Lucas Crawford is the Ruth Wynn Woodward Endowment Lecturer in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, though he was raised in a small village in Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast. Lucas writes about transgender, fat, architecture, perfumery, and literature. His academic book, Transgender Architectonics, is forthcoming with Ashgate. Find more of his poetry in magazines such as PRISM International, The Antigonish Review, Room, Rattle, Lost in Thought, Rampike, The Nashwaak Review, Other Voices, and in Chelsea Stations’ book, Between: New Gay Poetry. Some of his previous work was awarded first place in the Atlantic Writing Competition (via the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia). In 2012, Lucas attended the five-week Writing Studio at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
Geosi Gyasi: Let me start on an unusually odd way: Why do you write?
Lucas Crawford: I believe that new ways of using words and new kinds of writing make new kinds of thinking and living possible. It may sound simple, but I write because I need to experiment with and create new ways of thinking in order to give life value. For me, poetry is both the poiesis (the making) of the self, and also – at its best – the undoing of that self, the technology whereby that self is broken open. That may sound negative, but breaking open one’s self and one’s body means we are re-connected to the world. It means that we can rebuild ourselves into another temporary shape. To put it all another way: I write because I’m restless and I’m restless because I write. (I believe restlessness is underrated, and doesn’t preclude the important Netflix marathons and sleep-ins of which writing can be a product and an instigator.)
Geosi Gyasi: Your poem in the summer edition of Rattle #44, “Your Fat Daughter Remembers What You Said” struck me when I discovered it. Was it borne out of a personal experience?
Lucas Crawford: Because this piece is indeed based on personal experiences of my own, I have to say an extra appreciative thank you for your response to it. The piece chronicles many things my late father said to me about my body when I was younger. The pain related to this piece made the writing process swift, painful, and perhaps even ferocious – but putting it out there for others to read was a gamble that I thought about for awhile longer. One worries that readers might misunderstand one poem as the sum total of a complex human relationship, or that readers might presume that the pain of such a poem is an affect with which the author must always be associated. If writing can be thought of as a process of change, creation, or movement, then its afterlife – the piece itself, printed – sometimes seems too stilled and permanent. However, I am very pleased that this personal piece has found such an engaged audience.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you often consider style when writing?
Lucas Crawford: Sometimes I have an experience or story in mind that urgently wants to get expressed in some way; on those occasions, I don’t think as much about style until the piece is drafted. (That was the case with this piece.) Then I might rewrite a prose draft into poetry, or from free-form poetry to something more formal. Other times what gets me writing is the desire to make language do new things within constraining styles or forms, and I find that kind of writing exciting as well.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your works to others before they are published?
Lucas Crawford: Usually one or two people will have read a piece before it’s published. And when there are readings happening, then sometimes many folks will have heard a piece in an earlier form before it’s published.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us something about Vancouver and literature?
Lucas Crawford: I moved to Vancouver just over a year ago (Sept 2013), so I am still getting to know the literary scene. I have had exceptional experiences working with editors at Vancouver magazines Room and PRISM International. These two magazines published works of which I was very fond, both of which had queer perspectives. I recommend the editorial teams at these magazines highly. While I have been very lucky with such experiences, I must admit that reviewers outside of Canada are often more receptive to my work than those within it. I’ll leave it to others to theorize about why that might be.
Geosi Gyasi: You are the Ruth Wynn Woodward Endowment Lecturer at Simon Fraser University. Could you tell us about your work there?
Lucas Crawford: My position at SFU combines teaching, research, and community organizing. I teach two or three classes per term on topics such as gender & popular culture, sexuality & urbanism, masculinities, queer theories of gender, and theories of the body more generally. One of my long-term research projects is about to be published as a book called Transgender Architectonics: the Shape of Change in Modernist Space (Ashgate Press). It looks at modernist fiction, architecture, and theories of gender transformation to develop new ways of experiencing gender as a spatial and aesthetic (not medical) phenomenon. My other project, Slender Trouble, asks: if people of all sizes constantly talk about “feeling fat,” then what is “fat feeling” anyhow? Much of my community organizing relates to this second project. In January 2014, I launched an event and advocacy series called Fat Matters, which seeks to redefine norms about body size and food. We host film screenings, art workshops, panels, guest speakers, online archive projects, and a monthly reading group. I have met fantastic people and brilliant students here at SFU and in Vancouver.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you like about the writing process?
Lucas Crawford: I don’t spend as much time writing as I’d like, or as much time as one might expect; I tend to write in very fast bursts several times per year. (In the past, I’ve had a far more regular / daily practice.) So, what I enjoy is the rare solitude, the uncertainty and experimentation, and the sustained reflection. What I don’t like, but have improved at, is the “business” of writing – the ever-present need to be sending things out.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you begin to write?
