Clowning and Cosmopolitanism: An Interview with Rawi Hage

by André Forget and Jason Freure

André Forget is a staff writer at The Puritan and managing editor at Whether MagazineHe lives in Toronto. Jason Freure co-edited “Littered T.O.,” a supplement to The Puritan Issue 26: Summer 2014. His reviews have appeared on the Town Crier and in Lemon Hound.

Rawi Hage is the author of De Niro’s Game (House of Anansi, 2006), Cockroach (House of Anansi, 2008), and Carnival (House of Anansi, 2012). He has received the IMPAC Dublin Award, the McAuslan First Book Prize, and (on multiple occasions) the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. Born in Beirut, he now lives in Montréal.

Hage’s first novel, De Niro’s Game, follows a petty thief in Lebanon trying to escape Beirut without joining the militias who have taken over organized crime in the divided city. In Cockroach, a thwarted suicide is drawn into the lives of Iranian exiles, impoverished intellectuals, and sinister diplomats in Montréal. Carnival is about Fly, a taxi driver in an unnamed carnival city, and his relationships with his passengers, friends, and books.

In the last days before Christmas, 2014, André Forget and Jason Freure interviewed Rawi Hage at a café on Montréal’s Rue Bernard.


Jason Freure: To start things off, I wanted to ask you about your latest book. In Carnival, Fly hoards books in his bedroom in a way that reminds me of Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude, where Hanta fills his apartment with books rescued from the paper crusher. Was Hrabal’s book was much of an influence while you were writing Carnival?

Rawi Hage: A handful of stories in Carnival are a remake of other stories from other books. Ultimately, Carnival is a book about literature. In Too Loud a Solitude, the protagonist has a sorrowful relationship with books. The reference to Hrabal is a protest against the destruction of books. It’s very timely; I think there are a good number of literary works mourning books these days, and not just the physicality of books. They’re mourning reading as we know it because changes in technology are impacting the way we read. I’ve encountered many writers of a certain age who are writing about books and literature. Rabih Alameddine’s latest work, An Unnecessary Woman, comes to mind. I think there’s a fear among contemporary writers and serious readers that literature might become irrelevant. Or that literature as we know it is going to be transformed. I mean, for me and for many of my colleagues it’s a mixture of fear and anticipating something unknown. There’s a lack of security, and that entails financial security as well. We don’t know. With Fly, fear becomes a way of hoarding things, of hoping to preserve something a bit longer. Fly has to deal with how to accept the ephemeral and that creates a deep sorrow within him, and maybe, eventually, that sorrow might lead him to madness.

JF: Again in Carnival, a librarian says to Aisha: “Now that you are a reader, you have to read your own people’s books.” You’ve been clear about your cosmopolitan stance in past interviews. Rather than going to an ethnicity or a nationality for literature, who are a cosmopolitan’s people, and what are their books?

RH: I guess—and I might be wrong—I equate in my own naïve way cosmopolitanism with progressive values. The more I travel, the more I see pockets of very progressive people in the most unlikely places. A cosmopolitan existence might be the result of  a tragedy that ends in richness—cultural richness. You can look simultaneously at the Palestinian and Jewish diasporas. They both established a kind of a cosmopolitan existence. We know about the cosmopolitanism of the European-Jewish community, but ultimately, there is now a Palestinian cosmopolitan diaspora. Maybe cosmopolitanism has its root in a sense of displacement. Maybe it’s always been tied to a strong sentiment of non-belonging.

JF: It’s made by necessity.

RH: By necessity, by tragedy. Maybe that kind of cosmopolitanism is what I’m interested in.

André Forget: If I can ask you a follow up to that, in all of your novels, there’s also an awareness that just moving around a lot does not make you a cosmopolitan.

RH: No, it does not necessarily make you cosmopolitan.

AF: It’s a frame of mind. One of the things I found most interesting in Carnival is the way in which you have this whole city full of people who are from somewhere else. And some of them are continuing the imperialism that had been used against them before. So you have Patel, the industrialist, who has got this big factory that’s poisoning rivers in other parts of the world, and Fly has no patience for that kind of cosmopolitanism. So, what is the role of literature in actually creating cosmopolitanism? Could you speak to that a little?

RH: What’s the role of literature? Is it beneficial?

AF: Does it create cosmopolitanism?

