Home Arts Streams of time flow through pages of new poetry collection

Streams of time flow through pages of new poetry collection

by Archives November 11, 2008

Words come easily to Oana Avasilichioaei.
Born in Romania, Avasilichioaei moved to Vancouver as a child. In 1999, she moved to Montreal to complete grad school at Concordia University. Today, she curates the Atwater Poetry Project and teaches writing part-time at Dawson College.
In her latest book, feria: a poempark, Avasilichioaei traces the hidden history of Vancouver’s Hastings Park. Readers are taken on a whimsical rollercoaster ride through time and space. Avasilichioaei builds rather than writes, using words like layers of paint to lend her poems an inner richness. The Concordian spoke with her last Thursday.

Why did you pick Hastings Park in particular?

I think some of the themes explored in feria: a poempark are universal to other public spaces. A park has an idea of nature, but also of culture, because it’s not a natural space. It also has the idea of relaxation, enjoyment and ease.
Hastings has been, in its history, an internment camp for Japanese-Canadians, an agricultural fair, and barracks for soldiers during the First World War. The first buildings on the land were a slaughterhouse and hotel. A lot of the history has been erased; if you saw the park today, you wouldn’t necessarily see these stories.

Why poetry, as opposed to another form like fiction?

I find poetry is very architectural on the page. I also think it’s more focused and dense, with more openings for interpretation. It allows more for the stories to appear as kind of fractures.

It would seem that many people find poetry too obscure or difficult to understand. How would you respond to them?

This idea of having to understand something in its completeness partly comes out of how we’re taught at school. With art, as with music, you don’t try to understand poetry, but you try to have a reaction to it. The reaction can be almost like a bodily reaction, like an emotive reaction. I don’t think it’s necessary to “get” it, but rather things like: does the rhythm of the language do it for you? Does something along the way open up for you?

I think it also helps to go listen to poetry. Again, not to get the total picture, but to hear its cadence. It’s a kind of music, when it comes down to it. We live in a time when there’s certainly a lot of language put out into the world. A lot of the same things are being said, so the whole thing can get stifling. When you learn these patterns, you start thinking in these patterns.

How does your work as a translator inform your work as a poet?

When you translate technical work, there is specific lexicon in place and rules you have to follow. But I’m constantly learning about how French and English work, so I’m learning about language itself. When I work on translating poetry, it’s a totally different process. It’s a different range of translating. If I do a faithful translation of a piece of work, I want to get the feel and rhythm of the original, but still have it sound English, not translated.
Translation is part of my writing practice, it’s not that separate. I collaborated with another poet, Erin Moure. That project involved ideas around translation. We translated from languages we don’t understand and that crossed over eventually into creation. Our working title is Expeditions of a Chimera [BookThug, fall 2009].

How does speaking several languages affect your writing?

Knowing more than one language is very enriching, because the patterns of a language inform the patterns in which you think. It helps my writing in a very physical sense. I write mostly in English, which I think of as a material. It’s flexible, mouldable. I don’t feel like what I’m given is all there is to it. You can take it and alter it. No language has ever stood still, and I still find that inspiring.

feria: a poempark (2008, Wolsak & Wynn Publishers) is available at your local bookstore for $17. To hear the author read the prologue, check out www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQ11gBLPCWw.

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