Name Steven Fortune
Where are you from?
I’m from a small island on the east coast of Canada called Cape Breton, which has been referred to as ‘The Most Beautiful Place On Earth You’ve Never Heard Of.‘ One of our several scenic drives, the Cabot Trail, is regularly cited in travel magazines as one of the ten most beautiful drives in the world, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions and North America. Two legendary writers, Alistair MacLeod and Hugh MacLennan, called Cape Breton home, as did Alexander Graham Bell for many years, and it was while he was here that he began his experiments with flying.
A little about yourself, ie your education, family life, etc.
I’m actually an anomaly among my family, which like many families in this part of the world, live a blue-collar lifestyle. My father, through his life, enjoyed stints as a fisherman and carpenter, while holding a Small Engine Mechanics diploma. My mother has been heavily involved in the fast food industry for many years, holding management positions in restaurants around the island’s industrial sector. I tried for many years to follow in their footsteps, yet my practical and social deficiencies rendered it impossible. All the while, as I was attempting to immerse myself in their traditions, I was keeping journals, reading – or at least skimming – any book I would come across, and eventually writing my own works. The first seeds of these interests in my life were undoubtedly the bedtime readings I received as a child. My verbal skills were never much of a match for my reading skills at a young age, which developed quick. In grade two, I was the only kid in my class who could spell ‘because’ correctly; still a quirky badge of honour that I cling to. Once I broke free of high school, I attended Acadia University in my home province of Nova Scotia, where I majored in English Literature and History. While studying there, I became involved in several campus publications, which led to tenures as the News Editor of the campus newspaper, and Editor-In-Chief of the Arts faculty’s creative arts journal.
Tell us your latest news
These days, I’ve been promoting the new book, mostly online but also through word-of-mouth locally, as I live in a small town and have been able to get the word around fairly easily. It did great favours for the sale of my last book and I’m hoping for a similar response with this one. But having said that, I still get most of my attention online though my various promotional websites, which I’ve been updating and sprinkling with samples from it. Later this year, I will begin putting together the manuscript for my third book.
When and why did you begin writing?
Since I could write down the alphabet in its entirety, I had either been keeping some form of journal or scrapbook with all manner of scribblings in it. To give one example, I’d compile lists of words that rhymed. Something else I would do when I was younger was practice a signature, writing my name over multitudes of pages. Some of my scrapbooks resembled the work of Jack Nicholson’s ’novel’ in The Shining. I never envisioned a day when I’d be calling myself a poet, but I knew I was doing those exercises for some reason, related (again) to a struggle to communicate verbally or even be comfortable anywhere outside the environmental solace of my bedroom. I think the practicing of a signature was more of an attempt at combating my young insecurities, and manufacturing some kind of gesture of self-affirmation. When I finally began to get a taste of the publishing world after several years and mountains of rejection notes, I destroyed all of the journals I had kept right up to my early-twenties, and have harbored no regrets about doing it since. I had come to the realization that most of them were more rants than records, and the poetry could now do the talking for me.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I had no inklings of myself as a ‘writer’ proper until I left home for Acadia at around age 20. I was introverted enough at home, but once I found myself at a university, knowing nobody and lacking the social resources – and the enthusiasm for alcohol – necessary to get to know people, I truly felt like I was in a bubble. I began weaning myself away from the rant books that I thought were journals, and began working on expressing myself in more articulate ways. As my poetic voice became clearer, my social confidence grew just enough to begin volunteering for work with the aforementioned publications around the school. I still had a long way to go before the publishing world come calling, and I wasn’t even considering that reality at the time, but it was around this period that writing did begin to feel like a purpose.
What inspired you to write your first book?