RH: I don’t know if we create as much as strengthen what’s already available. Sometimes I feel that I am reaffirming certain progressive values. I’m not sure if I add to them. I don’t think literature is a futile exercise; it’s important to reaffirm certain things although what we add might be very minimal, especially in literature. More and more, we’re catering to a very small group. Having said that, many important things come from a small minority, a diligent minority. I think that in the future, thinkers will go back to an ancient system like a monastic existence. But I am being optimistic.

I am very critical of humans in general, so I don’t know. I don’t know to what extent things will be different.

AF: Let’s go back to Czech literature, and in particular, The Good Soldier ŠvejkWe noticed that in Carnival, Fly, like Švejk, does a lot of this clowning around; sometimes it’s to protect himself from his passengers, and sometimes it’s to assert some kind of humanity in the face of bureaucratic systems. But the novel also has a lot of violence in it. There is Otto, a revolutionary figure …

JF: The question would be: do you see clowning as an alternative resistance to violence?

RH: Oh, definitely. Clowning is nothing new in Fly or in the Czech spirit or in Shakespeare for that matter. It comes from the troubadour culture. Carnival is more a book about Western history and some of its roots, which are not too far removed from the East. Troubadours acted as a link between East and West. These wandering poets are found in many cultures. They always carried ideas through songs, poems, etc. It’s a camouflage par excellence. Power is stupid. Power can be distracted.

“Resistance and change are linked to the idea of motion; resistance needs motion, it needs mobility to be effective.”

The thing about power is that there is something very naïve about it. It is vain and that is power’s Achilles heel. You can always seduce it with a bit of entertainment while clandestinely slipping in a subversive act. It’s a classical form of resistance and it is effective. It never fails. Resistance and change are linked to the idea of motion; resistance needs mobility to be effective. In Carnival, I stressed the notion of the moving taxi, the fly, the traveling circus, and the non-static. Movement. It is about spreading ideas, and you can’t spread anything if you’re static. It’s also a reference to François Rabelais, who uses humour and profanity as a force for liberation and as a means of undermining power. Roles reverse: the jester becomes the king, and the king becomes the jester.

JF: All three of your books have some sort of transcendental element in them, and you’ve spoken about how you like to work with many layers. In Cockroach, the narrator goes down the drain. At the end of Carnival, Fly flies away on a carpet. But at the same time, there’s a very anti-religious strain about your writing. Is there a difference between these changes and a character who believes in another kind of transcendence when they die?

RH: I think madness is the most honest form of transcendental existence. I am interested in the creative madness that is innately in us. Religious morality seeks to act as an obstacle to experiencing absolute creativity. Religions already have their creators, and it seems that for the religious, any other creation is in competition to their own supreme creator. Lately, with the rise of fundamentalism, we see a greater and greater divide between culture—I also mean intellect and creativity—and religion. The extremists like to think that everything can be extracted from one source. And that is the tragedy of monotheism—monotheistic culture tends to be patriarchal and drawn to despotism.

I have a conflicting relationship with religion. I grew up in a religious background. I have knowledge of religious literature, and I try in my writing to bring elements of religion to the literary form. In a way, I’m often banalizing faith.

JF: It’s very clear that when you do write these strange moments in a protagonist’s life, when they go off and leave the realm of reality, you’re very clear that what we’re dealing with is madness.

RH: Literature is a form of madness. We are creating things that do not exist. What is madness besides creating?

JF: Your plots often come in very late in your books. It doesn’t seem as though you value plot at all, and much of Carnival is just made up of stories that people tell each other, and digressions. Could you read these stories as parables?

RH: I undermined the straight narrative in Carnival. I was drawn to the stakes of a carnival. Carnivals are chaotic. The individuals express themselves in different ways. I think of Carnival as a dance. It is about motion, disguise, and resistance as well. Carnival season is a ritual. But within this permissible freedom there are constraints, too—carnivals are seasonal. They are dependent on the cycles of nature like many rituals. If we were to take a Marxist look at carnivals, they’d have something sinister about them. I think historically the clergy and the ruling strata allowed these pockets of freedom and debauchery so that peasants and workers could procreate and eventually increase the working force. Maybe that’s what these carnivals are. And that’s what Fly is struggling with. He knows that he’s creating and participating in this space of freedom and liberty, and he knows he has to be as expressive, free, and mad as possible, but he is also aware of an exterior oppression, a captivity. It is a dualistic existence. By the way, the stories of bondage and straitjackets in Carnival are related to that state of mind. I hate it when I have to explain my work. Such bondage.

