Laura Broadbent was raised in Stratford, Ontario and has resided in Montreal since 2005. Her first book of poetry Oh There You Are I Can't See You Is It Raining? (Snare Books, 2012) won the 2012 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She was recently appointed the reviews editor at Lemon Hound, and will begin her PhD in 2013.
Oh There You Are I Can’t See You Is It Raining? has been eloquently described as “an experiment in hybrid and versatility of voice, these texts stutter around the slipperiness of language and the transience of desire.” Broadbent’s writing does indeed come across as an experiment bent on breaking down proverbial gender stereotypes and giving new meaning to relationships, love and romantic desire in terms of each being essential, absurd, random, hideous, and blind.
Please visit Laura Broadbent at her tumblr page.
Poems from: Oh There You Are I Can’t See You Is It Raining?
Even your family can betray you but when there is no you your
family can’t betray you. The place between A and B formally re-
quests you to drop the story. He is not better than you because there
is no you and you have not failed because there is no you. You
did not say the wrong thing because there is no you. There was no
humiliating sexual encounter because there is no you. You didn’t
detect bodily decay because there is no you. He cannot hurt you
because there is no you. You aren’t stuck in your first-world issues
because there is no you. Your task is to walk among the ten thou-
sand things – look at the sky and become it smell the morning
and become it feel the temperature and become it scatter with
the wind. Not a name reaches you in your bassinet of nothing-
ness strung between A and B.
I am the sort of man women say they love
but never recognize when they meet me
and even if they did recognize me
they wouldn’t recognize me.
Because I am the sort of man
women say they love but would never
recognize when they meet me because
they want to “want to” meet me,
not actually meet me.
For if they met me, the sort of man
women say they love, they wouldn’t
love me, for I am precisely the man
that they say they love and do
not actually love.
I am the sort of man who endues
the sensitivity of his feeling.
Since I am the sort of man women say they love
but never recognize when they meet me
then I am just a man with potential
for being loved, and not the sort of man
who is loved.
Any wide space of ground is the potential
site of a palace but there is no palace
until the palace is built.
To be loved consists in being loved
not having the potential
for being loved.
So if I am to be a man women actually love
rather than the sort of a man women say
they love but never recognize when they
meet me, I need to be the sort of man
women say they don’t love, for then
I will be loved.
He says that she says that he said something he didn’t say.
She says that he says that she said something she didn’t say.
He says she says things when she means something else.
She says he says mean things.
He says she says he says mean things
and he says he does not say mean things.
He says he says things that mean something
and he says she says things
that don’t mean anything.
She says she can’t believe he says she says
things that don’t mean anything
and that he says he says things
that mean something because
what he actually says, she says,
are mean things that mean mean things.
He says she can say he says mean things
only if she lists the mean things he says
and if she can’t list the mean things he says
then he simply says things that mean things.
She says precisely because he says she must list
the mean things means he says mean things.
She says she can’t list the mean things he means
because she says he says she only says things
that don’t mean anything and she says that
if she says things that don’t mean anything
at least she says things that don’t mean anything
rather than saying things that mean mean things.
He says he’s sorry she thinks he says things
that mean mean things and that maybe she
shouldn’t invest such meaning in the things
he means because he doesn’t mean them.
He says that yes sometimes he says things
that mean mean things just to be mean.
He says for example he doesn’t mean it
when he says she says things that don’t mean
anything or mean something else, he is just
saying those things to be mean.
She says that what he says no longer
has any meaning no matter how mean
and she says she’s not sure they’ve said
anything that means anything anyway
so perhaps they should stop saying things
and just make coffee to which he agrees.
TTQ – I read on the internet somewhere that poetry is not your first love and that you didn't enjoy writing or reading it all that much at first. What changed your mind?
