INTERVIEW WITH EA DOUGLAS
EA Douglas is a multidisciplinary artist living in Toronto.
She helps run The Sophisticated Boom Boom reading series
& fears dropping books in the bath.
Follow her on Instagram @pinkcentaur.
Interview by Rebeccah Love
What were your interactions with poetry like in your youth? Do you remember any poems you studied in school?
In Grade 6 we were expected to memorize "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert W. Service. I had neither the patience nor the home life to pull it off – although the first few lines have stuck with me. Other than that my sister and I would make up weird rhymes and jingles to crack each other up, one in particular involving a limbless teddy bear has lived on in family lore. In retrospect this pretty accurately reflects my feelings toward poetry now, I don’t read a lot of “academic” poems but gravitate more towards self-published/small press writers.
Can you tell me about The Sophisticated Boom Boom? How did it get started?
The Sophisticated Boom Boom is a late night reading series that happens every 2nd Wednesday of the month at The Ossington hosted by Nick McKinlay and myself. It started around four years ago, when Nick inherited a DJ night at the Ossington. Originally, it was DJ night preceded by a poetry reading and open mic. A lot of those early nights involved people reading their favourite poems and we still encourage folks to share poems that inspire them along with their own writing.
I joined the team of the Boom Boom to help out with the first zine, a DIY time capsule that was comprised of poems from the event, and have been a part of it ever since. In the past year or so Nick and I have focused on putting together a stronger reading series since we’ve dropped the DJ portion of the evening.
What is the mandate of the Sophisticated Boom Boom today?
Our goal with the Boom Boom these days is threefold, first to maintain an open and respectful space for people to share their writing – it’s important to me that those who write as a pastime or for their own pleasure feel as comfortable behind the mic as a widely published poet. Secondly, that we highlight writers from our community who are actively writing and developing their work. Finally, that we bring in poets/people from outside of our night to share in order to gain to new perspectives and build relationships.
What are some the challenges involved in running a poetry reading series?
My biggest challenge with running a reading night is staying present and enjoying the evening once it rolls around. It’s so easy to get caught up in the organizational details of the thing, or to freak out about attendance levels and if the night will be a “success.” But we do this every month, some nights are going to be smaller and intimate, some are going to be packed and loud and full of laughter – each Boom Boom is it’s own experience. As long as we’ve done our best promoting the event and involving a variety of people, I can’t control who comes and stressing about it doesn’t change anything. At 9 pm my role shifts from organizer/promoter to host, and that means being warm and open to attendees while maintaining the respect within environment.
What have been a couple of your memorable moments at the Sophisticated Boom Boom?
I feel like every night has at least one or two minutes that gives me energy and motivates me to keep putting the event together, but some that have stuck with me over the time include Meghan Harrison’s set as the featured reader, where she coordinated a fairly sized crowd into singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game. And, once Nick read "What resembles the grave but isn’t" by Anne Boyer which always pops into my head at low moments. Also, Akash Bansal performed a piece titled "finding a way back" in October 2017. It included projecting a stream of Google maps images of beautiful and/or familiar places behind him, while he read the work and broadcasted the electromagnetic signals emitting from his computer via a phone tap. There was a moment during that set where my heart lurched and I was like, “Goddamn, this is why we do this.”
How important is the idea of space in running these events? How did you choose your venue?
I feel like space is quite important when it comes to running events, the kind of room you’re working with can dictate the kind of event you’re having. I learned when I was running art-based dinner parties out of my living room that the setup has a huge impact on the flow of night. The Boom Boom was begotten out of a night that already existed at the Ossington, so the layout of the backroom helped form the event. We’re lucky in the sense that we didn’t have to hunt for a venue and it came with a microphone, spotlight and chairs, which makes it easy to focus attention on the reader and maintain a respectful space.
Unfortunately, there are some limitations to the space that we acknowledge can make our event inaccessible – mainly the flight of stairs down to the bathroom and the few steps up from street level. We’ve talked with the bar about building ramps to the back room, and I think that’s still a goal, however basement bathrooms are regular reality of venues in Toronto.
What is the selection process like in choosing your poets? How do you find out about new voices?
We ask people to be our featured readers for two reasons, to continue to support the community that supports us and to bring in outside voices. Our selection process for the former generally involves writers that frequent our open mic. If someone regularly attends the night and we see a value in sharing their work then we’ll ask them to read. For the latter, Nick and I are always on the look out for people to bring in, we’ve found people via Instagram, through community recommendations, from browsing bookstores or the poetry section of the Globe. I feel like I’ve perfected the “cold-call” of hosting a reading series, generally if you ask nicely people say yes!
Why is poetry important?
Poems are a place where people make themselves vulnerable, or take on another’s vulnerability. There’s a lot of posturing in the world these days, a lot of “playing it cool” on social media/what have you. Poetry is important for keeping people genuine, keepin’ it real. Poetry open mics are important as places to experience each other’s vulnerability and support each other as writers/performers/humans.
What other art forms do you gravitate towards in your own practice?
I’ve always been one of those people who can’t sit still, so I try to put my fidgeting to good use and keep my hands busy. Currently this manifests through embroidery and photography, two mediums that work surprisingly well together. Embroidery is great because I can bring it along to gigs that have a lot of downtime and I’m currently using needle and thread to explore perceptions of self. Photography also travels well and I enjoy learning the technical aspects behind taking pictures, however I am working through my understanding of photography as a medium unto itself and not just as documentation to be posted on social media or fodder for other creative projects such as collages.
In September you launched your own zine. What was the writing process like for that project?
Strange and Mysterious Creatures, my debut perzine [personal zine] examines the threads that weave through my personal narrative, it features 6 full colour collages and explores diaries, sobriety and creativity. A few copies are still available at Likely General on Roncesvalles Ave.
The act of creating this work stemmed from my attempt to embrace two ideas – “pay yourself first” and “show up for your work.” I’ve spent a lot of my time in Toronto supporting other’s artistic projects and until this past year I’ve rarely made time to focus on my own art. Once I realized this, I started to make time each day for myself and force myself to sit at my computer or in my studio, even if I didn’t really feel like it. Being creative is the most important part of my life; I need to treat it as such. Realistically this looked like me hauling my computer to and from work so I could get in an hour of writing during my break. As I got further into the word count, it became clear to me that my original concept for the zine wasn’t actually what it was about, and I ended up removing two entire chapters from the manuscript. When the writing felt “done” my dear friend Cosette Schulz gave it an edit, and then I constructed the collages, put it together digitally, had it printed and assembled each zine with a hand stamped cover. Reading it over now I think the ending comes across as a bit abrupt, but I remember feeling finished with writing at the time, and this is something I can to better in the next issue.
What is your favourite part of Toronto?
Geographically speaking, I delight in the lakeshore west of Roncesvalles Ave. I discovered Sunnyside Beach fully this past summer and it quickly became a regular daytime retreat. I was so moved by an August morning visit that I impulsively decided that this is where my zine launch had to be and rushed to get it printed and assembled before the summer faded.
Now that beach visits are off the roster I plan on filling my schedule with visits to Toronto’s abundance of galleries and museums, my favourite being the Textile Museum of Canada.
What are you looking forward to?