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An Interview with Pete Gibbon 'Green Screen: Postcards to The Real'

I sat down with Canadian poet and first-time father, Pete Gibbon, to discuss his new chapbook, what is ‘real’ and the birth of his first-born daughter.



As Pete welcomes me into his home, there’s an obstacle: a couple of cardboard boxes aptly described as baby-proofing. She’s just starting to toddle, Pete explains. The ‘she’ in question is Olive, Pete and Heather’s not-so-newborn daughter. Happy eight months, Olive, and welcome to the world!


Before Olive arrived, her father and Canadian poet Pete Gibbon started a chap-book project as a means of grappling with the large mix of emotions that shepherding new life into the world can bring. Gibbon would one-shot type-write and publish a poem per day leading up to the birth of his daughter, and the birth of a new chapbook (his third solo collection): ‘Green Screen: Postcards to The Real’.


The title is a hand-shaking reference to Lacan’s theory of ‘the real’. Lacan’s theory posits that language can only represent so much of what ‘reality’ is and that the truest grasp of reality lies in the hands of those untrained in the process of symbolization/language. Like Olive, who coos and wiggles on Pete’s lap. The infant, in Lacan's theory, is closest to ‘the real’.


I stumble over the complicated definition on Pete’s couch before asking him to clarify.


Pete Gibbon: “Yeah, it's almost an impossible concept to describe. And only the child has a firm grip on it because they're so close to it, right? The definition of the real is the experience of the universe pre-birth. It's where we come from.”


“Which, I'm not sure if Lacan was too detailed in this, but it's been picked up as a sort of terror dimension. The real is just a pretty frightening place, partly because there's no symbology, so nothing exists. It can be a place of pure terror. And that’s where babies come from.”


Clown House: Before this, researching Lacan, I didn’t pick up on the terror element.


PG: “That’s kind of the terror because nothing can be labelled. Some examples of the real that people have given is the fact that this child will grow. It’s this automatic process that we have no control over, and that makes people uncomfortable. You get farther and farther from the original. You can’t stop it. It resists meaning, it resists civilization, and you’re staring into this world of possibilities.”


CH: How does that relate to the Green Screen?


PG: “The green screen is a concept that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, because I didn’t think there was a very good way of describing the real. When I thought about it, the way I would describe it would be a green screen.”


“It’s a screen you’re looking at, it reflects you, and you project everything onto it. It’s an element of the real that I think people don’t appreciate – is that so much projection that happens, because you can’t make sense. It could consume you, or it could be comforting as well.”


CH: So, it’s a green screen, then her name is Olive.


PG: “Yeah, that worked out nicely.”


CH: Was it intentional?


PG: “No, Heather’s grandma’s name was Olive. We had a few options for boy names, but she was a girl. There was just no question.”


Pete and Heather’s home, with Olive now eight months settled, is a far cry from the anticipatingly anxious pages Pete portrayed. The space is inhabited, warm and his daughter is all things happiness, health, and pre-language peace.


CH: I was tracing the trends in this chapbook and I found an emphasis on pain, family, concern – birth, obviously – and having everything arrive. Is there now a sense of peace with the anticipation you were feeling?


PG: “Yeah, and I’m really glad I approached it the way I did. I’m glad I had the writing project because I was telling myself a story the whole time. The story was don’t worry about it too much. Worry about something else, like writing. You can’t know what it’s going to be like, and you can only spin your wheels so much, waiting for something like this to happen. Yeah, I found peace. I found that it’s way more fun than I expected it to be.”


“It’s possible to just sit and watch whatever she does for hours, but I didn’t know if that would be true. People said it was going to be good, but I didn’t know. I couldn’t know if that would be true – what if I hated it? Or if she had a different personality?”


Lucky poem #13 presents an image of the poet donning a green shirt, then stating ‘let me disappear’. A return to the green-screen Lacan-nian void, leaving behind only the talking head of Pete, to float in the symbol-less void with the projection of the self as a lone guide to interpretation. Pete may be alone in the void, as we all are, but what came before Pete? The ‘after’ Pete, and after Heather, rolls a rattle in my direction.


Pete’s grandpa, and now Pete’s family, have an off-grid cottage just past North Bay. Coping with a pre-internet space, Pete and his editor/friend Bardia Sinaee would peel birch bark from trees and feed it through a second-hand typewriter. The bark poems were inspired by their surroundings, which included Pete’s grandpa’s eclectic library of weird old books and medical journals.


PG: “The first couple of years, what we were doing, was just writing poems. Pulling books from the library, putting a piece of bark into the typewriter, then we would work on it for a couple of hours.”


“That sort of helped me hone my skills, where it’s like, this is one shot. You write this, this is the length that you have, and these are the dimensions of this piece of birch bark. That’s how long the poem is, and that’s how long you have to compose it.”


Aside, editor’s room, CH: I stare enviously into the endless void of my Word doc. The mossy bark on the tree outside my window beckons. Pete got his typewriter for fifty dollars, off Kijiji.



For Postcards, Pete would quickly churn out a poem during the intermissions that cooking allows. He’d leave the kitchen, visit the typewriter, and by the time dinner was served, a postcard poem had been born. With Olive en route, this process was a means of keeping busy, away from mentally stagnating on the terror of the un-knowable. One of my favourites from the collection, poem #25, informally called ‘you ok?’ asks the title question about fifteen times.


PG: “That came up when I was cooking, and I was just like, I’ve probably asked Heather fifty times today if she’s doing okay, and how she’s doing. I was thinking, that must be really, really annoying … which is why I went in and typed that out in a single go, I don’t think I stopped.”


