Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Annexed big thing

Last week Catherine McNamara invited me to take part in The Next Big Thing. Catherine is a novelist and short story writer whose collection 'Pelt and Other Stories' is coming out with Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2013. Please take some time to peruse Cat's sites.

“The Next Big Thing is a great way to network with fellow writers and to find out a bit more about what they're working on. The idea is fairly simple. You, the writer, answer a standard(ish) set of 10 questions on your blog one week then ask up to five other authors (whose work you like and you think might be The Next Big Thing) to answer the same questions the next week.”

What is the title of your next book?
I’m currently working on a novel, but I’m too superstitious to talk about that before it’s completed, so I’m going to tell you about the collected short fiction I have out on submission: ‘Songs from a Room’.

Where did the idea for the book come from?
I had been putting together a different group of stories, pieces that had been listed in competitions such as the 'Sean O’ Faolain International Short Story Prize', or published individually, with a mind to submitting to the Scott Prize. Those were stories that had been written over a number of years and though some were linked, and all evidenced a continuation of the same themes, I felt I could write something much stronger, more like a novel in scope, but with the variety and intensity that only short stories can offer. I wanted to push the form. Reportage, social media, poetry, folk songs, and hymns evidence some other forms I wanted to play with. So I put all my ideas into a notebook, with mail shots and graphics and clippings and newspaper articles and all manner of things that were pushing me to write about them and had been pushing at me for a long time, and the collection took shape.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
An international ensemble is needed with lots of interesting ladies and gents of all ages. There are some stunts to take into consideration when casting, but I think Phoebe Tonkins would be ace as Psyche, and I’d love Dominic West to play the 'Man Who Talks to Books', and Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie would have to star too. Caroline Gage would play herself. A cameo from Leonard Cohen is definitely in order. Plus a few, as they say in Auckland, ‘unknowens’.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Listen with your eyes.

Will your book be self-published or published by an agency?
Ideally, ‘Songs from a Room’ will be published by the small press of my choice, renowned for producing beautiful and inspiring books, but I’m a creative thinker and anything’s possible. One idea I had was to hire actors to read the stories and sell the collection as an audio work.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Because I planned the whole collection out in advance, the first draft took about four months.
I took a gamble entering untried stories into a major first collection competition. That said, I knew these stories were better than any others I’d written; when push came to shove, I wasn’t prepared to patch-up old work and force links to pad out the few excellent pieces I had, or send sub-standard stories out to represent me. I wanted to create a piece of art. I think I have.

The title story has just been accepted for publication in the New Zealand journal Brief, along with another from the collection, and the second story, ‘The Angel of the Warmth’ made the shortlist of the Bristol Prize, earlier this year, so it looks like the gamble’s paying off in part at least.

What other books would you compare ‘Songs from a Room’ within the genres?
I’ve done my best to defy comparison on the whole. But just prior to writing this collection, I read and was impressed by the work of Te Awhina Arahanga, Nathan Englander, David Down, Eru J. Hart, Paula Morris, Peter Stamm, Phil Kawana, and I am a fan of Annie Proulx, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, Ma Jian, and Nadine Gordimer, and if I could inhabit a space somewhere between them, I’d be very happy indeed.

Who or what inspired you to write the book?
Moose. But mostly the idea that everyone has a soundtrack: the break-up song, the clubbing song, the funeral song, etc. Put together Jason Mraz’s ‘I’m Yours’, Cat Stevens’ ‘First Cut’, and McAlmont andButler’s ‘Yes’, and you have the story arc of a first relationship, but what interested me was what other kinds of music would make those life events just as memorable. 

I’ve always been obsessed by structure, so I borrowed the framework for the collection from Leonard Cohen’s brilliant music album of the same name. The songs in this album also inspired a number of the stories, and Mr Cohen was gracious enough to give me permission to incorporate some of his lyrics in those stories. Each story riffs off its sister, building to what I hope will be a collection as memorable as your favourite album.

What else about the book might pique a reader's interest?
People who love concept albums may also like this. Interest alert all criminology undergrads, I believe I have penned the first story depicting yarn bombing.

"Now it is time to pass the baton and introduce a few writer friends (and great bloggers) who will take part in The Next Big Thing on Wednesday 19th December."

Let me introduce:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012


I interviewed both authors mentioned below when their debut poetry collections were first published earlier this year. I wrote this review around the same time, but despite my luck with getting my own individual pieces published I have had less luck placing reviews, so I'm posting this double act here for your appreciation. 

