Fliers to Lifers
no pete, you should not be outside yourself,
stay inside. what good would being outside
i like the poems
-text message from Ben Ladouceur
I’ve had a peculiar retail career: lower management favours me
their superiors disregarding my potential to distribute letters recommending employees ignore union reps circulating fliers to lifers
As a young man, a middle-aged retail assistant manager called me revolutionary; I was retiring Canada for Korea
where I found a partner but not the Fidel Castro archetype
where I found after 27 years
the challenge is knowing & staying put
So if true revolutionaries are guided by love, let’s get married baby
unwashed dishes or diapers can’t make me
reconsider life you’re the last half of
TSTmpj: Such an inventive piece, Pete. Any influences you wish to talk about?
Peter Gibbon: Thanks for the compliment.
I have a lot of influences—all Canadian—so far, most from my 7-year university education. In my undergrad I formed an affinity for the hard, lyric tradition of Modernist poets like TS Eliot & Ezra Pound which lead to primary research into Canadian Modernists Louis Dudek, Raymond Souster and (to a lesser degree) Irving Layton. My Post-grad research brought me closer to the late Modernists and early Post-modernists, namely Milton Acorn, Al Purdy, Michael Ondaatje, Alden Nowlan and bpnichol. Contemporary poets such as Anne Carson, Rob Winger, Phil Hall and Lorna Crozier are who I read now—practically anyone who has a hard, lyric line and invokes feeling in every poem, no matter how short or long. Novelist Timothy Findley made me want to be a writer in high school. I am preoccupied with Marian Engel’s novels as well, who was an intimate friend of Mr. Findley before they both died rather early.
I was consumed by small poetry magazine publishing in my undergrad and I wrote my M.A. Research Project on a small poetry magazine that existed from 1957-70 called YES Magazine. I spent 5 years editing and managing a small press in Ottawa called In/Words. It was there that I really got to know writing through peers who expressed similar enthusiasm for and toward readership reception. Without their mutual support I wouldn’t have had the forum or the courage to develop my own writing. The editorial team I worked with attracted incredible poets who have branched off into their own projects that are gaining notoriety post-University: Jeff Blackman is a unique poet who manages an online erotic literary magazine, The Moose & Pussy; Cameron Anstee is an incredible and enthusiastic writer/publisher who manages a chapbook press called Apt. 9; a good friend and prose-writer Jeremy Hanson-Finger is publishing an online prose mag called Dragnet; Bardia Sinaee is a prolific poetry award-winner who is also managing a print-only poetry press, Odourless Press. All of these projects besides Dragnet operate in Ottawa. All of them grew out of or are intertwined in our small editorial team from Carleton University. Other peers of mine that grew out of In/Words include Justin Million & Leah Mol, who have both since moved to Vancouver BC. Leah is enrolled in UBC’s prestigious creative writing program and Justin is being her Bukowskiesque partner. Everybody’s individual and collective influences poetically and personally are certainly the most profound influences I can cite.
TSTmpj: What's the poetry scene in Wollongong like? Do you give readings there, or in Sydney perhaps, or do you prefer sticking to the printed page?
Peter Gibbon: When I was an Ottawa resident, being a presence at readings was much easier because there was a more active poetry scene. There are good & bad things about that. As the political capital of Canada, diplomacy is absolutely congenital to everything in Ottawa. As such, the poetry scene is incredibly supportive, warm and encouraging, but not competitive, critical or especially innovative. There’s lots of experimentation but I feel like a lot of concrete meaning gets edited out or relegated to play. Again, a double-edged sword.
Wollongong is an incredibly unique place chock-full of character, however (as Australians put it) Bogan it appears. It has an interesting history of working-class culture, but with a recent slow-down in employment its character has become noticeably Gothic. Being a writer, I spend most of my time out & about during the day when I see a lot of mentally ill and (pardon the pejorative implications) burned-out folks wandering town. Suffice to say, I haven’t found a very strong poetry community here, but I’ve only been in Australia since March.
I’ve grown up in the lyric tradition of poetry and I tend to stick to the page. I’m aware when a poem is better to be read by the reader in their own head and since a lot of my poems are short and don’t fit into the Slam Poet persona I don’t pursue that type of community. While in Korea I started wading into song writing, which has made performance and poetry more distinct for me, in how I write.
TSTmpj: What is it to "stay inside yourself" for you? How is that different from being "outside yourself?"
Peter Gibbon: The quotation that prefaces my poem came out of conversations I’d been having in 2010 with a close friend and contemporary poet, Ben Ladouceur. I’m sure we were discussing poetry & sexuality, as many of our conversations from that period revolved around Queer theory and how it applies to interpersonal relationships. Ben is another poet I met through In/Words and is also seeing some significant attention from the literary establishment in Canada. I seem to remember sending him some poems that were not straightforward and very likely expressing anxiety toward the discord between biology and identity (this is the unifying motif in Queer Writing for me—in both "Hetero" and "Gay" contexts.) Ben sent me this text which I didn’t receive until half a year later because I’d lost my phone. When I read it much later I realized it was worth ten of the "texts" I’d sent him for feedback.
The poem is really about "coming out" of yourself, but sometimes you get discouraged with poor relationships or you get to blame yourself for being insecure or paradoxically, blame yourself for being unhappy. At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, it’s really self-awareness that’s the best protection against despair, and sensitivity to your companions’ own anxieties keep you from feeling totally alone.
Peter Gibbon is a Canadian writer residing in Wollongong. He has been published by Ottawa, Sudbury and Toronto small magazine/presses.