Why did you decide to write Children of Air India as poetry?
children of air india, which is the first completed series from my life-long poem-chronicle, thecanadaproject, originally began as a memoir at SFU’s The Writer’s Studio in 2009. I was fortunate to be mentored by Wayde Compton (author of Performance Bond, 49th Parallel Psalm, After Canaan) and then Rachel Rose (author of Song and Spectacle) as well as by the original founder and director of the Studio, Betsy Warland (author of Breathing the Page). My memoir followed the track of a journey: from Pune/Poona, India to Newfoundland, then across Canada, coast to coast. At some point in the process, I got stuck, shut down. What I faced, narratively, imaginatively, was what Wayde calls, the rupture: June, 23, 1985.
That day, an airplane exploded off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 passengers and crew, including my aunt and uncle. Including 82 children under the age of 13. The more I evaded this controversial and problematic event, wherein I am both subject and object, the more I shut down creatively.
At some point, I stopped writing the memoir and went on to other things, other series of poems—I seem to be drawn to things in sets, series, fragments, sequences. Even when I spend a long time on one poem, even those poems that are pastoral-lyric based, for instance, I’ve been working on a thing-poem about a tree, well that poem morphs into 18 thing poems about the tree, as I watched it over a span of days (the tree was cut down, top branches to mother-root, last weekend).
Conversations with Wayde and my own contemplation of the rupture leads me to think that this pattern is not uncommon among artists. We embark on work, we get stuck, the rupture happens, it is a call to something, some pulse beckons. Will we be up for it? I think this process can haunt a writer. Certainly, it did me. The more I resisted writing about the bombing of Air India Flight 182, the more it claimed me. Eventually, I answered the call. And I did so by becoming a student of the saga that is Canada/Air India. I immersed myself in the archive. Days spent sitting with court and inquiry documents, family correspondence, some of if very personal and painful; and slowly, these voices, of the children who died, entered my imagination. So I did not decide to write children of air india. Not at all. The work overcame me.
How important was research to this project?
Well, in a way, the work is the research. The poems are an elegiac sequence exploring the nature of personal loss in the midst of public trauma, about what I call the everything/ness, nothing/ness of Air India. It was through the research, not just factual, but a kind of immersion into the language, culture, cadence of this occurrence, that ultimately became the work.
Do you have any writing techniques that are unique to you?
I can’t imagine any! The more I read, the more I try and pay attention, the more I open the channel to what has gone before, it’s all been done before, forgotten, re-discovered: what I’ve come to see is that I seem to be able to tap into rhythmic patterns. English is my mother-tongue and also, I am a stranger to it because of my origins. English is mistress and over-seer. So always there is this tension/contra-indication: the only means I have to communicate is implicated as not mine. Even that is hardly unique. I used to keep pinned up close to my writing station a quote by Canadian poet Gary Geddes, who said something very similar about being inside/outside English!
How do you edit, when the work is complete or section by section?
That entirely depends on what the work demands. Almost all ways, there is this rush to get the first draft down on paper. Then comes a very long slow process of re/vision. I never feel the work is ready or complete. Even when published. Especially when published.
Dedication: for the people of the Comox Valley, who witnessed with me, Nov. 26, 2013, North Island College.