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Massy Interviews / Robert Budde

On April 13th, join Massy Arts, Massy Books, and hosts Jordan Scott + Rob Budde for the in-person launch of “The Answer to Everything: Selected Poems of Ken Belford” (2021, Caitlin Press).

The event will be hosted at the Massy Arts Gallery, at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.

This event is free + open to all of our community, and registration is mandatory.

Click here to register for the event

Click here to purchase “the answer to everything”

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To address the work by poet Ken Belford and his unique perspective on land and the non-human world through literature, Rafael Zen interviews editor Robert Budde for Massy Arts, discussing the challenges of editing a book that presents three distinct phases in Belford’s poetic work.

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Robert Budde / Ken Belford – A poet’s eccentric words, and gentle presence

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Rafael Zen – The Answer to Everything celebrates the works in poetry by writer Ken Belford (1946–2020). Why should readers that are not familiar to his literary work purchase the book and come to the launch event? What to expect from his words?

Robert Budde – Those poetry readers not familiar with Belford’s work will encounter a unique poetic life through his poetry, one that reflects a rarely-depicted experience of a back country, un-roaded, engagement with Northern “BC”.

The selected book The Answer to Everything gathers portions of Belford’s work from the 1960s through to 2020, so they will be able to the evolution of his poetics through the years and through his various locations in BC.

Readers can expect the unexpected in his poetry—a jazzy “assemblage” approach to poetic thought, one that upholds principles of social justice and connection to land. Belford’s early poems are TISH-inspired and recall the style of poets like Robert Creeley and Frank O’Hara.

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RZ – The book presents poems from three distinct phases in Belford’s work. As an editor, what were the challenges of presenting these genres within his production – to his readers?

RB – As one of the editors, putting this book together was a labour of love and mourning. One of the initial challenges was to gauge the balance between the various books and stages of his career.

This process began when Ken was still alive so many of the editorial decisions were aimed at honouring his requests.

For one, he wanted to emphasize his more recent work over the older poetry; he felt distant from those years and poems, and thought his contemporary work was more distinctive and that it added a new element to Canadian letters.

So, as editors, we wanted to balance that request with one of the goals of the book, which was to give a retrospective overview of Ken’s writing career.

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RZ – Why do you think this book’s synopsis claims that Ken’s work is as unique as it is challenging? What are the challenges that readers may encounter?

RB – The challenge in Ken’s poetry is that:

1) it departs from the comfort of the lyric standard—it does not adhere to a central imagine or cohesive narrative, instead bringing different discourses and rhythms into play and;

2) in comes from a background of land and culture that is outside most readers’ experience. Living on Blackwater Lake, where one had to fly or hike in, isolated from the cultural influence of cities or farmland, Ken’s perspective came from the mountains and, while readers might experience this from his poems, they might not identify with it.

It is an eccentric point of view, in the best artistic sense of ‘eccentric’.

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RZ – This books reviews Ken’s TISH-influenced poetry (referencing the poetry scene that happened around Vancouver in the 1960s) and into more contemporary dialogues where Belford seems to establish a poetic school of his own. Playing the editor role here – what would be the name of his poetic school? What would a poem from this school look/sound like?

RB – The closest term that might be applied is “lan(d)guage poetry”—a term that Ken coined to describe his poetics. This is the title of his 2008 book, a book in which his poetry went further into the activity of describing his own poetics. In my estimation, “lan(d)guage” poetry would be defined by 1) its generative rhythmic attentions, 2) its relation to land and animals, and 3) its refusal for the conventions of traditional poetry.

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RZ – From the book, could you choose one single poem that you think encapsulates Belford’s potency towards poetry – and share it with our readers? Why this poem?

RB – I would pick the following poem from that 2008 book lan(d)guage, and I would pick it because it represents so well Ken’s gentle presence and offers a glimpse into that mountain experience that he weaves into his poetry.

The 30 years he lived on Blackwater Lake gave him a perspective on land and the non-human world that is unique, and his resulting gaze on the culture of city and farm further radicalized.

Plus, I just love the opening image: a grizzly with a leaves draped on his head. Haha.


I slept beside a grizzly, each of us unaware
of the other, and when I awakened, heard
his breath next to mine. Time began for me
in that instant when I arose and saw him
sleeping there with a salmonberry leaf
on his head. No longer alone, all things since
are altered by that switch. What else is there
to know, each of us asleep and happy?
But he awakened just then and barreled off
into the brush, toward everything necessary.
At that moment everything I knew left me
and now a new world has taken place.
It comes to the same thing—astonishment
that this should happen at all. But I heard
him breathe, and saw him make tracks
before I could think. To see this thing
was not horrendous, and to see it go
was not delightful. Nothing meaningful
occurred, but time started with a big bear.
This is not about anything, but I’m waiting
for some thing to come up behind me
in the night. I’m like something else now,
and every breath I take anticipates
that moment I want again and again.

Ken Belford – the answer to everything

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