Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fiddlehead News

No. 258 Winter 2014
The Fiddlehead's Winter 2014 issue has just been reviewed at New Pages! Reviewer Chip Livingston says that it "turns on moments of awareness of awareness, capturing the instants we catch ourselves catching ourselves, revelations of self to self, to the reader, and to other characters. It’s charming, this subtle focus moving from piece to piece, from poem to prose to poem to poem, and the sequence suggests this international journal from the University of New Brunswick is edited with precision." Read the full review here!

Myler Wilkinson, the winner of our recently-announced fiction contest was celebrated in his hometown newspaper, The Castlegar News, with a very nice profile. Wilkinson's story "Blood of Slaves" appears in our Spring 2014 issue. Read the article here.

Myler Wilkinson
Congratulations to Craig Davidson and Adam Dickinson, both UNB alumi and past Fiddlehead contributors, for being shortlisted for Trillium Awards. Davidson is a finalist for his Giller-shortlisted novel Cataract City and Dickinson for his Governor General's Award-nominated poetry collection The Polymers. View the shortlists here.

And finally, recent Fiddlehead editorial assistant Richard Kemick has been interviewed by Echolocation. Kemick recently graduated from the MA (English and Creative Writing) program at UNB. Read the interview here. And keep an eye out for a few of Richard's poems in this summer's poetry issue of The Fiddlehead!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

An Interview with Myler Wilkinson, winner of The Fiddlehead's Short Fiction Prize

Myler Wilkinson has published award-winning short 
stories set in British Columbia in journals such as Prism
International and Pierian Spring. He has spent extended periods 
in Russia and has written three books, including Hemingway 
and Turgenev: The Nature of Literary Influence. He lives in the 
Kootenay region of British Columbia. His winning story 
is written from the point of view of Anton Chekhov and is
dedicated to the memory of Alexander Vaschenko, friend 
of the heart, mentor.
Myler Wilkinson has won this year's Short Fiction prize. Fiddlehead Editorial Assistant Greg Brown conducted the following interview with Myler. 

Greg Brown: This story was a great reflection on life and death, through a very dynamic imagining of Anton Chekhov. What makes Chekhov, his life, and particularly his death, an interesting topic for you in developing a story?

Myler Wilkinson: “The Blood of Slaves” emerged out of a desire to recapture the voice of an artist, to enter into a kind of second life with a writer I deeply admire. Chekhov remains the one figure who leaves a physical absence, as if he might walk into the room at any moment — with his voice, his laughter (he was by far the funniest of all Russian writers, and perhaps the saddest), his genius as a writer.   Fragmentary images emerge in answer to your question concerning Chekhov:   a bench on the hillside at Oreanda just beyond the Pokrovsky Church where Chekhov gazed down on the Black Sea and imagined his most famous story; the muddy roads south Moscow, and Chekhov’s first country home, Melikhovo; while his guests arrive to eat and drink, the writer retires to a small hut in the garden and begins to write a play which begins with the words: “I am in mourning for my life.”  I wrote “The Blood of Slaves” because this world continues to be very real to me; in some way I simply wanted to be accepted into Chekhov’s company; I missed him — by just over a century.  I arrived when I could.

GB: The story is explicitly about Chekhov's death, but also reflects back on his life and ancestry. There is particular focus on his ancestors as serfs, "slaves." Can you comment on this focus on "slave's blood," and why it becomes a prevalent thought for Chekov as he approaches death?

MW: In one of his most famous letters — to his friend Suvorin, in January 1889 — Chekhov spoke of squeezing the blood of slaves from his body.  He tells of a young boy who has been whipped, who tortures animals, who behaves hypocritically towards man and God . . . all because he is conscious of his own worthlessness, and how that boy begins to squeeze this blood from himself drop by drop until one morning he feels that the blood coursing through his veins is real blood and not the blood of a slave.  Chekhov’s life is defined by an understanding of blood: his heritage as a Russian serf — owned by masters; his contraction of a bacillus which would kill him, suffocating in his own blood; and then finally a reflection on a human truth, which is also an artistic credo:  that blood is impure, humanity infected with the seeds of its own ruin — and salvation — that the blood of slaves runs freely in each one of us, and may, with luck and effort, be squeezed out.

