“Conceptions of healing are best when there is a personal component” – An Interview With Dominik Parisien

When I first read work by Dominik Parisien, I was enthralled with the incorporation of syntax, varied nuances of translation, with both; metaphor and description, and the array of perspectives brought forth through language. His debut poetry collection Side Effects May Include Strangers (McGill-Queen’s University Press) carries these nuances in texture and innovation.

The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky observed: “You think that evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots and climb up the stairs — it begins in the language. Look to the language.” (as described by Marie Howe). This conversation reminded me again of infinite possibilities of language— of how language constructs, creates, and forms correlations, and how vital it is to engage with language beyond any societally-imposed limitations, as those we may impose on ourselves and each other.

We discussed metaphor, translation, healing and wellness, accessibility, and changes he would like to witness in the Canadian publishing industry.

 

Sneha Subramanian Kanta

It is lovely to be in conversation with you, Dominik. Congratulations on the release of Side Effects May Include Strangers (McGill-Queen’s University Press). How have you been— through the pandemic, and these times?

Dominik Parisien

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Sneha! It’s always nice to discuss art, but it feels especially meaningful right now. While there have certainly been challenges and difficulties, I think I’ve had an easier go than some adapting to our current situation because I was already working from home prior to the pandemic. For several years now my schedule has been dictated by my health, and I’ve been fairly good at managing my time and my days by working when I can and resting when I can’t, so I haven’t experienced quite the same level of disorientation as others. Aside from in-person socializing, which I do miss terribly, my days haven’t changed a great deal. In terms of work, on the one hand working on books in these turbulent times has occasionally felt like a weird indulgence, but it does keep me grounded, and treating it as work (which it is) helps maintain a sense of order and purpose to my days. Plus, I’m fortunate to have a lovely partner and roommate who help keep things interesting and varied at home.

 

Sneha

The body is tangible, and pain is an exact neatness. You encapsulate this within the diverse breadth of poems in the collection. I’m especially interested in your titular poem “Side Effects May Include Strangers”. Consider the lines: “informing you the pills are like a god / you might not worship now but will / in time; how the way of weakness / lies in relying on such artificial things; / how breathing on the sacred mountainside”. This poem sets the intention, in a way, of your engagement with how pain and disability may be rendered invisible. In what ways does this juxtaposition arrive in your work, on the page?

Dominik

I’m so interested in that description: pain is an exact neatness. Pain is and it is not, can be visible one moment and invisible or even masked another.  Others can perceive pain, sometimes, to a degree, through language, through visual expression (bleeding, bruising, movements, facial expressions) but pain is unique to the individual, which makes it fascinatingly and frustratingly both clear and incredibly messy. Even for the individual it is often shifting, difficult to articulate or narrow down. On the page, I return time and again to liminal states, to metamorphosis. I strive to… not capture, exactly, but give snapshots of different ways of being, of expression, for the same experience. To show that it can be all these different, sometimes contradictory things, sometimes all at once. That it is malleable. I think disability and pain are exactly that. They mean such disparate, often shifting things to different people, and so much of that is missed and misunderstood.

 

Sneha

I’m interested in how you incorporate metaphor as a connective fissure in several poems. I refer to your poem “Calling A Body A Body”. Consider the lines: “A body is lightning in a bottle. / Some small miracle, / a sequence of events / necessary for one. / All of them political. / Especially those that aren’t.” There is a nonlinear quotient to healing which is of much intrigue and resonance. How does metaphor help incorporate these ratio aspects in your work?

Dominik

I think metaphor is absolutely necessary when discussing matters of the body. Pain exists through metaphor, through abstraction. The linguistics of bodies, of physical experience, fascinates me, especially the ways in which people use similes and metaphors without really considering that those are abstractions of their experience (it’s simply something we’re socially trained to do, so it often doesn’t warrant consideration). I think the mental gymnastics metaphors require can be a particularly powerful way of conveying the complex realities of bodily experience. Overuse of metaphors can ruin a piece, of course, but I think they can also be deployed strategically, used to build on each other, to create certain effects, especially discomfort or disorientation.

 

Sneha

Your poem “The Eganville Healer’s Compound” delves into how religion is often inextricably linked to wellness. The ending of this poem rings sonorous: “Later, my parents / captured me & my pain and mailed us to his compound packed / with their hopes & their money.” When I interviewed Doyali Islam for the interview feature of Issue Ten, she recounted: “In ancient China, doctors were paid when they kept their patients well, and not paid when they were sick.” This seems quite apt in varied junctures, as even here. What aspects of the routes to healing resonate the most with you?

Dominik

I’m glad you brought up Doyali Islam’s work. I thought that was a great interview, and Doyali’s work inhabits liminal spaces gorgeously. As with many folks who are disabled/chronically ill, the very concept of healing is one I approach with some trepidation, particularly because being “healed” and “healthy” is often seen as desirable and disability or chronic illness undesirable or flawed. So often illness and healing are treated as places of meaning in culture, so it might be easier to start by stating: the idea that healing in some way reflects a greater reality or influence, or that it is indicative of a person’s worth or virtue (or lack thereof) does not resonate with me. So, basically, religious models which treat healing in connection to broader meaning hold no appeal, and I personally consider many of them potentially harmful, particularly when they’re imposed on others, though I do see why they appeal to many. In essence, I think conceptions of healing are best when there is a personal component and the individual is allowed and encouraged to participate in their healing process. A great deal of research has shown that involving a patient in the decision process for treatment and healing has significant psychological and even physical benefits.

