John Wall Barger’s second book, Hummingbird, is forthcoming with Palimpsest Press for Spring, 2012. He divides his year between Halifax, Nova Scotia and Tampere, Finland.
Dylan Riley: The first things that jump out from your bio are the divergent locations – but maybe that’s two questions.
First, what’s Finland like? What brought, or continues to bring you, there?
John Barger: I fell in love with a Finnish woman! This summer we lived together in Tampere, in the south, for four months. The whole country is eerie and gorgeous. So much dark. So much light. We visited a birch forest in Lapland, in the Arctic Circle, with five others in a cabin beside a frozen lake. It took two days to heat it. We chopped a hole in the lake for water, cut wood, had saunas at night. One night there were northern lights that looked like green flamenco fingers. The eternals (Vainamoinen, the eternal singer) and demons (Hiisi, the goblin who drowns children in lakes) you read about seem very close up there.
DR: I’m from the Maritimes myself, and I noticed a bit of a pattern. Young people seem to move from an obscure, small, Maritime city to Halifax, then from Halifax on to Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver. How do you feel about this, and do you plan on living permanently in Halifax?
JB: I did that: moved to Vancouver at twenty. I love Halifax, but I’ve always felt separate from it. I’m envious of “regional” writers like Faulkner or Margaret Laurence, who can write about a community and have it stand for the world. I don’t feel like I’m from anywhere. My first book, Pain-proof Men, mostly takes place in Halifax, but my next book, Hummingbird, does not have a single poem set there.
DR: But do you feel regionalism can be a trap sometimes, that in a way you better of as a writer without it?
JB: Maybe it’s a case of the grass always being greener – because I lack it, I want it. But I love [Charles] Olson’s Maximus poems, and his connection with Gloucester, Massachusetts. It seems like knowing where you are from is a beginning point, rather than an end. Like, once you have place, then you can jump off into the cosmos. I know most of the world lacks this sense of place these days – I’m not unique for this.
Read the rest of the interview at http://soliloquies.ca/2011/10/13/halifax-to-helsinki-the-john-barger-interview/