Get to know Kellie Chouinard

We sat down with our authors so that we could share a little bit about how they connect to the chapbooks they’ve written for us, and to their writing in general. Here’s our interview with Kellie Chouinard about her chapbook, dis-connect.


 

When did you start writing?

I started writing when I was about 12 or so. Writing gave me a different way of looking at, and making sense of, the world around me. I had a collection of notebooks and an old typewriter and I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway.

What inspired you to write this chapbook?

I was living in Calgary at the time and really starting to understand the differences between Calgary and Windsor, between my history and the histories of the people around me. Calgary felt closed off, to me, and I felt like I was disconnected from that city and from Windsor, after I’d left. Writing this was my way of writing myself and my history into that city while trying to stay grounded in Windsor. I was also reading a lot of feminist confessional writing at the time, and I liked the idea that, in feminist confessional writing, the story isn’t necessarily 100% true, or true for the author. That style of writing tends to be more representative of a wider experience – usually female and usually related to trauma, to some degree. I wanted to incorporate that idea into my own writing.

Who have been your biggest inspirations, as a writer?

Stylistically, Hemingway and Faulkner really inspired me when I was young, because they both wrote in ways that were so different from how I’d been taught that stories had to be written. Later on, the works of bpNichol, Robert Kroetsch, and Daphne Marlatt made me want to shift my focus from fiction to poetry, and from external to internal writing. Writers who are brave enough to turn inward, to write about themselves and their experiences, really inspire me. Personally, my mother is probably my biggest inspiration as a writer. When I was a child, she was really interested in genealogy and traced our entire family tree, so I grew up understanding the importance of family history, particularly maternal lineage, which is often harder to trace and is sometimes almost erased. A lot of that genealogy works its way into my writing, in a variety of ways.

Is there a writing project that you’re planning on tackling next?

I’ve been trying to write a novel for the past year, so that’s where my writing focus has been lately. It’s very slow-going.

Is there something you’re trying to accomplish, as a writer?

My goal is always just to capture, in writing, how I see the world, to make some kind of sense of that world.

How would you describe your writing process?

Coffee. Coffee is my process. I’ve never really had a particular writing process – I just caffeinate and try to get something down on paper, even if it doesn’t make any sense or is only a handful of words. I write almost everything longhand – I always have – and I edit often (sometimes daily). About once a year or so, I’ll go back through what I wrote five or ten years earlier and see what’s salvageable, and I’ll try to build something new from pieces of my older writing. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. That’s about as close to a writing process as I’ve got! But it definitely always involves copious amounts of coffee.

What’s your favourite thing about your own writing?

I like that I can read back through some of my older work and identify which writer influenced a particular poem, and I like that I don’t really have one single style or voice – it changes depending on what I’m writing. I’m really interested in feminist life-writing and how collective memory comes into play, so that’s something I like that I’ve been able to sneak into my writing without it being obvious.

What do you find different about chapbooks vs other styles of writing?

Chapbooks are interesting because they tell cohesive (or completely disjointed) narratives in a very limited number of pages, which is both challenging and rewarding. I kind of liken chapbooks to an artist displaying their work in one room of a gallery versus the entire gallery versus one piece displayed as part of a collective exhibit. With chapbooks, there’s always (at least, for me) this desire to produce something cohesive and meaningful without feeling stressed about the amount of space I have to tell a complete story.

Where do you situate yourself as an author and with your work?

I would say I’ve always leaned more toward the radical spectrum of Canadian Lit, and I would definitely call my writing feminist biotext or feminist confessional. Community, feminism, genealogy, and the idea of shared history are definitely important to me in my writing, and these are themes that run through a lot of feminist auto/bio and life-writing.

What is one question you would want to ask future ZED Press authors?

I would ask whether they engage in any other artistic pursuits, because that’s something that interests me. I have a few writer friends who are also musicians and singers, and a few who are also visual artists, and it’s interesting to see how one form of art influences the other. I’m a photographer as well as a writer, and I can sometimes see how photography has changed my writing, or how writing has changed my photography, so I would be curious to see whether that holds true for other writers, as well.

How do we survive the dis-connection and the dis-remembrance? Is it through poetry?

Through life-writing, yes. We understand our own stories better when we express them – through art, writing, photography, etc. By reading/viewing other people’s stories, we can better understand not only these other stories, but also our own, and how we all fit into the larger narrative. Rebecca Solnit writes that “[t]he ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt” (Men Explain Things to Me). Telling our stories, either to ourselves or to other people, is a pretty radical act of resisting, and also surviving, feelings of disconnection and forgetting (or dis/mis-remembering). I think we can begin to resist the disconnect by re-writing and re-imagining ourselves and re-connecting with our individual and collective histories.

Beginnings, endings, leaving, returning, again and again (very Kroetsch!): do you think this (bi)cyclical relationship forces the subject to never ending  re-evaluation?

Absolutely, yes. As human beings, we are naturally inclined to evaluate our lives, to some degree, for as long as we’re on this planet. I think this is why some of us keep journals – we need that space to evaluate and re-evaluate our lives and our choices. Beginnings are also endings, and endings lead to new beginnings; leaving one place almost always means returning to, or turning toward, another place, which we might eventually also leave. Life is very cyclical, with myriad opportunities to evaluate and re-evaluate where we are and where we might go. Absolutely, this narrator is in a constant state of never-ending re-evaluation, torn between two very different places and ways of being. (And Kroetsch was also absolutely a huge influence there.)

As a Windsorite who has gone through these steps, these routes and patterns of leavings and returnings, how does that inform your writing?

The cyclical nature of my own leavings and returnings and leavings (again) really made me look at A) why on earth I was doing all this leaving, feeling like I was being pulled in two different directions; and B) how I could use that feeling to my advantage. I did feel like I was torn between these two very different lives, and that feeling of being split in two, coupled with my own neurotic need to constantly over-think and over-evaluate every choice I’ve ever made, again and again, prompted me to include a lot of repeated leavings and returnings in dis-connect, and a lot of chaotic (sometimes repeated) disconnected memories that are associated with one of two places.

There’s a grimness sometimes, a grimness to the humour, to “hiding the body” of the text. How do you find humours help with the intense parts of the text?

Sarcasm is my second language and is my go-to when I’m talking about something difficult or uncomfortable. Humour and sarcasm make it easier to swallow things that are difficult to swallow, I think. When I was writing dis-connect, I was really trying to reconcile how much I missed Windsor, my home-place, with how much I’d always wanted to leave, and the reasons why I’d wanted to leave. I wanted to talk about the grunge, the not-so-pretty aspects of the city, the string of arsons that were happening at the time (around 2011) without letting these things overpower the entire narrative. There is also a thread throughout the chapbook that circles around a rape, and while that isn’t a humorous subject by any stretch, including some hints of sarcasm and juxtaposing other images into the scenes made them easier to write and, I think, easier to read. The hints of humour also help make these sections feel more like out-of-body experiences. Humour diffuses the intensity. Without that, the chapbook would basically be a series of awful events, and that would be pretty soul-crushing.


 

That’s all for this interview; thanks for reading! If you want to read more about Kellie and dis-connect, check out our chapbooks page! If you’re interested in attending one of our upcoming events or keeping up to date with the press, check out our facebook page for more info!

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