GB: In his short stories Chekov often used a stream-of-consciousness style of writing, which is explicit in your piece as well. Did you consider this a deliberate pastiche of Chekov? What is the value of this writing style for you?

MW: The writer takes pleasure in the text perhaps — the words give a semblance of life as Chekhov once observed. In writing “The Blood of Slaves” I wanted to recover the mystery of a writer’s voice, what he stood for as an artist, what he was as a man. Clearly, memory at the end of one’s life was central to the shaping of the story. This led perhaps to the fragmentary, or pastiche, style you mention. I remember very consciously wanting to bring together beautiful images and words — Chekhov’s words and ideas (and with a scrupulous attention to the words of the artist) but then my own artistic reflections, in my own voice as Chekhov comes back to life — perhaps the micro-history, the private intentions, of a writer that are written down in no book. I wanted to move within that mystery.

GB: Were there any particular stories, plays, or works of Chekov's that specifically drew you to him? Do any of them find a home in some way in this story?

MW: The stories, plays and letters of Chekhov stream through my story — all parts of the voice of a genius. I had hoped to create a home for some in particular: “Lady With A Pet Dog,” a doomed love affair in Yalta above the Black Sea; “Concerning Love,” another unhappy Anna leaving by train, alone, for the Crimea; “Gooseberries,” a narrator who confronts an absent Tolstoy with the question: how much land does a man need; “The Peasants” where Chekhov observes with brutal and tender honesty his own genesis; “The Russian Master” which provides a motif early and late for boredom; and finally “The Darling,” a woman’s story which Tolstoy completely  misunderstood, and deeply admired. These are some of the stories which find a home, and a voice, within my work. And, yes, a dead seagull at the side of the lake makes its appearance, too, as does a doctor named Astrov who sees the coming catastrophe of the natural world.  

GB: I found the characters and their interactions to be very well thought out. To what extent is research or previous knowledge integral to shaping the characters and dialogue in this story? Was it a large part of giving voice to Tolstoy, for example? Or else, what is your process in developing characters and dialogue scenes?

MW: In recreating an artist’s life, you have to know something and you have to know it passionately.
“The Blood of Slaves” is Chekhov’s story, but Tolstoy is in it. However much the great man misunderstood the young genius, he loved him dearly — and he expressed that feeling as only Tolstoy could. How do you get it right? Research, the letters, the writing. You live in it, and then you have a beautiful young man walking up the birch grove at Yasnaya Polyana and he meets a gnarled peasant man, and it is Tolstoy. You enter the voice; it enters you. . . . And then, too, you plan to write other stories — Tolstoy, Pushkin, Akhmatova, others — each voice demands scrupulous attention.

GB: The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov's last great work, was written as a comedy, but is often put on as a tragedy. Both comedic and tragic elements are also at odds in your story. Can you comment on this?

MW: It’s true that comedic and tragic elements mark Chekhov as modernist master. In fact Chekhov famously referred to his play “The Seagull” as a comedy in four acts — which puzzled everyone at the time. With Chekhov, one can never be fully assured within either realm. Perhaps the place one sees this most clearly is in his letters (I have drawn on them freely in creating the master’s voice). There are people who believe Chekhov was the last master of letters as a literary form. They are remarkable — beautifully wrought (as if he could not write a bad sentence), warmly human, a humour which bubbles up from some inexhaustible subterranean source, and always the shadow of sadness. Shadow and light.  I wanted to achieve some of that tone in the writing.

GB: Could you comment on your reaction to winning The Fiddlehead's contest with this story? How confident were you with this submission?

MW: I was confident of the story on Chekhov, and was confident of its worth, from the time I began working on it. I also took an almost unalloyed pleasure in its creation, writerly pleasure perhaps, which can be quite rare. I certainly was not confident of winning The Fiddlehead prize. I assume that there were many fine entries; I am thankful the editors saw merit in what I was trying to do, and out of the myriad of possible choices my story was chosen. I am thankful for that.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

An Interview with Kayla Czaga, Winner of The Fiddlehead's Ralph Gustafson Prize for Best Poem

Kayla Czaga won The Malahat Review’s
2012 Far Horizons Award for poetry. Her
poems have appeared or are forthcoming 
in The Walrus, The New Quarterly, Best  
Canadian Poetry in English 2012, Arc
and others. Her first book, For Your Safety 
Please Hold On, is forthcoming this fall from
 Nightwood Editions. She lives and writes 
in Vancouver, where she is completing her 
MFA at UBC. 
Kayla Czaga has won this year's Ralph Gustafson Prize for Best Poem. Fiddlehead Editorial Assistant and poetry co-editor Phillip Crymble conducted the following interview with Czaga. 