Ancient Lights (Phoenicia Publishing, 2012), Dick Jones, and Peadar O’ Donoghue’s Jewel (Salmon Poetry, 2012)


Dick Jones’ debut is titled Ancient Lights but it is the sense of sound that transfixes us in the first poem of the collection ‘Stille Nacht’. ‘On the night/ that I was born/ the bells rang out’ chimes the first stanza, comparing worship to carolling ‘In Auschwitz-Birkenau’ where ‘the story goes,/ the death’s-head guards/ sang, “Stille nacht,/ heilige nacht”’, and it is sound that transports us through the title poem and beyond.
‘Ancient Lights’ begins self-referentially, knowingly: ‘Banded light, I should remember first’ before exploding into synaesthesia. Each stanza culminates with song so that ‘The conductor haunted/ the stairs in black. We crooned’ fills us with the notion of song being history’s ghost; music therefore, Jones urges us to listen, is time’s time-traveller, a way in to the historical events through what was the primary escapism of those times. We listeners travel chronologically as linear voyeurs ‘on a dim swell of voices’ to ‘a house’ as if of creation, but here Jones reveals his conceit, ‘that’s there already,’ and is ‘free of pain/ and ghosts,’ ending inarguably with ‘fruit/ that falls and germinates/ at random when/ and where it will’, the last line tapering to a single apple drop; the sound of a full stop.
‘And time and place/ conspired:’ in ‘Mr Moore’s Wall-Clock’ evoking for this reader the school rhymes of Yorkshire and of Henry Clay Work’s ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ and Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Old, Old Song’ (though one must wonder, given the poet’s musical background, if it wasn’t Donovan’s ‘When All the World is Young’ playing through his mind when he wrote it) with such lines as ‘And the world was one green hill, the sky a net’, and ‘Time/ was a circle dance, two hands in rhyme’. The loved face in Jones’ poetry is recognition, of memory, of walls blown down, and of new beginnings built from the ruins. Each stanza pushes forward the narrative like clock workings ‘into shadow, from my midday to Mr Moore’s midnight.’
So seamlessly Jones transports us with his watchmaker’s eye from the intricate brass gears to a ‘First Eclipse’, it is easy to run full pelt through this collection with no more impediment than a child’s desire to empty out the toy box, only his language calls us to pause and marvel. The overarching themes of Ancient Lights are not new but they are brought to the reader with fresh observations and a deft touch leaving one in no doubt Dick Jones is a new talent, one only wonders why it took so long to bring him to print.
Born in war – a beginning from ruins – it is fitting Jones concludes on the moon. ‘I am elected watchman. It’s my lot’ Jones starts then turns the words with a thread of irony easy to miss but difficult not to savour: ‘[…] while man takes giant steps below’. Jones’ collection crescendos ‘like a choir triumphant’ with its song lingering long after the event has ended.
‘The Old, Old Song’ sounds again in the epigraph of Peadar O’ Donoghue’s debut collection. ‘I was never a diamond,’ he explicates, ‘not even a rough one, I can’t polish pearls of wisdom,/ but this is my jewel.’ And Jewel, the collection’s title, is much the finest metaphor one could choose to describe O’ Donoghue’s poems; each one gives the sense of its having been hoarded away for years, polished carefully before being allowed to shine. But there’s the irony for the subject matter of these poems is not what one would wish to show off ordinarily. In the title poem a drunk’s thoughts are brandished defiantly as a whore’s knickers as he personifies the river Liffey: ‘she calls to me in clamshells of desire.’ In this way the poem builds, throwing together imagery as at odds as pissing and consumption, seemingly with all the grace of a chip shop server, to justify the speaker’s ‘relief and satisfaction in equal measure.’ Far from being bawdy the poem is a tour de force in bathos in spite of its vaudeville guise.
Though seemingly pained to acknowledge it, O’ Donoghue has literary authority. In ‘Pictures and Postcards’ we glimpse: ‘Mountains to mist, Beckett to boxer to blonde’, the allusion dissolving like a cloud to the concrete of the fighter and further to the artifice of ‘blonde’. There is reserve here that comes to play as control, there is skill but it is humble; the poems in Jewel down-play themselves, in doing so they demonstrate un-showy brilliance. O’ Donoghue applies comic book humour to take cliché after cliché and crush them Superman-like to reveal the diamond inside. ‘“Stay a while” they seem to say. “Drink your coffee,/ compile this list for lesser days”’ which is surely what O’ Donoghue has been doing with this collection.
Jewel speaks of an Everyman man who has lived a place, caught in its traditions until they have become him. There’s a symbiosis here lending to a Sean O’ Casey poignancy and politics. In ‘This is a Controlled Poem’ O’ Donoghue lets slip his buffoonish masque to cane A S J Tessimond-like ‘the voice of reason’. ‘This poem’ is a rebellion such as only those who have been silenced know. ‘This poem is […]/ a neatly pressed shirt for the office on Monday.’ Duty here mirrors religious observance and ritual but in ‘The Birth of a Nation’ any spiritual intervention is dismissed. ‘It wasn’t a miracle,/ most things are born out of poverty,’ like Christ. We are reminded of this in ‘This Christmas We’. ‘Stretch the fabric of life,’ it urges, boldly, then tears its bravado to scraps, ‘reduce,/ re-use, recycle’ chanted like a drinking song.
O’ Donoghue has kept his poems in his shirt pocket it seems for half a lifetime, gems cut clean from the heart; the words of a shining talent don’t need the allusion to let you know they sparkle, they simply need to be read.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Draw off

(Picture credit: google images)

I've had an up and down couple of weeks, as noticed in my last couple of posts, but Saturday seems to have offered a condensed version of the whole month's endeavours.

