In Conversation with Patrick Woodcock

Canadian poet Patrick Woodcock has written nine books of poetry and his work has been translated into 14 languages. While travelling the world in search of meaningful connections, inspiration, and firsthand knowledge of the human condition, Patrick has rejected the typical literary life by living simply and working at some rather humble jobs (pizza delivery being one) to support his writing. He also finds time to volunteer as he did with the elders of Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories for nearly a year. (See the Voice reviews of his books Echo Gods and Silent Mountains and You Cant Bury Them All as well as Parts I, II, III, and IV of his interview with Wanda Waterman in 2014.) Recently he was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the difficulties of his unusual lifestyle and artistic choices.

“Not far from the Old City’s gate
on an armchair and baroque cap rests the statue
of the unhappy poetess. Her wistful glare

gouges the granite below the museums,
Christmas trees, carousels and half heads
cleaved above the nose to fashion stools …”
(Woodcock, Patrick., “The Unhappy Poetess and the Swallow” in You Can’t Bury Them All)

In Echo Gods and Silent Mountains you said that the subjects dictated the writing, almost as if the characters were writing themselves. Was this also the case for You Can’t Bury Them All, or was some other structure imposed from the beginning?
The characters did not write themselves?that reads far too easy. I spent a lot of time researching this book. By researching, I mean asking a lot of questions of my students and friends. I also paid translators to interview my subjects or those important to my text and to help me find and search through used bookstores.

Echo Gods and Silent Mountains
was the only book I’d written about one specific place and people. You Can’t Bury Them All is in four sections and set in the Kurdish North of Iraq, Fort Good Hope, NT, Canada, Azerbaijan, and finally (and briefly) Canada again.

When I was working in Baku on what will be my next book, Farhang, I realised that I needed to stop and focus on the sizeable amount of work piling up beside it. I’m not rushing Farhang. But I did feel a sense of urgency with the work that became You Can’t Bury Them All.

Azerbaijan was extremely difficult to write about because I had a lot of barriers thrown in front of me. One of my colleagues described Azerbaijan as suffering from an information vacuum; facts and stats are hard to come by and are sometimes consciously distorted to foreigners (thank-you, AzerNews).

But I think this is what makes the Flame Towers section of the book so strong. I had to beg, bribe, and beg again to complete and connect the pieces. And from these adventures and misadventures came some wonderful moments. Both form and content had an odd interplay that had never occurred before when I was writing.

Even shape poetry, a form that I generally despise, began to play an essential role in many poems, most notably in “Landscape Portraits,” “The gorillas at the train track bar,” and “Flame towers.” I gave the characters more time to develop. I wish I’d done this with Echo Gods and Silent Mountains. I left a few poems out that would have shaped the project a little better.

In our last interview you mentioned a third Kurdish friend who would appear in your next book. Does this friend appear in You Can’t Bury Them All?
I did complete the poem about him but it will be published in Farhang.

You’ve been spending years moving between northern Iraq, Azerbaijan, and the Northwest Territories, among other places. What, for you, is the most salient commonality between the peoples you’ve encountered in these places?
There are two commonalities I encounter everywhere. The first is obvious: the multi-faceted desire to have hope, even if only a glimmer. To have hope you must feel safe, and to feel safe you need those you love to have access to healthy food, shelter, medical care, and a proper education.

The second commonality, one that has grown exponentially since I began working abroad, is our need for unabated truth and honesty from those with power. All of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances are so spent from being lied to or misled.

It’s excruciating, so bloody frustrating, to see this lack of trust permeating every corner of our society. But how could it not? We don’t trust our politicians, journalists, the business community, or the clergy, and why should we? But we certainly need to address the perversion of our communities before our hopelessness and apathy destroy the next generation’s environment and social structure.

I don’t want my friend’s children to feel as angry and frustrated as I do. There has to be accountability for those who distort, divide and lie to us daily.

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.