“When it was done, I was like, good. I looked at it, and the way it was shaped on the card. I’m so glad that it’s shaped that way because something like that, you could edit hours and hours and it would still not work. With that poem, I don’t have to ever touch this again. It’s finished.”



Writing Postcards Pete recognized that if he were to analyze and edit the poems, there was the potential for the number of poems to be whittled down from thirty to six. The cutting room floor can be brutal. The collection would also be scattered, with different poems sent to different publishers. Keeping the poems together, in their one-shot state, unionized the pregnancy’s progression and kept the poet’s brain moving away from anxieties of editing, of childbirth, and towards hope.


PG: “For this project, leading up to it, I was getting tired of editing. I was tired of writing a pile of poems and editing so much that they become something totally different. It made sense not to edit because it captures that feeling of anticipation. It’s impossible to plan for something that I never experienced – it’s a new life. There’s no way that I could edit for that.”


Pete’s writing journey took off when he started his masters in Canadian Studies at Carleton, getting involved with then ‘scruffy’ In/Words student press. Pete assisted in turning the student press into a chapbook press, and publishing poetry submissions. Then, he was an editor. Now, an editing-resistant poet.


Part of the charm of Postcards is the ink-stained typos that are now permanent fixtures in various poems, prioritizing the role of the author rather than the post-production polishing. As an editor, Pete and In/Words offered a handful of Canadian poets their first break at being published. In/Words served as an informal collective, as the literary organization formed long-standing friendships and associations. Read about backyard weddings, drunken nights, and hard work in Pete’s memoir of In/Words here.


CH: Formal collective to informal, how important was your association with In/Words to your writing?


PG: “I wouldn’t be writing, still, without that. All my best friends write. Most of the books I read are people that I know. Sort of an obligation to read, but they're good books. I’m lucky in that sense.”


Web-stalking Pete, you can find a handful of semi-defunct internet left behinds from his time at In/Words, including one of his first pieces ‘A Guide to Being a Literary Author’. There is a definite tone shift from 2005 to 2023, as Pete remarks on the tropes of mainstream post-modern Canadian literature. Out of touch with the era, I turn to Pete.


CH: You’ve moved from irony to honesty. It read edgy.


PG: “It’s embarrassing to read stuff like that, now. If I could, I’d retcon everything before 2010, when I had my first book (‘eating thistles’, published by Apt. 9 Press). You know, it took a long time to get to the point where I knew what topics I should be writing about, and how. Politically, at least. Tone wise, definitely.”


“We can move on from stuff. I wouldn’t be sitting down now and writing a modernist tribute to Ezra Pound, because he’s a fascist. I can still read Pound, but I’m not going to go on the internet and repent – there are other people we can be talking about.”


“So when I look back and seem embarrassed, I don’t mind that I sound young. I don’t mind that it’s sort of naive. Naivety is an important tone and one I still try to capture. It’s more that there’s an arrogance of youth that becomes a type of conservatism. That’s the most embarrassing part of it, I think.”


After finishing his master's, Pete took the time to travel to plenty of locations. Australia and South Korea are some non-Canadian standouts. The label of ‘Canadian’ can feel like a pop culture death sentence given the West’s undeniable choke hold on the media industry, and Canada’s perpetual image crisis. Too northern mysterious, too polite, too boring. Canadian history is easily forgotten when our over-accessible Southern neighbour dominates music, television, and streaming. Which is why I ask the question –


CH: How tied are you to your Canadian identity, especially having spent time away?


PG: “Canadian identity is really important to me, so national identity is something I’m heavily invested in as a concept. That’s why it was fun to live in different countries right after taking a Canadian studies degree. I think it brought me closer to the countries I lived in. It made it easier, on an academic level, to understand and ask the right questions. Like, finding the right movies or artists to understand South Korea, but as an academic student. Not a person of Korean heritage.”


CH: After some time in Korea, you mentioned that you began experimenting more with songwriting. When it comes to your poetry, who are your musical influences?


PG: “Wilco has been my favourite band since University. Bob Dylan. I’ve come to appreciate Neil Young a lot more in the last few years because I’ve come to realize that he’s a pretty weird guy. I started appreciating him for his off-beatness. He made a movie in the 80s. It’s a terrible movie. It took them five years to make. It’s projects like that which endeared me to Neil Young because he tries and fails and his failures are permanent and I think that’s fun.”


“It’s more interesting to listen to a very flawed album by Young, then, like Harvest which is his perfect record. There’s less depth, nothing to listen to over and over again.”


With Pete’s chapbook, the same sentiment carries. With the inclusion of errors, tracing the anxiety over ‘the real’ and the soon-to-be reality of a new life, I read over the collection three times before I felt like I had an insider's grasp of the material – depth, aplenty. The collection offers plenty of different threads to follow, and Pete’s quick, upbeat style presents a portrait of a soon-to-be-dad paying attention to all the right things.


‘Green Screen: Postcards to The Real’ contains thirty-one poems to read and re-read, in anticipation, in wait, and in hope for what’s to be. Copies are available online here and copies will also be for sale at our SPARKS UP open mic, Jan. 21. RSVP here!


CH: And wrapping up, seeing that you’re now a father, I expect some fatherly advice for the clowns. Five words for young poets?


PG: “I’m just gonna, like … don’t stop reading or writing. Is that good?”


CH: Perfect, no typos.


For more of Pete, again be sure to buy his chapbook here or check out his Instagram here.



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