I got a rejection from The New Yorker. Having made it my goal to aim higher, I found I can fall further and still get up again. And it's a good story and it was a good rejection, so plenty still to milk from the experience. Getting a story in The New Yorker just became more appealing than ever.

I went to the Armageddon Expo, for a dose of all things comics and costume. I took my daughter, and we queued for over an hour in front of the funniest trio I have ever heard. They offered running commentary on everyone's costumes and were generally the highlight of the whole afternoon. I said hullo to Adrian Kinnaird, bought Ant Sang's graphic novel, Shaolin Burning, and the very friendly Karl Wills' Princess Seppuku and the Hunt for Robot -X. I got welted by a huge plastic weapon strapped to someone's back - as they turned, it almost took me out! And velcro'd to a large passing pseudo-soldier. And charged by a large lady who appeared to be on the brink of a crowd induced panic but had in all likelihood just caught a glimpse of a dalek and wanted an autograph, almost exterminating me in the process. And my daughter got scammed by the sweet n' salty pop-corn vendor.

I came home to find an email informing me I made the shortlist of The Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize. It was a fun thing to enter because I got to choose a nom de plume - mine was Scott Falcon. I'll send a hand written poem to the person who can work out how I came up with that name. I'm thrilled to have made the shortlist, as the entries are "judged on their literary merits AND the extent to which they engage a non-scientific audience." Which is the sweetest part of all.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Leader board

Last week, I was in a bit of a sludge, having lost my focus; sometimes, writing being the solitary act it is, it's easy to feel a little alone with one's thoughts, easy to create a few negative voices for company where there really are none.

This weekend, my daughter is in Wellington, competing in the National Surf Life Championships. So far, she has won, with her team, silver and bronze medals. It's taken hard work to get there; a couple of years ago, she couldn't even swim. She doesn't complain about all the training she has to do, getting up at 5:30 am every Saturday morning when most kids her age are sleeping in, she just does it.

I'm going to take her lead.

Friday, September 28, 2012

By myself

Ages ago I started to post a graphic sequence about dyscalculia. I didn't finish it, in part, because it isn't finished - it's just more of the same, every day - another reason was because it was bringing to the fore how frustrating it is just knowing its there, cocking me up on a daily basis, and it reminded me how I'm letting it hold me back.

I'd love to do an MA, then a PhD - and the associated things, research, lecturing, papers, conferences, books, but the merest thought of schedules, timetables, funding applications, statistics, getting out of the door on time, and more importantly, getting back to pick the kids up in time, all keeps me within a mile radius of kindy and school, and myself, in a very small place. Usually, I'm home. 

It's not like my time is wasted, however; I write whenever I have the house to myself, edit in any spare minute the kids are home, and read in the evenings, and I've got enough work ticking over to keep me busy editing for the foreseeable. Being busy isn't the issue. And it's not like I haven't done anything like it before; I did a bachelors when my daughter was a toddler. I already know how hard it is to get to places for a given time. 

I miss out on many writing related opportunities because I miss-read submission dates or submission details or I get so stressed anticipating some numerical fuckwittery that I self-destruct. 

Another reason I didn't finish the comic is the same reason I go for weeks without blogging, tweeting, facebooking - time doesn't have those pieces to move about for me. When I miss the window of opportunity one day, I struggle to work out how to fit it in the next where everything already has its place predetermined.

My husband, math whizz that he is, says things like, use a calendar, Windows planner or write yourself spreadsheets to put in all the submission dates. Good one, Einstein. Would if I could. He doesn't get it, probably because there are times, when I'm not stressed, when I'm actually up to primary school competence with maths, and once or twice I've solved simultaneous equations. Once or twice, maybe more but I can't remember more than a few digits. There are people the world over, trying to call me only I've given them the wrong telephone number.

Lastly, I didn't finish the comic because it would be a long victim yawn like this post. And I don't buy into that; it's not who I want to be.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reading Kiss

I have a poem, "The Kiss", in Issue 18 of The French Literary Review. Sincere thanks to Editor Barbara Dordi for including it.

