Lorna Crozier resides on Vancouver Island and is a distinguished professor at the University of Victoria. She is, without doubt, one of Canada’s most celebrated and prestigious poets, having read her poetry on every continent. She has received numerous literary awards, including the Governor General’s Award, for her fifteen books of poetry, which include Small Mechanics, The Blue Hour of the Day, What the Living Won't Let Go, Inventing the Hawk and Everything Arrives at the Light, and her memoir, Small Beneath the Sky. She has also edited several anthologies, among them Desire in Seven Voices and, with husband Patrick Lane, Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast.
Crozier’s latest book, The Book of Marvels (Greystone Books, 2012), is a series of humourous poems that concentrate on the compendium of everyday things, household objects like a bed, bicycle, bowl, button, ceiling, chair, coffee pot, crowbar, eggs, fork, fridge, gum, ironing board, jell-o, knife, lamp, screw, toaster, yo-yo, zippers etc. Acting as a sort of bemused literary detective, Crozier also offers readers a glimpse of an ordinary household’s inhabitants with her effortless charming and mordant wit, probing the inhabitant’s heart, brain, nose, navel and vagina. Crozier masterfully animates an array of wonders that can be found everywhere around us and inside of our souls.
For more information about Lorna Crozier and The Book of Marvels, visit her website.
NO MATTER what’s inside it, there are certain things each
has in common with all the others. The back cover and the
front, the quire of pages, the nerveless spine. A book talks
to you as you’d talk to yourself alone. Each one affirms
there is an end to things. The last page is often blank, but
few readers have the courage to fill it in. Eventually, the
book demands of almost everyone a special pair of glasses.
This takes a lot of cheek. Otherwise, though some have
changed a country or a life, books are humble. They travel
in a worker’s pocket or in a backpack, nestled in a bundle
of gamy socks and tired underwear. All are lessons in
failure and forgetting, yet they build “the greatest things
from least suggestions.” Ignore the genius or longevity of
those who pen them: it is the book that lasts, uncribbed,
uncoffined. There’s something heroic and sad about the
nom de plume printed horizontally in several places
and running vertically down the spine. To the book, the
letters of the name. though often gilded, spell Anon.
SURELY A MAN with one thing on his mind came up
with vagina, Latin for scabbard or sheathe. It’s difficult
to know what to call it. Its oldest synonym is the vilest
curse. You find solace in translations from the Chinese:
Pillow of Musk, Inner Heart, Jade Gate. “The joints of thy
thighs are like jewels,” King Solomon sang in Hebrew,
then praised what he called the navel, “like a rounded
goblet, which never lacks blended wine.” Often it’s named
without naming. In a letter to Josephine, Napoleon wrote,
“I kiss your heart, and then a little lower, and then much
lower still.” What it most resembles is not a cat but a
flower, unfolding on an O’Keeffe canvas, petals wet with
light. Or, minus the stinging tentacles, a sea anemone, an
ocean-dweller that doesn’t smell like fish. All tuck and
salty muscle, it’s mysterious, even to a woman. Doorway
of Life, Lotus Boat, the Deep One. You worked through
the dirty jokes and schoolyard taunts to learn it’s cleaner
than a mouth, you can’t lose anything inside it, and it’s
never grown teeth. Home from battle, when Napoleon
kissed Josephine’s much-lower-still, ululations streamed
down the palace hallways. Maids smiled in sweet antici-
pation of the night ahead. Others pressed their knees
together, prayed the Virgin Mary would stop their ears.
The Double-Lipped, the Beautiful, Quim.
TTQ – Tell us about your latest book of poems, The Book of Marvels, and how enjoyable was the experience of writing about the ordinary things in life that we take for granted, and bringing them to life in such an interesting way? Was it a difficult process in writing the book?
Lorna Crozier – The ordinary things in life have been a rich source of poetry for me for a long time, starting with the series "The Sex Lives of Vegetables," which came out in The Garden Going On Without Us in 1985. Every book I've published has poems about such things as lichen, gravel, gophers, potatoes, etc., but this is the first time I've made an entire book out of things, with a few abstractions like happiness, darkness and air creeping in to mix things up a bit. I loved the whole process of contemplating ordinary objects, acting like a kind of literary detective to examine them with a mental magnifying glass looking for clues to their being. It was a kind of thinking-seeing that I applied to the things I chose. And some seemed to choose me. I was also fascinated with the form I worked in, that is, a cross between essays and meditations, a blending of poetry and prose. I enjoyed how the form allowed me more room to digress, to loop the loop, to rhapsodize and at the same time, nod and wink with words. It was great fun and I'm sorry that the writing is over. I may have to start a second volume.
TTQ – Each poem in The Book of Marvels stands alone, yet in many ways is a juxtaposition of the next. Was that a deliberate attempt on your part to interweave the blandness of everyday life with a more abstract view of what's really important? Is there some important message you're trying to get across in this book?
