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AOTM: Ted Dyck

November's Author of the Month is Ted Dyck. Ted is the author of five books of poetry including Mossbank Canon and his newest collection Cutthroats and other Poems. An essaysit and writer of fiction, His work has also appeared in numerous anthologies and publications. In 19 Questions about Process: An interview with Ted Dyck (below), Ted shares a few thoughts about his creative process and let's us peek into his studio in My Studio: Ted Dyck.

Ted Dyck's books with Turnstone Press are:

Cutthroats and Other Poems

Mossbank Canon

19 Questions about Process: An interview with Ted Dyck

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

In 1974 when Canadian Fiction Magazine published my first short story, “Versions.”

Do you submit individual poems to magazines and journals for publication? Why or why not?

Occasionally, when I see a magazine or issue of a magazine that appeals to me, that I’d be pleased to be in, or when I’m asked.

What inspires you?

The most inspiring thing for me is taking a deep breath. After that, the beauties of nature (humans are included), and the never-ending follies of humankind.

Is there a particular time of day at which you write best?

No. I write a fair bit every day because I’m a writer/editor/teacher, and make no distinction with respect to so-called “creativity” among the several kinds of writing. Either all writing is “creative,” or none is.

What is your typical writing routine like?

I have no typical routine: I write when I feel like writing or when some writing is needed; I write out of boredom or joy or passion or conviction or need or ...

Has your writing routine changed from when you first began to write?

No, but I do write more as time goes on, probably because writing is assuming an ever-larger role in my life.

How do you know when a poem is finished? Is a poem ever finished for you?

Well, I don’t know that for sure, if the poem is any good. I can tell more readily when it’s unfinished, and the closer it gets to “perfection” [ha], the more uncertain I get about whether it’s finished. If I don’t know how to make the poem work better, and if it works on people the way I want it to when I perform it, I assume it’s pretty much finished. For the time being.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a manuscript while others prefer the editorial stage of fine-tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? If so, why?

I have no preference. The process of composition, manuscript or poem, is a form of deep editing, as are the fine-tuning and polishing.

What role, if any, does research play in your writing?

Huge. To research, fully understood, is to pay attention. I am a synecdoche of the worlds about me, a living, changing part of a larger living and changing whole. I would have nothing to write about, I wouldn’t know how to write about anything, if I didn’t pay attention. To everything.

As an editor and mentor to other writers, how do you balance working on someone else’s materials with creating and working on your own writing?

Given my views about the writing process, there is no issue of balance because there’s no “creative” distinction between writing and editing, either my own or another’s work. Someone once asked me how I found time to write (presumably my own work) when I did so much editing (presumably of others’ work): my answer was that writing is editing and vice versa.

Does your approach to editing a poetry manuscript for someone else differ from how you approach editorial revisions on your own work?

My approach to both is based on John Ciardi’s notion that How the poem means is what it means. In other words, editing begins in my determining how the poem engages a 2000-year tradition of living, changing poetics; it moves from that determination to a consideration of how that engagement can completed on its own terms; it concludes by identifying to the author (to myself) some possible meanings that this engagement suggests—and leaving it to the author to decide what to do. In my own case, this kind of editing is writing, is composing. In the case of other authors, it’s what I’m asking them to [learn to] do for themselves.

Do you journal? How does journaling figure into your writing process?

I have been keeping a daily journal for some 40 years—of what I’m doing, thinking, reading, writing, etc. Initially my hope was that it would naturally contain seedlings of priceless writing, or the germs of powerful ideas for further exploration, or scintillating anecdotes for translation into stories, or ... Unfortunately, I learned quite soon that my journals were instead filled with self-pitying whining of the most turgid kind or observations of excruciating preciosity. For some reason, I didn’t stop, and it was decades later that I began to understand that these writings were primarily therapeutic rather than literary. The insights they gave me were into the chameleon that is the Self. And that has had enormous consequences for what I now understand to be the fuller function of all writing. And the historical record of writing supports this fully, from at least Burton onward.

What do you think about a writer’s need to be part of social networks?

I avoid social networks as much as possible, finding them mostly without any merit. Of the ones I have tried, Twitter, to my surprise, is the least offensive—probably because of its length limitation. As to a writer’s need to indulge in such networks, if the necessity of a writer’s participating in such networks is meant, I’ll have as little of it as possible. Buzz is not what I want to hear about my own writing.

Do you enjoy giving public readings? If so, what do you find rewarding about it?

Yes. Your performance of your poetry is perhaps its—and your—ultimate test. There you are, Speaker, presenting your Text, facing your Audience. The ageless rhetorical triad. The very human act of persuasion, of communication. Does it succeed? The answer is either an empowerment and validation of poet and poem, or a humbling critique, from which you can learn, of them.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

I’m very superstitious about superstitions.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write?

Black coffee, fresh from the bodum. Late at night, the best cognac I can afford.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

For the best concentration, only complete silence will do. Otherwise, CBC Radio 2 and CBC Music offer very fine selections of my favourites—Bach, Glenn Gould, classical guitar, roots, and the blues.

Any hobbies you wish to share?

Flyfishing. Jogging. Guitar. Snooker.

If you could not be a writer, what career might you have?

I left mathematics to write poetry because more people understand poetry.

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Turnstone Press acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, the Government of Canada, and the Province of Manitoba through Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage.

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