If you haven't come across this journal yet, I urge you to subscribe. It's "for writing with a French connection from anywhere in the world", a little gem I found when ambling in Nuala Ní Chonchúir's publication footsteps. Issues 8, 9, 10, 12, 16 and soon 18 can be viewed on the Poetry Library Magazines website.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lotte inspiration

My poetry has been mentioned in the blog of poet and trainee teacher Lotte, along with some other highly regarded writers. Lotte plans to use the work to teach poetry to reluctant teens and says: "I think such poetry will be great to use as examples of how poems do not have to be written in Standard English." This is a point I am passionate about, so I'm thrilled she's mentioning my work in relation to it. Thank you, Lotte.

Check out her blog for the full post - an excellent starter for any budding poets.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mynah achievement

I meant to use this pic for my "Bird in a Bell Jar" poem news - that poem appeared in Brief - but it sort of fits the theme here. Photo source uncredited. 

Really thrilled to have my poem "Mynah Messiah" in a special International issue of Blue Five Notebook. Huge thanks to Sam Rasnake and Michelle Elvy for including my piece with such a talented line up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Last night my daughter shrank away from me as I gave her a hug. Why? She was bare-chested and had been examining her "new growth" in the mirror. She was embarrassed by her own nakedness.
"Look at them", she said, "they wobble". Then she asked me, "Why are nipples bad?"
'What do you mean, bad?"
'Well, men can go around with no top on and they are in magazines and on adverts with their nipples showing but women have theirs fuzzied [sic] out."

My daughter is eleven.

I had picked her up from school to be told how the Health lesson that day had been all about personal hygiene. The teacher had told them they were disgusting if they wore the same shirt two days in a row or if they didn't shower every day. Now, I understand, we want our kids to have pride in their appearance and to stay clean and healthy and not pong out their class mates - nobody likes sitting next to the stinky kid - but to call a child disgusting? Really? There are levels of self-loathing being taught and to fear and loathe your own body smell is one of them, I think. 

I read two thought provoking essays by Ethel Rohan:
The comments are as interesting as the essays.

This winter I have grown all my body hair to show my daughter what women look like. I have worn vest tops and let my under arm hair protrude in public. Too much info? Too much show? Or too little too late? Admittedly, I resemble something akin to a merkin display stand, but disgust?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A mother land

Welcome back to Snow Like Thought, Nuala. I’ve built a Nuala annex on the book case that doubles as a bunk where you’re welcome to pog any time you like; it’s always lovely to have you.

‘Pog’  - what a great word! I’m wondering now if you imported it to New Zealand, or if you found it there? Thanks for hosting me today, Rachel.

I want to begin this interview with a general observation about interviews. There’s a tendency with writers to often quote another (more famous) writer as a means of borrowing authority for the substance of their answers in interviews. For example, Lloyd Jones said, when asked about narrative[1], ‘I like Samuel Beckett’s quote when asked about James Joyce’s work. “He (Joyce) isn’t writing about something. He’s writing something,” Beckett explained, which gets to the heart of what I’m trying to say here.’ Which gets to the stone of the peach; I must mind my tongue! So, I thought I would use your answers to questions in other interviews as the basis for my own questions.

In the Connacht Tribune you said you had your “Best Holiday” in “New York. I felt right at home. I just loved everything about it: the seediness, the culture, the people, the physicality of it.” I wondered if you could talk a little about your experiences in New York and whether they fed into any of the stories in your fourth short story collection Mother America

New York is definitely an influence on this book. I always longed to go there but only managed my first trip five years ago. I’ve been back a few times since – I got married there in 2010. Like every place I go, I am on high alert in NY: notebook and camera at the ready as I walk the streets or visit museums. NY is so vast and varied there is always something wonderful to see.

I got the inspiration for the story ‘Triangle Boy’ from my cousin-through-marriage Cathleen, who lives in NY. She told me about the Triangle factory fire in 1911. The story ‘My Name is William Clongallen’ concerns a Brooklyn man of Irish origin. Brooklyn is different to Manhattan and I love its villagey feel, so that turns up. The story ‘Letters’ was partially inspired by the non-fiction of Maeve Brennan, an Irish writer who made her home in NY and wrote for The New Yorker. So, through reading and by being there, I absorb things that I later use. Much like everywhere I go.

Do you think writing fiction set in a specific place is a form of synaesthesia?

For me it is. I get transported to a place when I write or read about it. When I read Janet Frame, I am in New Zealand. When I read Chekhov, I am in Russia. I don’t need to have set foot in either of their home-places to feel it, smell it etc. I hope that I can recreate that at times in my fiction, that people feel they are in rural Limerick, say, when they read the Irish-set part of ‘My Name is William Clongallen’; or that Paris is alive to them when they read ‘Poisson d’Avril’ or ‘Spelunker’. Reading should be a sensory experience.

