To Live in the Texture of a Thing: An Interview with Jason Purcell, poet and co-founder of Glass Bookshop

Jason Purcell, co-founder of Glass Bookshop talks poetry, life, and the texture of things with Invisiblog guest editor, Shazia Hafiz Ramji.

Shazia Hafiz Ramji: Jason, how long did it take you to write A Place More Hospitable?

Jason Purcell: These poems started during the writing of my MA thesis, in which was exploring similar themes: illness, the body, the domestic. The thesis was a work of autofiction that had a theoretical underpinning, and as I was writing it, I turned to poetry as a way to, I think, explore these topics and theories from other angles that didn’t seem cohesive with the narrative position of the thesis. Writing in this poetic register was a way for me to lift up these themes, look underneath them or glance lengthwise at them, which I think opened up my mind to new avenues of thinking and writing about things that I had been living alongside so long that to describe them felt banal to me.

Book cover image for A Place More Hospitable by Jason Purcell.

SHR: What was the editorial process for your chapbook?

JP: I had the incredible privilege of working with Jim Johnstone at Anstruther Press, who scooped up this chapbook and read it with such attention and care. These poems are stronger, clearer, and truer because of his generous editing. It was a quick process for us, and I think that comes from the respect and trust that grounded our exchanges. Every suggestion Jim made proved to me that he understood what I was trying to do, and for the poems, and me as a writer, to be seen and held in that way felt very special.

SHR: What do you hope your poems can do?

JP: I hope these poems in particular contribute to a conversation about living with chronic pain and illness, about how doing so can affect one’s relationship to one’s body, or sense of belonging within it. I also hope I am contributing to writing about the body, and the stomach and teeth in particular, which I find to be such fascinating sites for affect and for trauma, that carry so much.

SHR: How do you know when a poem is complete?

JP: I don’t know that I always know. I think, with every poem that I’ve written, there’s opportunity for me to go back and be more rigorous or more playful or more expansive, but that said, I’m not a perfectionism. I think if the poem has stopped moving—if I lose the pull of it—then I’m happy to leave it. Not every poem is a good one, and not even poem will be shared. Only some of them move in the right direction.

SHR: Why poetry?

JP: Poetry feels challenging to me in a way that I think is very productive to my intellectual and emotional growth. I’m a Taurus Sun, and so I can be lazy, which extends to my thinking and writing too; I think I choose the path of least resistance. Poetry, for me, is about interrogating those sites of resistance. To me, it’s about pausing at a moment, a difficulty, turning my attention and eye to it and asking a question. Whether or not a poem answers that question is something else entirely, and perhaps is less important. To me, poetry gives me space to live in the texture of a thing, to stretch intellectually and emotionally.

SHR: Why does a poem begin?

JP: What a fascinating question! A poem, for me, might begin for all kinds of reasons, but if I were to boil it down, I think a poem begins because there is no other way for me to articulate something, or to get to the core of it, whether this is an affect, a situation, a pain, (less often a joy). I think a poem begins because I am at a moment where I can’t sidestep something anymore. I can’t try to sublimate it. Something needs deep thought, and so, a poem.

SHR: What are you currently working on?

JP: I am still revising the manuscript that was my MA thesis; I’d like to keep at it, because I feel there is something there that I’d like to see through. I’m so excited about this project. I’m also working on a full-length poetry collection, another collection of poems based on the paintings of Kris Knight, and a few other surprises. Alongside all of this writing, though, I’m opening a bookshop in Edmonton called Glass Bookshop, alongside poet and dear friend Matthew Stepanic. Starting a bookshop from the ground up has been daunting and stressful, but already so rewarding. Edmonton’s—and Canada’s—community of readers and writers have rallied around us and have offered incredible support to us. We plan to open in the fall of 2019, so this is where much of my attention goes lately.

Jason Purcell is a writer and musician living and working on Treaty 6 territory in Edmonton, Alberta. He is Interviews Editor for Glass Buffalo, Circulation Coordinator for Eighteen Bridges, and is co-editor of Ten Canadian Writers in Context. His poetry has appeared in CV2, The Malahat Review, PRISM International, among others. Alongside Matthew Stepanic, he is co-founder of Glass Bookshop, Edmonton’s newest bookstore. A Place More Hospitable is his first chapbook. | @jasonvpurcell

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