Laura Broadbent – I skipped high school often to go either to the forest or to the library – so this was wholesome rebellion. Appropriately, I accidentally came across the work of Walt Whitman at the library. I got him, I got that. I think this seed stayed with me. The rhapsodic erotic song of myself. Myself being everyone. Perhaps it was Whitman’s lusty young men swimming that stayed with me. More likely. In university, it was simply exposure to poetry, guided by pros. Then poetry consumed me so totally. So totally. It became an obsession, I compulsively bought poetry books, books on poetry, and from one author was turned onto the next. There is greatness in this genre, there is also a lot of shittiness, like in any art. Poetry is just really easy to make fun of. Often I feel I would prefer to spend my life reading and appreciating rather than generating. I mean, the conceptualists beg us not to write any more poetry, and if the urge is too great, simply curate from all that is already written. I feel like a fraud, writing, often. This act of creation may be futile but I love it more than most things. I am not convinced my life is not futile, either. So. Why not play? At the end of each poem though I feel I need a footnote that says *forgive me.
TTQ – You have also commented that poets are simply "born that way." What makes you so sure?
Laura Broadbent – I’m not so sure at all, actually. That was an audacious and incorrect statement. For example, when I fall in love, it is not for the other’s beauty or acumen [whatever it may be] but for the way that person sees. The way a person sees is their poetry. The way I see and the way I see people seeing is my poetry. I love the ways in which people see. Not everyone actually, the way right-wingers [and their ilk] ‘see’ just freaks me right out. This way of being ‘right’ by virtue of NOT listening, NOT seeing. Anyone who listens and watches with intense sensitivity and openness is a poet in the broad sense, whether they do or do not write.
Actually, facebook just helped me out twice with this question. Re: right-wingers, my very funny brother just wrote, “Stephen Harper, George W. Bush, Rob Ford, Michelle Bachman, all politicians in a class of their own…Too bad that class took the short bus.” Re: seeing my friend Vince just quoted this: “I don’t write poetry anymore,” Sicilia said. “One looks, hears, and talks from the perspective of poetry. Simply speaking to make visible the pain of this war is a form of poetry.” That quote is taken from this article.
TTQ – When did you begin writing the poems for Oh There You Are I Can't See You Is It Raining? (Snare Books, 2012) and how difficult was that process for you?
Laura Broadbent – All the poems were written during the last two years. The process was not difficult at all, but would not have happened, I think, had I not been doing my MA, taking workshops, having deadlines, thinking about poetry all the time, and thus generating work. Though a master’s degree in literature is an utterly useless degree, I learned so much. It was worth it just to be around these people that share an obsession with poetry, and are smart, and know how to speak about it with such nuance, and contributed so much insight and editing know-how to my work. I have an enormous respect for the people I happened to be doing my degree with. My book, for real, would not exist if it were not for the life-saving advice of Deanna Fong and Allison Bishop. I was lucky too, that we were all supportive of each other – no smarmy backstabbing, competition, gossip. Thank g_d. Watch out for the work of Deanna Fong, Meredith Darling, Bilyana Ilievska [she writes the most hilarious and sumptuous fiction and is cripplingly humble], Julie McIsaac, Andy Szmanski, Lise Gaston, Allison Bishop, Ali Pinkney, to name but a few.
TTQ – What was some of the life-saving advice you received from your friends that got you through the most difficult times in writing the book?
Laura Broadbent – The book was originally going to be just the section 'Men in Various States,' expanded. These women reminded me that two other suites I had been working on would fit well. Simple and true.
TTQ – How would you best describe your style of writing and what should readers expect when they open Oh There You Are I Can't See You Is It Raining?
Laura Broadbent – I aim for versatility, to throw my voice, switch styles, experiment. Juliana Spahr does that with each text she publishes and I love that. [Listen to her read ‘Poem Written After September 11, 2001’] I don’t know, I suppose the residue I cannot unstick is humour, a dark, wry, or absurdist humor. Humour is often the best way to accurately express the horror. It’s a powerful tool. I have a hard time writing anything that is good in a tone that is dead serious.
