Your latest book, The Poetic Edda, is a translation of Old Icelandic 13th-century tales. What inspired you to take on such an endeavour?
The challenge of it, really. I thought it would jar my aesthetic into new realms. I wanted to learn Old Icelandic. I wanted to take on a personal project that wasn’t eligible for awards or grants, which focused on language and close reading, interpretation, and the critical apparatus that surrounds a text. I basically wanted to try something I hadn’t done really done before. I wanted to see if I had the guts for a lengthy commitment.
Tell us about the translation process. Do you have certain methods or routines that work for you?
I experimented with a stupid number of translation methods and theories; traditional word-per-word decoding, English to English re-dubbing, transliterations of recorded readings… I ended up translating each poem at least three or four times before settling on a version that I felt represented the oomph of the music and language found in each individual piece. I then compared the entire thing to the original text once more and edited accordingly. I wanted them to be museum grade replicas of the originals, expensive ones that only platinum-selling pop stars could afford, ones that are kept in shatterproof glass cases and are almost to scale. I doubt they ended up being Smithsonian worthy, they may just be postcard, gift store versions.
Did you spend time in Iceland while completing this manuscript? How important is travel to your work?
I spent a couple of years living in Iceland, as well as doing a handful of shorter visits here and there. I spent some time with the original manuscript and stayed in the church that sits on the spot where the Edda may have first been written. Otherwise, I was spending time in residencies in Europe and a few here in Canada. I don’t pretend to comprehend the extent locale affects my process, I just know it does.
What is a Canadian poet? Is there such a thing, really? And who fits this bill?
I don’t really think about it much. I’m sure they exist, though.
You were shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2009 for your debut collection Crabwise to the Hounds and won the 2007 CBC Literary Award. What impact, if any, did these awards have on your career?
They ushered more readers my way, I imagine, but these things are hard to prove. Years later, now that the tiny plume of dust has settled, I can safely say they gave me more confidence, but I have an unhealthy relationship and utter distrust of compliments, especially juried ones, so now I’m back to square one.
Who are you reading these days?
Non-fiction, mostly, some philosophy. A lot of cookbooks, I’m trying to become a better person in the kitchen and adjoining pantry.
What are you working on now?
I’m playing around with new poems and a long essay on animal rights. I’d like to try writing more fiction, but the idea of typing that much makes me queasy.