AF: That dualism comes out very clearly with Fly and Otto and Aisha as different poles. Where Otto and Aisha are politically active and try to change the system, Fly seems a lot more skeptical that that can happen.

RH: Fly knows that it is all temporary and tragic. I think Fly is a gnostic and an existentialist par excellence. He suspects that this world is created by a lesser god who is helpless. The issue of transcendental existence is very appealing to him, but at the same time, he knows it’s highly unlikely. He’s an ambiguous character. He’s sincere about his atheism, but he sees the tragedy of being an atheist. It takes a lot of courage to embrace the ephemeral being that he knows he is. You have to be selfless and courageous not to believe. He sees the tragedy in everything; he sees the tragedy in both life and belief. I don’t think he’s very convinced that Aisha and Otto’s fight is necessary. There is a sense of a perpetual mourning in Fly. I’m sorry, my characters do not believe in humanity.

JF: Your book draws a lot on the anti-capitalist movement in Canada and issues of police brutality and draconian tactics. In Canada, tactics like Bill 78 or Ontario’s “secret” fence law have been legislated. Were those protests in Carnival based on anything like the G20 or protests you’ve seen happening here in Montréal?

RH: I participated in those protests. For some communities, things have not changed. With the African-American community, these draconian laws, proclaimed or not, have always existed. Now that these laws are touching a broader segment of society, maybe we give them more importance, but they were always there. I don’t think we live in a democracy anymore. I think we’re already in a latent dictatorship in North America.

“I truly believe that there’s a large part of the elite that think democracy has become impractical for business and governance.”

The laws here are very draconian and certainly more so after 9/11. They are not widely implemented because they’re counterproductive to a capitalist economy. I think the moment they find the formula where they can still generate the same revenue for corporations and the ruling elite while exercising these draconian laws without disrupting the market, they will exercise them. It’s a very fragile situation. I think we’re going through a transition. I truly believe that a large part of the elite thinks democracy has become impractical for business and governance. And they’re planning to get rid of it. Police are becoming more and more a military force. We’ve foreseen this since the 70s.

AF: In addition to state violence, your novels also all feature gender violence. In De Niro’s Game and Cockroach, you have these protagonists who are in complicated relationships with women. And sometimes they do strike women. It’s not excused by the novel, but it’s also not easily demonized. Could you speak a little to gender violence in those two novels and how it changes with Fly, a defender of women and transgender people?

RH: You know, war does not leave anyone intact, and nor do despotic regimes. The state oppresses man, man oppresses woman, woman oppresses kids, etc. That chain. Am I advocating it? No. Not at all. The women in my novels are very defiant and strong. They’re fighters of their own. They take fights. And they stand up to men. They’re sexually independent. They’re sexually liberated. In De Niro’s Game, Rana takes a gun and points it at a Bassam. In Cockroach, when Shohreh tells the narrator to stop, and he keeps on going, she beats him up. They’re fighters. They’re not submissive. They’re not there to be victims. I model the women in my novels after the women in my family, my mother and my aunts. I watched my mother through the war [The Lebanese Civil War]. These things have to be visible, and these stories have to be told. They’re part of the lives of the majority of the globe. Women are still oppressed. They are always fighting. It’s a different experience. I can’t write a novel tiptoeing over these things. I don’t think it would be honest as a writer or honest to my own experiences.

AF: I know you’re not advocating that people go out and take revenge on people who have done them wrong, but you set up this plot in which Shohreh has no other recourse for justice. If she wants to have recompense for the violence done to her, she has to take it herself. There’s no court that she can to appeal to. Is that a reality in the globalized world? What draws you to the revenge narrative?

RH: I guess I’m not a Christian writer. Pardon is not part of my writing—pardon is a Christian notion that was introduced into the world. It’s admirable. In that sense, I am more of a Nietzschean. There are a lot of people who just can’t forgive. I don’t lecture to convey any kind of morality. For the most of the world, it’s probably still an eye for an eye. It’s the most natural and primal existence. Christianity is a luxury.

JF: It seems like it would be hard to read Shohreh’s tale and say that she should forgive her rapist.

RH: But for me, the revenge was an act of love. The narrator was there; he helped her. It was an act of redemption in memory of his sister. I know the end came very briskly, and I was criticized for that. But I think violence is something that comes very suddenly. Violence is such a fast thing that happens. Even when it’s planned, it has this velocity that has always fascinated me. Hitting someone in the face or a bomb exploding—it has a different velocity. With the novel rushing to its end, I was portraying the temporality of the violence as opposed to a more gradual attainment. Love probably can be gradual. Building can be gradual. Everything that has some goodness to it tends to be more gradual. But violence has a different speed to it. And that’s why I rushed toward the end. And I think I did it in Carnival, too, at the end.

