Jeramy Dodds lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He is the winner of the 2006 Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award, the 2007 CBC Literary Award in poetry, and has been shortlisted for the 2009 Griffin Poetry Prize. He works as a creative writing instructor at the University of New Brunswick. His first collection, Crabwise to the Hounds, came out with Coach House Books in 2008.
Alex Boyd interviewed Jeramy Dodds in spring, 2009.
These are poems that favour musicality over straight-up narrative, though there are many suggestions in the playful language here. Did it take you a long time to discover this was your style?
I feel as though my ‘style’ hasn’t quite settled yet. Or if it has, it crashed into a poorly attended parade before limping off to the Azures. I’m beginning to think that the ‘style’ of Crabwise is a ventriloquism of that collision; I’m speaking through a collection of found sounds, memories and metaphors via an angry brass band sprawled across the thoroughfare. But even before this first collection was out, I began trying, like a good ventriloquist, to throw my ‘voice’ overboard. I don’t want to write another Crabwise, so I’m sabotaging things a little. After all, whatever style solidified momentarily on the pages of this first collection snuck up on me during a series of tiny mutations; from my blank-slate stage forward, these mutations were forced by what I’d been reading and watching, and whatever else permeated me during the everyday. But now I’m wearing tight briefs and sitting on the microwave in hopes of causing some new mutations in my style. Geologically, it may not take very long, but in human years it could take my life.
I noticed your use of “droids,” in one poem, and “tractor beam,” in another. Do you think it’s important in some way that poets claim these kinds of terms, when they’re writing poetry?
Yes, I’m taking those words back from the nerds. They’ve had them long enough. And frankly, most nerds might be highly intelligent, but they are often weeklings. A couple of them arrived at my doorstep in one-piece leotards looking like they just stepped off a shuttlepod, but I was able to repel them with pure ridicule.
It’s an easy term to reach for, but do you consider these poems to be surreal? And it isn’t meant to sound negative, but they strike me as slightly frantic, almost like they’re channel surfing around and sometimes back to the same idea. Does poetry need to do this now to compete in the modern world?
No, to the first question. They may be a slurred-reality or ‘slur-real’, but they are mostly ‘real’ (87.4% percent so, scientifically). I’m not a huge fan of the non sequitur style of some surrealism. I do want to make leaps, but I’d like the stunts to be well-planned, the landings as smooth as I can get them. More like a short-sighted and washed-up Evel Knieval than a Dadaist monk shot from a rabbit. I’ve always wanted to be a painter, and if during some scientific experiment something should go awry, and I am gifted with semi-nuclear artistic sensibilities, I would like to paint photo-realistic portraits and mise-en-scenes with small slurred realities: a dormouse with tiny wings in the corner of a dark beer parlour or a man sitting at a G7 summit in full Napoleonic-era attire. More on the magic realism side of the coin, sure, but still allowing the metaphors to have enough C4 to skew the contexts. I’m a fan of this type of work in painting; I follow and steal from the works of painters like John Currin, Martin Wittfooth and Aron Wisenfeld constantly.
As for the second question, I can see why you’d say frantic, and I do feel like these are fault lines that run throughout the collection. This may just be a production of my location(s) and composition methodology. But in all honesty, I don’t think poetry needs to do anything to compete in the modern world. It is fully operational as is; it is the modern world. It does not in any way live outside of it nor does it ‘compete’. The modern world, if anything, will have to drastically pace itself to outlast poetry.
I like the cover, which strikes me as a reflection of the book, in that it’s a whole assortment of ideas, though a collection of organic ones. Do you see it as appropriate to the book?
The image was mantra-like during the final congealing period of the manuscript. I was ecstatic when Michael Kruger agreed to let me use it as the cover. I had first noticed Kruger’s work in the journal New American Painting and in all the most clichéd ways knew ‘this was it.’ Coach House was extremely professional during the whole process. It was incredible to work with an experienced press that understands this sort of tie and that was ready to try and incorporate both of our aesthetics. When we were making final decisions on the cover layout, Alana Wilcox told me that at the end of the day this was my first book and that she wanted me to be happy with it. I didn’t have any real qualms with any of her layout suggestions and I really like the entire layout of both the cover and text, but it was this kind of attitude that really opened up our discussions and allowed me to have a hand in, or at least feel like I had a hand in, much of the book’s look. In fact it went so smoothly that I suspect some form of hypnosis was used on me. So yes, the cover symbolizes the poems well enough, and stands on its own, but for me it also symbolizes a great experience working on my first book with Coach House. I hope to work with them again for the next ten or more.
Finally, the slightly lame question about the poets you’d say were an important influence, and what are you reading now?
Muldoon, Auden, Trotter, Armitage, Solie, Dewdney, Ashberry, Frost, Ford, Seidel, Foreman, Langer, Babstock, Paterson, a bunch of Anons, Lilburn, Dugan, A.I., Larkin, Lowell, Starnino, Dickinson, Cohen, Kleinstzaler, Kotsilidis, Young, Berman, Merwin, Tate, Stevens, Bök, Heaney, Hoffman, Simic, Connolly, Morrison, Jewel, Shakur, Robinson, Frost, Outram, Hughes, McKay, Davis, Oswald, and onward ad infinitum. Anything and everything that I can get in the tractor beam of my eyes. I’m still reading them, over and over again with a few new infiltrators here and there.