Complicit Contexts, with Adam Sol

PapirmassINTERVIEWS

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Adam Sol is a poet, Trillium Book Award winner, and the Canadian Juror for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize. Adam’s poetry is full of sharp narratives about the freedom and restrictions of the contemporary world. We talked to Adam about what’s next on his plate and what influences him.

His poetry is featured in Issue 71 of Papirmass with a collage by Emily Haasch.


 

Hi Adam. Can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?

I was born in the US and grew up in Connecticut, but I can play “O Canada” on a blade of grass. I’m a university prof, a father of 3 boys, an untalented but enthusiastic point guard, and the husband, brother, and son-in-law of rabbis.

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Your book, Jeremiah, Ohio, is an inventive and captivating work, melding the format of a poetry collection and a novel. Its interconnected poems reimagine the story of biblical prophet and doomsayer Jeremiah as a modern character embarking on a road trip. What were the challenges of working in this innovative format? What was the inspiration to recontextualize an ancient character?

The Jeremiah character came very quickly to me — on a bus, actually. Once he introduced himself to my imagination he could come and visit any time — I would be in any old place — a strip mall, a pasture, a hollowed out town in southern Ohio — and the question would immediately present itself to me, “What would J think of this?” It was much harder to figure out the partner character, Bruce, and to discover why he finds Jeremiah so compelling, compelling enough to want to follow and care for. Most of us would tend to let a guy like that rave on by.

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Your contribution to Papirmass is from your most recent poetry collection, Complicity (McClelland & Stewart, 2014), which explores structural power imbalances and their effect on relationships. The description of the book asks some powerful questions, such as ‘How do we identify ourselves with communities – national, cultural, or local – while aware of the violence which underlies their arrangements?’ and ‘How do we pursue love when we know how fraught and imbalanced gender politics is?’ By asking such difficult questions in the description it seems this collection is setting itself up not as an answer, but as the starting point of a conversation. Were you hoping for a dialogue, and, if so, has the response produced one?

Isn’t this questionnaire a form of dialogue? Aren’t we participating in that right now? How can you justify printing a magazine in a period that considers art a consumable commodity that should be distributed for free across the internet? You charge actual money for this?! And yet, isn’t it awesome to be part of creating something like Papirmass? Who is sending me these questions? Can we start a serious conversation about important issues via a questionnaire? Shouldn’t we?

I suppose that, as an artist, I’m always trying to squeeze as many different impulses, tones, and feelings as possible into a small space, and trying to be aware of, and account for, as many contexts as possible.

 

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You are a judge for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize, a prestigious award for Canadian poetry. What are you most looking forward to as a judge?

I’m on the verge of receiving the first boxes of books, and am terrified and very excited. The most interesting thing personally is the chance to get a broad portrait of what’s happening in English poetry for a full year. How many years go by when it feels like we’re missing crucial books? Well, as far as poetry is concerned, and limiting myself to books, I will not be saying that for the year 2015.

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What is on your horizon?

I’m at work on a couple of projects. Last summer I started writing some new poems and I’m tinkering with a novel. But with the pile of reading heading my way I’m not sure I’ll be doing much of anything for the next few months apart from my teaching load, my family, and the Griffin reading. Hopefully I’ll remember to sleep.

 

Adam Sol is our November 2015 writer.