Lucas Crawford: When I was 7, I wrote a lot of “stories” at school, all of which were odd adventures featuring myself and my teddy bear. When I was 12, I began to write poetry. When I was 18, I began to do public readings. I started to get serious about publishing about three years ago.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the importance of editing to you as a writer?
Lucas Crawford: I’m definitely an “edit as you go” type of writer. If I’m breezing through a draft “just trying to get something down,” then I don’t even feel I’m writing. I sit there until I have what I feel is a workable draft of a piece. Then I come back to it awhile later and might experiment with other formats/styles, or not. That said, the “editing” I do as I go is pretty hardcore; I think hard on a word or sentence before I go with it, and will rework and rework if necessary before moving on. I had a wonderful mentor, Jeanette Lynes, who gave me the following tip: write a piece. Then take the very best line of that piece and paste it onto a blank page. This is your new draft, this is your first line, and every line needs to be as good as this line. I suppose this is how I think of editing – not as tinkering or making minor changes, but as writing or re-writing. Another of Jeanette’s pieces of wisdom about editing has also stuck with me: make sure that every single word of a poem earns its keep. This taught me a lot about economy of language.
Geosi Gyasi: In June 2012, you were awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal at a convocation from the University of Alberta as the graduate with the highest cumulative scholarly achievement. What did that mean to you?
Lucas Crawford: It made me so happy to know that somewhere in Alberta (often regarded as the most conservative Canadian province) there was a committee of people who believed that a transgender person’s work on transgender was the best. Like many people, the process of getting a PhD had its ups and downs for me, its fun times and its difficult ones; winning that award was a nice note on which to close that chapter in my life. I have had a lot of good fortune when it comes to recognition for my work, and I am very grateful for that. I am even more grateful that I got to undertake my studies with people doing truly innovative work, such as my friends Marco Katz Montiel (http://www.marcokatz.com) and Janis Ledwell-Hunt (http://www2.viu.ca/english/?page_id=1811).
Geosi Gyasi: Which writer is most important to you?
Lucas Crawford: Oh dear, how about three literary authors: Paul Auster, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Beckett. Two gender studies authors: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler. And two writers for young people: Dr. Seuss and Gordon Korman.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any weakness as a writer?
Lucas Crawford: Yes. I don’t write enough. I’m impatient for results. I need and want big expanses of time to write. I should read more poetry. I disregard the boundaries between prose and poetry (both a strength and weakness perhaps). I allow the “business” of poetry to frustrate me sometimes. And while I love to meet people, I do not “network” for poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you sometimes worry about not being able to complete a poem or story?
Lucas Crawford: No. I do not stop writing until a workable draft is finished, and this is never something I have to force myself to do. Writing pieces in one session like this is probably part of the reason I don’t write more often, but it’s also what’s working for me right now.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever received rejection of your work?
Lucas Crawford: Have I ever! My good friend Marco Katz Montiel once told me that it’s not about trying to get acceptances, but just trying to fill the “rejections” folder. If you try to fill the rejections folder, you’ll get some acceptances. For instance, the piece you read, which appeared in a California magazine called Rattle, was rejected by a Canadian periodical first. Rattle receives 90,000 poems per year and publishes 150. It publishes US poets laureate and Pulitzer Prize winners. The Canadian periodical that rejected the piece receives less than 1,000 poems per year and is on the verge of folding. Who knows how and why certain aesthetic tastes develop some places and not others? In this kind of milieu, it’s best not to take rejection to heart – in the case of my piece in Rattle, it was a stroke of luck that the Canadian magazine passed it by.
Geosi Gyasi: Are there any rituals you do before the start of a story or poem?
Lucas Crawford: Big green bottle of iced tea with lots of ice gets mixed up; table gets cleared off; bed gets made; I get dressed.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you write? Do you write under tight deadlines?
Lucas Crawford: As an academic I write under deadlines enough as it is, so I take my poetry as it comes and go from there. As I said, I write large amounts in short periods, and these periods don’t come along all that often these days. The most productive writing time I’ve ever had was a five-week Writing Studio residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2012. I wrote more in five weeks than I had in the whole life before that. I write at a desk, generally. A couple of short pieces I like were written by dictating them into my phone. Performances and readings used to be the “deadlines” under which I wrote, as I used to do 1-2 per month and always wanted to read brand new things. Now that I think about it, I have a reading coming up next month and perhaps I should bring back this habit. Thanks for the reminder!