JF: You’ve said that you didn’t want it to seem like a mystery novel despite having murders dispersed through the whole book.

RH: That segment of the book was also a reference to Roberto Bolaño. Like I said, some of the stories in the novel are a reference to some other stories in books of literature. But I think Bolaño in those few pages is much more prominent and obvious as a reference. I probably should have tamed it or camouflaged it more like I did with the others. But sometimes you can’t. Dickens is there. Great Expectations. The bearded lady beats Pip. Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room is there. The Way of the White Folks by Langston Hughes is there. The magic carpet, well, we all know that reference. There are all these references to these classics as well as books and writers who tend to have political views of the world. It’s an homage to a certain kind of literature and maybe a farewell as well. Who knows?

AF: Do you feel like your writing is often misrepresented because it often does have these violent and sexual elements?

RH: Am I misrepresented? I don’t think I was ever engaged in an intellectual way—I mean in the public arena or in the media for that matter. I think there is this whole “seek the autobiographical” attitude at the expense of the work. But that is almost a given when it comes to minority writers. The wider expectation from the public is either a folkloric work or a journalistic work. Apologize, explain yourself and your culture, ethnicity, etc., or do that dance that you do so well. In a sense, when I write a work that references literature, it is not an indulgence on my part but a statement, a refusal.

“I think there is this whole seek the autobiographical attitude, at the expense of the work. But that is almost a given when it comes to minority writers.

Defiance against certain perceptions and expectations. That’s the mentality, the new approach to literature. Many publishers, agents, and editors are all panicking a bit because technology is changing, the market is changing. So they’re trying to be as aggressive and entertaining as possible. And personal stories matter particularly in Canada. It is appalling.

JF: They sell very well.

RH: They sell very well, but I think it’s a desperate attempt to sell books.

JF: It seems like a shame that it’s being marketed at the expense of being discussed.

RH: Yes, definitely. And I think this has contributed to the disappearance of independent bookstores. Independent bookstores loved books. So it seemed at the time that a writer could have a readership, small or big; now it’s different. That’s the tragedy. You can disappear in a week. You can spend five years writing a book, and if it’s not nominated and you don’t have some kind of hook for it, your work is gone. The thing with independent store owners—or that kind of independent culture in general—is that it was more egalitarian. Because they loved books, they thought of themselves as discoverers and archivists. That culture is disappearing. I don’t think there are bookstores anymore, I think there are gift stores. And I think it’s offensive for someone like these big chains to call themselves bookstores—they’re gift stores. Books are a consequence of something else. They have a history of reading.

JF: There are a few left, but they are few and far between.

RH: Yes, there are a few left.

JF: An independent bookseller is a sort of—I don’t want to say tastemaker—but they can push books that they have a personal attachment to, and authors can create a small readership that way instead of being entirely lost on the shelves or not being distributed at all.

RH: It’s a subjective choice for sure, but it’s a subjective choice coming from a love of books, a love of literature, and a love for readers. It’s educated.

JF: Educated, and also coming out of a place of genuine love.

RH: Sure.

JF: I also wanted to ask you a question perhaps peripheral to your work. There are a couple of instances in Cockroach where the protagonist wants to go up onto the rooftops in his neighbourhood, but he’s unable to do that—he says he “just wants to look at the stars.” And then in Carnival, Fly is crossing the lawn of a large tower and he describes it as a shooting ground, as a kind of fortification. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about public space and what you think are the problems with it.

RH: Well, public space is controlled. Again, we go back to this hidden despotism that exists now, which is a part of the public space. Now, it is becoming more and more controlled with cameras and technologies of surveillance. We’re being observed, and our movements are very confined; we’re becoming more and more like cattle going along city streets.

“We’re herd animals, we’re pack animals. When you choose to leave the pack, you’re cut off from wealth, you’re cut off from the benefits and security.”