It’s hard to explain how a collection of poems comes together. It isn’t like a novel or a play; things that progress in linear ways. When I finally got that long-awaited call to compile my first book, I had a little over two decades of poems to scrutinize, then narrow down to the group deemed solid enough for a book. I’ve released two collections of poetry now, and in both instances, I was vigilant in trying to establish a linear flow through them as opposed to simply throwing the selected poems out there and just letting them land wherever they may in the book. In putting the first book together, I broke the poems up into thematic chapters. It wasn’t near as difficult as narrowing my life’s work down to the seventy-odd poems that made up the book; if you’re still with me at this point of the interview, you can probably guess that there are essentially a small group of themes that dominate my imagination and psyche. The second book is not broken up into sections, but rather given a conceptual flow from start to finish. I spent several days mixing and matching poems until a sort of dream sequence surfaced from the order in which they were assembled, but to tell all would spoil the fun!
Do you have a specific writing style?
I think all poets have their own style, it just takes longer for some of us to dredge it out. I wrote a lot of silly stuff through my teen years that followed the fate of my journals from the same time period. If you write enough, your voice will begin to manifest itself. Those ‘rhyme lists’ and other little things I used to do were instrumental in helping me present a voice that I’d like to believe is a fairly unique one now. I like things like inverted rhymes, but as a primarily free-verse writer, I try to use devices only sparingly, as it makes them jump out more at a reader when they do surface in a poem. First lines are extremely important for me; I try to be as varied as possible with them, and I’m always careful not to start every single poem with ‘I’ or ‘You.’ I like to begin poems with observations, then find the words that unique enough to pull the reader through the rest of the poem. Titles are equally important, and the element of most poems that takes the most time to settle on. The title is either the first or last thing that comes to me without fail; I’ve rarely if ever come up with a title during the actual process of writing something. But I think the cornerstone of my writing is rhythm. Again, I write mostly free-verse, but I depend heavily on rhythmic flow. If a poem doesn’t have a rhythm, it doesn’t sound right to me. I guess one could say I’m a free-verse writer with a fixed-form approach.
How did you come up with the title?
By staring at the cover of the book for a long time! As mentioned before, I struggle with titles quite a bit. They usually come to me out of the blue, and rarely am I able to manufacture one from pure imagination. This title seemed to share a correlation with the artwork though that is hard for me to explain. As far as a relation to the subject matter, I again bring up the attempt at presenting a sort of dream sequence within this book, and Hollow Weight just seemed to fit as a term for the things we experience when we close our eyes and say good night to our sense of time.
Is there are message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’m not sure if it’s a message I want to relay as much as a journey. The poems in this book go to many different places, and most all of these places cater to how each individual reader reacts to the circumstances located therein. I simply want to create an escape route; I think that’s what poetry aims to do, even more than any other form of literature. A novel creates a whole new world, as does a play, but a poem creates a sort of atmosphere that caps the world as we know it, and it’s the reader’s interpretative penchant that is the rocket courting that atmosphere. I want to write things that people relate to, and the only place in which I can do that is in poetry. I’ve dawdled in other forms of literature, but I am not very good at creating characters. Poetry can be intensely personal, and if I can find the words and images that tap into a reader’s psyche and make a connection, I am happy. I want people to read my work and say ‘That’s just how I feel.’ It sounds cliché coming from a writer, but that’s because it is true.
How much of the book is realistic?
A lot, more so than my first book, where I think I wanted to establish a sense of mystery by relying heavily on historical poems, or poems inspired by other works or art or literature. Then again, I may have simply been too shy or nervous to give too much of myself away, and render the poetry inaccessible to a large body of readers in the process. But the positive response to my first book may have been a shot of bravery, as I found it much easier to focus mostly on personal pieces, with the philosophy that personal pieces can be just as accessible as anything else I’ve written provided the emotion is there. It’s also worth noting that I went back to many of my early writings, from when I was still trying to divine that voice from the words I was writing down, and even though they were revised for the occasion, there is certainly no shortage of emotion in the things I was writing back then.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Oh yes; it’s absolutely necessary for me from a therapeutic (or to use a stronger word, cathartic) point of view to draw from my own experiences, even if they are dreams. My aim in beginning most new poems is to lay a foundation from what I know, and build upon that foundation until I have a structure that appeals to the experiences of whoever may be reading my work.
What books have most influenced your life most? A mentor?
