To Write Restlessly: Tyler Laing in Conversation with Julie Joosten

Julie Joosten

Julie Joosten's "The Sun Estate" was one of two winners of our 2011 Long Poem Prize. Malahat fiction board member Tyler Laing spoke with her about life post-win.


What have you been up to since winning The Malahat Review’s 2011 Long Poem Prize?

I’ve been writing, reading, and teaching. I just finished a doctorate in English literature this past summer, so before then I was spending a lot of time working on my dissertation.  I’ve also continued to work on my poetry manuscript, which will come out next fall with Book Thug.

How has winning the Long Poem prize affected your writing life?

“The Sun Estate” was one of the first poems I’ve published, and I’m grateful to the contest for giving the poem the opportunity to have a life beyond my computer.  But winning hasn’t influenced my writing life much.  I’ve enjoyed talking to people who came across the poem in the Malahat Review—from close friends to casual acquaintances (no strangers have mentioned it!)—and to hear and think about their questions about the poem. 

Writers seem to have mixed feelings about writing contests, and while I’m sure winning one has made it easier to see the practice of entering them in a positive light, what is your overall opinion on the value of such contests?

I share most writers’ ambivalence toward contests.  On the one hand, book contests are often the only way presses will read the unsolicited manuscripts of new/emerging writers; on the other, the contest format, with its structures of “judging” and “prizes,” seems contrary to the process of writing as many writers practice it.   In my own writing, for example, I work to trace modes of thought and feeling that might be an alternative to and resist dominant, cultural norms, which include, among many other things, “judging” and “prizes.”  So, while I’m grateful for the avenues contests open, I also have reservations about contests.

With regard to your winning poem, “The Sun Estate,” you said that at the time of its conception you had been drawn to elegies and elegiac writing, and that you had been particularly absorbed in Emerson’s “Experience.” What is some of the material that influences or intrigues you today?

I’ve been reading a wide range of “nature writings”—from pastoral poems to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to contemporary scientific accounts of global warming.  It’s absorbing and terrifying reading.

 “The Sun Estate” embodied an unpredictable structure on the page. Are there any structural experiments or new forms that you’re exploring now?

I’m still juxtaposing several forms in my writing, thinking about how different forms of lines work together, interrupt or reflect each other, produce stutters or songs, or, or, or.

It sounds like your CV is filling out quite nicely. Would you mind sharing some of your other writing goals with us?

To keep writing.  And to write restlessly.

Tyler Laing

Tyler Laing

* * * * * * * *