A Walking Interview with bill bissett

Most interviews are staid conversations in stable environments where the Q and A makes a metronome monotony that goes against everything bill bissett’s poetry stands for. So while riding the SkyTrain from East Vancouver to English Bay, I was trying to come up with ways to add fresh dynamics to the interview situation. I needn’t have bothered. Bill’s natural M.O. is as in MOvement and meeting up with him was like jumping into the current of an already swirling tornado of toddlers.

Though I’d only seen bill in type, I knew he’d be easy to spot in the lobby of the ritzy Coast Plaza. He’d be the wildly dressed 72-year-old exuding a youthful energy. There he was: scraggly hair dangling from kitschy cap like loose thoughts, outrageous fashion unstoppably layered, he was reading not a paper like his new-and-never-again-lobby-neighbours, but LIFE magazine, the Elizabeth Taylor retrospective issue. As soon as I’d introduced myself, bill stashed Liz in a Safeway bag and proposed a walking interview. Our conversation began immediately though I left my voice recorder stashed away for sometime. Over the next five hours, we ran seven errands, visited three cafés, sat on beaches and park benches, and met up with an old friend of bill’s. The conversation never slowed down, though I only acquired twenty-three minutes of tape. I didn’t capture much of our talk, but this sacrifice prioritized Experience, which is closer to bissett’s poetic vision than is Posterity. Though it leads to a lack of tape, the word on which I would place what I know of his poetic vision is More. More talk, more time, more power, more purpose, more porous, more porpoises, more for us.

Here, at the beginning of the cassette, our words are backed by what sound like waves of a tide that can’t make up its mind, but is actually the urbanite car traffic as we walk up Burrard Street.

Quest: Do you think poems are absorbed better by the brain upon first hearing than stories are? It seems to me that stories trod pathways into a brain, or a culture. But poems are never really re-told.

Answerve: I think all literary art works are doomed to incomprehension in a wonderful, happy way. You can hear a poem or a story and there are always pieces you don’t get at that moment, at that millisecond. As well as the writer doesn’t. So why we try to coordinate linear, logical narratives in order to worship at the shrine of stability, I’m not actually certain. Stability is very good for making buildings, streets, sewers, and so on. I’m not too sure what else it’s good for. It gives us a template, from a productivity point of view, that’s a false illusion of our relationships and our societal arrangements. False illusions: they all collapse, they all deconstruct, and then we freak. But we created them ourselves. Excellent, raging, what do you think?

Quest: Well, Flaubert said artists ought to be regular and orderly in their lives so they can be violent and original in their art.

Answerve: That’s maybe the best defense of stability. Because then you’re free when you’re looking at the canvas because you’ve taken care of the rent and cleaning, there’s no cockroaches to kill, paid the bills, whatever, and then you can let your mind go. [Conversation interrupted by a call from bill’s mother, who talks to him about the flu that’s bugging him.] Excellent raging, raging excellent . . . where are we?

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.