Advice from A Poet: An Interview with Theodore Fox

WORDS AND VISUALS BY JESSICA NAUTA / @JESSNAUTA



Theodore Fox is a writer from Edmonton, Alberta. He is well regarded as a poet, though he also writes fiction and reviews. Theodore was the Writer in Residence for Latitude 53, where he provided a forum for dialogue about contemporary visual culture throughout communities. His work spans over a wide variety of topics, ranging from gender and sexuality to mental illness and lost love. 
      In recent years, he has facilitated conceptual and performance art shows as a part of the LART Collective, and in 2014 curated a collection of early internet literature as a participant in the Internet Archive Tumblr Residency. 

WRITTEN CITIZEN: Hello, Theodore! Thanks for taking some time to talk with us! I'm going to start off by asking what were you like as a child and a teenager?

THEODORE FOX: I feel like a lot of people remember their childhoods better than I do mine. Probably this is because most people who choose to write about their childhoods are those who remember them well. Or those who have invested a lot of time in trying to remember. When thinking about being very young, memories tend to crackle in and out of my awareness. Most childhood memories are assembled from little feelings here and there which slowly become associated with one another to create a coanaethesis. But I assume that it's mostly fiction.
      My young years were spent mostly reading. I read everything I could, being particularly attracted to technical manuals or anything else about how the world works. I remember reading books on knots, none of which I ever learned to tie, but because I enjoyed the illustrations and the patterns between different sorts of knots. When I went on holidays, I would fill my suitcase with books before I even bothered with clothes. (I still do this, by the way.) Two novels, two non-fiction, two books of poetry – but poetry volumes are often thin, so usually I can make room for more.
      I remember mostly reading, or playing alone. Building or thinking of building. I liked to figure out computers. I once installed Linux on a family computer and started trying to see what I could do from the command line. As a teenager, I was always lovesick and confused about my body. Mostly I wanted to go away. I was very depressed. But I'm still here. Going to therapy helped.

WC: When did you start writing?

TF: Poetry, I didn't start writing until I was thirteen. It was spring break and I taught myself to play guitar from an old book of Leonard Cohen songs, which belongs to my dad. I hadn't heard any of the songs before, but I figured them out based on what was on the page. I already knew how to read music from singing in choirs. I read the lyrics to these songs and they were very moving. Of course, they spoke of love and politics with the same tone which had overwhelmed me with feeling by that point. Then I found his poems. More of the beauty without the structure of the music. Perfect. They were incredible, but I felt like I had an inkling of how they were done. Maybe I could do that. So I tried. I filled up many notebooks. 


WC: So how did you know, at the young age of thirteen, that you wanted to be a writer?

TF: I wanted it. I have a crush on writing. I'm in love with [writing]. It's something I can work on by myself and it's something satisfying and hopefully helpful for me to put into the world. In the last few years, my writing has become more a part of the lives of other people. That's an additional impetus to create. It's my purpose. Writing is to me what religious beliefs are to some. I feel this way about most art. 

WC: How have you grown in the years that you have been writing poetry?

TF: I've gotten better. I've grown as a person in so many other ways too. The work itself has gotten better I think. For me, there's always been a joy in seeing what pokes out when you're looking the other way. Sometimes when you'll be scribbling for the sake of scribbling, without direction, without being conscious - almost in a state of un-caring, having given up. Some little grain of something really good slips out. For me, it's seeing the quality of the accidents going up that feels really good. Sometimes I put something out there that perplexes me, and to see someone else pick it up, excited, is an amazing thrill. It feels like it came from somewhere else. I don't think I know a better feeling than that feeling of non-recognition. Staring at something and asking, "I wrote that?"
I sometimes think about writing like parenting. I'm not a parent, but I end up reading a lot about parenting from reading a lot of psychology. I think we can learn a lot about how to care about the whole world from thinking about good parenting. We put in our time with whatever we bring into the world, but eventually it goes out and makes relationships with other people. We have to do the work and then practice letting go.

WC: How do you write your poems?

TF: Lately, I've been typing drafts of poetry on a computer, printing these, and then editing by hand. They then get typed back into the computer and inevitably get last-minute tweaking as I'm writing them up. That's what I'm doing right now. I don't generally stick with a method for too long. 

WC: Who do you look up to as a writer?

TF: I look up to whomever got the writing done. When I was first getting started, I learned a lot from Leonard Cohen, but he's someone who came from such an incredible position of privilege that I try not to feel too closely to him. Some of my favorite writers include Maggie Nelson, Susan Sontag, Graham Greene, Chris Krause, and Douglas Coupland. I admire anyone who can get the work done without being too hard on themselves or the people around them. Jan Zwicky, who is my mentor, is wonderful in part because she has such a rich and compassionate life, while also writing beautiful poetry and philosophy. 



WC: Who is your favorite poet?

TF: My favorite poet is Robert Flanagan. He died last year. His book Incisions is fantastic. I wish it were more available. 

WC: What is your favorite poem?

TF: The poem I have the most fondness for is Leonard Cohen's 'For Anne'. It's six lines long, simple, sad, and beautiful.

WC: How have you found the publishing process? Is it difficult to find people who are willing to look at your work for publishing?

TF: My problem is that I don't submit to enough. I'm a perfectionist and also very scattered. I've probably had more pieces accepted than rejected, which is a bad thing, in a career sense. I'm slowly trying to have more of a relationship with ambition. People like my work, and I should get it out there more. I end up getting a lot of my work from people asking me to write for them, rather than my asking them for work. I could represent myself better.

WC: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?

TF: Following from my previous point, submit. Try. Apply. Write a lot. Read a lot. Set yourself quotas. Try to get enough sleep. Don't set up your life such that working on your art and participating in loving relationships with others are put at odds with each other. Think about what advice you'd give to others and then follow it yourself. Try to follow through on promises you make to others and try to follow through on promises you make to yourself. Be patient. Learn to edit. (You can practice by editing the world of other writers, for which they will be very grateful.) Try to meet local writers. Cultivate interests other than books and writing - there's probably enough writing about how it feels to be a writer. 



Check out Theodore's work here on his website.

1 comment: