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rob mclennan was a featured poet at the Pivot Reading Series, Toronto, on May 4, where he read from his latest book of poems, Glengarry. An excerpt from Patrick Connors’s interview with rob mclennan following the reading is reproduced here with kind permission.
“ Glengarry is a long poem composed out of two long poems and a less-long poem,” mclennan said. “In this collection, I’m extending the work I’ve done previously using line breaks and breath, and accumulated sections that evolve into larger structures. Glengarry also extends a conversation about my home-place that I started in my bury me deep in the green wood (ECW Press, 1999).
“In Glengarry, I’m less interested in writing about than writing through. I am working to understand, and pushing to further the potentials of where the language can go. I am pushing to come out the other side.
“bpNichol talked once about one of the connecting theories behind his multiple-book-length long poem The Martyrology, that it connected in part through being written by the same hand. Glengarry is similar to previous of my works in that I wrote them.
“I lived on the farm until I was nineteen, a home space on a road the McLennans have lived on since our original land grant in 1845. My recently widowed father still lives there, and my younger sister is across the road with her husband and their three children. I return regularly, and have done much reading and research on the area over the past twenty-five years. I think I come to the space from both directions equally: the historic (not necessarily “nostalgic”) and the contemporary.”
He gave a calm and almost flawless reading, despite having to deal with numerous distractions and good-natured heckling from the likes of Nathaniel G. Moore, a formidable man of letters himself. mclennan fluently changes cadence and meter, even within individual pieces, or sections of his long work. Even when he is breathing, it is a part of the poem. “I read my line-breaks and page-breaks, otherwise, why did I put them in there?”
His last two poems in the set were written very recently and as yet unpublished. One would have to always be writing to already have more than 20 trade books published. “I wrote three poems today. They are not finished, but all have strong starting points.
“I would argue that all writing asks for the reader’s attention, that the goal of writing, and poetry specifically, is to require such close attention.
“I never claimed to be a poet, although I do write poems. Is there loneliness in my Glengarry? I certainly wasn’t conscious of writing loneliness up against any idea of wilderness, and there are parts of the county that one can’t ascribe any pure wild. My father has internet and satellite television, and the wild deer and coyotes still have highways to contend with, strafing through the fields of domesticated Holsteins.
“I did spend a great deal of my growing up by myself. Perhaps it’s part of what I associate with home, that home place, Glengarry, those echoes of singular movement. I wouldn’t describe it all as lonely.
“My relationship with home is a multi-layered, complex thing, rife with textures and contradictions. Or perhaps it’s far simpler than I keep making it out to be. How does long distance compare to the notion of home? How far is away, and how does one return? No matter what magical lands were discovered along the way in stories from The Odyssey to Alice in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz, each story if fueled predominantly by the desire to return home, even if that home is seen as ordinary, routine, and black-and-white. Or is it like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, where the return home only results in the desire to return to what had just been, finally, escaped?”