Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Elf issues

Tis the season for typos - click on the picture to enlarge. Shame they've since corrected it!
Happy New Year to all my bloggers - thank you to everyone who has offered advice, support and encouragement in all its myriad forms - wishing you and yours a very elfy 2010!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas eve's special

Image coordinated by blogger, TFE.

It's Christmas Eve and I have a very special visitor: a visitor with a smashing red vehicle - perfect for the festivities - what's that - a sleigh? Neigh.

This visitor is coming about a portrait. Now, my studio is all decked out with canvas and more canvas and all I need is -

- Oh, before I forget: do you remember the last portrait I painted? It was of Nude - the collection of achingly good short fiction by Nuala Ní Chonchúir.
Well, this portrait is of the artist: Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car. It's just pulled up. Hang on a mo -
-Yep, park it right there!

Picture copyright of Nuala Ní Chonchúir.

Surprise! Nuala's here again! Yippee!
Come on in and have a mince pie! Actually, have several - I made way too many this year - don't they look cute with the little stars on top? Yes, I brushed them with a little milk and a sprinkle of sugar to brown them. Please, stop, you're too generous with your compliments! Eggnog?
Right, have a sit down, I've got lots I want to ask you about your winning poetry collection, Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car.

It's great to have you back after your last virtual book tour, that time it was your short fiction collection Nude doing the posing. I'm thrilled you've returned with your poetry. And I have to say that Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car feels like a very natural progression from Nude, a poetic sequel almost. There are a lot of themes, motifs, (what would you call them?) shared by the two collections and I wondered which came first or were they simultaneous, were you even conscious of the connections as you wrote them or were they indicative of a series of long standing obsessions? (Sorry – bit of a cluster bomb of a question that!)

Hey Rachel – thanks for having me back again. It’s odd to have two books come out back to back but they are from two different publishers. The poems are actually all rather recent. The pamphlet Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car in its entirety was my (winning) entry into Templar Poetry’s pamphlet competition. I had entered in 2008 too so I decided to enter a completely new set of poems this year.

I think poetry like short fiction is about the personal obsessions of the writer and so there are themes and motifs that re-occur a lot in all my writing: fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss, children, sex, relationships, the break-up of relationships, art. These are all things that occupy me and fascinate me, so inevitably that spills over into my writing.

So, to answer your question about timing, the stories were written first (2005 – 2008/9) and the poems came after, (2008 – 2009) but the same themes are with me even now.

In “When You Are Ready” you begin with a line about Narcissus:

"You are no ordinary Narcissus.

There is no pool that could
reflect back all you are
and keep you there, gazing."

They are key lines, I think, to understanding how the poems are so successful, especially when one considers the title of this collection. Portrait of the Artist With a Red Car, a nod to Joyce's semi-autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, reads as both an intimate portrait of you – the poet (the artist), and a mirror: you leave the reader enough looking space to find themselves between your lines. Reading your poems had me a Narcissus, only, instead of staring at a pool, my reflection was on the surface of a glass slide, under a microscope, and as I read I was dissecting myself. And I remember when you toured here with Nude I asked you how much you considered the readers of your fiction as being participants within the fiction, not merely readers, and I wondered how much you think that your poetry in this collection is open to reader projection, how much is poetic persona and how much is you?

To be honest, it’s mostly me. My poetry tends to come from a personal place. Some people talk about ‘confessional poetry’ as if it’s a disease or something. For me, as a poetry reader, I’d rather read a personal, moving poem than an impersonal treatise. Some of my poems are persona poems (I’ve never danced with poet Paul Durcan, for example!) but mostly the poems come from my life and the lives of women I am curious about. I’m a feminist and that can’t help but spill over into all my work. Readers can – and will – take what they like from a poem; once it’s out there people will put their own spin on what a writer means by a poem.

I am going to ask you about your reference to Paul Durcan (poet and author of “Golden Mothers Driving West”), your dance with him, and if the “three Polish boys” in the title poem of your collection are a nod to Durcan's own poignant tribute to motherhood?