My greatest influences are the Shakespearen tragedies and the first wave of Romantic poetry. I can never go too long without reading something from those writers. Their grasp of the Human Condition – that phrase that many of us writers love to use – is impeccable, and something I strive for as much as I can. I’ve never had a mentor in a technical sense, but I draw moral support from my family more these days. Going back to that blue-collar element of my family, it took years before anyone even knew I was writing creatively because I was too nervous to reveal just how different I was, or at least how I felt, from them. But their support is there, which is all that matters. Lately I’ve been reading the works of Poe, and am fascinated by his ability to give little if anything away until the very end of his stories and poems. It’s as though he traded the progression of conventional climaxes, followed by a circumstantial wrap-up in the end, for a thematic ladder of intense speculation, hinting his way to the final passages, where everything is brought together to make sense. His sense of dramatic irony – though considered a playwright’s device – is utilized as well as anyone I’ve read, author or playwright. Wilde’s Picture Of Dorian Grey is a favourite as well for a similar structure, and of course, the unmatched wit of the author.
What book are you reading now?
No particular book, but I’m researching bios of DiVinci with the intention of writing a poem inspired by the Last Supper painting, which I’ve been fascinated by long before Dan Brown’s DiVinci Code brought it into the pop culture mainstream. Otherwise, I spend a lot of time simply flipping through anthologies at random, taking time here and there to read a play or sonnet by Shakespeare. I don’t read as many novels as I used to; I find it hard to relate to many characters, and have a hard time thinking of any that I can say I gained an emotion attachment to.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Not many, as I don’t read a great deal of contemporary work, but the poetry of Susan Joyner-Stumpf and Phillip Roberts are amazingly good, as is the prose poetry of Anahit Arustamyan. Their voices and styles are truly unique, and a breath of fresh air which the genre so desperately needs. A fellow Canadian writer, Melinda Cochrane, is one whose work I admire greatly as well.
What are your current projects?
Aside from promoting this new book, I’m trying to find time to work on new poems for my next book, which should see the light of day in the latter stages of this year. I’m also on the lookout for new journals and magazines to submit to, though I haven’t had as much time for those in light of having two books to plug and a third book that will require a manuscript in the not-too-distant future.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I had some wonderful professors and advisors while at Acadia. The first person I ever remember telling me that I was worth publishing was a Canadian Studies prof by the name of Jim Snowdon, who was also the first prof that I believe I actually showed my writing to. We also had a renowned nature writer, Harry Thurston, serving as our writer-in-residence while I was there, who aided me in fine-tuning a number of my early works and making them suitable enough for publication. It would still be well over a decade before I had any publishing success, but the support I received while at university convinced me that I may not simply be writing for myself.
Do you see writing as a career?
It has actually been my career by default since 2014, due to the personal issues I’ve referred to already. I just haven’t made a career’s money. But my disabilities have afforded me a lot of time to spend on my writing, though not with the aim of making money. It’s never been what writing is about for me; I simply want to reach people with my voice. Now, having said that, if I could ever turn it into an income-generating career, I’d be over the moon.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I spent more time on tooling and retooling the poems in this book than I did on my first book, though that essentially goes back to the fact that many early poems are in this book, and simply had to be brought up to date, to be in sync with the poetic voice I’ve developed in recent years, as I begin to write and revise more, not to mention learn more about who I am.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It all started with bedtime stories; while many young children resist bedtime like a plague, stories made it welcoming to me, especially when I consider I already didn’t gel well with the outside world, and knew it, even though I wasn‘t quite sure why. So I began looking for myself in inside worlds. The journals did not come far behind. By the time I got to high school, I was thoroughly disenchanted with my age group, and discovered Shakespeare, another entity avoided like the plague by many of those who shared my age group at the time. The first play I ever read was Julius Caesar, and it was like a Big Bang in terms of showing me how human minds worked when paired with certain ambitions and conundrums. After suffering through Romeo And Juliet (because I was a pretty cynical kid when it came to those matters at the time), I think MacBeth came next, and again, I was enthralled by the myriad of ways in which power affected the human mind. I tried to create characters and plots, but was never really successful in doing so, but I was also discovering singer-songwriters at the time like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, and so on. It’s what I was listening to while the lion’s share of my age group was listening to Sir Mix-A-Lot. The meshing of confessional poetry and poignant chord sequences convinced me that if I ever wanted to truly make my mark on the world in any capacity, it would be via poetry. There is certainly no evidence to suggest that I’ve left a sizable mark on the world after only two books and some journal appearances, but it still feels like my calling nonetheless. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and if I’m compelled to spend so much time in my attic-sized apartment, then that time was meant to be spent reading, writing, and wishing I was musically inclined, for I would love to be that bohemian singer-songwriter that has people igniting their lighters at the mere arrival of one note or riff.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I have several poems started at the moment, but have not had the opportunity to finish them in light of my promotional duties with the new book and a nagging case of writer‘s block. Plus, many of them require further research before I can move on with them, which is probably also the tonic I need to break the block. Here however is a piece I managed to slide into my agenda, written last week.