TTQ – Was there a common theme or idea you were purposely trying to spotlight throughout in Oh There You Are I Can't See You Is It Raining?
Laura Broadbent – Desire. Original, I know. The first section of the book works with the desire to escape the symbolic order, and/or become a body w/o organs if you will. It is concerned with depths - to be one who rejects surfaces entirely. Yet the paradox of the suite is that it uses the symbolic order to speak of the desire to abandon it. It deals with nothingness, a very full, big nothingness, a desire to be that nothingness, and to get more virtual in a cosmic sense. Artaud: “When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom.”
The second section of the book takes phrases from my shameful journals, curates them, and works under a formal constraint of my own invention. This was an attempt to shift the borders of meaning, and to redeem those frightful, frightful tomes. The desire to shift meaning. And it can be and it must be. Shifted. The third section I attempt to show desire [romantic] as it often is: mostly ugly and stupid. I gave myself the challenge of writing unsympathetic, often despicable characters. For this section I’ve been accused of both misogyny and misandry, and so I consider it a success.
TTQ – Has it been your experience in your own personal relationships that you would characterize most as being ugly and stupid, and what is the truth behind the accusations of your being accused of misogyny and misandry?
Laura Broadbent -
"...For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying."
-Rilke, Duino Elegies [the first one]. ed. Stephen Mitchel
TTQ – Oh There You Are I Can't See You Is It Raining? won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry 2012. What does winning that award at such an early stage of your writing career mean to you personally?
Laura Broadbent – I feel very behind already so I am glad for any tiny momentum. It is hard to find time to write because the sheer act of hustling to survive consumes the vast majority of my time. Really, regarding the award, I thought, ‘well it’s about time.’ My life has been full of shit-luck, trouble, and enormous, often insurmountable obstacles. I say this only because it is true. So the award is very meaningful in that it is permission to write, it was something that wasn't a downer for once. I really needed that permission outside of the kindness and encouragement from my teachers and peers in the insular realm of 12-person writing workshops.
TTQ – Talk about some of the obstacles you have had to overcome in your life and how many of those experiences appear in the book?
Laura Broadbent – Though Elizabeth Bishop says the art of losing isn't hard to master, she of course means it is. Once you know what it is to lose absolutely everything you hold most dear, so intensely dear, then it feels like death for a long time. Possession is the ultimate pain. I have known death, poverty, fundamental religion, heartbreak, humiliation, emotional and psychological invalidation, been at the receiving end of gossip mongering and cruelty, sexual harassment, patriarchal forms of punishment and prohibition. I've had nervous and emotional breakdowns, I have been silenced and shamed, rejected, fooled, and laughed at. I'm not innocent, I am complicit in many of these forces, and that is part of my grief. My literary heroes are women who know these things and who refuse to be silenced. My book is a very safe refraction of these things. I hope to grow in bravery of voice.
TTQ – Do you read a lot of current-day poets and do you think today’s poetry is going through a kind of resurgence?
Laura Broadbent – Yes I read a lot of current-day poets, and yes poetry is going through a resurgence today. The resurgence, I believe, is what the more conceptual poets are doing: Ken Goldsmith [all uncreative writing], Vanessa Place, Sina Queyras, Erin Moure, Lisa Robertson, etc. Also, interdisciplinary artists that work with text in interesting ways, like Jenny Holzer, or poets who do not use text, whatever. There’s also this big Alt Lit boom happening right now, ‘among the youths.’ Internet generation, Tao Lin, Steven Roggenbuck, etc. More generally, being the reviews editor at Lemon Hound is really turning me on to how many talented Canadian poets are at work. So many talented poets go under the radar in Canada! So much good work and Harper hates it. Harper hates poetry and Harper hates babies.
TTQ – I’m positive Prime Minister Harper doesn't read my blog or poetry of any kind, so would you have some words of advice for our lost Prime Minister in terms of poetry and babies?
Laura Broadbent – When you smell poo-poo, the baby needs to be changed. When there's a line break, it doesn't mean the poem's over.
