An interview with John K. Samson

Cindy Titus

Clarise Foster: The introductory quotes to the book and epigraphs to several of the pieces in this collection are excerpts of poems: Alden Nolen, Patrick Friesen, W.H. Auden, Catherine Hunter. Clearly poetry has a substantial impact on your song writing — when did you become interested in poetry and how does it shape your creative process?

John K. Samson: Sure, I became interested in poetry at the exact same time as I became interested in music; at a very young age, I think, it was the Lutheran liturgy. I grew up in a Lutheran church, and the liturgy — it was a fairly conservative Lutheran church, traditional — the service is sort of half sung and half spoken, and words are kind of crammed into musical phrases that don’t quite work. And I think that’s stuck with me my entire life, and that my song writing can be traced back to that in a way. And the talk-singing thing is something that I’m accused of often and it’s just a fact, I kind of talk-sing. [Laughs.] I think that that’s my genre. So I think the marriage of words and music was there at the beginning, and then so certainly the language of religion was the primary introduction for me. And then I think I started reading poetry in my teens, and was consumed by it. I adored it. And I was politicized in my teens as well, so the language of politics crept in there; political poets and songwriters certainly were a really important part of my process. And then, discovering poets that spoke in a voice that I recognized, so people like Catherine Hunter and Patrick Friesen and people from here. That was a huge door for me, to recognize that Winnipeg was a place that had its own vernacular and its own way of speaking and that I recognized it and it made me feel complete and excited about trying to interpret the world. I think poetry is still the art form that I reach for first. Fundamentally, it’s just a great comfort; I find it very comforting in the best sense of that word.

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

John K. Samson is the singer and songwriter for The Weakerthans, an acclaimed rock band. John’s poetry and prose has appeared in Matrix Magazine, Geist, The Believer and Post-Prairie: An Anthology of New Poetry. He lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he’s also the managing editor and co-founder of a small publishing house, ARP (Arbeiter Ring Publishing). His first solo album, Provincial, and book, Lyrics and Poems, 1997–2012, were released in January 2012.