Thoughts by bill bissett; interviewed by Dave Eso
dave eso: In a battle for the right to take YOU to prom, who would win your arm: the sun or the moon? How so?
bill bissett: in a battul 2 take me 2 th prom probableet h moon wud def have wun 2 take me 2 th prom 4 a long time now mor latelee it wud b th sun winning that battul tho in most liklihood i wudint b going 2 th prom as a metaphor tho sure fr sure n now mor th sun thn th moon literalee ium mor uv a day prson thn i usd 2 b tho as in pomes 4 yoshi who can xplain th sun th moon n th stars who can xplain th rain
de: How does approaching a canvas feel different from approaching a page?
bb: how it is 4 me approaching a canvas can b veree diffrent thn approaching a page mostlee its th prolong ing nuans wuns yr in from th start tho th word approach yu reelee dew approach th canvas mostlee standing up n walking 2ward th canvas n with a painting thn its way mor physikal th whol bodee veree oftn n th arm th wide long stroke sumtines veree mor physikul n colour way mor colour 2 approach is a leep in2 th void sames with writing along similar jumping pathwayze similar n diffrent as gertrude stein sd evreething is th same n evreething is diffrent with writing yu reelee ar deeling with th sircutree uv grammar uv langwage simlariteez ar words ar originalee piktographik each lettr is n yu feel th pickshurs thru them as yu write paintings start with th line or th pickshur first veree oftn tho not alwayze thr is no alwayze n yu feel th charaktr uv th caligraphee aftr or during n its sew much th start up with paintings its mostlee th whol bodee involvd with writing its th brain th arms with th typing n remembring 2 try 2 hold yr bellee in sumtimes whil yu write neithr is like swimming or peeling carrots tho painting is mor like swimming n writing is mor like peeling carrots how yu approach th void th abyss jumping in2 it yr heart is in yr mouth veree oftn wher its most effektiv as yu want 2 take deep breths whil dewing as both writing n painting ar connketing with yr breething yes
de: We know from the nfb documentary, very precisely, what your feelings were about your job at the VPL. Could you comment on some other jobs you’ve held over the decades and what those meant, made you feel, think, be, etc?
bb: my first job was at a gas staysyun in halifax pumping gas dewing lube n grees jobs evreething gettin th car up n goin undr my second job was at bligh radio on quinpool road also in halifax nova scotia selling records callas was huge classikul demos in th bank room elsvis was huge as well diane oxner was a co-workr wundrful singr also barbara byrne who latr brillyantlee playd mozarts mothr in law in amadeus that great film they wer both wundrful as was our boss mrs bligh i wud go on th radio n b a young prson who lovd klassikul mewsik n alternatelee a young huge fan uv countree n or rock thats whn i bcame also a huge fan uv billbord n varietee magazeens n still 2 ths day need 2 know th grosses n puzzul ovr what they meen whn i arrivd in vancouvr i shelvd books at th vancouvr publik libraree wch was thn on burrard st at robson thn off n on tutoring n running errands putting packages in strategik places delivreez n whn i was part uv a yung familee hous painting with lance farrell on laddrs n evreething lerning 2 dew th most inside part uv th trim on th windows b4 th closr parts uv th trim n in thos yeers being kidnappd n forsd 2 pick beens in a plantaysyun in mexico also circa that ditch digging 4 a whil in van
my first writr in resdiens job was at western u in london ontario n thn writr in libraree in woodstock ontario n from much erleer i bcame a volunteer in th art world helping 2 put up art shows n in 62 i startid blewointmentpress wch continued til 80 sew manee books sew much planning sew much collating all thees jobs n mor involvd working sew much with my hands yes n sum agilitee tho not as much as dansing wch was my first ambishyun but aftr 2 yeers uv operaysyuns 12 ops on my bellee i wud b not great at lifting or jumpinbg sew i bgan 2 want 2 write n paint n that way cud still feel th line moov thru space wch 4 me was veree thrilling latelee i was writr in residens at guelph u that was 08-09 n thn 10-13 at workman arts heer in toronto iuv lovd all thees jobs they all enrich each othr sew much whats next i dont know xcellent
de: What keeps you busy these days?