The Durcan poem is a bit of whimsy. I invented the encounter with him in The Winding Stair, which is a favourite book shop of mine in Dublin. I’m a fan of the man and his work; I love his style of reading and the diverse and very Irish voices in his poetry. I’ve only met him once and I just gushed briefly about his general wonderfulness. He smiled and nodded sagely.

The Polish boys in the title poem were nothing to do with Durcan. There are a lot of Polish immigrants in Ireland and watching them with their crap car, as I sat in my own crap car, got me wishing for better cars for us all. That thought process led me in the poem to me and my first husband’s car crash and I had my poem. I didn’t know where the poem was going when it started. I never know where any of my writing is off to when I step into it; that’s the mystery and fun of it, I guess. And I love that. On a slight tangent, it struck me lately that writing is the one place where I allow myself to be chaotic – I’m intensely organised in all other parts of my life.

I can't help thinking back to Nude again and how after I had interviewed you I was struck by how odd it was (to me) that I hadn't asked you about the art references in there and I'm not going to this time either, but I am going to thank you for coming all the way over here - here's a box of shortbread I made earlier, car shaped and iced in red - I'll take a photo before...oh, they're tasty, eh?. Readers, you'll have to imagine what they looked like!

Rachel, thanks again for having me over. It’s always a pleasure and I’m delighted to be here again.

If people want to buy the pamphlet it costs €6 (about NZ $12) from Templar Poetry here:

Thanks again, and thanks TFE for the great tour logo.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Just tin

I have just had a loss of appetite having read this which has resulted in the following spontaneous burst of poetic criticism:

Carry On

Had they driven all this way
to come face to face
with the head
of a fat soaked
beast and a slick

of indeterminable
intestines whose hosts
were unidentifiable
in the thick of it.
Was this the Styx,

bloodied and carcass
strewn? Had they
crashed, head long, into
hell? Their own
bodies mingled with

the mangled
formless parts:
lungs, hooves,
limbs, livers or hearts:
none could determine

in the horror as they
clambered from the
wreck of it. Merged
by-products of human
nature; the wish

to consume slips over
the tarmac, the verge,
the wayside: wasted.
The road is closed,
only for now.

Two posts for you this week - I'm going AWOL from blogging for a couple of weeks as I need to sort out some issues I am having with my WIP so please be patient with me: I'll try and keep up to scratch with comments on my blog but I may not be as visible in the rest of blog land for a while. Thank you. Your comments are, as always, very much appreciated.

Dead tiered

Bradwell Edge, Derbyshire Peak District, UK. 2007

Is it me, or is everyone blogging about death lately? Every blog I've read recently has mentioned it and, as I've mentioned before, I don't deal with it very well. Here's my take on it - I wrote it on the eleventh of the eleventh this year. I suppose it is customary to be miserable at this time of year.


This is death: the slow shuttering up of the drive to achieve
or the need to be desired. When all of my lines
accumulate and can be read "I don't care","I'm tired",
this is death. A dry stone wall in disrepair
for want of the stonemason
who built me. A monument:
all that remains of me.
A cairn: the weight of
living upon me. Stone,
not carved: cast.
This heap of me.
in want of a roof,
a lifetime in want
of a shelter;
This is

Friday, December 4, 2009

Glad I wait or not?

Last post I used this image. I didn't give you the full picture.

I'm glad I waited to post this.

Todays post is bigger than I wanted it to be.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where it seems really, well, real? And then you wake up, at least you think you have, and realise that the dream hasn't ended? And then, hopefully, in the real world and not in some straight to tv horror film, you actually wake up. Phewsh! What a nightmare!

There's nothing worse than doing battle in your dreams only to wake and have to do it all again - and you ever realise how rubbish you are at fighting in dreams? All that pre-experience doesn't do you any good whatsoever because, when the real event happens, all you know how to do is lose - that or wake up, and you can't wake up again if you're already awake.

Still following this?

