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Last Modified: August 5, 2021
Cover image for Uche Umezurike's interview with Conrad Scott
Uche Umezurike Interviews Conrad Scott

Something like the cartographic can be so very colonial, but there is also a tension in the book with trying to map how all of the elements that comprise how a sense of place fits within this locale in which I was born.—Conrad Scott, author of Waterline Immersion

Conrad Scott is the author of Waterline Immersion (Frontenac House 2019), his debut poetry collection. An alumnus of the 2010 Writing Studio at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Scott has had his poetry published in Freefall Magazine and The Enpipe Line. Scott’s current work contemplates our environmentally troubling present and history as related to speculative imaginings of the future—urging us to look askance at our society and our sense of place in the world. He is working on a second poetry collection and fiction set in the future.

Uche spoke with Conrad about Waterline Immersion, which explores questions about family stories or ancestry, mythology, rivers, geography, and geology. Conrad uses the personal to contemplate broader questions about the continued degradation of the environment by humans.

Your poetry collection, Waterline Immersion, offers the reader an immersive experience. What did you find challenging about writing the book? 

I love how you phrase the experience of this book as “immersive,” as it is, in part, about the river valleys that join in what is now called Kamloops, British Columbia—and thus about the river(s) (and watershed) draining the area. Some notable examples of other work about rivers (and bodies of water) that I had in mind while writing were Daphne Marlatt’s Steveston (1974), John Steffler’s The Grey Islands (1985), Dionne Brand’s No Language is Neutral (1990), and Rita Wong and Fred Wah’s beholden: a poem as long as the river (2018). I’ll point out that each writer approaches their particular watershed/waters and social engagement in a unique way; one goal with Waterline Immersion was to build on the tradition, but also to do something new. The book is therefore, in relation to those other examples, also a version of a “long poem,” but it breaks and joins in ways unique to the rivers central to its focal point of Kamloops. I have talked elsewhere about what a “long poem might look like if it were considered as historical fragments mixed with family stories and mythology,” but Waterline Immersion also works to break down some of these relationships—which, fittingly, a river also does with whatever becomes a part of its entity and identity. Though the legal notation of “river personhood” is currently very limited globally, there is a sense in which the disparate elements of Waterline Immersion demonstrate that the related rivershed is deserving of such rights. 

Moreover, the experience of reading the book is meant to be as immersive as any long poem (as with those other examples). I always intended Waterline Immersion to at least reflect upon the long poem form prevalent in contemporary Canadian poetry and posit something of its own in terms of this movement in poetic production and theorization of poetic language in sequence. As I indicated before, Waterline Immersion is partially about the rivers that join and rivers more generally. With some knowledge of the river courses in question, it is not hard to see that the paths themselves are complicated—and certainly seasonally-so. But a river is so much more than the water flowing through its bed, and therefore Waterline Immersion works in some way to encapsulate both a historicization of the place and space and a rebuttal to those very attempts.  

The book’s “immersiveness” is also meant to encapsulate a larger set of questions about understanding this particular place from multiple perspectives that include an undeniably colonial history in what is unceded Tk‘emlúpsemc territory—and beyond, to what we now call Canada, and Turtle Island itself (to borrow the naming of the Anishinaabe and others). This is one of two reasons why I open the book with Viking First Contact with the continent; the other is, as it turns out, familial since I trace my genealogy back to Norse ancestors. In contrast to a continuing history of colonialism locally, regionally, and globally, I therefore include the personal not to lay claim, but in tension with these facts, and since I cannot tell the stories of others or other peoples. I also complicate that entire notion through the voice and character of the land/waters itself, which becomes an active agent through the movements of the book.  