SHADED EYES FREED
was an angelic visitation
of a diamond-eyed eclipse
scouring the weightless ashes of
my resignation’s slow burn’s wake
giving rise to a destination
forfeited to chance
I pirouetted round your mystery
like numbers prayed upon
before a lottery
Our looks aligned and I saw fate
I can no longer differentiate it
from the halo of your presence
in which I forget the drudge of
Embodiment of my exultant muse
I can finally personify my purpose
Your life is the almighty censor of
these tired tomes of
woebegone done-me-wrong poetics
and the preface of the ballads
simmering in dreams of future us
Say you’ll humanize with me
and I shall dip the timid toe of
my philosophy into the purging
well of resurrection
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
My insistence on a palpable sense of rhythm in virtually everything I write often means I must be eclectic with my word choice, which has made me a polarizing writer to some extent. I’ve been told by many that my affinity for ‘big words’ makes it hard for them to get on my wavelength, but the majority of people who have sampled a healthy-enough portion of my work have told me that my work is unique and positively challenging. I’ve been asked multitudes of times how I come up with some of the words I do, and there really isn’t a magic formula to it: I simply read a lot, and along the way, I try to retain the words I come across that I don’t see often, or have a nice phonetic flow to them. I know my poems are rarely an easy first read, but I like to think of it as a game more than a challenge when the poem is complete and released to the public. The more a poem is read, the less of a challenge I hope it becomes, and more of a game in which a reader can dissect my word choice with the aim of finding themselves in my poetic style. I think I said something like this earlier, but I want to be a hybrid poet, blending the Romantic elements of rhythm and rhyme with the more modern free-verse elements of dramatic pauses, compacted lines and stanzas, and the like.
Who is your favourite author and what it is that really strikes you about their work?
Coleridge. I am tempted again to cite The Bard for all he has taught me about the English language and how we communicate as humans, but Coleridge was a poet that spoke to me from the first day I discovered him, a day I can no longer remember but I know goes a long way back. The way he articulated solitude from so many angles is something that has always spoken to me, whether through the serenity of Frost At Midnight, or the utter despair that stems from the alienation of The Ancient Mariner. I’ll also mention as a personal tidbit that my internet handle has been ‘kublakhan27’ for well over a decade now, in homage to his ‘fragment in a dream’ that bares the name as its title. I also admire Keats for many of the same reasons, and am truly affected by his words, which tell the tale of a young man knowing he will die a young man, and a struggle to make as much sense of his rapidly-shrinking world as he can, in the time that he has.
Do you have to travel much concerning your books?
No, I remain very much a cult figure at best, though my two books to date have been well-received and well-reviewed. Also, being from the modestly-populated part of the country that I come from, there are very few avenues of promotion other than the internet, so I cling to the hope that my online promotions will lift me to greater heights someday. If not, I know I’ve accumulated a small but devoted group of followers in cyberspace who will always make it all worthwhile for me, for I know I’ve at least found this one group to whom my poetry speaks to; they understand where I’m coming from. Still, I’ve never stepped foot outside of Canada in my 38 years, essentially for financial reasons, and I can only hope that I’m able to see more of the world, be it for literary or recreational reasons (though I would prefer the former scenario), before my time on the planet expires.
