By Emil Tiedemann
Edmonton-based poet and photographer Paul Pearson has fulfilled a childhood dream and launched his debut collection, Lunatic Engine, for which he recently wrapped up a virtual tour to promote his new work. Heavily inspired by Galileo Galilei, Pearson's poetry delves into the life-long struggles of answering the questions behind the existence of our universe and, by extension, ourselves.
'I Heart Edmonton' wanted to get to know Pearson more personally, as well as how he ended up writing and publishing Lunatic Engine with the Winnipeg-based Turnstone Press. You can find Pearson's new book at bookstores, via Amazon, or by visiting Turnstone Press' website. Until then, let's get to know Paul Pearson a little more...
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Kimberly BC but was raised in Elkford BC. We moved to Lethbridge in 1983 and then to Edmonton in 1987. Which is good because I hated the wind in Lethbridge. A week after we moved into a townhouse in Millwoods, I stood outside watching these crazy thunder clouds twist themselves into the tornado and start taking roofs off the houses a block away. I didn't realize the wind was going to be so much worse here in Edmonton.
When and why did you start writing poetry?
My earliest memory of writing poetry was winning second place in a Remembrance Day poetry contest when I was in Grade 8. I'm not sure if it was the prize money ($35) or the adulation of my junior high classmates but I was hooked. Okay, it was totally the money which, ironically enough, was the most I'd be paid for a poem for more than ten years.
Do you write anything else other than poetry?
Not really. Everything I start to write ends up degenerating into poetry - even the occasional bits of non-fiction I write to accompany a photo essay or blog post. I always thought I'd end up being a sci-fi writer. It turns out that my artistic abilities don't really lie in prose. I am much more comfortable with shorter, more compact art forms like poetry, and photography. Not content with being popular in junior high just for writing poetry, I also joined the yearbook club and got hooked on photography. I was a real double threat back then.
Does being a father inspire your poetry?
Of course! Being a parent is a miraculous experience. It is one of those fundamental experiences in life, like death, that change you and the way you see the world, forever. And the sleep deprivation combined with over-caffeination make it impossible to write complete sentences anyways.
Where (else) does your inspiration for your poetry come from?
I am very image-driven and adore film and photography. I also listen to a lot of music. These other art forms really feed my creativity a lot. And just being alive and present in the world is often inspiration enough. Whether it is a really cool new scientific finding, or an interesting image, or a compelling overheard conversation, there is poetry everywhere.
Do you have a personal favourite of your poems?
There is a poem in the middle section, the "Baedeker" section, of which I am particularly proud. It's called "Ganymede" and I think it really strikes the perfect balance between narrative and sound poetry. It's also particularly satisfying to read aloud.
"I'd like to say to everyone who has ever
thought that they don't like poetry, or that poetry
is too obscure and hard to read, or who had a bad
experience in school that turned them off poetry,
is please, try again, but this time read it out loud."
- Paul Pearson
What made you decide to put a book together of your poems and how did it feel when you had an actual copy of it in your hands?
Having a book published has been my dream since I was a child. I have always, always wanted to be a published author. Books were the most valuable things we had in our house growing up. There is nothing more magical than a book. Why wouldn't everyone want to write one? And then having someone else, a publishing company, believe enough in something I've written to take it on and spend a lot of time and money, editing it, designing it, publishing it, distributing it, selling it, is a kind of artistic validation that is indescribable, and deeply humbling.
Can you tell me about the Olive Reading Series?
The Olive Reading Series was founded back in 2000. At the time, most poetry readings in Edmonton were organized by the Stroll of Poets. The Stroll was great and I was a member for a few years and helped organize parts of the Festival and the anthology they published annually. The readings though were generally in coffee shops and generally featured a number of writers reading for a few minutes each. A few of us though were interested in hearing poets we like read for longer, in a more relaxed atmosphere. We convinced Martini's Bar and Grill on 109 Street to let us hold a reading there once a month and the Olive was born. In addition to wanting to hear our favourite poets read for more than a few minutes, we also believed that poetry needs to be read as well as heard so we decided to publish a little chapbook for each poet and distribute them free at each reading.
The Olive became a very popular venue for poets from across Canada and continued pretty much continuously, with the occasional short hiatus, until this year. The editorial board has changed over the years and welcomed many new poets and aficionados. I rejoined the Olive 5 years ago and our most recent home was the Almanac on Whyte Avenue and we hosted some amazing poets in that time. We made the decision late this summer, however to go on hiatus until we could all be together in person. Some things can be done virtually. We all decided though, that the Olive is not one of those things. Once the pandemic is over though, we will be back!
Can you tell me about your fascination with fish and how that started?
When you stop and think about it, the entire underwater world is crazy. I remember reading when I was a kid that vast majority of the history of life on this planet happened underwater. The majority of life on the planet, still, lives underwater. Go to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden and walk through the Japanese Garden. Stop on a bridge and watch the koi swimming there below you, on the other side of a barrier neither us nor the fish can cross in any permanent way. I had the opportunity to go snorkelling in Mexico with my son. The experience of jumping off the side of a boat out on the ocean without a life jacket was initially absolutely terrifying, but you do it anyways and discover a kind of liberation you never knew existed. I didn't want to ever get out of the water. Fish swim through their own sky. How could you not be fascinated?
What are some of the things you like to do in your spare time?
Writing and photography take up most of the time in which I'm not being a parent or trying to hold down a career. Of course, one has to feed one's creativity so I read a lot of books. I read a lot of science fiction, even more than I read poetry. I'm also a giant baseball nerd so much of my spare time in the summer is devoted to either watching it, reading about it, or playing catch with the kids. We were loyal Trappers fans from the minute we arrived in Edmonton and have continued to support whatever team calls Edmonton home since then. I am really, really looking forward to getting back out to see some live baseball next year. Please, let there be baseball next year.
Do you have a favourite poet(s) and/or author(s)?
This is almost an impossible question to answer. Thomas King was on CBC radio a couple of weeks ago talking about his new book, "Indians on Vacation." During the interview he suggested that this might be his last book. This was a blow. He has been one of my favourite authors for many, many years and I'm not ready to never have a new Thomas King book. So now I'm going back and rereading my favourites. I'm halfway through listening to "Medicine River," which I borrowed on audibook from the Edmonton Public Library - the best library in the world.
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