Making Sense of the Forest:
An Interview with Robert Bringhurst
Robert Bringhurst lives on Quadra Island, in British Columbia, “on a dead-end spur off a dead-end road,” as he puts it. His poetry also inhabits places where the road ends and the forest begins. It tries to listen carefully to the sounds of the world, and it seeks a connection to the world through the wisdom of the past. “Some books … seem able to desegregate the living and the dead – and that is the only kind of book I have ever wanted to read or write,” Bringhurst observes in his foreword to The Calling, his most recent long collections of poems. His latest book, The Tree of Meaning: Thirteen Talks, is a collection of lectures about language, mythology, translation, and Native North American oral literature. In October, Bringhurst passed through Toronto on his way back to B.C. from Kentville, Nova Scotia, the home of Gaspereau Press, publisher ofThe Tree of Meaning and others of his books. He gave a reading and two lectures at the University of Toronto, and made time for this interview, which took place over the course of an hour and a half, and in which he discussed his latest work, the process of writing poems, and his experience as a typographer.
Bringhurst is one of Canada’s most distinguished poets, an accomplished translator, and an authority on typography and book design. His major collections of poetry include The Beauty of the Weapons: Selected Poems 1972-1982 (1982), Pieces of Map, Pieces of Music (1986), andThe Calling: Selected Poems 1970-1995 (1995). He has published a major study of Haida oral literature, A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Haida Mythtellers and Their World (1999), and two volumes of translations of the works of the Haida storytellers Ghandl and Skaay: Nine Visits to the Mythworld (2000) and Being in Being (2001), respectively. Among his other works are The Raven Steals the Light (with Bill Reid, 1984), The Elements of Typographic Style (1992), Ursa Major: A Polyphonic Masque for Speakers and Dancers (2003), and The Solid Form of Language: An Essay on Writing and Meaning (2004). His poetry has been included in several anthologies, including News and Weather: Seven Canadian Poets (1982), edited by August Kleinzahler, and The New Canadian Poets 1970-1985 (1985), edited by Dennis Lee. He has also edited the English translation of Jan Tschichold’s The Form of the Book (1991) and the selected writings of Bill Reid (Solitary Raven, 2000). Editorial notes appear within square brackets ([ ]). Omissions are indicated by ellipses within square brackets ([…]). The publication details of titles mentioned above and during the interview are provided at the end.