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!



Liz said...

Enjoyed the interview Rachel and Nuala, especially love the red car poem and the story behind it...I remember Nuala reading the Paul Durcan poem at Flatlake festival...¡go Nuala go! Congrats again ; )

Rachel Fox said...

Love it. Love that she's not embarrassed to be 'personal' or even 'confessional' (very unfashionable just now). Love it about the gushing (one day you will be the wise one with others gushing around you, Nuala...probably sooner than you think...). Love, love, I on a Xmas high?

Kar said...

Hi Rachel,
Lovely to read such a warm and cosy interview and you can see how much you’ve enjoyed Nuala’s work both this collection and the last. I’m dying to get my hands on ‘Portrait’ now!
Merry Christmas

Group 8 said...

Ah, you're all lovely girls.

Nothing wrong with an Xmas high, Miss Fox - we're all there!

Rachel - thanks a million for your gracious hosting. I laughed when I saw the pic of me with the red 'vehicle'. Hee hee!

Nollaig shona to all. Merry Xmas!

Rachel Fenton said...

Hey, Liz - the festival sounds cool! The red car poem is one that starts simply, sneaks into your heart and whacks you with a heap of profundity, isn't it? Brilliant stuff.

"All you need is Love", Rachel (t'other), and you have heaps of it! Hurrah - biggin' it up with some love in the house for Nuala! Merry Christmas!

Hi, Kar, yes, Nuala's writing's really got in my veins - it means a lot to me. Merry Christmas to you, too!

Thanks all - steady with the mince pies there, I'm making another tray but they'll take a while to bake!

Rachel Fenton said...

Yikes, you made me jump there, N - I thought you'd gone to get some more eggnog!

Golden West said...

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas and a new year of health and happiness. I've enjoyed your blog immensely and look forward to visiting frequently in the year ahead.

Titus said...

Yahoo! That was a Christmas Eve special!

Merry Christmas, and very best wishes for the New Year.

Mike McLaren said...

What a wonderful passage:

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

And what I wouldn't do to have a car like that!

Rachel Fenton said...

Thank you GW - ditto!

Titus - Merry Christmas - will catch up in the New Year - thank you.

AM - I can't work out if you mean the sports car or the electric car! I'd like the lipstick car - slip through the jams better!

There were several passages like that on which had me reading and re-reading them for days and which will be stuck in my head for much longer. Thanks.

Have a happy holiday everyone!

Andrea said...

Another good interview Rachel! I must add Nuala's book to my "poetry to read list" which is ridiculously long. I really like what she says about not being afraid of the personal in poems and I suppose a lot of that is in line with feminist ideas as well.

Hope you had a nice Christmas too, by the way :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds fascinating. I might award myself a late Christmas present.

Rachel Fenton said...

Hey - much merryness to you, Andrea! I'm trying to catch up on my missed blogging, too - expect me round at yours (blog that is) soon!

I think that the "personal" in poetry is what many readers seek, to be honest. It holds the same intrigue and fascination as celebrity/women's mags/reality tv/biography - any real human interest story really. I know, though, that it goes against the grain, particularly when I tihnk to my own experience at uni, where I was "taught" not to look for the poet in poetry - poets write with personas, or should! But I was always wanting to know the poet - wasn't it the poet "speaking" to me through their words? That sort of thing...getting a bit waffly here (waffly = boring)...but the point is, personal is positive if the resulting poetry can actually move the reader beyond the experience of the poet, which Nuala's poetry can, and does. Thanks a lot for your comments!

Hey, Dick, I seriously recommend this. I am really glad Nuala "found" me on the net this year because I have really connected with her writing. There's some really moving material in this collection but there's one poem which was pure joy to me - about a hen! I love hens, I grew up with dozens of them as pets and they are much the best pets to have and...maybe I should not go on so much...ducks are good too....anyway, chucks aside, go on - treat yourself! You deserve it! Ha! Merry Christmas!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Fantastic questions, fantastic answers! happy Boxing Day and mince pie crumbs to all.

Group 8 said...

Thanks to everyone for your interesting and kind comments.
HUGE thanks to you Rachel - you are the hostess with the mostess. I'm so glad we met too! Nu x

Lori said...

Hey, I like confessional too! Beautiful interview. You guys always manage to start my mind working. It feels pretty good.

Rachel Fenton said...

Cheers, Vanessa! I'm sure I could rustle up a few more pies for you!

Thanks back at you, Nuala x

That's great, Lori, thanks. Hope you're and your family are having a wonderful holiday! and thanks for stopping by.

Valerie Storey said...

Hi Rachel! You are helping me with my New Year's resolution to leave comments on the blogs I enjoy. Thank you so much for stopping by, I am always delighted to see your comments on my own blog. Wishing you a very creative and productive 2010 and I look forward to reading more of your posts!!

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks V - happy New year!