A series in which Isabella is excited about everything that is happening at #GrowingRoom2019, so she sat down with some festival authors to hear about their work and what events they are most excited to take part in. Learn more about the 2019 Growing Room festival by visiting our website, festival.roommagazine.com.
Lucas Crawford, genderqueer disabled poet, wrote Sideshow Concessions, The High Line Scavenger Hunt, and Belated Bris of the Brainsick (Fall 2019). Lucas teaches at UNB and is from rural NS.
ROOM: Hello, Lucas, how are you? I’m so glad to be joining you in this space. Your book, The High Line Scavenger Hunt, just came out with University of Calgary Press last year. CONGRATULATIONS! These poems situate themselves in High Line Park, but also bridge between the erased histories of occurred there during the late 1980s. This was a gathering place for queer and racialized youth, and local transsexual communities. As well, there was the fight for AIDS awareness that took place, and much has been lost to gentrification since then— all this is part of the scavenger hunt, isn’t it? Take us through the writing process. How did this project begin and how did it evolve over time?
LC: I saw some early designs for the first portion of the High Line park in 2007, I think, when I was studying the architectural firm diller scofidio + renfro for my graduate studies work. I spent a summer (2009) in New York City when the first phase of the park opened, starting (and quickly dropping) an intensive architecture studio course at Columbia. When I finished my schooling back in Alberta, I did more research on the High Line, and found myself at the Banff Centre Writing Studio in 2012, writing a poetry collection about the park, its histories, the problematic politics surrounding the “urban renewal” of which the High Line has become an icon, and continuing to query my own experience and perspective as a genderqueer person and architecture critic who does not easily belong to the High Line’s spaces.
I put the project on hold for several years so that I could finish Sideshow Concessions (a poetry book) and Transgender Architectonics (an academic book). Working with the team at University of Calgary Press has been fantastic. Helen Hajnoczky helped me to distill, tighten, and sharpen the work. I suppose you could say, then, that this book has been underway for over a decade – it’s been a familiar project to which I’ve returned when possible.
ROOM: You also have a new book on the horizon. CONGRATULATIONS again! Give us a glimpse into Belated Bris of the Brainsick. Call it a teaser, if you will. How do you feel at this point in time?
LC: I feel many things: lucky, excited, tired, nervous, overcome, and, of course, uncertain in a variety of ways that seem appropriate for the situation of a new and intimate book.
A teaser: a post-catholic maritime queer uncovers a complex web of familial Jewishness (previously interred in a mix of variously loud silences), experiences great turmoil, and eventually makes it through to something new, a world in which words must now work differently, in which histories require reinterpretation, and in which illnesses of myriad sorts deserve reappraisal in light of the boundless pathology of the normal.
ROOM: As a young writer, I’m always interested to hear others’ stories. How did you come to writing? When did you know? Who were the people/mentors that helped you get here?
LC: When I was eight, I wrote very long stories, in messy cursive and double-spaced, about the fantastical adventures of my teddy and I. I started writing poetry when I was twelve. It felt very deep. (It wasn’t! But I suppose there was some “depth” to the importance of the process in my life; poetry was an opportunity to reflect and respond, an occasion for solitude and for imagining a way of communicating differently.)
I’ve had a year here or there without writing poetry, but it always comes back around. However, I don’t think I subscribe to mystical/mythical ideas about having a calling as a writer. I’m looking to be a person who is thinking, and to find the best avenues possible to communicate what I want to say. This often seems to be poetry, but it can be other things too. Jeanette Lynes’s creative writing class at St FX (2003-4) was a really important moment for, I think, all of us in the class. But anyone who has provoked me to think about literature, or anything, has helped me to keep writing, and that includes poets, artists, scholars, students, and friends. My friend Marco Katz Montiel encouraged me to be bold and to welcome rejection.
ROOM: Speaking of mentors, you are also doing some far-reaching mentoring yourself. You are currently an associate professor at UNB. Do you ever find that your creative writing interests intersect your teaching/research interests? If so, how has that affected your approach towards certain topics?
LC: I could probably plot out a few direct connections. For instance, researching architecture led to writing poetry about the High Line, which led back to teaching a course about gender and urbanism. Writing poetry about family, fatness, and shame helped me become a person who could teach courses about body studies in a particular way. In a broader sense, if writing poetry has something to do with being self-aware, then it can only help one’s teaching.
But the plainer answer is just that I teach what captures my energy and attention and feels important, and so those things can’t help but be the things about which I want to write poetry as well. By expressing ideas via different genres (if one can consider teaching a genre of communication), I get the chance to think things through in different ways and with different people. I love a great audience at a poetry reading, for instance, but they will probably never interrupt your reading to ask you three creative and tough questions about your stance. But students do that! The effect of such interactions and intellectual relationships on one’s life can be singular. In the classroom, you can suspend your beliefs together and entertain the possibility of changing your minds together. We don’t get many chances to do that.
And a quicker and simpler answer: sometimes my former students read my poetry and then express happiness upon hearing some of my hobbyhorses or turns of phrase come up, ha ha ha.
For the record, I love poetry audiences in their own right. But I do wonder when and if readings can generate more dialogue and openness. Would it mean questioning our norms of politeness, seeing respect as inhering in taking another’s ideas as worthy of engagement and debate, and instead engaging with readers in the manner of a student? I don’t have answers – just hopes.
ROOM: We have you featuring in several panels including “Body Politics,” “The Power of Narrative Poetry,” and “Funny Feminists.” But tell me, what are some other events that you are most keen on attending?
LC: Is it too succinct to say “everything”?
ROOM: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me, Lucas. I’m so excited to have you for Growing Room 2019!
Isabella Wang’s debut poetry chapbook is forthcoming with Baseline press in 2019. At 18, she is the youngest two-time finalist and writer shortlisted for The New Quarterly’s Edna Staebler Essay Contest. Her poetry and prose have appeared in over a dozen literary journals, and she holds a pushcart prize nomination in poetry. She studying English and World Literature at SFU, interning at Room Magazine, serving as the Youth Advocate for the BC Federation of Writers, and co-ordinating the bi-weekly Dead Poets Reading Series.