Well today I woke up...hang on, first things first. Remember that poem I was writing about bugs? Well, I had another bash at it (oh, pardon the pun - I don't often bash the wee beasties, not often, thankfully...for me...). Here's what I have so far, not a draft as such, more a collection of associated phrases indicating something of the movement and imagery I'm interested in pursuing, or was when I wrote it:


There are three in jars on the sill: insects.
You'd have to hear them to know what they are.
Mute: I have captured their identity
but the fear they infect me with cannot be kept
or even held. Reduced to a pencil tap I collect
their facts, memorise their features through that
which is featureless. You can see
their difference more clearly through the safety
of a jar. They have travelled the equivalent
of miles around a glossy ellipse: each one slips
as it tries to scale the side, all those legs and not
one can get a footing. I've never liked them
and to think I came all this way to find a fear
with features I recognise only by my reaction to them.
Window ajar: I return them outside, lesson learnt,
to butt noisily against the pane (still
ignorant of my sensitivity), or silently wander.

I used Jim's starting point and went from there. What I was aware of, as I wrote this, was that there were several things going on in my thoughts and that it was the clash of these which was one cause in my poem's non-communication. Firstly there was the noise. The first poem I posted was entitled "Cicadas": it isn't merely their buggyness which frightens me, it's their noise, and for several months of the year it is constant through the day. However, at night we have crickets - similar you would think? Yes and no. I like crickets. I can hold crickets in my hand, if I'm feeling brave. I like their sound. I detest cicadas. At some point I'm going to work on the cicadas alone.

Secondly, there was the feeling of alieness - not only of the bugs being alien, but of my feeling alienated in a place where these bugs are at home. I wanted to capture (oops) the feeling I had, often still have, of being not-at-home: an un-homely feeling. This in turn leads on to ideas around heimlich and un-heimlich and touches on the gothic, the surreal and the notion of things which are all too familiar being at the same time most frightening. I want to write a poem with these elements in.

Finally, there is the realisation that different senses react differently to different aspects of buggyness. There's a lot of difference. Certainly it all results in the same fear but the individual elements deserve distinction.

Now, shall I begin at the beginning or at the beginning of the end and work backwards - what works for you?

I woke up with the breeze from the open bedroom window blowing my hair across my cheek. It was just a dream, phewsh, here I am in my own bed with a gentle breeze to cool my perspiring brow. I sat up. My hair was still blowing the same way, only the window wasn't open.
Back a bit. I had gone to bed after checking my blog (for what, blog bugs?) and drifted off into a fitful sleep. I had a dream about a hairy spider - specifically a hairy spider in the bathroom which someone (my husband?) flicked into my face.
I woke up and felt a sense of calm rationality sweep over me when I thought of the last image I had observed closely:

The moth "eyes" - and I laughed at how funny it was that I had cropped off the part which scared me - see the little furry critter in the left hand corner ("LITTLE" USED HERE TO SHRINK FEAR TO MANAGEABLE PROPORTIONS).

I looked at my husband who was looking at me and I saw an expression register on his face which I felt ought to have been on mine. Especially considering the fact that my hair was still travelling towards my eye.

A flush of adrenaline had me flick my hair from my face. I felt nothing. I saw nothing. I did the thing they do in horror films when you shout "NOOOOOOOOOOoooooo"!

I peered over the edge of the bed and saw:

five little diamonds, twinkling in the sky

which one did I pick? Go on, click the link - I dare you.

I want to say that I rushed to grab my trusty bug hoover and carefully disposed of this fellow to hoover up some spiders of its own (white tails are unusual in that they only prey on other spiders - veritable gladiators of the bug world).

The End.

P.S. Sleep tight, mind the bugs don't bite! Oh, and the's all wrong, the one on my head was much bigger, about five centimeters across, bigger than my eye in any case, or in my head!

Short story newsflash - there's a competition over at the Tomlit blog if you're interested. Get your entries in quick though, deadline is December 14! Think I'm going to enter.