Something like the cartographic can be so very colonial, but there is also a tension in the book with trying to map how all of the elements that comprise how a sense of place fits within this locale in which I was born. So, there is a personal immersion as the writer and the immersion of the reader into what is found in not only the present but also the history of the river valleys through a variety of modes that are geographical, historical, personal, geological, mythological, and future-oriented. The book deliberately complicates its own “long poem” nature by including these various elements within which one can immerse themselves because the fluidity of a river does not account for its many components, bends, “snags,” sandbars, rapids, or other movements. Conversely, the disparate moments also work together to create the whole. 

There are rich allusions to Norse mythology and historical landmarks in your book. Could you say a bit about the relationship, if any, between mythology and poetry? 

Mythology in the case of this poetry began as a means to explore one of the familial threadings of my genealogy—in part because I could not discover more through what research I have currently done—but also provided an opportunity to get at something fundamental about this particular text. There is not anything particularly Norse about the Kamloops river valleys, of course. Nor is there, besides the colonial shifting of some historical and cultural elements across the ocean waters, anything particularly Norse about the continent. But the Norse creation myth posits that the so-called heroes of that pantheon (Odin and his brothers) committed a grave crime against their own ancestor in order to create the world in which we live today. With this in mind, through the poetic movements of this text, I wanted to call into question the valorization of these mythic figures that usually occurs. 

One parallel that I also draw is that our actions in the modern world have put us in a position that is often at odds with the “natural” world. Both that mythic Norse ancestor and the land have been abused—we could call it ecocide, for the latter. The poetic push through language and form in Waterline Immersion works to reverse that travesty, in some part, by resurrecting the spirit of the land and waters (as seen through that mythic tradition, at least). As for our relationship with our environment, we will have to rethink and rebuild that in the world outside the poetic page. The related issues are, after all, more than about mythology, as entirely tangible problems we must confront and rebalance, if even for our own survival as a species.  

In “Valley Historical” and “Historical Documents, 1902”, the speaker asks, “How to speak of a place?” and “But how else to talk about place?” What was it that moved you to write about place and landscape? What has place meant to you? 

Place and landscape were part of the original vision of the manuscript as I sought to encapsulate a mode through which to talk about the stories and lives of my grandparents. But a sense of place shifts with time, just as the place itself changes. This is true for both my engagement with the place that is Kamloops, British Columbia, and its river valleys—and the book’s engagement with an understanding of place. In the quotes you give, I am deliberately troubling perspectives on and understandings of place and this place, in particular. I have now known the area in different ways that include a lived experience and a researched approach, as well as through the philosophized and creatively navigated lens of poetry (among other writing). I have lived in this place and away from this place; one day, I may return. These valleys have a long existence before I came into the world and will have a long existence after I pass. They were formed by geological processes so long ago and vast in scope that no one living directly remembers them, yet we know that such things occurred. We have a knowledge of how a place is in the present moment, but upon reflection, we also may realize that any place will change in the future. As someone considering this local place, this region, and even the larger place that is global, I think that it is imperative that we thoughtfully consider which elements will contribute to how we understand and contribute to its future.  

Finally, how have you managed to write during this period? Or more precisely, how would you describe your writing process at present?  

Admittedly, my writing process at present has been irregular and divided with a need to complete other projects as well. But, despite these hurdles, I have still found some success in moving two creative endeavours along to the first draft stage: one is for the second book of poetry, and another is a manuscript for my first novel. Both are undergoing revisions, but I hope to move past those within the next year to continue with fresh writing. As always, the main trouble is to find sufficient time and energy for everything—but I also find myself increasingly inspired to write as much as possible.

Uche Peter Umezurike holds a PhD from the English and Film Studies department of the University of Alberta, Canada, where he is an Assistant Lecturer. An alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), he is a co-editor of Wreaths for a Wayfarer, an anthology of poems. His children’s book Wish Maker and collection of short stories Double Wahala Double Trouble are forthcoming from Masobe Books, Nigeria and Griots Lounge Publishing, Canada, in fall 2021.

Waterline Immersion

Conrad Scott (CA)

Published: Sep 15, 2019 by Frontenac House Ltd.
ISBN: 9781927823972