bb: thees dayze ium bizee with working on my nu book uv poetree n soon will b proof reeding th galleez uv my recent book 2 b releesd in spring 13 from talonbooks calld hungree throat a lot uv th writing in it its my second novel ths time a novel in meditaysyun is text uv vokal work play with mewsik uv pete dako on recentlee releesd cd pete dako n me have dun calld nothing will hurt wch will have a follow up cd calld as well hungree throat next yeer agen pete dako musician composr n arrangr n myself word n delivree thats us words n mewsik pete dako is amayzing
what els dewing nu paintings wch i show at th secret handshake art galleree heer in toronto n prepping nu texts n guides 4 th upcumming poetree workshop finding our voices nu n usd at workman arts also in toronto wher ium th poet in residens ther workman arts is a companee devotid 2 all th arts 4 membrs who have xperiensd brushes with addicksyun n or mental health issews who alredee ar artists n have xperiensd interrupsyuns or want 2 bcum artists
th secret handshake 4 wch ium tresurer was foundid n creatid by jordan stone it is a peer support group th onlee wun probablee uv its kind aneewher run 4 n by peopul with schizophrenia run by its membrs its amayzing as well n involvs a lot uv lerning n unlerning
also i try 2 go swimming twice a week n meditate evree morning n dew tai chi also evree morning all thees aktiviteez help 2 keep proaktiv in as manee wayze as possibul
also dewing reedings n having sumtimes travelling art shows with reedings as recentlee happend in victoria at th superior n th well ther n in ottawa last wintr
i put postrs up all ovr qween west n bloor street stretching from ossington 2 bathurst book stores n art gallereez n at camh 4 events at th secret handshake sew all thats great 4 walking n 4 outreech last sunday uv evree month at leest is reeding nite at th secret handshake galleree club hous
de: A friend and I started up an investigation the other night and we hope you’ll help. We came up with 11 ways to go crazy / and only 6 ways to go sane. This troubled us. I’m pretty sure we covered all bases in the first category. Do you have any strategies for sanity you could add? As it stands, our ways to go crazy are: LOVE, drugs, trauma, disease, travel, isolation, sleep deprivation, insects, paranoia, broken-shoelace syndrome (one more trivial problem tips the balance and breaks the mental back) and faustism/hopeless quests. Ways to go sane: Hold the Line, Ride the Wave, Community, Meditation, exercise and stop making lists.
bb: binaree definishsyuns ar veree binaree n veree trikee that is onlee 2 sidid abstrakt nouns ar in opposit relaysyunship with aneething n ar ms n mr leeding alwayze seems 2 me up down gud bad crazee or in sane n sane duz insane meen inside sane in out i dew undrstand what yu ar saying tho as well as wanting 2 deekonstrukt what yu ar saying i work in th mental health field n i find altho not dfensiv abt thees binaree abstraksyuns they ar not as kleer as they cud seem 2 b i like yr list 4 losing it is what i wud call crazee tho also what is losing it it mite b a way uv finding that is thrilling or reelee innovativ sirtinlee i wud rank isolaysyuin as hi up in that list as a caws thats me tho whn we dew aneething hurtful 2 othrs it reelee is losing kontrol uv wuns self n bcumming embrogliatid in diffrent n multipul strands uv kodependenseez but evn manee normativ peopul get lost n unfound in thos mayze n mayzeeness its th i know what yr saying respnses that can b troubling yes
i wud put meditaysyun in th list fr sure uv what can help us bcum less obsessiv or paranoid or controlling or wanting 2 b controlld whatevr it is meditaysyun can help us not xpekt othrs 2 pleez us or us b sew pleezing as a goal 2 us its all nuances uv kours also tai chi helps restore innr balansing n swimming n othr forms uv xercise i wud say yes its th practise uv working on playing with innr balansing that liberates us from self sabotage or sabotage on othrs as well or th sabotage uv th self thr reelee is no sanitee as long as thr is kontrolling or fighting or jelousee or envee n meditaysyun n xercise dew n can bring us 2 ourselvs wher we can let go living a few dayze at a time in th countree or mor thn a few dayze at a time can also bring what they usd 2 call pees uv mind i find n if yr a writr write n if yr a paintr paint thats my add ons or ammendments with yr xcellent lists that in manee wayze thr may not b as manee diffrenses btween in sane n sane as peopul in general wud like 2 think dew our politikul leedrs around th world bhave sanelee hmmmm
de: Who were your artistic mentors? Have you mentored younger artists? If yes, what was that experience like? Can the creation of art be learned? MA programs in creative writing are springing up all over, most recently in Saskatoon, but many poets think there is no point in trying to learn the craft. What are your thoughts?
