Monthly Archives: June 2017

BWS 12.07.17: Terence A. Go

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Terence A. Go has been dating-app free for two months and counting. A first-gen, Indonesian-Canadian spoken word artist, he has read at various venues across the city; most recently, he has featured at Naked Heart – An LGBTQ Festival of Words (2016) and Poetic Justice: A Proud Reading Series (2015, 2016) at Glad Day, and Fleurus 2 at Hart House (2013). Terence’s work has been published in Misunderstandings Magazine and Zhush Redux (2012), and he has released several collections, UNgh (2007) among them. He has facilitated OUTwrites since 2003.

Ahead of his July 12 Brockton Writers appearance, Terence visits the blog this week for an interview, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his first book’s publication!

BWS: You recorded many of the poems in your first collection and provided those recordings for this interview, so that’s how this interviewer first experienced them: aloud. It made me think about first impressions of a poem, and how they might differ when heard as opposed to being read on the page; when you write, do you think more about someone hearing the poem than someone reading it, or vice versa, or is it a combination…?

Terence: Music has always been a part of my life. Whether it be my classical training on the piano, or playing clarinet and bassoon in a high school band, or just listening to baroque and Hip-hop/R&B music growing up, I have always been attracted to the rhythms and cadences of language.

When I compose a piece, the speaker is definitely one who tells his tale aloud. That said, I am also an admirer of great architecture, and whether consciously or not, I often integrate some symmetry to my pieces in print.

BWS: The sound of the poems does come to life, and a sonic theme even seemed to emerge in a couple of them: you actually sing “Wheels on the Bus” before the sexually charged nature of the transit ride becomes apparent in “Frottage Cheese”, and in the “All in the Bawdy” series and “Commuter II” some child-like rhythms come through as well. Do you see a kind of simplistic/child-like/intuitive element as a key part of your poetry? Or of poetry in general?

Terence: I learned once that the appeal for the “sing-song” quality of children’s nursery rhymes derives in part from the same soothing heartbeat rhythms that we heard in the womb, the same way a child falls asleep to the “white noise” created by a car ride. I see the musical works of Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, and the sound of Diggable Planets partly as an extension of this aesthetic. I think most poetry has an inherent rhythm whether it is the structured meter of a sonnet or the departure from that in free verse. Much like the theme and variations of a Bach piece, I enjoy establishing a rhythm or line and playing with it, through sound and sense.

BWS: It’s been 10 years since you published your first collection. Can you believe it? How do you remember the experience now? Do you think about the work a lot?

Terence: Much to the consternation of nosy friends and family, I would rather speak of how old I feel rather than what my driver’s licence reveals. Haha. Ha. Hmm. My first collection was the result of a Creative Writing class at the University of Toronto and a group of poets who performed at Hart House and created an anthology for the evening. As I am sure is the case with many authors, I sort of cringe thinking of some of the dramatic interpretations I performed in the past (socks on my hands in a re-enactment, a broomstick with my mother’s image), but I enjoyed its free-spirited quality. I like to think that my work has matured both in subject matter (coming out, dealing with familial homophobia) and delivery, but I still find it amusing to recount the foibles of gay single life through humour.

BWS: What are you working on now?

Terence: Currently, I’m trying to compile a new collection and do more regular readings. I just finished a trip to Europe, the Middle East, Indonesia, and Australia, so I’m working on a collection that complements a selection of those photos from the obscene horde of pics sitting in my cloud drive. I am interested in researching more about Indonesian history and culture as it intersects with my own identity as a queer, first-generation Indonesian-Canadian, so I look forward to completing that project. Overall, travel, reading, and writing more is always the ideal goal.

BWS: Looking forward to hearing more about it on July 12, Terence, thanks!

Terence A. Go visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 (Queer Night!) in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside jes sachse, Ron Schafrick, Kai Cheng Thom and a special guest talk, “Five Things You Should Know Before You Do Anything About Your Children’s Book Idea”, by S. Bear Bergman!

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BWS 12.07.17: Ron Schafrick

Ron Schafrick

Ron Schafrick’s short fiction has appeared in The Journey Prize Stories 27, Best Gay Stories 2015, The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, Asia Literary Review, Plenitude, and elsewhere. His collection of stories, Interpreters, was published by Oberon Press in 2013.

Ron drops by the blog today ahead of his July 12 appearance at Brockton Writers Series, with this guest post about his favourite short stories. Thanks, Ron!

Favourite Short Stories

I teach an introductory fiction course, and like many such courses the focus is on short fiction. Recently, at the start of this summer semester, after my usual enthusiastic welcome, one of my students asked me a question after class that part of me has always secretly hoped to be asked: “What’s your favourite short story?”

On the one hand, it’s a bit of an unusual question, naïve and ingenuous, not something any discerning reader would ever ask. After all, of the innumerable short stories out there, how can one possibly pick out just one favourite? And yet, you do hear people speak of their favourite novels (it’s often used as a choice of prompt in case you forget your password on certain websites), or even favourite movies in spite of their own similarly countless options.