Who designed the covers?
I took the front cover photo; my publisher Susan took care of the rest and did a beautiful job.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Choosing which poems would make the cut. When I first started raiding my notebooks for the manuscript for book two, I had well over a hundred candidates, which I had to narrow down by about half, since I wanted to keep the subject matter concise while keeping production prices – and subsequently the cost of the book – from climbing too high. I suppose it would have been easier to simply throw out what I thought were the best fifty-odd poems remaining in my books after A Waltz Around The Swirls was published, but I want my poems to tell a story, as opposed to jumping around various states of mind and risking a convoluted book that could distract a reader with too many mood swings. I’m sure such a philosophy goes against how other poets would define an anthology, but again, I want to take readers on a journey, not a mood swing, so it wasn’t necessarily about the best fifty poems, but the ones that constituted the best journey.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that an anthology is a compromise. My first book really opened my eyes to that reality, since I was choosing from my whole life’s body of work to fill about a hundred and fifty pages, but with many of my latter-day pieces going into that book, I was forced to go further back in time for this book, and revisit things I thought I’d be too embarrassed to even look at again. But I did go back to those teenage years of writing with a different outlook, and more confidence that I could take what were essentially rants at the time and turn them into poems. I still believe my more recent work is stronger, but I think this book has the potential to reach a wider group of writers, perhaps even different demographics, as it serves as a pretty accurate cross-section of my poetic life, and how my voice has evolved over the years.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Be wary of thesauruses, especially poets. For beginners, they can be a useful tool, but it’s best not to get attached to them for too long, as they pose a significant threat to developing one’s own voice, not just in terms of word choice, but in terms of form, as they can brainwash you into writing in a form that may not be your strongest, before you‘ve experimented with enough forms to hit upon whatever your strongest form may be. I think a thesaurus is more beneficial to, say, a novelist, when you’re looking for that one word to encapsulate a setting without being so occupied with the flow of the words. A novel thrives on descriptiveness, but a poem thrives on evocation; for a poet, it can be hard to evoke when you put too much faith in a concentrated list of words that may not even contain the most appropriate word for the occasion. I’ve always believed that the only true means of developing a unique voice is through reading. Read whatever novel, play, anthology, magazine you can get your hands on. Retain the words that you like, for whatever reason you may like them, whether it be for phonetic reasons, or for their uniqueness, or simply because you’ve never used those words before. I try to incorporate at least one of two words into every poem that I’ve never used before. It keeps the material fresh for both the reader and the writer, and adds a touch of drama for the reader as well, who may be tempted to delve further and deeper into your work, perhaps even unconsciously, for new ways of looking at things. I once had a professor who said that poetry makes the ordinary extraordinary; if you’re willing to take the time to read as much as possible, those ordinary situations will become increasingly extraordinary in proportion to the vocabulary you build within your mind. Some may say that a writer could do the same thing with a thesaurus anyway, but trust me, there is something rewarding about expanding your own vocabulary the proverbial ’hard way’ that translates into confidence when setting out to present your creative visions.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Only that I hope you enjoy my work, and that you’re able to find a piece of yourself somewhere along the way. On that note, it’s worth pointing out that, even though I refer to writing as ’work,’ it has always been anything but. Even though there is an element of necessity to it for the anxious, moody introvert that is me, I write ultimately because I enjoy it; I enjoy looking at things in ways they’ve never been looked at before, and it’s that effect that I hope to spark in my readers. I also hope that I inspire non-writers to pick up a pen, or go to their keyboard, and see what they can come up with. Writing can be done in many ways for many reasons by anyone. I firmly believe that anybody can unearth their own reasons for trying to write, and they don’t have to be of the serious sort. If I never had another poem published again, it would not stop me from writing, because above all, I enjoy doing it.
Do you remember the first book you read?
