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Non-toxic Poetry
Profile by Sean McQuaid

Julie Bruck

Julie Bruck oughtta be in pictures-and in a sense, she is. The Montreal-based poet has become well-known for writing what she describes as "visual poems [with] a lot of concrete imagery, specific detail." Enthusiastic reaction to those visuals has sent her first book, The Woman Downstairs, into a third printing.

Despite this success, Bruck confesses that she came to poetry "as a failed visual artist." She studied photography as an undergraduate, but gradually realized she was "much better with word pictures." Besides, she adds, photography entails hazardous chemicals. "Poetry's non-toxic."

During her futile pursuit of visual arts, Bruck took an undergraduate prose class and realized that the "salvageable parts of her stories" could be converted to poems. She took more classes, took some time off and eventually earned an MFA in Creative Writing.

Julie wrote all the while, suffering many rejections by publishers before successfully appearing in magazines such as The New Yorker. She urges beginning writers to resist discouragement, citing the many competitions and publications open to them. The opportunities are there, but they demand persistence.

Bruck published her first book in 1993 after realizing that her body of work had certain consistent themes and subject matter suitable for compilation. "It's comparable to when your eyes adjust to the dark," she explains, "seeing the outline of a shape."

The book was nine years in the making, reinforcing Bruck's snail-like self image. "I'm slow," she says, "and I'm also a terrible perfectionist. I'm getting faster now, but I don't think I'm ever prolific."

Bruck's poetry yields more than keen visuals. She is fascinated by urban life-ranging from relationships to parking problems-and human interaction with technology. One of her favourite anecdotes involves a man who was scouting parking spaces on foot while communicating with his wife in their car via cellular phone. When he found a space, "It was like he won the lottery."

Julie says there is conflict in her poetry, primarily the battle of realism and desire. She recognizes a parallel between this and the ongoing Quebec sovereignty debate, though this theme is often unconscious on her part. The separatist movement has a constant presence in her life, and the current support for sovereignty perplexes and exasperates her.

"I'm so fed up and happy to be away from it," she says of the sovereignty referendum campaign. "And yet, this argument has been going on as long as I've been alive. It's so much a part of me." Though she considers her book tour a welcome reprieve, she will return home in time to cast her no vote.

Politics aside, Julie's immediate ambitions are simple: finding more time for writing and compiling a second book. She already has enough material, but hasn't found a satisfactory unifying thread yet.

For now, she is savouring her first book's success. She expected few people apart from family and friends to purchase it, and was pleasantly surprised by the positive response from the general public. "That's when you know you've done your job," she beams.

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