But when the question actually came I was a bit flummoxed in my answer. A couple of titles immediately popped into my head, and when I walked away I began to ponder the question a bit more: What are those stories that have made the greatest and most lasting impression on me, both as a reader and a writer of short fiction? Which stories do I turn to again and again for both instruction and inspiration?

In response to my student’s question, the story that immediately rose up from my subconscious was Mavis Gallant’s “Across the Bridge.” Gallant is one of my favourite writers and has had a huge influence on my own writing. I love the sheer confidence of her prose and the exactitude of each word. Some people describe her fiction as a bit cold, but that’s exactly what I love about her. I love, too, how the political and historical are also seamlessly woven into her work. In this story, set in Paris in the 1950s, a young woman is supposed to get married to one man but at the last minute decides she’s actually in love with another. I first read this story twenty years ago, and the last few words—“And, yes, it made me happy”—left me breathless when I first read them. Without giving anything away, it’s a very ironic ending, and yet what better words could there be to end any story? Other Gallant stories that vie for top spot include “Potter”, “The Remission”, “Voices Lost in Snow”, and “The Chosen Husband”, just to name a few.

The other story that also immediately came to mind was Yukio Mishima’s “Death in Midsummer”. Like Gallant’s “Across the Bridge,” I also first read this story about twenty years ago and it left a big mark on me. Set in Japan in the 1960s, it’s about a woman who loses two of her three children, as well as her sister-in-law, while vacationing at a seaside resort. Told from the mother’s perspective, the story that unfolds is a deeply internal one and closely examines the numerous subtle conflicts that arise out of this tragedy: the strain that’s now placed on her marriage, her in-laws’ subsequent perception of her, her own relationship with the surviving boy. It’s one of those stories in which very little happens, and yet everything happens—something I tend to do in my own fiction.

Along a similar vein is Raymond Carver’s “So Much Water So Close to Home.” Back in the ’90s I was a big fan of Carver. He made a big impact on me, and I think this story is one of his finest. When Claire’s husband returns from a fishing trip, she learns that he and his friends had discovered the murdered body of a young woman washed up onto the shore of a river. The men decide that instead of turning right around to find a phone booth to contact police, they tie the floating naked body to a tree and continue to spend the rest of their weekend camping, fishing, and drinking. Like Mishima’s story, the rest of the piece looks at the fallout from this event. Claire can’t help but see her husband differently now, as a man indifferent to violence inflicted upon women, as a man possibly capable of violence himself. She withdraws from her husband and starts to identify with the victim. Told in the first-person present tense, it’s a very compelling and internal story, haunting without a ghost ever materializing. And of course, there is Carver’s voice, which is not only very beguiling but has also influenced my own writing style.

Like a lot of people, I’m a big fan of Lorrie Moore, and her story “Agnes of Iowa” is one of my favourites. One of the things that draw me to Moore’s fiction is her ability to be both funny and sad at the same time, and in this story a South African poet is invited to give a reading at the university where Agnes is a professor. Agnes, whose marriage is starting to wane, is initially alarmed that the English department has invited an apartheid-era white Afrikaner to give a reading; yet when he arrives she finds him both attractive and sympathetic. Stylistically, there’s a lot going on in this story that I really like: the occasional and humorous intrusions of the protagonist’s thoughts into the narrative, almost like non sequiturs and which are represented by the use of the italics; her humorous yet percipient choice of similes and metaphors; and her ability to gently poke fun at her protagonist, making her all the more human, recognizable, and real. I have found myself mimicking her voice in some of my own fiction on more than one occasion. Other Lorrie Moore favourites include: “Dance in America” and “Places to Look for Your Mind.”

Vladimir Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols” is another favourite of mine, and what makes this piece particularly powerful is Nabokov’s ability to tell a story that is at once both highly affecting and yet completely self-conscious of itself as artifice without being heavy-handed about it—and that too is something I sometimes like to play with in my own work.

John Cheever’s “Reunion” is the first story I teach every semester and, I’ve started to realize, it’s also become a favourite of mine. It’s a very short and simple story (I’ve got it practically memorized!), and it’s also a very perfect story, too. I begin with that story because it’s got all those typical “elements of fiction” that I teach—exposition, rising action, climax, resolution, irony, foreshadowing, etc. And of course it’s beautifully written.

Of course, this list only just scratches the surface when it comes to favourites and influences; for a slightly more expanded list, please visit my website. And let me know: what are your own favourites? What are the short stories that have had a big impact on you?

Ron Schafrick visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 (Queer Night!) in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Terence A. Go, jes sachse, Kai Cheng Thom and a special guest talk, “Five Things You Should Know Before You Do Anything About Your Children’s Book Idea”, by S. Bear Bergman!

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