Phillip Crymble: Congratulations on winning The Fiddlehead’s 2014 Ralph Gustafson Prize for best poem. You’ve now won several prestigious contests over the last few years. In selecting poems to submit to competitions like ours do you have a strategy, or is it simply a matter of sending the most accomplished work you have available?

Kayla Czaga: I’ve only actually won two contests, though I have been on a few short and long lists. I’ve fallen into this rhythm where I send out poems about twice a year. When a deadline to a contest I want to enter is coming up, I take it as an opportunity to send out a lot of writing to other places as well. I sort of put everything I have into a pile with my favourites on top. I often have someone help me. They’ll say, “oh, send this one to them and send this one to the other place.” I usually take their advice because I’m not the best judge of my own writing.

PC: One of the qualities that makes this poem so successful is its movement between relative subjects. The poem takes advantage of the speaker’s “wondering how love / could transpire so oppositely between two / people” to transition and arrive at the generated subject before returning to the initiating subject for closure. Is this an intuitive strategy, or is it learned, and if so, from where or whom?

KC: It’s a both strategy. I don’t have the longest attention span and I go off on a lot of tangents. I’ve been working on cultivating a style that plays into that. It frequently fails, as my tangents are wont, but sometimes it just manages to balance together and arrive at something. I absolutely adore the poets who can do this well and I have learned a lot from their work — Dean Young, Mary Ruefle, and Matthew Zapruder, especially.
PC: Based on your publication record, you clearly know a thing or two about how to write successful poems. How do you believe the MFA at UBC has most impacted your continued development as a young writer to this point?

KC: Deadlines, for one. Having someone say, “do such and such by such and such date,” really gets such and such done. Friends, too. I’ve managed to expand my writing community, and those people really help keep you going. Also, learning prose. I only ever took poetry workshops in undergrad and it’s been such a wonderful experience to study fiction and non-fiction with some amazing teachers (Andreas Schroeder, Timothy Taylor, and Maureen Medved).  I never knew I could successfully write something without line breaks before.

PC: How close are you to having a completed manuscript of poems, and if you already have one, is it currently under contract, or are you still fielding offers from publishing houses?

KC: I am pleased to say that I am under contract with Nightwood Editions. I think my book is coming out in the fall — we’re still working on it. I’m calling it For Your Safety Please Hold On.

PC: Is there a moment you can recall when you remember thinking or knowing that you wanted to devote your life to writing?

KC: That’s a very romantic way of putting it — devote your life to writing. I think it’s been an accumulation of moments, rather than just one, that have set me on this route. When I was eleven, after reading (I’m embarrassed to say) A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle, I felt compelled to write a poem. Thus ensued many bad years of rhyming couplets. Eventually someone — thank you! — told me poems didn’t have to rhyme. Later, in high school, when I was taking prerequisites to pursue a career in the sciences, though I hated them, my English teacher told me that I was being dumb and really ought to do something with my writing, so I applied and was accepted to the University of Victoria’s creative writing program. There I met some of my now closest friends who also wanted to be poets and we’ve encouraged each other ever since. I just love poems and I don’t think I could get as excited about anything else.

PC: Which poets do you admire most, and what kind of influence have they had on your own writing as it has developed?

KC: I go through phases. I mentioned three above. Often Anne Carson — I am a sucker for anything she writes. I’d read a car manual if Anne Carson wrote one. I love Anne Michaels’ early work. Gertrude Stein. Robert Bringhurst. Erin Moure’s Furious. Mark Strand. The list could go on and on. Poetry is kind of its own language, I guess, and I’ve learned how to speak it by listening to others who have spoken it well. They are to thank/blame for everything I’ve managed to write thus far.

PC: Of the poetry collections you’ve read recently, which ones have made the greatest impression?

KC: I liked Sarah Peters’ 1996. My press-mate RenĂ©e Sarojini Saklikar’s children of air india is very good and thought-provoking. Mary Ruefle’s Selected Poems is great, but I think it leaves out a lot of her great poems. Agony by Steven Zultanski is probably the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.