12 Aug 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Carl Hare
From ROB MCLENNAN’S BLOG
Original post Saturday, July 21, 2018
12 or 20 (second series) questions with Carl Hare
Carl Hare has written poems and plays including The Eagle and the Tiger, which has been successfully produced and is in the archives of the National Library of Norway. His children’s poems have been set to music by Canadian composer Malcolm Forsyth and was commissioned by the National Arts Centre for part of the libretto for Forsyth’s A Ballad of Canada, performed to acclaim in Ottawa and on tour in London, UK. He has a degree in English Honours, and an MA from the University of Alberta and a Diploma with Honours from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in England. Among his awards are the Rutherford Gold Medal in English and the Sterling Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theatre in Edmonton. For more information on Carl Hare visit www.carlhare.ca
How did your first book change your life?
In one way it didn’t. I had delivered a poem about Malcolm Forsyth at his memorial service, and afterward a poet I knew asked if I would submit a book of poems for his publishing firm. I put together one from my etudes, but it was rejected. Subsequently the collection, A Weathering of Years, was accepted by Iguana Press and published.
In one way it did. The experience I had with this book was the first time I had dealt with the book industry—a complete change from my professional world of the theatre and university instruction.
How does your most recent work compare to your previous ? How does it feel different?
On the River of Time, an epic poem in three volumes, compares to A Weathering of Years as a whale to a minnow. It feels different in scope: it ranges over 3,000 years; the other deals with seasons of the year as they reflect our aging years. It deals with major figures in the eventful journeys; the other with family, friends, and strangers glimpsed fortuitously. There are many other differences, but these should give the idea.
How did you come to playwriting first, as opposed to, say, poetry, fiction or non-fiction?
This is really a chicken-or-egg question. I was fascinated by the relationship of Ibsen and his wife Suzannah and wanted to write a play about them. In studying Ibsen’s life I realized that up to the age of forty he wrote primarily in verse, and even in his prose plays the use of symbol and image pervades his work. And so I decided to write a poetic play. But you don’t just sit down and write poetry. I wrote many etudes in different forms, styles and rhythms, many of these as occasional poems for birth, death, weddings, etc. And then I wrote the play. And then I started writing my wife sonnet sequences, odes and other forms from our fortieth wedding anniversary on. And the rest follows.
How long does it take to start any particular writing project?
It depends on the circumstances. One time I discovered that a wedding couple wanted a poem from me, and I hastily wrote a sonnet on a napkin during the wedding feast and gave it to them before they cut the cake. The longest is for my present project, an epic poem in trilogy form—the shock that provoked it happening twenty-five years ago.
Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process?
It depends on the circumstances that provoke the writing, as in the wedding incident described above. For lyric pieces I may take a while to decide on the form to use—I am, I think, basically formalist, although I do write free verse as well. First drafts of lyric pieces definitely look close to the final shape. For the epic I’m working on a “book” from the very start, which involves as a narrative work much time considering the subject, time, and place in a lengthy work. I have a shelf of binders and workbooks for the material I researched for three different periods. Each of the three books has been through nine drafts, although the basic material has on the whole remained constant.
Where does a poem usually begin for you?
For lyric or short narrative poems, from a memory or sparked by the sight or sound of something. For the epic, the shock of learning that one of the great English poets, while he wrote The Fairie Queene, simultaneously wrote a treatise that in essence advocated the genocide of the Irish by starvation. My short pieces can end up as a collection—A Weathering of Years, for example. The epic definitely involves working on a book from the very beginning.
Are public readings part or counter to you creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
My major professional career has been as an actor, a director, and a professor of theatre. I not only enjoy doing public readings, of which I have done a number, but also recording poems. As well as another poet’s poems I have recorded the seventeen hours of Odysseus, Book One of the trilogy On the River of Time, and Spenser, Book Two. Audible may be issuing them as audio books in the fall once the technical problems for Book One have been solved.
Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing?
It all depends on what I am attempting to do. Every generation tries to move on from the previous, and presently there is still the tension between the formalists and those who want to break down or work through forms. For example, the beat poets, who in their material plunge into the social and personal crises of society, work in a very basic formal way. My own questions deal with the choice of the epic form to explore the serious questions of what we are and what we do—what are the themes? What styles to explore, then? How will these affect a work that in three large books explores what has happened in three thousand years of our history? It is no accident that my motto is: “Imagination is the breath of life.”
