Lisa Pasold’s first book of poetry, Weave (Frontenac House, 2004) was called “a masterpiece” by Geist Magazine; her second book of poetry, A Bad Year for Journalists (Frontenac House, 2006) was nominated for an Alberta Book Award and turned into a theatre piece the following year. Her debut novel, Rats of Las Vegas, appeared in 2009 (Enfield & Wizenty); The Winnipeg Free Press called the book “as enticing as the lit-up Las Vegas strip.” Her most recent book, Any Bright Horse (Frontenac House, 2012), has just been nominated for the 2012 Governor General’s Award in Poetry.
Lisa has been thrown off a train in Belarus, been fed the world’s best pigeon pie in Marrakech, taken the Lunatic Line in Kenya, and been cheated in the Venetian gambling halls of Ca’ Vendramin Calergi. She grew up in Montreal, which gave her the jaywalking skills to survive as a journalist. Her features have appeared in publications as diverse as The Globe and Mail, Billboard Magazine, The National Post, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle and New York Living. She has written about France for guidebooks such as Michelin, Fodor’s, and Time Out.
Lisa graciously discusses her new book Any Bright Horse, being nominated for the Governor General’s Award in Poetry 2012, and all things poetry in an all-inclusive interview with The Toronto Quarterly.
For more information, visit Lisa at her website.
Lisa Pasold reads from Any Bright Horse at the Calgary Spoken Word Festival 2012 Part One:
Lisa Pasold reads from Any Bright Horse at the Calgary Spoken Word Festival 2012 Part Two:
TTQ – When did you start writing poetry and what influenced you to do so?
Lisa Pasold – I started writing poetry pretty much immediately after my parents taught me to read. The first books they got me were by Dr. Seuss—poetry was inevitable.
TTQ – You have written two books of poetry and one novel previously. Which genre are you most passionate about writing and which do you find more difficult?
Lisa Pasold – Along with poetry and fiction, I’ve also written a lot of journalism—city features, music interviews, first-person stories, guidebooks—and I feel passionate about pretty much all of it. Writing happens to be the life I want, possibly the only one I’m actually suited for.
TTQ – Your latest book of poetry is called Any Bright Horse (Frontenac House, 2012) and is based on the infamous Marco Polo. What is your fascination with Marco Polo and give us an overview of Any Bright Horse?
Lisa Pasold – Marco Polo was an amazing story-teller and one of the original guidebook writers—as a travel writer myself, the appeal was obvious. Story-tellers use embroidery and interpretation—really, how else can you describe the world? Any Bright Horse is very much about how you travel and invent yourself through what you see and how you eventually talk about it. Initially, I sought out Marco Polo’s writings because I wanted to write as obliquely as possible about Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan. The parts of Polo’s journey which go through Afghanistan contain astonishing descriptions; it was irresistible material.
TTQ – Any Bright Horse is written in the form of one long flowing poem instead of a series of individually titled poems. How did you decide on the form you would use in writing Any Bright Horse?
Lisa Pasold – That’s just the way it worked best.
TTQ – Any Bright Horse has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award in Poetry for 2012. What does that honour mean to you as a poet?
Lisa Pasold – It’s a huge honour, especially considering how many fantastic books are out there. I’m really happy for my Calgary-based publisher, Frontenac House—they deserve recognition for their long-term commitment to poetry. It’s such a tightrope-walk for everyone in this business! And on a personal level, it’s a phenomenal surprise. It’s been wonderful to hear from poets and friends around the country and make plans to read with them and catch up with everyone.
TTQ – You have lived in both Toronto, Ontario and Paris, France. Where are you residing currently and how would you best compare the poetry communities, and do you think poetry is going through a kind of resurgence in both cities?
Lisa Pasold – I’ve lived in a number of different cities—some of my favourites are Montreal, New York, Vancouver, Paris, New Orleans, and Dawson City in the Yukon. I’m essentially a nomad, so wherever I unpack my suitcase is my home. Each place has a very vibrant and exciting writing community and I’ve been fortunate to meet amazing people. But I don’t think poetry is going through any kind of resurgence in France. Literature is important there, always has been. Similarly, it’s difficult for me to compare Toronto past to Toronto present—this city has had a pretty phenomenal poetry community for sixty years.
TTQ – How important is reading your poetry first in front of a live audience before publishing in print? Does that help you in the writing process?
Lisa Pasold – Yes, poetry has a live quality that I really enjoy. I like being able to take a piece to a reading, try it out, and rewrite it. The spoken story-telling aspect of poetry is really important to me.
TTQ – How do you deal with writer’s block?
Lisa Pasold – Deadlines. I tend to have a couple of different projects that need doing—so if the fiction manuscript is stuck, I can rewrite a poem, or get back to a journalism deadline. As long as there’s a deadline, I’ll get it written.
TTQ – Who helped you with editing Any Bright Horse and how important was their input to you in completing the book? Do you enjoy the editing process or do you find it to be simply a necessary evil?
Lisa Pasold – Editing is essential! Rose Scollard at Frontenac House is a fantastic editor, and Jennifer K. Dick, an American poet who lives in France, helped greatly with the arrangement of the segments for Any Bright Horse. In May 2010, I worked on the manuscript with Don McKay, John Glenday and Stephanie Bolster at the Writing Studio at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and so many of the Studio writers gave me thoughtful ideas and feedback on the work—it was an incredibly helpful process.
TTQ – What was your favourite book for 2012 and why?
Lisa Pasold – I’m only allowed one? How about one per genre, in English? This summer I reread Jane Eyre and was astonished—this was not the boring novel I remembered from high school! Erin Knight’s recent poetry collection Chaser amazed me. And Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids is profoundly sad and inspiring.
TTQ – What’s next for Lisa Pasold?
Lisa Pasold – I’m currently trying to decide who makes the best pralines in New Orleans—there’s a lot of hard research to be done.