All my protagonists live in cities, but they have a problematic relationship with cities. They don’t know nature. They’re always aware of the constraints that exist in big cities. Cities eventually get civilizational (if you want to call them civilized places). Historically, they get attacked by the people or tribes on the peripheries. I am referring here to Ibn Khaldoun, the 12th century Islamic scholar who wrote about this in his book, Al-Muqaddimah, and forgive me, but at this moment I can’t help but think of the Mayor Rob Ford phenomena. Maybe that is the cost of renewal. Renewal can also come by means of violence; so does regression. For instance, look at Genghis Khan—he detested “civilization,” and he detested cities, and that is why his empire never materialized: he was not interested in becoming a citoyen. He thought of cities as something filthy and ugly. These collisions and the inevitable mergers between the periphery and the metropolis periodically recur.

I think the best literature is literature that has experienced the ambiguity of violence, transitions and transformation—for instance what is called littérature du terroir. In Québec, there was an exodus from the peripheries to the city; people came from the village to the cities, and their children lived in between rural and urban culture. This eventually led to la revolution tranquille. Mordecai Richler is a good example: he came from a poor, exiled community, and he endured hardship, but he was educated, so he witnessed a world through its binaries and its mergers.

AF: And he could see the break between the old, working-class world and the new, middle-class one.

RH: Yes. I think my characters are always in this zone of change between poverty and education. They tend to come from the working class, but at the same time, they’re educated (if not cultured). I like these combinations.

AF: A lot of the antagonists in your books are actually these sorts of vaguely harmless but somewhat sinister and naïve middle-class people—like Genevieve in Cockroach—who don’t seem to get the world they’re living in. That naïvety seems to come out especially with your North American characters …

RH: Less in Carnival, though.

AF: Less in Carnival, but in Carnival again, a lot of the characters who really seem to know what’s going on are either people who have been historically marginalized (like Otto and Aisha) or they’re immigrants—and not all the immigrants are savvy—but there does seem to be this underlying sense of—

RH: Class.

AF: Yeah, that class matters, and all these people who are born into the middle class and live in the middle class and are comfortable there seem to be blind in certain ways.

RH: I have experienced both. Again, I will refer to my own family’s history, for I guess biographical details are inevitable. I have experienced many classes in my life. My father and my mother aspired to become middle class, and to a certain degree, they succeeded. Their parents came from small villages. They were working class, but my parents were educated because of circumstances in Lebanon at the time when many European missions, schools, and universities were established. So there was a sudden influx of people from the mountains to Beirut. And some of the newcomers’ sons and daughters, educated in French, English, and Arabic schools, formed the educated middle class. This need to assert a European pseudo-bourgeoisie was a bit flagrant, and I rebelled against it. But that was also the period that produced great culture and writing in Lebanon. Then the war broke out, and we experienced all kinds of hardships.

“I think the best literature is literature that has experienced and is aware of, or part of, the ambiguity of violence, transitions and transformation … ”

I left Lebanon for New York and I became a working class labourer with a good education. I spoke French, I had already read a great amount of French literature, and I had been exposed to Arabic poetry and Arabic philosophy as a kid.

I am now realizing that I came from a very syncretic culture. Especially coming from that region, it’s a fusion of so many cultures and layers that periodically collide, merge, and surface.

But in New York, I lived as a worker. I worked in warehouses and cafés in poor neighbourhoods for years, and I held other jobs. Back in the 80s, it seemed like everyone was an illegal worker.

JF: The narrator in Cockroach is very afraid of belonging and associates it with being an oppressor and depriving other people. Talking about that, you’ve spoken positively about Montréal’s fractiousness and how many people don’t necessarily get along all the time and don’t have to. Do you think it’s easier to avoid belonging in a place that isn’t so homogenous?

RH: Probably, yeah. That freedom comes from carefulness, too. There are always these compromises, but within these compromises, somewhere you tend to have a bit of freedom. Almost in the cracks, you find your own way to live an eccentric life. Because nobody is paying attention.

AF: You can compartmentalize your life.

RH: Totally.

AF: I come from a small town, and I’ve found that when you move to the city you do have that freedom, but it comes at a cost, and it’s the cost of loneliness. You don’t have a community that understands every part of you, and you always have people who have one kind of contact but who don’t see other parts of you. It seems like all of your characters struggle with that—maybe because they’ve rejected the idea that there is some kind of god watching over them; they are just themselves, navigating the world. And that loneliness is a profound part of what makes them who they are.

RH:  I think loneliness is the price you pay for not belonging. It’s a heavy price. But I also think that my characters are existentialists: they’ve lost all kinds of belief, and they’re totally subjective. You can’t have a subjective existence if you’re part of a group. A group demands objectivity; it demands restraint and order. But yes, it’s gone, it’s completely gone—my characters are all on the margins. They’re going against the nature of what a human ought to be. We’re pack animals. When you choose to leave the pack, you’re cut off from wealth, you’re cut off from the benefits and security. Yes, many of my characters are freaks. I just realized that.

