An interview with Norm Sibum

     Norm Sibum is the author of more than fifteen books including Among Other Howls in the Storm, In Laban’s Field, Intimations of a Realm in Jeopardy, and The Pangborn Defence. His 2002 collection, Girls and Handsome Dogs, won the Quebec Writers’ Federation A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry. He has lived in various locales including Germany, Alaska, Missouri, and Vancouver but since 1994 has made his home in Montreal. His blog and website can be found at http://www.normsibum.com/. His blog is the subject of this interview.


     More than one literary commentator [Ed. note: Messrs. Wells and Starnino] has expressed surprise that Norm Sibum now has a blog. Author websites are common, but blogs where the posts are both daily and lengthy, not to mention written in a truly idiosyncratic style, are not typical. One sees from the posts themselves that you’re surprised to find yourself pursuing this project. Why a blog?

     Yes, I am somewhat surprised to find myself ‘pursuing this project’. I knew at the outset I was taking leave of my senses and felt quite ridiculous for the first month or so writing up my ‘posts’. But it passed. The fact that it passed perhaps ought to trouble me. So why a blog? I don’t know, to be honest. Any number of reasons recommend themselves. To keep my hand in somehow, poems coming more slow; to hear the sound of my voice rattling on — dreadful thought, that one; to organize my thinking, if at the expense of the long-suffering reader. The thing is, a number of people tell me they follow the posts on a semi-regular basis, so I have some excuse to continue. I give it a year, at the end of which I will assess whether or not the posting has been a good or truly rotten idea.

     Your posts ground themselves quite deliberately in a specific locale, with detailed references to the restaurants and terraces you frequent and the people you encounter, while simultaneously discussing geo-politics and events happening around the globe. Is this juxtaposition primarily an aesthetic one, or do you sense that developments in Washington or the Middle East do resonate in your corner of things here on Sherbrooke Street West?

      Resonate is a word that renders me exceedingly nervous. One hears it used so often that one wonders, what with just about everything resonating, if we can expect rolling blackouts sometime soon. I am doing in the blogs what I have always done in the poems, just that I am permitting myself to be awfully chatty and, well, prosy. The blogs may lead in the end to better poems; then again, look out, wretched bit of verse at 3 o’clock—To further treat with your question, one’s street corner is always ‘the world’ to some extent or another, and time is fluid. The poet Hesiod wrote his verse a long, long time ago and yet, I know at least one Hesiod out in the Townships who is just as cranky and as red-necked as the poet was. This man, as he listens to his Mahler and Beethoven, vents continuous, unrelenting streams of bile.  In that sense, these juxtapositions you speak of in my writing do not reflect an aesthetic position on my part; it just seems a quite normal state of affairs.

     In more than one entry, you speculate that we, as in those of us inhabiting western civilization, have reached a dead end. You write about the decay of language, the lifeless look in the eyes of passers-by, even the loss of integrity in our individual identities. If all of us have front row seats at the big fight, might we characterize your blog as a kind of ringside report, your up-to-the minute account of the action as it slouches towards Bethlehem? Or do you prefer a different metaphor?

     No, ‘slouch’ is fine, though the notion has lost its original meaning in the sense that Yeats employed it and now it’s only a buzz concept of some cachet. In the end, this is one way among others in how civilizations come undone — through the abuse of language in the name of ‘creativity’ or some other misbegotten excuse for being seen as ‘relevant’, ‘happening’, ‘cutting edge’ or, in other words, giving oneself permission not to think. Civilization as cocktail party-cum-quotas-cum-self-congratulations. So yes, for some time I have been thinking things are pretty bad. However, I understand there is more than one way of looking at how it appears. For instance, one of my drinking buddies, a long-time man of the business world, will say that things are simply evolving from one point to the next and that change always benefits someone at the expense of someone else, the nattering on about morals and ethics, let alone art and literature and love, nothing more than a chattering of bewildered, liberal magpies. Then, too, are we starving? Can we not get around with relative freedom? Are the gendarmes knocking down our doors after midnight? Not yet, or at least, not here, though I am paranoid enough to believe my electronic missives are being monitored after a fashion and that we have been idiot enough to hand that capability over to corporations as well as the state in the name of, what? Market considerations and security? There’s a word the abuse of which we will one day come to rue as it will prove an excuse to roll up some fundamental freedoms and disappear them.

     Unlike poetry, blogs can respond immediately to their readers. You often incorporate the responses of readers and then reply in subsequent posts, creating the feeling of a wide-ranging conversation involving various people. Might this be one of the unique advantages of a blog, part of its value perhaps?

     I wish we could get away from this word ‘blog’, as if use of it confers special powers on the writer. Writing is writing. Perhaps the fact that I feel myself to be addressing an audience almost on a daily basis rather than muttering to myself every five minutes or so accounts for what you call ‘the feeling of a wide-ranging conversation’. Maybe yes, maybe no. I don’t know. I am not yet entirely convinced that the ‘web’ as such hasn’t a great deal more to do with the ‘problem’ than with anything like a ‘solution’, and if I am not just helping to perpetrate a fraud on behalf of corporatist tricksters. In any case, I seem to be thinking aloud about this and that, and this thinking aloud seems to have entertained a few people. Fine. I don’t know how long I can keep it up and at what point the writing will wear out its welcome. Writing of a certain kind invariably does wear out its welcome. What motivates me to keep at it is my continuing and deepening sense that the world in which we abide is unravelling at the seams and I don’t know how else to respond to this happenstance. Whatever else they do, writers write.