Accomplished writer. Parliamentary Poet Laureate. In(ter)ventions faculty. Fred Wah and I sat down over lunch to chat mostly about that last role. This is the fifth year Fred’s been involved with In(ter)ventions, and when I think about that program title I wonder what, exactly, are they intervening?
After our chat, I’ve discovered that In(ter)ventions is a literary arts program for experimental approaches to writing. It’s not as simple as moving print into a digital form, though that’s part of the conversation. Instead, it’s really about taking an interdisciplinary approach to producing text, and finding new ways to tell stories. In fact, as Wah tells me, he got interested in the program because of the interdisciplinary nature of his own work.
Wah has been coming to The Banff Centre since the 1960s, and he’s taken many visual arts programs, including one that partnered Mexican and Canadian poets and photographers. That collaboration led to his book Sentenced to Light. But, as he says, “In(ter)ventions is really the first time Banff has approached that cross-disciplinary context from a literary point of view.”
He told me about working with writers in the program to find new ways of storytelling. “Yesterday I met with a student. She has text, sound, music she wants to work with, and she has images. She wants to do a mash-up, find some way for it all to work, perhaps hyper-textually – but she doesn’t quite know how to do that,” he tells me.
Program participants spend a lot of time discussing the compositional process, with a focus on finding structure and design, not necessarily gaining the technical tools (like coding) to make the project work. Wah says. “Although we may be using new technology, the best of it is really informed by substantial knowledge such as basic ways to approach narrativity, syntax, and language,” Wah says. “The possibilities are huge in creative writing.”
“Most of the people who come here aren’t particularly interested in producing a book,” he adds, saying that’s what keeps it on the leading edge.
I asked him if he felt that edge helped him as Parliamentary Poet Laureate and he chuckled. “I’m honoured by it,” he says. “I’m gratified that some of my fellow writers saw fit to nominate me for it.” Even so, he can’t help but bring an interdisciplinary approach to all his work. He’s currently busy filming a series of short videos featuring 20 different Canadian poets and their poetry.