Lorna Crozier – I’ve never written a book with the idea of getting a message across. I suppose what readers might end up with is a new appreciation of spoons, doorknobs, mops, etc. and perhaps they'll look at other things around them in a more receptive, attentive way. That kind of looking requires a side stepping of the ego. It demands that we place something other than the self at the centre of our lives. I hope, too, that the book shows that our world is a rich and engaging place, populated with mysterious things whose import and meaning often elude us. Keats reminds us in "Ode to a Grecian Urn" that "Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woes than ours." An Etruscan pitcher has lived many more years than I have and when I'm in the ground, it will still survive. Its longevity says something to me about the shortness of my own existence. I'd better open my eyes and see what's around me while I'm here.
TTQ – You have written 15 books of poetry to date. Where would you rank The Book of Marvels on that list? Do you regard it as one of your best collections to date?
Lorna Crozier – A writer can't rank books any more than a mother can rank children. Usually I like best what I'm working on now. I'm pleased with this book because of the new form that I've explored and because I had so much fun writing it. Also, I think it might appeal to a wider audience than pure poetry books do. The pieces are hard to categorize. Essay? Meditation? Prose poem? I also love the look of it. Greystone did an amazing job with the design.
TTQ – Why is humour such a prevalent and essential ingredient in a lot of your poetry?
Lorna Crozier – Humour is one of my ways of getting at a deep, often disturbing, truth that might make people uncomfortable to hear. I enjoy what tickles my fancy, but I like humour best when it has an edge to it. I don't set out to be funny, but I take great delight when something I've written makes people laugh, then stop and think about the satire that is often part of that laughter. I hope there's a lot of wit in this book; wit might be a better word for what happens in the pieces than humour. One of wit's meanings is "the ability to perceive incongruous relationships and express them in a surprising or epigrammatic manner." That sounds like metaphor-making to me and that's at the heart of this book's amusements. Mary Walsh, who is one of our country's greatest comics, claims that when she's written something funny that gives her a thrill, she's come close to some kind of truth, something that's been hidden and unspoken. I share that feeling. Some of her humour makes me feel uncomfortable but it also makes me laugh.
TTQ – What is your opinion on the current state of poetry in Canada?
Lorna Crozier – Patrick Lane and I published two anthologies of Canadian poets under thirty, the second one in 2004. We chose to do so because we were thrilled with all of the young spectacular poets we were meeting across the country, people like Karen Solie, Steve Price, Suzanne Buffam, Matt Radar, Brad Cran. I'm still impressed by the variety and richness of the poetry coming from people their age and now younger. There's so much good work I can't keep up with it. And the older generation, including Don McKay, Patrick Lane, Dennis Lee, Margaret Atwood, continues to be brilliant. They've been a great influence on my writing. Then there's the group closer to my age: Tim Lilburn, Jan Zwicky, Mary di Michele, Dionne Brand. All of them unique, all of them writing brilliantly. I wish Canadian poetry were given the same chance to travel abroad as our fiction. It would be much lauded and admired.
TTQ – Is reading your poetry live in front of an audience one of the more important aspects of your writing process and did you read a lot of the poems from The Book of Marvels at live readings before sending them off to your publisher?
Lorna Crozier – Poetry will always be an oral art form as well as a written one. We're all doing "spoken word" when we read. Public performances have always been an important part of my writing life. I feel that a poem becomes alive only when it's uttered and moves through the air from the orator to the listener. When I was writing this book, I read every sentence out loud, numerous times through several drafts, until I got the sound right. Though I abandoned lines in this book, rhythm was still of the utmost importance to me, as was assonance, consonance, cadence. I haven't performed many of these poems yet in front of an audience because most of my readings last year were from my new book of poetry, Small Mechanics. I'm looking forward to sending these out to an audience.
TTQ – Do you tend to write many poems in one sitting or do you find that writing is a lot more labour intensive than that for you?
Lorna Crozier – Writing is labour intensive for me but it's a labour that I love. All of my poems go through many drafts in one sitting. I work and work them with great joy until I can't take them any further, then I let them sit for a long time, months maybe, and look at them again. These poems were written over about a year, with four weeks of intense writing of first drafts followed by weeks of tinkering and filling in gaps.
TTQ – What’s next for Lorna Crozier?
Lorna Crozier – I have two collaborative projects in the making right now. The first one is a musical piece, perhaps an oratorio with the composer Leslie Uyeda. It's a dialogue between a dead mother and a daughter. I'm very excited about it. And I've been commissioned to write a poetry piece for theatre. It's meant to work for voice and dance movement. I enjoy working with other artists. Such things open so many doors.
Listen to Lorna Crozier read her poem Vacuum from The Book of Marvels.