Many of the stories in Mother America are about exile, of people leaving Ireland to go to America, stories of mothers, and of sons, but I was thinking about the title and it reminded me of Edna O’Brien’s Memoir Mother Ireland, and I thought about one of your stories in your last short fiction collection, Nude, ‘Madonna Irlanda’. You gave an interview about Nude to The Short Review. “Once I cottoned on to the motif of the nude in some of the stories I was writing, there were stories that had to be ditched because they didn't fit with the title theme.” In Authortrek you talked about “inspirations” over “influences”, mentioning Edna O’Brien  You also mentioned you worked on The Juno Charm and Nude simultaneously but as a reader I find Mother America a stronger companion to the Juno Charm than Nude, even wondering if you had plans for a Mother Ireland collection. 

I read Mother Ireland (ages ago) and found some of it quite fanciful about Ireland. Edna O’Brien has lived most of her life in London, so she has that emigrant thing of knowing an Ireland that no longer exists, except in her memories. If I did write a Mother Ireland it would be very different to hers but, similar also – I went to convent schools, I had a country upbringing (despite being from Dublin), and, like her, I was a sensitive child. But my life is too pedestrian for memoir, so I won’t be going there. Maybe the next fifty years will prove very exciting and I’ll change my mind!

Mother Ireland begins with O’ Brien leaving Ireland but there are writers such as Frank McCourt whose parents had migrated to America but returned to “Mother Ireland” – for better or worse – and your stories span the periods their fictions detail and some similar terrain. The stories in Mother America in particular struck me as asserting themselves in the Irish canon, compared to Nude which had a distinctly international feel I thought. How do you think your fiction fits into the literary tradition in Ireland? How important is a national perspective for a writer? Can you imagine, for example, ever being simply an international writer or would you want to be known as such, without your Irish heritage being a factor? I suppose what I’m really asking is, do you think your fiction demonstrates a migration of the imagination so that, in essence, you are always leaving Ireland, are always a migrant, and if so, how do you think this affects your writing?

I guess, like my contemporaries, I am more global in outlook, less insular. My generation saw huge changes in Ireland: the legalisation of contraception, the collapse of Catholicism, the feminist movement. All of which please me – I would not have found it easy to be born in the 1940s or 50s in Ireland. Life would have been too restrictive for me. So my fiction is postmodern and feminist in outlook, but also Irish.

When you are Irish, your bones are steeped in your nationality – it dictates language and attitude – so it’s inevitable for me, as a writer, to identify with my Irishness. But I also look to Europe, America and the world for freshness, for difference.

There is a particular brand of rural Irish fiction that appeals to me more as I grow older; I used to be annoyed by it as it didn’t represent my life. I also love contemporary work that deals with Ireland’s new issues: immigration, divorce, drugs, loss of religion etc. There is more than one Ireland.

I don’t think I am ‘always leaving Ireland’ in my work, but I like to write about those who leave and return, to see what that throws up for them. There is a lot of sentimentality about Ireland and it’s better to clear that away and look at the country and its people, warts and all, I feel.

Lloyd Jones has said it is “the immigrant’s task to make themselves new.” I think this also applies to fiction writers. In Mother America you manage to re-remember an Ireland of the past and at the same time you have positioned yourself at the helm of a very inspirational creative development in contemporary Irish fiction. I think the only way I can describe it is when I think about the first telecommunications cables being laid from Ireland to Newfoundland – which gave rise for speedy two way communication – and you’ve done the present equivalent with Mother America. In your interview with Prairie Schooner you talked a little about how inspirational you find American fiction, I’m sure the same sentiment will come back across the Atlantic about Mother America.

Thanks, Rachel. I hope so. I find the Americans to be superlative short story writers: Anthony Doerr, Ron Rash, Caitlin Horrocks, Flannery O’Connor, Wells Tower, Manuel Munoz. All brilliant and inspirational.

What is next for you, Nuala and where can we buy Mother America?

I have a novel completed, set in Dublin and the Scottish Highlands, for which I am seeking a good agent. And I’m writing more stories and starting out trepidatiously on another novel. So, busy busy.

You can buy Mother America from The Book Depository with free delivery, worldwide.

Thanks for having me by, Rachel. On Monday 16th July my virtual tour takes me to writer Declan Burke’s blog in Dublin. I hope some of your readers will join me there.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Nuala. Very best of luck with your agent search and finishing your latest novel, and for your Frank O’Connor International Prize for Short Stories listing - congratulations!

Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a short story writer, novelist and poet, born in Dublin in 1970 and living in Galway. Her fourth short story collection Mother Americawas published this month by New Island. Nuala’s story ‘Peach’, in the Winter 2011 issue of Prairie Schooner, won the Jane Geske Award and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

[1] Finlay MacDonald, Words Chosen Carefully; New Zealand Writers in Discussion, 2010. P 18

Sunday, June 24, 2012


It gives me cheesy grin pleasure to welcome fabled blogger TFE, otherwise known as poet Peadar O’ Donoghue to Snow Like Thought to talk about his sparkling debut collection Jewel.  

