Cull taps into his inner ‘Animal’

Bookmarks spotlights the personalities and published books of faculty, staff and alumni.

Today, City of London Poet Laureate Tom Cull, author of Bad Animals, answers questions on his ‘bookishness’ and writing.

Cull, an American Studies and Writing Studies professor, was born and raised in rural Southwestern Ontario. He is a poet, community organizer and active participant in the city’s arts scene. As a poet, Cull strives to write poems that are accessible, open to diverse groups and engaged with the socio-political-environmental realities of our world. His poems comprise a wide variety of poetic forms, from traditional lyric to spoken word to experimental language.

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What book do we find you reading tonight?

I’m reading David Huebert’s collection of short stories, Peninsula Sinking. I am a big fan of Dave’s poetry, and I love how his poetic voice speaks through his fiction. It is a fantastic book. Dave has guest-lectured in my Nature Writing course (Writing 399. You’re a Strange Animal: Writing Nature, Writing the Self) and he has been an important literary peer – especially as my work and his share an interest in ecology, animals, and environmental apocalypse.

How do you decide what to read? Reviews, word of mouth, maybe occasionally judge a book by its cover?

All of the above and more. I don’t really have a coherent decision-making process. Sometimes I read something because I want to teach it; sometimes I read something because I buy the book at a book launch. It is all quite haphazard.

Name one book you wish you had written. And why.

I wish I had written Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. Robinson is an amazing writer and thinker, and her voice is so sure-footed and revelatory.

Name one book you could never finish. And why.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Why? Have you seen that thing? It is massive. I tried three times. I’ll keep trying although the joke is definitely on me.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

People would be shocked to know I am still using the 4th edition of the MLA handbook.

Any genres you avoid? And why.

I avoid self-help; it seems paradoxical. Which reminds me of a joke I made up. Q: What genre is most popular with IKEA furniture? A: Shelf Help.

What sort of objects are must-haves in your writing environment?

Empty coffee mugs, chewed pens, ear plugs, computer, air conditioning, window (with a view of at least one tree).

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

The three writers I would invite would be Herman Melville, Marylyn Robinson, Djuna Barnes, Flannery O’Connor, Samuel Beckett, Elizabeth Bishop, and Colson Whitehead. And Annie Dillard. And Oscar Wilde.

How do you explain what your latest book is about to them?

I would tell them that that the book is about them imagined as animals (which, of course, they are).

What is the best line you have ever written?

The Manatee is smug.

Who would you want to write your life story?

Cormac McCarthy keeps bugging me to do it, so I’ll probably just let him. He’s got that really zany sense of humour that I think will really work.

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Bad Animals by Tom Cull (Insomniac Press, $20) is available through The Book Store at Western.