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Wordsmith Extraordinaire, Jeff Bursey

Jeff Bursey (novelist, playwright, book reviewer, critical thinker…) spent much of this past October in Germany. He went after being invited to read from his Verbatim: A Novel (Enfield & Wizenty, 2010) at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (in Munich) and Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz (in Germersheim).

Jeff Bursey
Photo by Lee Thompson

Bursey’s novel has garnered much praise, including:  
“…a clever, highly innovative and highly readable novel. The satire is sharp, sometimes hilarious, the language perfectly suited to the subject,” from Wayne Johnston (author of the 2013 Giller-nominated The Son of a Certain Woman).
“Bursey's reproduction of speech patterns and over-the-top hyperbole of Canadian parliament filtered through the arcane editorial processes of Hansard is note-perfect… Bursey's inventiveness and integrity to the style and cause of his satire breathes new life into a stale theme,” from Corey Redekop (author of Husk, shortlisted for the 2013 ReLit Award).

Verbatim: A Novel (which describes a fictional Atlantic Canadian legislature and its corrupt, even vicious, practices, with an intellectually humorous tone) was inspired by Bursey’s time working as a transcriber for the Newfoundland & Labrador Hansard. The author embraced the spirit of his book during his readings before the German students and faculty with a distinctively interactive approach:

In both cases I got the audience involved, calling out as they do in the Bundestag and in the House of Commons, ‘Oh, oh!’ and ‘Hear, hear!’” shares Bursey. “This seemed an easier thing to do for the audience in Munich as there was an open bar. Such participation allows people to enter into the spirit of the book, if only temporarily, as well as to do something instead of sitting passively while I read.”

Bursey also had time to explore, take pleasure and observe during his time overseas.
Germany offered many new sights, customs, old buildings and artworks not seen except in books, and the constant encounter with an old country,” shares Bursey. “…Maybe more finely, but still somewhat familiar, the removal of English as a language first spoken by others established a perimeter separating other people’s thoughts from mine. We’re too much involved, each day, with what other people are thinking when, for example, while eating at a restaurant someone at another table Skypes with his girlfriend and they conduct their conversation at a louder than normal volume. In Germany people were talking in the same way, but what they said was very rarely understood, so I could get a rest, if you will, from hearing English, and could simply listen, if I chose, to language as sound waves. That would be, I see now, a highlight.”

Bursey adds, “In addition, I went to Berlin and Frankfurt, and enjoyed the company of friends and the experience of walking along cobbled streets and seeing names of places and so on that before were only ever read about. Like other people, I suppose, it seemed, especially while I was a passenger in an electric car navigating the streets of Paris or on a tram in Munich, that a Matt Damon movie could break out at any moment. If Franka Potente has suddenly appeared that would have been a definite highlight.”

Originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Bursey has been living in Charlottetown (which he describes as “a good place for fiction writers and excellent for poets” with “lots of shared interests among writers, and encouragement”) since 2000.

His literary passion and talent fills many forms, in addition to novels, including plays, short stories, essays and book reviews. His works have been featured in numerous publications, from Big Other, Literary Review of Canada, American Book Review and The Winnipeg Review (where he serves as contributing editor) to Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal, Riddle Fence and Riptides: New Island Fiction.

“Since the form is the content, as others have said, the idea for a piece of creative work must coexist with how it’s going to be set down,” explains Bursey. “Variety is good for writers. It’d be nice to be like Lee Thompson of New Brunswick, a fiction writer who’s also a musician with CDs out. He can switch from the solitude of the study to a stage. Chris Eaton is another writer and musician. That’s an enviable range, and talent.”

Last December, Bursey finished writing a novel-- Unidentified man at left of photo—which is currently doing the rounds. You can get a taste of the tale from this video where Bursey reads from a scene that has him playing the role of a hurricane:

After finishing a long fiction project I take a break from writing in that way for a while,” says Bursey. “Right now I’m writing a couple of book reviews, as well as preparing to write something long on Henry Miller and something longer on Gabriel Josipovici. Earlier this month a one-act play of mine was read by a local theatre group that’s looking for scripts for their performances next year.”

Equally as eclectic as the forms of Bursey’s works are the themes he explores; and one intriguing quality of this author is his opposition to restriction or classification in terms of traditional structure, a writer’s process, his or her environment…he challenges literary expectations, rebels against the status quo, and embraces the true freedom of creativity. Unidentified man’s narrator asking readers to come up with their own names for characters, Bursey acknowledging that readers can in fact offer additional insights into an author’s intentions, and his aversion to there being set templates for literary critiques and reviews, are key examples of how he values free speech and expression via the written word.

“When I wrote Verbatim: A Novel in the mid-1990s I was very interested in the issue of governance, and the role citizens have to play in understanding how people elected to a legislature do their jobs when in public,” says Bursey. “Other issues that have interested me include art, sex, religion, the freedom to write however one wants as an author—no requirement for the three-act structure, for plot, for resolutions, for a small cast, for conflict, unless one wants those things—and, always, humour. We’re too sober in our writing at times. Humour isn’t a theme for most people, perhaps, but it’s important for me.” ~ AE

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