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Xtra Xposed – Billeh Nickerson

The Vancouver International Writers Festival is about to kick into full gear and in preparation for this month's writerly shenanigans, a good friend of mine has agreed to participate in this latest installment of Xtra Xposed.

Billeh Nickerson is a Vancouver legend. Author, entertainer,
host, editor, columnist, journalist, critic, professor, spoken word
performer, heartbreaker…you name it, he's done it. Here's what he has to say about his new collection of poetry and life as a literatzi:

1) Which do you prefer: pickles or hot fudge sundaes with nuts?

Are you
asking me to choose between a condiment and a dessert? Really now. The
fucking sundae.

2) Do you know what’s in Chicken Sauce and why the world’s favourite condiment didn’t make the final cut to your collection?

Isn’t the world’s favourite condiment soy sauce? Sometimes a sauce is just a sauce.

3) How long did you work at the restaurant in question? 

worked at a particularly well-know fast food restaurant for a year and
a half during my last year of high school and a bit afterward.

4) At which location?

In Langley, the same location that Ryan Steele, a local Vancouver bon-vivant worked at as well.

What did you win Outstanding Employee for and what responsibilities
came with your newfound fame?

I worked my ass off and for that I got
teased by rocker dudes who’d make fun of my employee of the month photo
on the wall.

6) Did you also win employee of the month/year as

Dude, it was the employee of the month. July 1989. Twenty years
ago. I was only six months old when I worked there. It’s quite a
miracle now when I think about it.

7) Your thoughts on late night sex at fast-food restaurants? Tips?

You’d probably have more luck taking food with you to a bathhouse. Isn’t Home Depot the late night cruising spot?

Customer service representatives as performers is a reoccurring topic
in your collection, which is fitting especially considering Vancouver’s
world renown entertainment industry…how did this shape/prepare you to
be an entertainer?

I hadn’t thought of that. Hmmm, well, it
gets you used to being on stage—and on a stage where folks may not
really like you. It’s also so ripe with life and content for stories.
Even if I hadn’t written about it specifically in a book, the
experience would have seeped into my work somehow.

9) What compelled you to write this collection?

2 million Canadians eat at a fast food restaurant each day and it
struck me as odd that nobody wanted to write about that experience
without hyper-politicizing it. I was also intrigued to match the
so-called high art of poetry with the low art of fast food. Plus, in
all my years of teaching and editing, I can only think of one poem that
I’ve encountered on this subject.

10) What sort of responsibility do you feel as a gay author to write about gay themes?

always a tough question as I’ve often written about gay stuff, but I
don’t believe that gay writers should have to. I think it’s dangerous
to thrust that onus onto people. There’s always a portion of the
community who thinks you’re betraying them if you don’t right about gay
themes. And then there’s the straight folks that think you can only
write about gay themes as well. It’s funny, nobody asks the straight
folks about straight themes or the white folks about white themes.
Apparently only otherness has a responsibility.

McPoems is a bit of a departure from The Asthmatic Glassblower and Let
Me Kiss It Better… as the poems don’t address queer lifestyle or queer
themes. Was this a conscious choice and if so, why?

strange for me as part of my MFA thesis was on the Titanic, so the jump
to not obviously queer work, didn’t feel so great. To be honest, I
wanted to try something that wasn’t so heavily reliant on the
first-person confessional. I’m calling it my mom friendly book, which I
suppose isn’t giving moms enough credit. But it was the first one that
I felt comfortable sharing with her. It’s hard to show your mom blowjob
poems. Other moms, fine, but not your own mom.

A senior writer once
told me that artists learn in public. That stuck with me. When we try
something new everyone knows about it. What feels natural to me may
seem a bigger deal than it actually is to others.

Would you say that there is a long tradition of culinary creative
literature or are you breaking new ground in Canadian poetic cicles?

think that food usually takes on a fetishistic quality in literature,
especially when the subject matter delves into colonialist themes. I’m
not familiar with folks presenting fast food in this manner though.
There’s satisfaction in the experience, but it’s a very public
experience and less obviously intimate than the ones people usually
encounter when they read.

13) Author, entertainer,
host, editor, columnist, journalist, critic, professor, spoken word
performer, heartbreaker… am I forgetting anything?


14) Where have you toured/where are you touring in support of McPoems?

Writers Festival, Wordfest in Banff/Calgary, Toronto Word on the
Street, The Pilot in Montreal and then readings all through the year.
Is so much nicer to do readings and perform in front of people than having to text your poems to them.

15) Advice for anyone currently considering a career with fast food giant?

Get a union job. And if you can’t remember that the job will look good on a resume.

You’re coming to Vancouver to read at the Vancouver International
Writers and Readers Festival…where can Vancouverites see you perform?

be reading at two events called “Word!” on Wednesday October 21st at 10
AM and Thursday the 22nd at 1 PM. I’ll also been doing some school gigs
and hosting. Check out the full schedule at

17) You also teach creative writing at Kwantlen
Polytechnic University in Vancouver. How difficult is it to balance
teaching and writing and did your experience as a teacher influence

I love teaching and sharing my experiences with
my students. Sometimes that means I don't get to write as much as I'd
like, but the rewards are more than a fair trade-off. I think being
around so many younger vibrant individuals inspired me to try something
new. I hope they like it!

18) In my
experience attending and performing at literary festivals and smaller
local readings, the ratio between women to men is probably about 5:1. I
also believe that very few of the men who do attend these events are
gay. What are your thoughts on this?

It used to be that
gay men read more than the straight guys, but I'm not so sure about
that now. I'm not sure if it's a content issue or cultural or a flaw in
the education system. I love my women readers, though I do wonder about
the men. Perhaps it's as easy as reading more to our sons and nephews
and neighbourhood kids. I'm hoping McPoems intrigues a few of the guys
to read more.

It may be as simple as putting warning labels on
books that say that not reading will shrink your dink. Man, would guys
read then. 

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