Born in Newfoundland and raised in the Ottawa Valley, Ken Babstock is the author of four collections of poetry. His third book, Airstream Land Yacht, was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award, won the Trillium Book Award, and was a Globe and Mail Top 100 book. His most recent book, On Malice, won the inaugural Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize. Babstock lives in Toronto.
I did. Quite a lot, when I finally found it. My hometown had 14 or 20 books of poetry in its small library, and my high school had another 10 or 15. After that, I began splitting time and resources between record stores and secondhand bookshops.
I loved Dylan Thomas and Rimbaud and Plath and Don McKay and Pat Lane in high school, if I'm remembering correctly. And Neruda, some Ginsberg (sex and drugs!), Anne Sexton (same! with psychological pain!) and later on, Pasternak, Akhmatova, Hughes, Frost.
I still remember saying Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill” out loud, to no one, because I could see the music asking to be said out loud. It’s often entirely what a poem is.
I started writing in high school during the discovery of the published stuff. Or, I should say, I began making a transition between the privately compulsive journaling, or sketching, into things I could see were discrete language units with an attempt at a forward propulsion. At the time, I’m sure I was conflating song lyric with poetry, but who cares? I’d started to move in that world of assembling language and fell in love with it. It seemed to free me from being myself.
To be alone and think. To not be alone and stop thinking. To be no one and sing. To be no one else and praise.
What inspired me to write “Fire Watch”? Distances, disturbances, loneliness. And a fractured relationship of horror, loss, and destruction triangulating my older brother, my father, and myself. There’s now a video game. Check it.
What a question!! Some of my current favourite poets are in there and I would love to have so much of their work always at hand. Muldoon, Eliot, Avison, Notley, O'Hara, Ashbery, Solie, Wright, Young, Yeats, Crane, Phillips, Milton, and McGimpsey. And Donne. John Donne. Holy Sonnets. But I’m being forced to memorize only one, right? Under threat of death? Or worse? Then I’ll need some armour, so I’ll go with Eliot’s “Preludes.”