Jeramy Dodds digs poetry at Canadian Writers in Person

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and lecture series presented poet Jeramy Dodds reading from his book Crabwise to the Hounds (2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the 2009 Griffin Poetry Prize. Special correspondent Chris Cornish (BA Hons. ’04, MA ’09) sent the following report to YFile.

I believe in music, the fraying mouth of coat
sleeves, the bulrushes’ hackled lean, I know you
do too, my companion ruffled by the wince
of hammered strings, a Valkyrie is seesawing
towards us, broadaxe in hand, and in that
moment you flapped from me I could picture
a thousand words I wanted to say to make
you stay.

from Crabwise to the Hounds
by Jeramy Dodds

There are similarities between Jeramy Dodds’ careers as an archaeologist and writer: both are slow and require a lot of digging. Dodds recently shared his labours at the Canadian Writers in Person reading series, presenting his Griffin-nominated collection, Crabwise to the Hounds.

Jeramy DoddsLeft: Jeramy Dodds

Dodds started writing at 18, although he quietly admits that writing poetry is “not the most popular thing to do.” At 25 his work was published, and seven years later he had enough poems for his debut collection. Reflecting on the lengthy process, Dodds says he “allows the poem to fill itself in.”

It can take up to four years for Dodds to consider his work publishable and he says he constantly goes back to cross things out. He doesn’t mind this arduous process as long as he’s enjoying himself – “If I’m not, the reader won’t.”

Dodds is very conscious of the reader in his work. Earlier in his writing career, he says he had the “romantic idea” that great writing was done in complete isolation. But it was only after he got connected to a writing community that he discovered the value of having a few trusted readers to provide feedback. Dodds has a theory that poetry is like medicine. “You get a licence to practice but it can be taken away if you’re not being read. The reader must be engaged and welcome.”

A common thread in Crabwise to the Hounds is the use of animal imagery. Dodds grew up on a farm and some of the poems are about coming to terms with our treatment of animals. This is especially true in “Crown Land”, where he writes: “sore warped beasts pinched off the rag-and-bone rack, ones that bit by barbed bit were forced to fisticuffs in the scrub slump of hills”. Dodds tries to avoid anthropomorphizing, but like many other good writers he acknowledges that “using animals is a great way of talking about people without talking about people.”

Because he is currently at work translating The Poetic Edda from Old Norse, Dodds identifies with a quote by Helmut Lackenman: “Translation is like bottled wine, you know it’s good, it’s just how to get it out.” He also had this in mind when he attempted a poetic transliteration – Glenn Gould’s recorded music into English. In this poem, a fascinating study of the artist’s hands working the piano keys, Dodds says he wanted to “try and bring it to a concrete level with the simple idea that the body is involved” in the creation of music. Though he believes his poem failed the task, he says, “that [specific] failure is exciting to me.” When asked about the difficulties of making a career from publishing poetry, Dodds declared, “You can’t make a living from it…unless you’re living off love.”

The Canadian Writers in Person public readings at York are free and open to the public, and are sponsored in part by the Canada Council for the Arts. The series is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature. On Nov. 9, in Room 206 of the Accolade West Building, Moez Surani will read from his poetry collection Reticent Bodies.

Chris Cornish, a former teaching assistant with the course, has since graduated but continues to attend the readings.