profoundly engaging and provocative work. Last year I also recorded George reading a few poems when he visited Vancouver Island University last year, and The Malahat Review has published one of these recordings, “The Testament of Ulysses X.” You may read the full text of this poem or listen to George’s performance of it, recorded while he was the 2015 Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo.

George Elliott Clarke is currently  Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate. Towards the end of the interview I asked him, why does the world need poetry? To which he responded:

Hal David and Burt Bacharach: “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love”? That song comes to mind in thinking about why the world should need poetry. But I will also reiterate my sentiments in the Shad/Q interview: poetry exists in the rhythm of pulse and breath; it is “mind-forged” (Blake) language given vocal (originally) expression in tune with the pace of breath and the beat of the heart. The cadences are related to the sounds conjured by the arrangements of tongue, teeth, lips, and lungs. Poetry is organic technology, a physical art—as much as is dance, save that its calisthenics are performed by abstract characters or organically by the movement of the mouth.  In any event, it is the cheapest art and thus the most portable, for it can be memorized and taught to others. It is the first civilizing art, for it is the basis of scripture, whether inscribed or chanted. It conjoins imagination and emotion; so, for so long as human beings dream, recall, and/or have feelings, they/we will always invent poems.

Read the full interview, here.

In addition,

Oral Histories Project

Since January 2012 I’ve curated an Oral Histories Special Project for the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice Project.  The ICASP project plays a leading role in defining a new field of interdisciplinary inquiry in Improvisation Studies. The project’s core hypothesis is that musical improvisation is a crucial model for political, cultural, and ethical dialogue and action.

Oral Histories is a showcase of interviews, performances, and articles by and about improvising musicians, artists, writers, and scholars. This monthly feature offers an intimate look inside the minds and practices of some of the many dynamic, innovative people whose energy and ideas make improvisation studies such a vibrant field of inquiry. The Oral Histories project provides a space for improvising artists to be heard in their own words, often in dialogue with other improvisers, scholars, and practitioners. Back in 2012, I wrote a short reflective piece on the idea behind the project, musing on the relationship between orality and improvised musical practices. That short reflection can be found here.

The project has also been useful for my PhD thesis, Soundin’ Canaan: Music, Resistance, and Citizenship in African Canadian Poetry, since the thesis contains audio/visual interviews (many archived under the Oral Histories project) with several poets explored in the thesis (including M. NourbeSe Philip, George Elliott Clarke, Cecil Foster, d’bi.young, Wayde Compton, and others). Future Oral Histories will include the legendary South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, the late Amiri Baraka in conversation with William Parker, and more!

View Past Oral Histories below:

2014

 2013

 2012

Featured photo of Paul Watkins in conversation with d’bi.young.

We Can Never Tell the Entire Story of Slavery: In Conversation with M. NourbeSe Philip

The Toronto Review of Books has just published my interview with the renowned poet, M. NourbeSe Philip. In the interview we focus on her work Zong!, and touch on music, improvisation, slavery (including the film 12 Years a Slave), the haunting of modernity, and more!

Read the full interview, here.

Photo by Paul Watkins of M. NourbeSe Philip leading a book-length reading of Zong! on November 29th, 2013.