 

Sneha

I’m drawn towards the fact that you incorporate much with brevity, especially in the shorter poems. “Card Game With Disabled Friends” is engaging on several layers. Consider the lines: “Death was at the table / because of course / it always is. We were in that moment / no more or less aware of it / than you.” This is an embodiment of celebration and the syntax is convulsive in relation to the subject. How does the process of writing a poem look for you?

Dominik

I like your use of convulsive here, especially given the many explorations of convulsions in the book in terms of deliberate effect in poems compared to involuntary physical effects. Poem writing for me often begins during the day and is refined at night, or in bed when I’m in too much pain. I often find myself going over lines when I’m resting, replacing a word here, compressing there, seeing where my thoughts take me and writing them down when there is something I like. I think some of my best work on poems is done during those times when all I can focus on are language and form. It feels meditative.

 

Sneha

What are your thoughts about translation? In your poem “An English-speaking Doctor Translates The Concerns Of His Patient With Google”, you intersperse this semantic sense of reckoning with language, and what it means in the era in which we live.

Dominik

If I could be a god, I would want to be the god of translation. I would like to know and understand all the words and their contexts, and speak the languages we don’t consider language. I would want to know what trees and bees whisper to each other, what the ants call out to the birds, what the waves scream when they break on sand. (Though I suspect that still might not be enough to decipher the jargon of certain academic texts or the speeches of some politicians.) There is a wonderful Italian phrase, “Traduttore, traditore” – Translator, traitor, which deals with lacuna, lexical gaps. I find those challenges in translation, translation of any kind, fascinating. The body is always being translated; illness is always a matter of translation; an ache invites and defies language. In medical contexts, these issues of translation can be challenging and at times disastrous, which both concerns and interests me. I think I’m in part so interested in the concept of translation not only because I am bilingual (I was raised in French), but because I am always struggling to translate my body and I want to understand the bodies and experience of others equally.

 

Sneha

What changes would you like to see in the Canadian publishing industry? Would you share your thoughts and advice with our readers, especially for writers who are at intersection helms of barriers? I’m sure they’d be delighted to read your thoughts.

Dominik

I want to see greater access to literary spaces. Much of the conversation around publishing has (rightfully) been around providing more opportunities in publishing to individuals from marginalized backgrounds. These are necessary conversations, and we’ve seen a number of initiatives by publishing houses, magazines, and other places, although there’s still a great deal of work to be done. However, geographically many of these changes are still focused around large urban centers. The pandemic has shown us that access is possible, even at a distance, and many literary festivals and events have successfully pivoted online, which has allowed writers and readers across the country to participate. It’s had something of a democratizing effect on an industry that has historically been quite contained, on a participatory level, to large cities. With people working from home, even some publishers are finally looking at hires at a distance. All of these are necessary to provide a more vibrant and inclusive industry, and I want the online pivot we’ve seen to become permanent. Disabled people have been requesting greater access for years, decades, and have largely been ignored. Now everyone is seeing not only how valuable, but how necessary it is. Once in-person events restart, we need to maintain the level of access we’ve established, we need to normalize it. This would allow people across the country to continue to participate. It would make it easier for marginalized folks, for neurodivergent folks, for disabled folks to be involved in spaces which have often excluded them. There will still be issues, of course, but that feels like such an easy step towards a more inclusive and accessible future, one that is readily available, but I worry that once the pandemic is resolved people will simply forget the necessity of access. As for concrete advice, I think there has never been a better or easier time for readers and writers to participate in publishing. Due to a combination of technology and circumstance, we are currently in a golden age of online literary events/festivals (many of them free), and I implore people to participate and to demand continued access to these spaces in the future. More and more festivals also feature panels by marginalized writers directly addressing barriers, but too often these resources aren’t available to a wider audience. Greater access will mean greater opportunities to support others writers and publishing, for writers to share their own work, and to encounter new and transformative writing and resources.

 

Sneha

Thank you for participating in this interview feature, and for your insightful answers, Dominik. It has been lovely conversing with you, and I look forward to more such conversations.

Dominik

Thank you, Sneha! It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. I hope you and yours are safe and well in these times.

 

 

Dominik Parisien

Dominik Parisien is an award-winning editor, writer, and poet. His debut poetry collection Side Effects May Include Strangers was published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in fall 2020. He has also co-edited, with Navah Wolfe, The Mythic Dream, Robots vs Fairies, and The Starlit Wood, and Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction with Elsa Sjunneson. His anthologies have won the Hugo, Shirley Jackson, British Fantasy, and Aurora Awards and have been nominated for the World Fantasy, Ignyte, and the Locus Awards. Dominik is a disabled, bisexual French Canadian who lives in Toronto.

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