Dane Swan and Garvia Bailey: The Town Crier
Garvia Bailey, currently the morning host at Toronto's JazzFM, is one of the most perceptive, articulate and insightful interviewers on the CanLit scene - and delightfully funny too. Her conversation with Dane Swan was recorded at Type Books for the launch of He Doesn't Hurt People Anymore, and it's now transcribed and online at The Town Crier, the blog for literary supersite The Puritan.
GB: I want to go back to A Mingus Lullaby because that was a conversation. It was a musical composition. It was a story. It was all of these things. I just wonder about the jumping off point when you write something like Mingus, and then you’re going into fiction, shifting genres and shifting the way in which your brain works. I do not have the brain of a poet or writer of prose. But I could imagine that there has to be some real shift that happens when you finish something like that and go into something like this.
DS: Yes and no. When I was promoting A Mingus Lullaby I spoke to a class at U of T Scarborough, and I found myself using strictly musical terminology, and I think it’s easier for me to bounce from genre to genre with poetry and prose because I sort of see writing the way I see music. I equate poetry with rap. I mean that’s a really easy one: people rhyme. If you look at the lineage of the albums that are actually interesting to listen to—and I know there’s less and less of those—they tell a story; the words can stand on their own.
I look at writing prose almost the same way you would listen to a classical piece, where you have symphonies that have multiple parts. You can be on the third section of the symphony and something that happened in the first movement will show up. You can bounce these ideas from such a far distance away. And when I see things like that it becomes a little easier to construct a story. Otherwise you sort of get stuck.
When I first started writing prose I was always trying to inject poetry in it. And I think I was failing because I was doing that—I was trying to create rhythms that weren’t there. I started realizing: oh, you know what, I’m being too aggressive with it. I needed to look at how in music you could subtly hint, something like classical music where you have something that’s a massive phrase in the first movement—maybe it’s an eight-bar sequence. You take a bar and a half of that and put it in the third movement. And then you’re like, “Oh. Wow.” If you’re paying attention to classical music it will tell you a lot of stuff. And then I started looking at prose more like that and it became a lot easier. I started pulling back. I stopped trying to turn my prose into poetry and started allowing it to breathe—because I’m naturally a poet and when I sit down that’s going to come out anyway.