Lorna Crozier pays tribute to the essence of objects

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September 27, 2012

Lorna Crozier’s latest book, The Book of Marvels, was published this Fall by Greystone Books. Student Jenny Aitken visited Crozier’s cozy office at the University of Victoria to discuss the creation of this new work, which will be launched October 3 , 7:30 p.m. at the UVIC Bookstore.

Q: How was it different describing household objects as opposed to characters?

I have probably had more fun writing this book than I have [had] writing any of my other books. When you become obsessed with something outside of your self, it is a release because you leave behind your worries and concerns and the stress of what you’re going through. I got to look at an object like a bowl or a doorknob and try to get to the heart and essence of it. I didn’t want to overdo that literary trope, so I tried to let the objects speak to me and show me what they were — beyond the human context but also involved in a human context . . .

Q: What gave you the idea of writing an entire book about often-overlooked objects and how did you choose which objects to include?

I actually got the idea about three years ago with the coffee pot. I was doing a writers retreat in Saskatoon, and we had to share a kitchen with a coffee pot and I was getting more and more annoyed at the person who wasn’t making the next pot. I was always getting the last black burnt inch on the bottom . . . One day I went back to my room and wrote a short piece about the coffee pot. I tacked it on the wall and everyone loved it, so I thought why don’t I keep going? After about 15 objects I thought maybe I should cover the whole alphabet. So I had to ask myself what interesting objects start with X? With Y? If you look those letters up in the dictionary, they don’t get much space. (laughs)

Q: How did the writing process differ in a book of prose like The Book of Marvels compared to your memoir Small Beneath the Sky?

In some ways the memoir was actually my inspiration for writing in this form. My memoir consisted of short chapters that were interspersed with prose poetry. For the poems, I gave myself the task of writing short pieces describing the essence of the prairie landscape, like the dust, gravel and snow. Writing those compact pieces made me obsessed with that format, which led to me using that same form in these object pieces.

Q: How did you plan on balancing fact and comedic observation in this book?

I didn’t plan on it, it just happened. Sometimes I did a bit of research because I wanted to learn more about an object. I didn’t know, for instance, that LeRoy, New York, has its very own Jell-O brick road. Those facts were fun to stumble upon, and I wanted to incorporate them with my own experiences with the object. For me, Jell-O brings back memories of jellied salads at church suppers. I have a passionate stance on jellied salads because I have always hated them. (laughs) I think these facts added another texture and livened the pieces, so whenever I could incorporate them, I did.

Q: It seems the narrator looks back when describing the objects; were you aware of this approach?

They are mostly written in the past aren’t they? I definitely look back on the objects that are central to my childhood but hard to find now, like the Yo-yo or linoleum. People don’t even talk about linoleum anymore. Or even an eraser: someone interviewed me on the radio and told me they had never even used an eraser; I was shocked because as writers I think we are always using them. I didn’t deliberately set out to write these poetic essays with nostalgia; it wasn’t a conscious effort, but sometimes it just happens . . . There is something compelling about objects in that we know many of them will outlast us. I could die tomorrow but that wooden table could remain; even my coffee cup could have a longer life than the animals and people I love. I think because of that objects are animated with specialness and I think we endow them with meaning but some of the meaning is their own.

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