Well it’s great to be here Rae, I’ve never been to New Zealand before, in fact I’ve never left the front room before, so it’s a real pleasure, thank you!

Lovely to have you, Peadar, pull up a pew. Now, it’s easy to churn out the similes for your collection, Jewel, you’ve set it all up so nicely for us with the title but this seems to be the conceit of your poems generally. Humour, or rather wit, is omnipresent. There’s a danger then, would you agree, of the poem’s authority, its substance, being overlooked? And isn’t that the tragedy of clowns, that everyone laughs and moves on? So what is it that calls the reader to sit up and listen to your poems, and they do, beyond the point where the laughter has passed, and how difficult is it constructing such poems, a poem, say, like ‘With Scant Regard for Wordsworth’?

I like to make people laugh. I get a kick out of it and try to do it a bit in real life and a whole lot on Facebook. But when it comes to writing my poetry seems to spring from a different well entirely and rarely does humour pop up in one of my poems. There are 52 poems in the book and only 5 poems are funny (hopefully!) or have elements of humour in them. So the reader should see a clear line between the funny stuff and the darker side! 

My Wordsworth poem is a parody of his poem ‘Daffodils’ and took less than 10 minutes to write, but also a lifetime as does every poem. Wordsworth’s poem is a description of beauty and my poem is beauty destroyed, all the thoughts I had of corruption and greed that I have witnessed all my adult life could be encapsulated in the housing madness in Ireland where outrageous prices were sought for houses (not homes) and financially crippled a large part of the population. So I didn’t have to create these thoughts, they were inside me looking for a catalyst to spark their revolution. Some comment on FB did this (is it obvious yet that I’m hooked on FB?) and all I had to do (the poem was already there) was change Wordsworth's words (I didn’t know beyond the first line, I had to look them up) to mine, something I’d wanted to do for a while! What I mean is that ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ was probably the only line of poetry I knew growing up just like ‘Alas poor Yorick’ or ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo’ was all the Shakespeare I knew and it just sounded so poety in that awful poety way that I couldn’t wait to take the piss out of it. And I see what you mean now in the question but this is the only poem that blends taking the mick with a heartfelt serious cry of anger. But maybe I should do more! 

And it’s a tricky poem to pull off in terms of the reputation you’re perceived to be criticising by misreading; it seems to me there’s a lot at stake with this poem, you cut it to the sapwood. I’ve thought and thought about this poem, really, I can’t tell you how it has chewed my brain; I was trying to deconstruct it, then I was thinking, how is Wordsworth relevant, what is it that connects so powerfully and so deeply rooted as to make it difficult to express? And I realised, there are three major things at play, themes of your work as a whole, I think: one is the language – Irish lyricism and song, and English; the second is politics. Politics here is also inseparable from the language, I think. I re-read the collection with these ideas at the fore of my thoughts and I became conscious of the rhythm shifts from what I would term Peadar-isms – phrases that are distinctly yours in pattern, regardless of etymology, and what, for want of an accurate label, I’d call Anglo-isms. Is it possible for an Irish poet writing in English not to be political regardless of the subject matter, do you think?

Firstly I’m delighted that the poem caused such a reaction in you, ultimately that is surely what a poet wants, a reaction? And perhaps we should remember that poetry really is a two way thing, almost a dialogue, a deeply personal one, and just as the writer brings a lifetime of experiences to the table, so does the reader.

I think you are right there are 3 major things in my poems. I love words and language, I love playing with them/it, I love music and song lyrics, I love the sounds of words. I’m pleased you coin the word Peadarisms, as I like to think (for good or bad) that I have a unique voice. Anglo-isms too, I spent a large part of my life in England and that obviously shapes who I am and what I think. As for politics, I’m quite political, I care about things, particularly injustice, inequality, cruelty, bullying, violence, love, hate, hypocrisy. And as I’m a hypocrite myself and do little about any of these things and am probably capable of most of them, I feel well equipped to write about them. Is it possible for an Irish poet writing in English not to be political? Certainly. I see it every day.

I think if Wordsworth could have cracked a few more jokes and let the metre run he’d have been your equal. You write from the persona of the common man, and an Irish man, in terms anyone can understand, yet you manage to turn ordinary, even hackneyed phrases, Rumplestiltskin-like, into gold. If you had to write a manifesto, what would it include?

Oh I love that, Willy could have been my equal! Ha Ha! Thank you my epitaph is written! A manifesto? Wow! I don’t know but if I could rule the world, first I’d get Rapunzel to let down her hair, then I’d put honest benevolent dictators with the wisdom of Solomon in charge of each country in the world and do away with politicians entirely. When I say ‘do away with’ I don’t mean kill them, just rough them up a bit and make them live on a desert island together.