bb: mentor mentora my first mentor was my mothr who was reeding rachael carsons th silent spring n my mothr xplaind 2 me our human specees was ruining th erth evelyn who was brillyant nurs 4 me with tubes running in n out uv me n in th oxygen tent i desisid 2 write n paint that oxygen tent def mentord me as with writing n painting i cud still feel th line mooving thru space as i cud no longr xpekt 2 b a dansr going 2 ballet school evreething is a mentor evreething evreewun is an influens maude who was our houskeepr n whom i lovd as well i wud help her dew th kleening n we wud listn 2 duke ellington sarah vaughan billy ekstine ella fitzerald dinah washington george sheering as we kleend whn my mothr went 2 spirit wch tuk me yeers 2 get ovr as erthlings say my fathr let maude go 2 save munee she n i had bin veree close that was a doubul blow 2 me n my sistrs went away n i did th kleening n kooking all uv wch i lernd 2 dew from maude my next mentor reelee was bob davis th oldr brothr uv art davis wun uv my best frends he had gone 2 europe n brot back with him names uv artists n writrs picasso chagall sartre debeauvoir gide camus kandinsky renoir evreewun he told art abt thees peopuls works n art told me n thn i was alwayze at th libraree getting out theyr art books n gayzing n studeeing n lerning lerning at th libraree i wud also get out books by tennesee williams lillian hellman eugene o’neil arthur miller william inge all thees great writrs n mor bcame mentors 2 me n th biggest mentor uv all whn i got 2 vancouvr away from halifax aftr being away from lunaria my original home planet was along with marianne moore e.e. cummings n othrs was gertrude stein her work stanzas in meditations reelee awakend me sew much along with mrs reynolds tendr buttons three lives n othr great works awakend me 2 each word is n dusint need 2 alwayze represent thn latr at ubc warren tallman his third yeer poetree class wher we wud studee erth woman n watr woman 2 brillyant pomes uv denise levertovs how th sound n color agreementts n dissonans wud enhans each part uv th meening we also studeed yeats that way weeks on wun pome lapis lazuli that helpd us th students uv his mentoring 2 see n undrstand how that pome was made put 2gethr warren tallman also mentord me as a teechr frend 4 yeers helping me sew much 2 keep going raising munee 4 me whn i was undr attack by rite wing politishans raising th awarreness uv my work 2 withstand th onslaught he had me dew a reeding during thos dayze on th same bill as allen ginsberg wch was a huge thrill 4 me as allen ginsberg was also a huge mentor 4 me his great work howl changd my life sew did jack keroacs n michael mcclure n robert duncans n diane di prima ths kind uv bird flies backward as i set out from halifax with billie my first boy frend at 17 2 see n xperiens th world we ar reelee mentord by evreething evn ths darkning evning in august late n still in summr but i hope iuv mensyund sum uv th stellar mentors in my growing n writing life gertrude stein beng th biggest mentor uv my writing life
de: It seems to me that there is clear overlap between your early writing and some beat poets or post beat personalities. I’m thinking mainly of Lew Welch, Phillip Whalen, Richard Brautigan. Though clearly there is a separation also. Did you study Zen Buddhism at any point, as these other writers did? It seems to me the spirit of zen moves through your art, though I’ve never heard you specifically address it, as you have with shamanism.
bb: evree now n zen i cry whn its a zenfr i laff n oftn evree now n zen i smile with appresiaysyun uv thxcellens uv evreething inklewding th paradoxhes n th contradicksyuns whn it is xcellent wch is mor oftn thn not yes at leest heer in canada wch is brillyantlee muticultural n attempting th harmonee uv evreething class munee posisyun powr all n each uv evreething
th zen koan is it th moovment uv th flag in th wind or th wind it is th moovment uv yr mind lew welch i red a storee by him in th evrgreen review i lovd xcellent writr yes th othr poets yu mensyun all xcellent my favorits uv that gen trajekt allen ginsberg robert duncan denise levertov peter orlovsky taylor mead whn i was going 2 go 2 jail 4 possessyun in 68 it happend aftr a 3 yeer trial almost sumtimes living in hiding from th police as a phonee trial had bin riggd n i was gonna get maybe a ten spot i bettr lern meditaysun i thot sins naivelee i thot thr wudint b anee drugs inside well i drew onlee 3 months i thot it was 2 weeks but i met sumwun recentlee he had gone in with me n he sd i drew th 3 months who knows aneething fr sure aneeway as stond as i was whn i went in 2 jail i have bin meditating evr sins i first came across zen with th writings uv alan watts b4 i left halifax n thos writings along with jack kerouacs on th road n allen ginsbergs howl inspird me 2 leev or rathr reelee supportid me in leeving along with othrs n with studeeing philosophee at dalhousie undr george grant th idea that we ar 2 much led by binaree abstrakt nouns in all theyr dualisms was sirtinlee growing in me n helpin me out evreewun adapts 2 teechings uv kours n in theyr own wayze grows on
Primarily known as Canada’s ambassador to his home planet Lunaria, bill bissett is also an accomplished figure in literature and visual arts. Touted as the missing-link between the Beats and Hippies, bissett has inspired generations of Canadian poets to rage more excellently. His latest release is hungree throat (Talon Books, 2013).
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