Daniela Elza, author of milk tooth bane bone, answered some of my questions in a recent interview.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you:
Perhaps most people do not know that I have little tolerance for gossip, or that I am allergic to small talk. Those give me a nasty spiritual rash that sometimes only poetry can cure. Most people do not know that I think poets are magicians of sorts, alchemists even. It does not mean we all will succeed, or that any of us would.
Most people might think I come from somewhere when I come from many somewheres.
Barbara Hurd in her book of essays, Stirring the Mud, says: “We are shape-shifters, all of us, liquid mosaics of mutable and transient urges, and we give ourselves headaches when we pretend otherwise, when we stiffen ourselves into permanent and separate identities unsullied by the drifting slop, the very real ambiguities of ourselves and the world.” What is affixed to one is instantaneous and brief, an illusions of sorts. But we tend to want definitions, and fixities. We crave such comfort.
Sometimes even my closest people make me feel like they are most people. In a poem somewhere I say:
I know it is an illusion who I appear to be
to be who I am.
How did you become a writer?
I realized that writing was my default mode. It is what I did when I was not doing anything else. Perhaps I was a writer and I did not know it. Perhaps the work was in the discovery of what I was, and the permission to be that. Eventually, I gave it more direction, more discipline and training and applied the appropriate labels. I have written poems and played with language for as far back as I can remember, in whatever language was available or meaningful at the time. Eventually English won.
Tell us about your most recent project:
This year I was glad to see the completion of an undertaking that probably took a decade and culminated in my latest book milk tooth bane bone. I can best describe this book as a haunting. The crows made me write it. They did not leave me alone. I did not know it was going to be a book. Now that it is a book, it still haunts me. I was intrigued with the voice that came through. I wanted to get to know that voice better.
What is the most valuable piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Perhaps the realization that I should write what I do not know, what I am wondering about, what I am curious about. It was not advice given to me directly by one person, but one that precipitated through what many writers said. Most recently I saw another quote to that effect, this one by Doris Lessing: “I see every book as a problem that you have to solve.”
Give us your Desert Island Reading List (the 3 books you’d choose to be stranded with):
The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (including his Duino Elegies), the collected works of Wislawa Szymborska, The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram? This question makes me uncomfortable because it suggests a world with very few or no books. I cannot imagine living in a world like that unless we all have three books and have an elaborate way to exchange them.
The thing you like most about writing:
The space it provides me to think, to discover what my mind is mulling over when I do not instruct it or purposefully focus it on something. It is like finding out what you are truly preoccupied with despite what you tell yourself otherwise.
The thing you like least:
When writing is made subservient to the ego. When it is co-opted for purposes other than in the service of the mystery, alchemy and discovery that it is.
What’s next on the writing agenda:
This summer over the course of 2 months I wrote over 90 pages. I have never done that before. When time permits I might be working on putting the next manuscript together, amidst more readings, workshops, amidst all the things we do to keep the business of writing going.
Daniela Elza’s work appears nationally and internationally in over 80 publications. Her poetry books are milk tooth bane bone (Leaf Press, 2013), the weight of dew (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012) and the book of It (2011). In 2011 Daniela earned her doctorate in Philosophy of Education from Simon Fraser University. She will be the 2014 Writer-In-Residence at the University of the Fraser Valley.