Finally – easy questions to end on – who are your influences?

I don’t really have any influences but I was ‘transformed’ on a visit to Heptonstall so I would have to say Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

What was your route into poetry?

I didn’t know anything about poetry, I just wanted to express myself, I wanted to be heard. I wrote in isolation, sent poems off in isolation and was plucked from obscurity by the wonderful Jessie Lendennie of Salmon Poetry.

What’s next for Peadar O’ Donoghue?

I have a magazine called The Poetry Bus, I’m working on the 4th issue (PB4) doing readings from Jewel where I can and dreaming of a second collection for 2015! (If I live that long!)

Where can we buy Jewel/find you?

All good bookstores in Ireland /England/America!  The Salmon website. The book depository. Amazon. And signed copies available from meself !

There’s a danger one is dazzled by the sparkle and misses the craft involved in turning a lump of rock into a gem. I hope we’ve given readers a reason to look beneath the starlight at the grounded words, where the real treasure is. Thank you, Peadar. 

Peadar O’Donoghue has had poems published in Poetry Ireland Review, The SHOp, Revival, Bare Hands Poetry, Can Can, and The Burning Bush. He has also published flash fiction in Ink Sweat and Tears. He founded, runs, and edits The Poetry Bus Magazine, an innovative journal of art, fiction and poetry, accompanied by a CD of the poets reading their work. An accomplished photographer, Peadar’s photos have been selected for a solo exhibition at The Signal Art Gallery, Bray and group exhibitions for Wicklow Arts Office and The Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray. They have been published in The Stinging Fly journal (and anthology) and The SHOp, including several front cover. They have also been published in Magma and The Dubliner.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Light of the Word

I first came across Dick Jones’ poetry when I started blogging, back in 2009. I had tentatively posted a poem, the title of which provides the header for this blog. Dick passed through, left a criticism and breezed out much the way people who are better than you do. But there was nothing aloof about Dick, which isn’t to say he doesn’t have the right to be. Indeed, Dick’s poetry, it was clear to me from the off, was never going to settle for blog land, I only thought it a travesty it did for so long. So it gives me immense pleasure to introduce Dick to talk about his debut collection Ancient Lights (Phoenicia Publishing,2012).

Dick, you’ve been here as a much appreciated commenter, your criticism of the poem I mentioned in the introduction really nailed that piece for me (thank you), and I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of your poetry on your Patteran Pages, it’s wonderful to have you here as a guest – finally. Could you tell me a little bit about the genesis of Ancient Lights and why it’s taken so long to get a collection out when clearly you were born spitting similes?

I’m delighted to be here, Rae! Thank you for the invitation. As to the compiling of ‘Ancient Lights’ and the length of time it’s taken me to produce a collection, I think it’s been primarily a function of confidence – the old ‘tread softly because you tread on my dreams’ inhibition. Although I’ve been submitting poems to journals for many years, I’ve only once before tried out for the publication of a book. In fact, had it not been for the energies of the entirely wonderful Beth Adams of Phoenicia Publishing, ‘Ancient Lights’ may well have never come to fruition. I’m enormously grateful to her for her enthusiasm, her encouragement, her efficiency and her patience. 

The first poem in the collection places the reader in the final throes of WW2, your birth. The action’s very at odds with the title ‘Stille Nacht’ in the context of the war but perfectly at ease with the imagery evoked by the English translation of the carol the title is taken from. You do contrasting parallelisms well; it struck me how exquisitely difficult it would be to mimic this technique. What was the process for this poem, how did it come to you?

Second things first. The whole poem tumbled out of the first stanza, which I scribbled into my notebook during a casual chat about Christmas at the poetry group I was attending at the time. We were all seated around our group of tables with Christmas a week or two away and the little conceit about the bells ringing at my birth popped into my head. It turned like a key and for the rest of the first part of the evening’s activities I carried on writing. By the time we got to the last hour of the meeting and the read-around I’d got most of it finished.

So it came out of one of those white-heat momentum processes that I find sometimes drive a piece of writing. When such cataracts occur there is a powerful element of automatic composition about it all. No glazed trances or zombie focus on the task in hand! But there is a sense throughout the writing of receiving something and acting more as an interpreter than one simply putting it all together from a set of components. In fact, this downhill impetus is much more apparent in the crafting of the longer pieces than the shorter. Both ‘Stille Nacht’ and ‘Binners’ (once I got past the first section) evolved more rapidly towards the closest one ever gets to a final draft than many a miniature piece, some of which have been years in the cooking. 

