Wednesday, 6 April 2011
Poetry Month: Ian Burgham - The Grammar of Distance
Born in New Zealand and raised in Canada, Ian Burgham has lived in both the UK and the South Pacific for extended periods of time. He attended Queen’s University and the University of Edinburgh where he read William Blake and focussed on the subject of poetic process and theories of imagination. He has worked in the UK and Canadian publishing industries as a sales rep, editor and publisher.
In 2004, he won the Queen’s University Well-Versed Poetry Award. He has three collections of poetry; A Confession of Birds, published in the UK in 2003, The Stone Skippers (Tightrope Books) which was published in 2007 in UK, Australia and Canada, and nominated for the 2008 ReLit Award, and The Grammar of Distance (Tightrope Books) published in April, 2010.
His work has been published in many Canadian literary journals including Prairie Fire, Queen’s Quarterly, the Literary Review of Canada, the New Quarterly, Dandelion, CV2, Northern Poetry Review, The Toronto Quarterly, amongst others. His next poetry collection, A Weight of Bees, will be published in Canada and the UK in May 2012.
TTQ - What role do you see poetry playing in an increasingly digital world, and do you feel the e-book will ultimately take the place of the printed page?
Ian Burgham - When you asked me what role I saw poetry playing in a digital world I was hit with a number of responses. The first was that perhaps poetry plays no role whatsoever in the world. It is famously said that “it makes nothing happen” and therefore has no action associated with it. I agree with that. I for one do not set out to change the world because I believe that the world, and if we mean by that “the human condition and human behaviour”, is ever unchanging. I am not out to save the world and poetry is not written to save it either. Poetry is simply the imagination at work on experience to produce an artifact (by exacting craft) of truth and beauty – it is the expression of nothing so it does not set out with any agenda but to be itself.
Do I think people are affected by it? Yes I do. For all of us it is a necessity – every bit as important as breathing, maybe more so. So enter the digital world. Will it increase readership of poetry? I hope so. Certainly it seems that more people who have not encountered it will encounter it. The web and electronic publishing will ensure that because they are not bound by traditional borders and barriers.
Will they read it? I am not certain. In fact I doubt it. It takes concern, imagination, intelligence, openness of mind, heart and spirit and intellectual engagement and courage. Sound like the Toronto Maple Leafs crowd on a Saturday night? For that matter, does it sound like the faculty club lounge on a Friday night? That is not to say poets aren’t crazy about hockey, or that drinks at the Faculty Club aren’t fun entertainment. It is to say that poetry should be found everywhere by everyone because it is somewhere in all of us and is necessary for a greater life of powerful engagement. But there ain’t much entertainment in it unless you take it very seriously. And it isn’t popular.
Yes, it is the province of an elite; not one defined by university graduates and aesthetes…least of all most professors in university literature departments, or doyens of taste and sensibility who pronounce and pontificate at cocktail parties – but an elite nevertheless.
Will e-books take the place of the printed book? Probably in some form. New generations have different relationships to invented technologies. Would I like to lose my relationship to printed books? Never. I love the feel of the book in my hand and the look of covers and illustrations and the riot and mess of bookshelves in a room. And I like the way paper and ink and page work on my mind in the words I read.
On the high road from Lyne to Eddleston that curves between
the tops of the White and Black Meldon Hills, we hit a bird with the old Morris.
Not worrying about fleas or pecks, or blood, you jumped from the car,
bent down, cupped your hand and gently cradled the red feathers.
We had hit it or it had hit us – flown into us blinded by mission.
The bird was saved, but it begged the question – what would have happened if –
Death is the answer. The inevitable is what all things want least.
On the other hand, salvation is accidental – can’t be planned.
You nursed the bird till the day you took it to the garden,
opened your cradle-cage fingers, lifted it to the sky.
You said, “All things want to fly.”
Three days later, on the same road, again a bird flew into my windscreen.
I felt certain it was the same bird we’d rescued - fat and fit.
Now knowing men in machines were havens of mercy, this time
it took what it came to find.
*Note - Photo of Ian Burgham credited to Linda Kooluris Dobbs.