The Small Machine Talks to Dennis Cooley, Episode 69

The Small Machine Talks to Dennis Cooley

Recorded on November 12, 2020

Dennis Cooley was raised near Estevan, Saskatchewan. Retired English professor from the University of Manitoba, he resides in Winnipeg. He is a founding editor of Turnstone Press. He has three new books out this year: The Bestiary and Cold-Press Moon from Turnstone Press and The Muse Sings from At Bay Press, both presses in Manitoba.

Dennis reads a poem and talks about each book.


We start with the cover of the book, and the interior art. I talk about reading all of Dennis’ books over about two weeks and mention Irene and This Only Home in particular.

Irene. Winnipeg: Turnstone, 2000.

this only home. Winnipeg: Turnstone, 1992.         

We talk about Robert Kroetsch. We discuss the pleasure of sound, the theory of how language comes from imitating sounds. We talk about the imagery and how the simile is a disgraced trope these days, writing and experience as mediation of the world. Dennis mentions an anthology called Inscriptions he edited, the idea of writing in the world.

the home place: essays on Robert Kroetsch. Edmonton: U of Alberta, 2016.

The Vernacular Muse. Winnipeg: Turnstone, 1987.

We talk about the prairies in the book, the varied and flourishing landscape of the prairie. We muse about poems about winter, few poems written about them.

the bentleys. Edmonton: U of Alberta Press, 2006

country music. Vernon, B.C.; Kalamalka, 2004

We talk about the inclusion of speech and prairies as a form of resistance. Dennis discusses the difference between print and oral cultures, third and second person vs the lyric first person.

The Bestiary is a book of playful, humorous, and moving poems that evoke mortality, communication and living in the now. Through word play and imagery that engages the senses, Dennis Cooley is attentive to the small moments and movements as seen in close up sketches of animals, memories and places. I have many, many dog-ears in the book for poems that delighted me, made me laugh, evoked sadness, tenderness, joy.


We discuss Seeing Red, Dennis’ book about Dracula. I ask about what makes Dennis write in other voices. Dennis talks about Shakespeare’s dramatic monologues. We discuss puns, vampire books such as those by Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Angela Carter’s book, but mostly he relied on imagination and memory of the fairy tales.

seeing red. Winnipeg: Turnstone, 2003

goldfinger. Winnipeg: staccato, 1995.

Dennis talks about bringing the contemporary into the book, the clicking on of the porch light for Hansel and Gretel, as a way to renew the stories.

We talk about the way in which Dennis includes a character named Cooley in this book and other works. An idea he got from Tom Wayman.

Cold-Press Moon is a mesmerizing collection of poems made from fairy and folk tales retold from the perspective of the characters in the stories. In this work, Dennis Cooley creates vivid and cinematic scenes that make this reader feel as if she is in the middle of the story. The poems are infused with startling and original imagery, contemporary references, empathy, eroticism and humour.

The Muse Sings (At Bay Press, 2020)

Dedications – Link

We talk about the naming in the book and in Dennis’ other books. Dennis talks about how Kroetsch said they couldn’t see themselves in their own literature.

We talk about word play in the book.

abecedarium. Edmonton: University of Alberta, 2014.

We discuss word games and games like pool and tennis in the book. We talk about the trickster as keeping people off balance in the book. Dennis discusses loving nonsense and the plasticity of language. He talks about language as a site of play, language and deceit, supposition, speculation to adapt rather than remain in a fixed state.

I talk about the different portraits of the muse. Dennis mentions the speaker as being bewildered, uncertain and off balance.

I talk about Lorca’s concept of the duende.

The Muse Sings echoes of Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Hank Snow, Cleopatra, the Apple Computer Store guy, collaborations in the form of dedications and homages to writers, explores the act of naming and being named, the relationship between the writer and inspiration, sometimes treating the muse as a lover who has rejected advances, or a mother who offers comfort or as a companion to play games with: crossword puzzles, word games, as the seeker and revealer of secrets,  as a complainer who scolds the writer for mistreatment of the muse.

The Muse Sings

Dennis will be launching the Muse Sings at McNally Robinson in early December.

Links to Interviews and Videos

Launch of the three books w/ Nathan Dueck at McNally Robinson

Interview with Jonathan Ball

Interview with Sean Moreland – 17 Seconds

19 questions on process

Interview with Jonathan Ball, 2003

mini-interview October, 18 2020

Playing the Field:  An Interview with Dennis Cooley, by Lea Graham, 2010

rob mclennan, Dennis Cooley’s fictions: “love in a dry land”


an interview with Dennis Cooley by rob mclennan

Thanks to Dennis Cooley for being on the show, to the publishers: Turnstone Press, At Bay Press and Kalamalka Press for copies of books, to Charles for processing, to Jennifer Pederson for the theme song, and to all of you for listening and sharing the episode. Stay tuned for the next episodes with Sacha Archer and Pearl Pirie this month, Frances Boyle, and a special episode on the poetic elements of music in December featuring amazing musician Subhraj Singh.