What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture?
A writer—and in this case, a poet—today has the same role s/he has always had: to respond to the world in all its aspects—culture, nature, the sense of being—and in doing so find the means of expression that can touch the mind and feelings of those who read her/his work.
Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential for both?
Essential. I have worked with the same editor for forty-eight years, Carolyn Zapf. She was the dramaturg/writer for my theatre company, Company One; created the script for my production of Survivors of the Holocaust at the Saidye Bronfman Centre, in Montreal; and has edited the work I have published and am working on. She is thorough, shrewd, and honest. We can argue over a point—we had an argument over an incident in Spenser for a month and a half—but it was an argument, not a quarrel, and good things came out of it.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (but not necessarily given to you directly)?
Do not compromise in what you are doing and have the courage to follow it through to—if possible—a satisfactory end.
How easy is it for you to move between genres (playwriting to poetry)?
I don’t think “easy” is the way to describe it. With an Honours degree in English and an M.A., with training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, with Jacques Lecoq and the Laban School of Movement, I have learned to explore deeply a play in all its aspects—in research, in directing, in acting, and in visualization. In Company One we explored the creation of new events as we became an ensemble. It was not difficult to imagine and create a play in the form necessary for the subject. And for poetry, my experience in acting in or directing eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays has fostered in me sensitivity to the nuances and moment of the word. None of this was easy; but all of it was worthwhile.
What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Throughout my career I have worked when and where I could. When my family was young, I would work on a script while the children played about my chair in the living room. When I realized that to complete the epic trilogy I would have to complete a canto a month—at least thirty pages of verse, and twenty-one cantos in each book—I worked wherever I was. I wrote on a bench in front of a restaurant while waiting for my family in Disney World. I have written in my grown children’s homes, in hotel rooms, while the children were skate boarding—almost anywhere you can imagine, including, of course, offices. The key to work is concentration, absorption in the work at hand. I have no set schedule, only the need to do what is necessary at the time.
When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return, for (for lack of a particular word) inspiration?
I am presently working through the final draft of Book Three, Archer, with the notes given me during a three-hour meeting with my editor. Work needs to be done to deepen some of the characterizations, for example. I do not have the answers yet, but the characters are in my mind constantly; I talk sideways to friends about similar people; I get slight glimpses of what might occur, but I’m not ready yet to reveal them fully. The writing has not stalled; it is fructifying in the mind. Throughout the work on these three books, the scenes that came onto the page were visualized in my mind, and the characters developed and changed as time went on, with new figures arriving and maturing on their own.
What fragrance reminds you of home?
“The odour of old books”
David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, sciences or visual art?
In terms of form and thought, books of poetry do expand my horizon. But nature affects me strongly, both physically and visually. All the other influences also affect me, particularly in the way they continue to expand my conception of the world and the universe and our intricate selves.
What other writers or writing are important for your work, or simply your life outside your work?
I love Seamus Heaney, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Lorna Crozier, Leonard Cohen, Sean O’Casey, Keats, Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Ben Jonson. But a writer who was the first to excite me with the power of words was George Bernard Shaw. Just before I began to write my Grade Twelve provincial exams in Alberta I happened to read one of his plays. It struck me like the proverbial thunderbolt. I was entranced by the music and form of his showers of words, and I spend night and day reading all fifty-two of his plays. To this day I don’t know how I passed my exams.
What would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
Finish what work I have started.
If you could pick another occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternatively, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I have retired from my main career as actor, director, playwright, professor; writing has become the “other occupation.”
What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The writing of the play The Eagle and the Tiger in verse.
What was the last great book you read?
What was the last great film?
What are you currently working on?
The last draft of Archer, Book Three of On the River of Time.
Waiting for the illustrations to be finished for Sleepy Wing, a book of poems for children from 2 ½ to 4.
Doing the fifth draft of Clara: Life, Death, Love, about my late wife.
Editing the first draft of Crannies of My Folded Days, a collection of my wife’s vignettes about an immigrant Norwegian family on a prairie farm.