The collection begins with the poet’s ‘I’, giving the works an experienced authenticity, there’s omniscience to your observations. Each poem presents ways of describing familiar and unfamiliar things in a manner that renders them true, universally, yet innovatively (every poet’s wish) - and you have a child’s eye for detail, for what the grown-ups miss - but there’s an authority to your words, wisdom that seems almost to take the poem’s speaker by surprise. Possibly, in context of ‘Stille Nacht’, this is because of the inconceivable circumstance of the mature speaker retelling the memories told to him about his birth as if his own – a peculiar configuration of chronologies – but could you talk a little bit about how memory, yours, others’ or imagined, plays in your poetry? 

It’s peculiarly difficult to account for the operation of memory in my writing. I’m simply so close to the cutting edge of the functional process of collating and organising and then rendering it all that there’s a degree of can’t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees purblindness about it all. However, I am aware that my apparent memories of childhood are an extraordinarily rich compound of actual recall and constantly reiterated family lore. It’s as if the accounts related by my parents, my grandparents and our closest family friends have in some way elided with my own startlingly clear recollections (and my actual childhood recollections go back to the age of about 18 months) to create a kind of fertile humus from which narrative shoots continue to spring, even this far in time from their provenance. This mulching procedure works for all of us, of course, and the intensity of nostalgia evoked by some sound or fragrance is proof of its potency. But I remain baffled and intrigued as to why with me its momentum has been undiminished through the years. Maybe my child within is unusually wakeful and garrulous. One for the head doctors, I guess, but I’m not letting them close! 

Ancient Lights – it’s the perfect title for this collection. Side amble: I’ve always been awed by the seemingly never ending variety of descriptions you give, observations you make about light – it is a strong feature of your work, (obviously in light of the title, pun intended). What surprised me was the sound. In hindsight, it’s hardly surprising – you are a musician – but it was the combined effect of hearing the poems alongside one another, the way each seems to kick off from the previous one so fluidly – it really reads like an orchestral piece. Was this a conscious effort? Did you have to alter the poems after you’d written them to make them link and flow?

To a degree there was a sort of organic self-selection to the order of the poems within the book. I had no great difficulty in putting them all end-to-end. In fact, I did most of it at my partner’s parents' house standing by a laptop on the grand piano while the kids ran riot on the floor! I guess the constant edge of distraction enabled me to push and pull the poems around more intuitively. Too much focussed concentration might have made me too conscious of the demands of the task in hand. 

As to sonic properties in the ordering of the poems, I’m not conscious in retrospect of having sounded them against each other like duelling tuning forks! But at the point of writing I’m acutely sensitive to the way in which the words chime and I repeat sections over and again to ensure that there’s some melodic and/or rhythmic symmetry at work. For better or worse, I always aim for a musicality within each poem and I’m very conscious of the common ground between poetry and music. As an adolescent I was fascinated by the possibilities of poetry and jazz. In fact, all these years on ‘Red Bird’, Christopher Logue’s translations from Neruda spoken to a backing by a fine band led by drummer Tony Kinsey remains a favourite. (I waited for three years on eBay before finally picking up a replacement copy of the original EP!) And beyond the ongoing excesses of gangster rap, there’s some terrific hip-hop around that folds poetry and music into each other to great effect.  So I guess I must have operated as a sort of subconscious conductor when marshalling a whole flock of poems into a book! 

For me, the music really connected with the thoughts your poems inspired about memory; events re-remembered; events that stay with us; that push forward to future generations. Sound and light (senses) are what we remember and light will remain long after we have passed. I’m thinking of Larkin, ‘What will remain of us is love.’ What would you like to be remembered of you, Dick? 

I’m not sure how to answer that question. But for me that concluding line from ‘An Arundel Tomb’ is probably the finest clincher of any poem. Those whom I have loved and who have died are still loved. I have no religious belief at all, having felt at no time through my life so far any need for a god or God. I have a profound faith in the primal and redeeming properties of love between human beings and see no place for divinity above and beyond its transformative power. For me human love, eros and agape, is the light of the world. So I suppose would hope for love to transcend my passing in the hearts of those dear to me now. 

Initially wooed by the First World War poets and then seduced by the Beats, Dick Jones has been exploring the vast territories in between since the age of 15. 

Dick’s work has been published in a number of magazines, print and online, including Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review, Qarrtsiluni, Westwords, Mipoesias, Three Candles, Other Poetry, Rattlesnake and Ouroboros Review, and in several print anthologies, including Sing Freedom! (Amnesty International), Brilliant Coroners (Phoenicia Publishing), and Words of Power (qarrtsiluni/Phoenicia). His chapbook, Wavelengths, was a finalist in the 2009 qarrtsiluni chapbook contest, and he was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2010 for his poem, “Sea of Stars.”

In addition to thirty-five years of teaching drama in progressive schools, Dick Jones has been an avid musician all his life, playing bass guitar in rock, blues, and folk bands. He lives outside London with his wife and children, and blogs at Dick Jones’ Patteran Pages.

Ancient Lights is available to buy through Amazon Us and UK.