JF: A couple of months ago you published “A Letter to a Neighbour” for the CBC.

RH: Oh wow. Yeah. I’m going to regret that. I did this for money—I insisted that they bribe me first. There is something mercantile about me, and that fear of poverty surfaces once in awhile.

JF: I will save the criticism for later. To begin, you do just mention this neighbourhood (Mile End) changing and your landlord (whether this is true or not) trying to raise the rent.

RH: Yes, that’s based on reality.

JF: I just wanted to ask if gentrification can be seen as part of that same process of control and exploitation that you talked about with public space. It does sort of creep over our neighbourhood as wealthier people start to move in. I just wanted to ask you about the specifics of what you’re seeing here. How does this process work its way out in Mile End?

RH: Yes, that’s happening—gentrification is happening. Most of the artists are leaving. I think what’s offensive about it is the bourgeoisie who want to associate themselves with culture without being a part of culture or meaningfully contributing to it. You know, to be an artist or a writer there are sacrifices to be made. This desire for the bourgeoisie to be in the company of people who are creating and who are perceived as being “cool.” Yeah, it is gentrifying. My landlord wants me to leave. He’s already sent me an eviction notice. I don’t know what else to say.

JF: So, more about the piece itself: there was a comment online that turned out to be from a former professor of mine, Norman Ravvin.

RH: Yeah, he probably dissected it. I didn’t read the comments, of course.

JF: One thing that he said, and I’m not sure that I agree, but he says,

This is part of a long, troubling tradition of responses to Chassidim, their relationship to the mainstream, the impact of having them as neighbours. It reflects a particular background on the part of the writer, as well as the way people in Canadian neighbourhoods who live side by side without having any knowledge of each other.

Is this a fair criticism? Do you talk to any of your neighbours?

RH: I do talk to my neighbours. I have a big community here. It’s like a little village here. It’s like a village but without the intrusion into your life that comes with living in a small village. It’s a non-judgmental existence, and it’s kind of utopia for me. I see somebody, and I talk to them; they never ask me who I’m fucking or if I’ve prayed or whatever.

JF: It’s not so intrusive.

RH: It’s not so intrusive. Of course there is a fascination [with the Chassidim], and of course, a community that decides to live in exclusion is totally legitimate, but it’s also legitimate for me and others to wonder about it, and it’s also legitimate for me to explore it. It’s an intellectual, artistic, human curiosity on my part.

“There are a lot of things I disagree with in my own ethnic community that I am critical of, too.”

There’s no judgment there, but at the same time, we meet at a certain place, we’re sharing the same geography, and we all pay taxes for a certain purpose. They could well have an indirect political impact on my existence and vice versa. At the same time, there are multiple communities here, including a progressive artistic community. In my opinion, we should all meet in a secular arena regardless of culture or beliefs. But that’s a wider topic that has always existed in secular, multicultural societies. You’re bound to have these divides if not tensions. It’s a small price to pay.

AF: One of the refreshing things about your work is your willingness to take a stand about something and say, “Yes, we live in a multicultural society, but that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with you about these things.”

RH: Of course.

AF: In Canada, we’ve dealt with multiculturalism by not talking about certain things.

RH: I say it in CarnivalI say that we are capable of violence, that everyone is capable of violence. There are a lot of things I disagree with in my own ethnic community that I am critical of, too. I take an open stand on certain issues. Like every humanist should.

JF: I apologize, but I have a completely autobiographical question for you.

RH: That’s fine. I secretly like it.

JF: I wanted to know: when you were a taxi driver, were you a fly or a spider?

RH: Oh, definitely a fly! What do you two write? I didn’t Google you. Was that rude?

JF: Poetry and non-fiction.

RH: Poets are intimidating. They’re smart. I’ve never met a stupid poet—I mean a genuine poet. They’re deep. I don’t know if they’re smarter but they’re very intimidating for novelists although novelists make all the money.

JF: I think your novels have a comparable depth to them.

RH: I hope so, but sometimes I wonder because in Canada, I only get questions about, you know, biography.


André Forget is a staff writer at The Puritan and managing editor at Whether MagazineHe lives in Toronto. Jason Freure co-edited “Littered T.O.,” a supplement to The Puritan Issue 26: Summer 2014. His reviews have appeared on the Town Crier and in Lemon Hound.