An interview with A.W. French

Andrew William (A.W.) French is a poet and academic who was born and raised in North Vancouver, British Columbia. French holds a BA in English from Huron University College at Western University, and is pursuing an MA in English at UBC. Andrew's poems and book reviews have recently appeared in Train: a poetry journal, PRISM International, The Lamp, and Cascadia Rising, in addition to a number of other literary journals across North America and the UK. Andrew interviews his favourite writers on Page Fright: A Literary Podcast.

How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?

I kind of fell into writing, especially poetry. I started writing poems for fun after listening to George Watsky’s rap albums in middle school, which then pushed me towards his spoken word. Watsky’s writing is beautiful, “Nothing Like the First Time” still sticks with me. I loved his blend of humour and seriousness, and I think that’s something I still value when I read poems that ‘stick’ with me. I gravitated towards Al Purdy’s story in 2015 and started to take writing seriously, that was kind of where my genuine attempts at sharing my work took off. Purdy and Wallace Stevens kind of ‘teamed-up’ and inspired me to drop out of business school, switch to writing, and fall in love with it.

I think I continue to write because it’s all I want to do. When I switched out of that business program, I promised myself I would stop doing what I felt pressured to do and start doing whatever sounded like it would be the most fun. I had the concrete goal of publishing a chapbook for a while, and I’d love to do that, but that aim has recently faded into the background as I try more broadly just to make friends in the writing community. At this stage people keep me going, I love meeting new writers and learning their stories, why they write, and what they’re writing through. I still have tons of stories myself to write through, and if that supply remains steady, I hope my writing output will as well.

You’ve published in a number of journals. How do you decide which journals to send to?

I think the textbook answer is to say that you look for journals that match your style, that work with writers who you admire, and that are willing to take a chance on a new name. But to be honest, I think I’ve published in nine of every ten journals who have shown any interest in my work. I’m not particularly selective with where I publish because I see publishing as a real gift and love any chance to share the writing I’ve put work into with people. I do believe in submitting to journals you like, whatever that means for you. For me, I think if I pick up an issue of a journal and check out a few poems that really stick with me, I’ll probably be submitting there a lot. The truth, though, is that I’ll publish in most places that are kind enough to give my words a chance.

Have you noticed any repeated themes or repeated subject matter in your work? What are you currently working towards?

I seem to go through phases in terms of which themes my poetry expresses. Since I started writing I’ve been dealing with depression, and poetry has given me an avenue to explore this crazy thing that goes on in my head where I’m down more often than the average person. I write through my depression a lot, try to reclaim it and deal with the states it puts me in. I also (and I’m aware I sound like a real downer here) love to write about mortality and death. I think writing about death comes from a place of loving life so much, though, more than it does a fascination with the experience or inexperience of passing. I find the finitude of existence both beautiful and cruel, and I hope I can consider that a bit in my work. I’m twenty-two, though, so I’m sure I don’t have the wisest take on the subject. I also used to get told by a friend that I used the word ‘charcoal’ too much in my writing to describe something dark or stripped of its use… so “charcoal, charcoal, charcoal.” Enjoy that, Lauren.

I can’t really say what I’ve been working towards lately, because I don’t even know what it is. A sense of community is my first thought, but on the page I’m unsure. I’d like to work more towards a chapbook and get that project going again but haven’t felt particularly inspired to do so lately. For now, I’m rolling through existing poems and giving them the attention that I feel they deserve, trying to find homes for some of my personal favourites. I want to write more through the trauma I’ve experienced in my life, but the words haven’t come to articulate most of that yet, so maybe it’s a matter of waiting…

What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?

The list of living poets I love is long, and there’s a lot I’ve learned from each of them. Matthew Walsh’s book recently made me fully rethink enjambment. Chris Bailey’s writing makes me think of the complexities we find by looking closer at the simple moments in our lives. I love everything that Shazia Hafiz Ramji has done and is doing, every time that I hear her read a new poem I go home and think of something new to write… she’s incredible. Aidan Chafe’s poetry makes me think about the cleverness and subsurface elements that can help us express trauma, I owe a lot of my recent creative work to inspiration I took from his book. Rob Taylor is someone I look up to a lot, whose poetry I love and continue to return to. I think I could make this paragraph too long if I sit here and keep listing people, but please know that there are so many folks who I read that influence how I write. Reading is a huge part of my process.

How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?

This is a great question, because I think community has had the largest influence on my writing as of late! I read Curtis LeBlanc’s first book Little Wild about a year ago, and it showed me that somebody is already writing the way that I wish I could… I really look up to Curtis and his work. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the influence Kevin Spenst has recently had on my work and writing life. I took a course of Kevin’s, and he reminded me immediately of how easy it can be to have fun writing poetry, that it’s not this big serious endeavour. Kevin got me playing with words and enjoying my relationship with the page again, and has connected me to other writers as well, so I really appreciate the support he has provided me. I should mention Shazia Hafiz Ramji as well, I’m really grateful for her kindness and the time she has given me in the past year or so. Shazia was one of the first writers I ever reached out to, and she took the time to speak with me when nobody else would. I’m very thankful for the role that Shazia has played in my writing so far, I really look up to her as well. I’ve also had a lot of English professors who have helped me as a poet and person.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working towards one day having a book of poems. That’s all I really want, just to hold a book (full-length or chapbook, I don’t care) of my own lines and be able to say that the thing I’m holding is a physical representation of who I am and what I’m curious about. I think that’s the greatest achievement for any aspiring writer, and I’d be so excited to have a collection some day. In the immediate present, though, I’m working on honing my skills until I’m ready to compile and publish something like that. I understand that it takes time, and I’m trying to remain patient until I find the right opportunity.

Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?

I love everything coming out of Vancouver right now. I think in terms of emerging writers without books I have to point to Carlie Blume, whose writing is awesome. Estlin McPhee has a chapbook of their poems out with Rahila’s Ghost that blew my mind, they should be getting looked at for sure. David Ly is awesome, and his work is super cool, so definitely check that out. Everybody I named in this interview is also worth looking at, so definitely take a look at their work, too!

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