Brenda Clews is the author of Tidal Fury (Guernica Editions), a narrative collection that is part love story, part examination of identity, and part exploration of power, mythology, and obsession. Illustrated by Brenda's original artwork, Tidal Fury was been called a "richly layered, challenging collection" by John Oughton, author of Time Slip.
We welcome Brenda to Open Book today as part of our In Character interview series, speaking to her about the nameless narrator of Tidal Fury. She tells us about Tidal Fury's unique structure, the mechanics of poetic internal dialogue, and the writerly self vs. the everyday social self.
Tell us about the main character in your new book.
The main character of Tidal Fury is the speaking voice, a narrator whose wild, untamed poetry and poetic utterances carve her existence into being. Does she exist outside the text in which she is embedded? She limns a coming-to-being, a poet in the process of creating a self that can speak the deeper poetries that compose and uncompose the self.
Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?
Tidal Fury has a somewhat unique structure for a book of poetry. It has an almost hallucinated narrative structure. In these ‘memoirs of an imaginal life’ (Braille), interweaving stories of two fluid but recognizable characters appear: the Monsieur, and an aged woman with a white face, black hair and lurid red lipstick. One is an absent lover the narrator converses with – but we only hear her voice in the conversations with him. The other is an older narcissist woman the poet grapples with. Both characters develop through the text. They are each stories that unfold through the intertwining of styles of writing; neither appear as subjects with speaking voices. Both relationships undergo change in the book. Nothing is static in Tidal Fury. And there is the figure of the Medusa, who also undergoes transformation throughout the text – from a terrifying traditional mythic figure (Spectre), she becomes a powerful, if dangerous, symbol for creativity (Muse).
Tidal Fury explores subjectivity in the fluid self-portraits that emerge. The text suggests that we are speaking subjects who cannot look upon ourselves. We can only see our reflections in various mirrors, literal and symbolic. In an oceanic text, boundaries between self and other, self and the vast interior landscapes of thought and passion are intermeshed and fluid. The book is an interweaving of poetry, prose poetry, prose, letters, journal entries and theory. Drawings and paintings are also attached to various pieces and are interspersed throughout the book. In the subjectivity of the self-in-creation, a ‘style composed of styles’ emerged to embody the pulses of enfleshed thought, the utterance, the poetic that informs Tidal Fury.
How do you choose names for your characters?
All the characters in Tidal Fury are nameless. The poet or narrator who ultimately discovers a voice, a poetry, is envisioned as a self who “blossoms” even in the “night” (Night Blossom). The Monsieur, a figure “outside the writing for whom the writing” was written, was conceived as a literary device and then the narrator discovers she knows him intimately (Grammars). The figure who wears black with flashes of red the colour of blood, whose derision is a form of entrapment (Entrap) also remains nameless. Questions of power -- power under, power over, empowerment -- stalk the relationships the poet-narrator has with the characters.
What is your approach to crafting dialogue, particularly for your main character? Do you have any tips about writing dialogue for aspiring and emerging writers?
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As a book of poetry, of styles of poetries, the dialogue between characters in Tidal Fury is internal, expressions of the central life force of the writing voice. As a book of essentially lyric poetry, the dialogue is always with the self and the other. We are over-hearing deep psychic processes expressed in imageries and almost hallucinated events that occur on horizons everywhere. When there is dialogue, it is implied rather than overtly spoken. This is a different approach to character-building than would be found in novels or novellas, but as valid given the interior monologues that poetry inclines towards.
Do you have anything in common with your main character? What parts of yourself do you see in him or her, and what is particularly different?
The main character in Tidal Fury, the poet narrator, is certainly an aspect of myself, of a writerly self who is distinct from my everyday social self. Tidal Fury grapples, amid the complexity of what composes the self, with ‘who’ is writing when we create our poetries: “Who haunts us from within? / Who is writing? / Surely not our speaking voice.” (Writings of Who)
Who are some of the most memorable characters you've come across as a reader?
A collage of characters appears when I face this question as it erupts in my memories of the continuum of the text. The poetic voice in Tidal Fury is composed of multiple approaches and separating them back out from the meshing trajectories would be almost impossible. How do you explain a gesture here, the glance of an eye there, a phrase from the totality of a book, a slight mannerism that found its way into a few words? Many fragments of characters slip like negatives through the imagery and its patterns in Tidal Fury, too obscure and too numerous to pin properly.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I am working on a prose poetry novella.
Brenda Clews is an African-Canadian multi-media poet, artist and videographer whose approach broaches poetry, painting, theory, dance, recordings and video. Her oeuvre focuses on multiple callings, the obsessive muse. She has been a featured poet at a number of venues and organizes and hosts monthly Poetry & Music Salons in Toronto. LyricalMyrical published her chapbook, the luminist poems, in 2013. Born in a small mining town in Zimbabwe, Brenda currently lives in Toronto.