The first books I have any memories of commandeering with my own senses were Charlie Brown’s encyclopedia set, brought for me by my parents. I must have took to them well, as I also have memories of being handed any one of the volumes when friends were visiting, and asked to read passages from them. I believe the first novel I ever read was Dear Mr. Henshaw, about a young boy who becomes pen-pals with his favourite author. I forgot all about this novel until I read this question, and it’s making me think about how influential that particular book may have been on me. But it all started with the Fisher-Price set of plastic letters that my grandfather got for me as an infant. I essentially learned to talk, speak, and spell (in other words, communicate in general) with those letters, and his constant reminders of how important they were. I wish I still had them.
What makes you laugh/cry?
To be frank, the inner workings of my brain dictate that I cry more than I laugh. I say it not for sympathy, but to point out that it seems to be a running theme amongst artists of any discipline, of any skill level. The best artists that history has ever given us were almost exclusively moody or downright troubled people on the inside. But I still find laughter in things like stand-up comedy, my mother’s overwhelmingly quirky jokes, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, which are actually my team in theory. If you’re unfamiliar with the Toronto Maple Leafs, ask any Canadian…and wait for the snide joke.
Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
William Shakespeare. We know an actor named William Shakespeare existed, but was he The Bard? I believe he was, because I want to believe that people from ordinary backgrounds can do extraordinary things, but I sure would love to find out for sure. And if I got the right answer, I’d certainly be picking his brain for techniques. I also wish I could have met Keats. I’m not very good at consoling people, and I’m not looking down the barrel of the same fate he was in his time, but I’d love to know how he copes, and what, if anything, makes him laugh.
What do you want written on your headstone and why?
Would you believe I had the perfect epitaph in mind after thinking about it for a very long time, and lost the paper on which I wrote it down? And I never lose a scrap of paper, so maybe somebody was trying to tell me it wasn’t as good as I thought, and I have to start thinking about it all over again! But honestly, even if I did remember it, I would likely keep it to myself at this point in time. Knowing me, I probably hid it so that it would be found in some obscure place, maybe even too late for a headstone, but I’d take my chances. If worse comes to worse, just call me a poet.
Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I played hockey (goaltender) for almost two decades, and it was actually my first love before the literary bug got me, but the excessive exposure to jocks that didn’t even want me on their teams may have led to a direct connection between the two ‘hobbies.’ In any event, my writing and editing workload gets increasingly heavier with each passing year, leaving less time for conventional hobbies. If reading counts as a hobby, then that would be my main pastime. I’ve also enjoyed stints as a gamer when time allows, though I’m very selective in the games I like (should you come across a copy of the new book, refer to A Night In The Water Temple). I even enjoy karaoke from time to time, which must come as a shock in light of what I’ve already revealed about me, but I must be in the right company of friends for that to ensue, and there aren’t many of them.
What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Movies and television have never really done much for me, but I do enjoy the ‘Museum Secrets’-type shows; they’re great fodder for writing material, especially when you’re stuck for ideas. I also enjoy the odd sitcom. As far as movies go, I seem to gravitate (no pun intended) towards Sci-Fi. My favourite movie is 2001, but I also like Back To The Future and 1989’s Batman, mainly for Nicholson’s Joker. I don’t do drama or anything that is too hard on my head. I watch these things only when I wish to be entertained; I have many other options when it comes to wanting to think.
Favourite foods/ colours/ music
Italian food; I never grow tired of pizza or pasta. Blue is my undisputed favourite colour and always has been. As for music, I collect vinyl (guess I should have mentioned this in the hobbies part!), and even though circumstances have forced me to streamline my collection substantially, I still own several hundred records, mostly of the classic rock variety, but also with a helping of electronic (namely Daft Punk, probably the only new-millennium group I’ve really gotten into), country, and classical.
If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
If I could do it all over, I’d want to be a librarian.
Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I have a number of blogs set up in the places where most writers tend to reside online. Here are a few of my links. Followers and subscribers are always welcome, and if you already are one, I offer you my sincere thanks for the support.
My Amazon author page:
My Facebook page:
My Youtube page:
My Tumblr page:
My WordPress page:
My Lulu page