TTQ – How important is reading your poetry in front of a live audience to the writing process and how comfortable are you reading your poems in front of a crowd?
Laura Broadbent – I am very uncomfortable reading my poems in front of a crowd, I just want to apologize. Although in the end I enjoy it. Good pain. Sometimes my poems make more sense to people when I read them aloud. That was interesting to learn. Usually at a reading I find the person’s body, their voice, the distractions in the room, all detract from the content of what is being read. Super hard for me to focus in this context as I'm hyper-sensitive and have barely any psychic boundaries - I'm like Deanna Troy [erm, Star Trek], a total empath. Also, I just want to let people look at each other so I can opt out of this being looked at business. I don’t like when eyes are upon me in real time, it feels like a violence.
TTQ – Would you consider yourself to be a feminist and in your opinion is feminism dead?
Laura Broadbent – I didn't realize I was a feminist until I learned feminism was dead.
TTQ – Who helped you with the editing of Oh There You Are I Can't See You Is It Raining? and how important was their input in getting the book completed?
Laura Broadbent – Darren Wershler was my editor, and he is a masterful editor. It was painful, in how much I had to cut out, but his vision is precise, and was a particularly good fit for honing the tone of this text. Though not my editor, Sina Queyras is a f’n tough mentor, has hurt my feelings on multiple occasions, and that is how it should be. She’s given me a pretty clear idea about what it’s like out there, and like any scene, it isn't pretty. I’m learning most from her right now, and am so thrilled that she does not yet despise me. Like all brilliant women, she works twice as hard as most, and should have twice the recognition she has.
TTQ – Do you see yourself being able to make a career out of writing? Is it financially possible or do you have a backup plan in place?
Laura Broadbent – Absolutely not financially possible. My student debt is actually going to kill me. Get this: sixty thousand dollars. I’m coming out of the closet with this. That’s ten thousand a year for six years. I worked two jobs the entire time, too. If I could sell sixty thousand books of poetry that would be swell, and that will never, ever happen. So my backup is drugs, prostitution, or a funded PhD. Unfortunately school is what I’m good at. I’ve crippling debt, a history of depression and hysterical despair [which I believe to be sane reactions to this world], a master’s degree in poetry, and cankles: a real winner! World, here I come.
TTQ – What is the poetry community like in Montreal and would you describe it as being somewhat more eclectic or vibrant than in Ontario?
Laura Broadbent – Well, I avoid scenes like herpes. It is no coincidence that scene sounds just like ‘seen’ because it is very much about that – being seen. As I said before, I don’t want to be seen, though I want to be heard. More than anything I want to listen. That said, I am trying to be less hostile about this whole silly scene business. I know a poetry scene, however, is important, very important, on the basic terms of survival of poetry. This is unlike visual art and music scenes which are the more deplorable scenes I speak of. Often not so much about being together but being in the right place with the right people, and preoccupied with being cool. Just feels too much like high school. Montreal has some great stuff for poetry right now. My pals Ashley Oppenheim [high-priestess of unabashed occultist mysteries] and Guillaume Morissette [a heartbreakingly funny writer, a very disarmingly real person] run this series called ‘This is Happening Whether You Like It or Not’ which brings a little hip back into poetry readings – people read, music is performed, people party – not your typical stuffy sit-down, polite-applause affair. This year’s Writers Read program at Concordia is amazing. Amazinggg with three g's. Jon-Paul Fiorentino runs the pilot reading series at a bar called Sparrow which has been a success. As for Ontario, I don’t know – I moved to Montreal when I was 20 and go home about once a year.
TTQ – What’s next for Laura Broadbent?
Laura Broadbent – Trying and failing and trying and failing to live with heart while witnessing the utter violence, cruelty, stupidity, and destruction of mankind, both to itself and to the earth. You know. In Gary Snyder’s words, ‘stay together, learn the flowers, go light.‘
*Note – Photo of Laura Broadbent taken by Valdis Silins.