An Interview with Elizabeth Bachinsky

CF: In this issue of CV2 we are exploring what might lay at the “root of voice;” influences such as culture, life experiences, geography, interests. I realize to talk about where writing comes from is not always an easy thing to pinpoint, and that it can change, but at this point in your career what would you say is “at the root of your voice”?

EB: I write, primarily, to please myself, so the voices in my writing come from a lot of places and impulses. I have enjoyed playing games, like the poems you’ll find in my first book Curio, but I’ve also enjoyed the challenge of writing multi-voiced texts like some of those you’ll find in Home of Sudden Service and God of Missed Connections. For me, “poetic voice” has a lot to do with the method of production and who is doing the speaking. I am a primarily process-based writer and thinker who is interested in formal constraints. I am, without exception, concerned with how the form of the thing relates to its content. I’m a big believer in image, personae and procedural work; these are the means by which we turn our gaze outward, which always seems to create more productive, interesting work. At times, it seems I’m trying to embody an anti-voice. The less of “Liz Bachinsky” one can find in the work, the better. After all, who’s she? Doesn’t matter. I am most interested in books that play around with these kinds of tropes. Lately though, I’ve been drawn to seemingly autobiographical works, which is why I am trying my hand at writing “letters” to friends and colleagues. I love the effect of producing texts that can seem overheard. As if the reader has stumbled across something they perhaps shouldn’t be reading. Letters between lovers, dear friends. Some, if not most, of the relationships I’m exploring nowadays are entirely fictional. This is something I explored in Curio, years ago, in “The Secret Diaries of Antonin Artaud,” in which a particular persona, E_____, engages in a love affair with “Artaud.” It helps to have a rich imagination and a clear sense of the absurd. Lately I have been particularly enjoying the poems of David McFadden. He seems to be a poet who is able to steer perilously close to autobiography, only to turn that notion on its head almost immediately after the reader is drawn into that way of thinking. The voices in his work are personal and impersonal at the same time, which is very interesting to me. And lately I have been particularly invested in the types of archetypal imagery that populates dreams, which also seems to be something that fascinates McFadden. I think I will always play with notions of what’s real and what’s not. In the end it doesn’t matter what’s “true.” If the poem is getting at something bigger, more elemental, then I know the piece is working. It becomes “true.” I will use any technique available to me to get to that scary place where a reader can become invested in a project and come away with something memorable. Other voices I might turn to include Michael Turner, Erin Moure, Kathy Acker, Lydia Davis — formally inventive or process-based writers who play with personae to great effect.

CF: I read somewhere that at that all-important juncture of deciding what you wanted to do with your life, you felt that you were faced with two possible choices: creative writing and music. That is certainly an interesting choice to be faced with. Obviously the creative writing route has been a success, but I am curious as to what might the musical fork in the professional road of Elizabeth Bachinsky have looked like. And given the strength of your interest in music, how has it continued to influence your writing life?

EB: If I had decided to become a singer rather than a writer, I probably would have pursued a career as a choral conductor. I really enjoy working with groups of people and my musical background is primarily choral, although I did study the violin for quite a long time. And I very much enjoy teaching and I always admired my conductors. There is something very pleasing about the idea of directing a choir. I suppose in this alternative life, I’d have also composed choral music. I did a very little bit of composing in a lyric and libretto class at UBC when I was studying for my Masters. That was very satisfying. Especially to hear the work performed. Every once in a while I get a real yen to work with singers. Maybe I’ll still be able to. Right now, life seems long. (Right now!)

CF: In God of Missed Connections there are illustrations included with the text. This is a departure from your earlier collections. What was the inspiration for the use of visual art and what does it add to the text? According to the credits, the illustrations are attributed to the designer Michelle Winegar, but they seem specifically related to your text. Was there a collaborative process behind the creations of the drawings?

EB: I decided to include the linocuts in God of Missed Connections after Michelle approached me with some cover ideas for the book. Michelle Winegar is a visual artist and a writer, so she had worked very hard to put together images that she felt suited the text — which is to say she read the work deeply and came back with some rather arresting images. One possibility was a linocut of a peacock she’d found and replicated from a Ukrainian woodcut in an old book she found at the Sechelt Public Library. I liked the look of the linocut, but wasn’t so keen on the image as a cover. I said, Wouldn’t it be great if we could have wood engravings alongside the text? So we sat down and went through my history books and found some images she could work with. We came up with Reactor 4 at Chernobyl, my mother’s red Ukrainian dancing boots, and the image of the men trudging through the snow at the Castle Mountain internment camp. I couldn’t imagine how she’d be able to make the images work. They seemed too intricate. So I couldn’t believe it when Michelle came up with her designs. I love them. Especially the men trudging through the snow … she really knocked it out of the park that time.

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