Alice Burdick is a widely published poet and co-owner of the independent bookstore Lexicon Books, which is located in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. In the following post, she talks about writing, collaborating, and what she loves about living on the South Shore. A selection of Burdick’s poems, Deportment: The Poetry of Alice Burdick, will be published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press in the fall of 2018.
How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and poetry in particular?
I’ve been writing since I learned how to read, really. I wrote plays and stories and poems as a kid. I grew up in a very arty house—my mother was a professional artist and I was used to abstract ideas being articulated and normalized. My dad is still a secret poet and translator of ancient languages. There were always a lot of books of various kinds around. I was specifically drawn to poetry as my primary form when I attended the Dream Class, an extra-curricular writing class through the school system, when I was around 16. It presented many forms of exciting poetry, and that was irresistible.
What do you think is changing in poetry these days?
I am never sure if there is change, or if there are trends. Stylistically, more openly “confessional” or openly autobiographical narratives seem to be popular. But then this is a wave that we’ve seen before. Definitely there is an encouraging trend in the publishing world to actively publish and promote people of colour, LGBTQIA, and people with disabilities. I am hopeful that this is becoming a cumulative, structural reality.
What do you love about living in Nova Scotia?
It’s gorgeous here. I live in a part of NS where I can get to water within minutes, and there is a lot of personal space because there aren’t a lot of people. Even though I am busy with children and running a bookstore, there is still a very humane pace of life. People take time to talk to each other.
What’s the biggest misconception about being a poet?
One of the funniest things I see regularly, and in print, by national publications on down, is a differentiation between “author” and “poet”. I have four full-length books and a selected on the way, and I am referred to as a poet but not an author. Obviously I am both—but novelists and non-fiction authors are more specifically referred to as authors. That's a small thing but it makes me laugh, and feel a bit annoyed. I think it comes down to poetry being a marginal activity and labour of love rather than a money-maker. And also there’s an assumption that when you write poetry, it’s not all that much work because the lines are smaller than in a novel. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! I also really like scarves but I’m pretty down to earth.
What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
I think it would be similar advice that I’d have for any writer, which is to read widely, including other genres and types of writing, and also to read work you think you might not like. There’s no point in pigeonholing yourself as a particular “type” of poet. Write often, read every day, and play with words. Have fun. Try different writing exercises to take you out of a singular stream. Accept editorial advice (within reason) and understand that although language itself is precious—a precious gift and resource—writing is infinitely malleable. Read journals and submit to them, but don’t get too fixated on publication. Focus on writing and editing well. Collaborate with other poets and artists.
What’s great about writing and bookselling in your part of Nova Scotia?
I love living out here on the South Shore. I have written in big cities, small towns, and the country. There’s a different feel to all these places, and they inform the writing somewhat. I love the space around me here. It’s quite quiet so that has encouraged a focus on more introspective work. There’s a very cool community of artists here doing amazing things, almost anonymously as they’re scattered and not centralized—except there are events and publications that pop up and remind me that we’re seeded along the shore. People are very enthusiastic about supporting the bookstore. They value the work we’re doing, and come out to events at the store. I think that Lexicon Books is one of the only places in Nova Scotia that has a salon (in collaboration with suddenlyLISTEN Music) where poetry and music are combined and improvised, as an actual series. That’s pretty cool! Especially for such a tiny place.
What’s the last great book you read?
Don’t get me started! There have been so many! I was at Knife/Fork/Book, an all-poetry bookstore in Toronto in April, and I got Kathryn Mockler’s book Some Theories, with these wonderful line drawings by David Poolman. Excellent poetry!
What’s the last great movie you saw?
Get Out was the last great movie I saw. I also really enjoyed Thor Ragnarok. I don’t see a lot of movies but I enjoy a good spectacle.
What are you working on right now?
I have a body of poems that I’m working on, and adding to. It’s not an active “manuscript” as yet, just a bunch of work. I am collaborating with artist Drew Klassen on a folio, where he’s interpreting a poem of mine with 28 different drawings. Fellow poet and pal Alison Smith and I are working on starting up a micro press called Gaffe Point.
If you weren’t a poet, what would you be?
I am a poet and other things already! I’m a mother, a business owner etc., and have worked many jobs—including catering and foreign exchange. But I have always enjoyed theatre and I could be an actor (I am making no claims that I’d be a good actor). I love to walk everywhere. I would love to walk all over North America, but I don’t know if that’s a job description.
Alice Burdick lives and writes in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. She is the author of four full-length collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Book of Short Sentences (Mansfield Press, 2016). A selected works, Deportment, is forthcoming from Wilfrid Laurier University Press, November 2018. She has been involved in the small press community since 1990. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence (Mercury Press, 2004), and in many magazines. She co-owns Lexicon Books, an independent bookstore in Lunenburg.