I haven't done much interviewing on this blog. This is partly laziness and partly (as I wrote back here) because I have done quite a lot of interviewing in previous stages of life (journalism, market research...). Still, every now and then I get the urge to dip my questioning toes back in the interview water, as it were, and today is one of those nows (or thens). So off we go again - in an author blog tour stylee, no less.
And who has stopped by? Well, look who it is... Irish poet (and resident of the luscious Canary Islands) Liz Gallagher. I've been in blog contact with Liz for a while now and have always been attracted by her friendly words and total lack of poetry snob paraphernalia so when she announced the tour to launch her book of poems 'The Wrong Miracle' I asked for a date on it. And lo (sorry, we are getting towards Xmas) here I present her answers to the three odd questions that I sent her (as requested - the questions, not the oddness). Liz's own blog is here and if you like the sound of the book (though I know quite a few regular readers already have it) you can buy it here. You can also find author information and a sample poem via that link.
Before we start...how would I describe Liz's book? (1)Beautiful cover (always a good start...I'd quite like a big poster of this one for my wall), (2)The poems...? They're like a brightly coloured paper bag, stuffed to the brim with every kind of pick'n'mix sweet you've ever seen (but with a few other things in it as well as sweets...an alligator maybe...and a witch's hat...) and (3)It's one of those books that you don't really want to describe because it has so much to say for itself (and in so many different ways). Just read it. See if it takes your fancy.
And now...on with the three questions. Welcome Liz!
Thanks for having me here, Rachel. And what great music you have...looking forward to listening to some of it while we chat. Here is a bottle of Spanish champagene (CAVA) to ring in the New Year with (or to drink or serve at your choosing) : )
Q1..An alien comes to visit and says 'we don't have poetry on our planet...what's it all about then?' What would you say to this alien and please provide a reading list of ten books (collections, anthologies, work in any language, anything you like) to get it started on the poetry of planet earth.
OK, Ms. Alien, take a seat...this is going to take a little time....Well, for me, at least, poetry is being able to plonk a cushion cover into my writing if I want it so, I don't have to do a prelude to the entry of that cushion cover, the cushion cover doesn't have to explain itself nor have an exit plan, it's in the poem and there to stay...On its own, it can have power in that poem without the trimmings, it can tell its own tale by just being sat there whereas in a novel or short story you've got to prepare the entrance of the cushion cover, there has to be a plot for the cushion cover where the cushion cover interacts with the sofa, the foam lining, the silk material etc, and the cushion cover demands a final adieu with the reader either clapping or shooing wildly...so in other words, poetry says stuff that other writing has to go round in circles to say.
It feels hot, urgent and necessary, hence the cutting-the-top-of-one's-head feeling that poet Emily Dickinson referred to...this feeling helps one know that they have come across great poetry. The exact quote is: 'If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire could ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way? (source: here)
What else? Oh yes, I imagine you might have kids (alien or not) or have come across kids, Ms Alien, so poetry is a little like allowing oneself to be a kid with words, you can hopscotch about all you like with words as words in poems like to be woman-handled into many things from the dreamy, deep and serious to the comical and fickle. Words in poems even like being thrown up in the air and they love the unpredictability and surprise of where they might land.
And poetry isn't bossy nor close-minded...it lets you, the reader, decide what it means...you don't have to fit into its way of thinking but it can fit into your way of thinking if you are prepared to meet it half-way. You see, poetry is something special because sometimes we don't know what we think until we see what we write..and poetry holds a mirror up to us, the poet (and maybe the reader sometimes too) and says: this is what you're thinking. And you know something, it makes you grow up, you learn about yourself and get all worked up about learning more and more...it's a great journey and you pick up loads of things you never thought you wanted along the way like cushion covers, chimney smoke, a blue moon, a crowing rooster...
Ok, Ms. Alien here is my list of recommended reading for a starter poet or actually any poet really ...no inclusion of analytical academic works until much later, if at all. Ms. Alien, there is poetry inside every one of them, hope you find it and it finds you.....
Poems of W.B. Yeats, Arlene Ang's 'Secret Love Poems', Roahl Dahl's 'Revolting Rhymes', 'The Book of Laughter and Forgetting' by Milan Kundera, Anthony Burgess' 'Earthly Powers', The Brothers Grimm Tales, 'Sing Me the Creation' by Paul Matthews, Anne Sexton's 'Love Poems', Tao Lin's 'You Are a Little Bit Happier Than I Am' poems.
Q.2.How, why and where does poetry fit into your life?
Poetry fits into my life for a lot of the reasons I gave Ms. Alien above. How? Through reading and daily writing (even though the daily writing part is on hold for the foreseeable future). Poetry is very important in my life – it leaps out at me from all angles which makes it exciting....when I'm in a poetry-writing mood, I seem to see it everywhere, things beg to be written about, poetically. It settles me, calms me, excites me, gives me confidence in me, makes me be more empathetic, more sympathetic...in other words, it makes me feel things strongly....guess I really need it...even now when writing poetry isn't happening, I still sense it there....hovering on my periphery, possibly winking at me and saying it will wait for me....meanwhile, I am hoping it really does wait for me and not piss off in a huffy strut. Seriously though, Rachel, after a long spell of not seeing poetry anywhere, it's great that it is in my life now and I really hope it stays.
Q.3.I know this is tricky...but if someone else had given you a copy of 'The Wrong Miracle' to read (i.e. so imagine someone else wrote it) what do you think you would have thought of it?
As you say, a totally tricky question, Rachel. It's impossible to be so objective, after all this book is like my molly-coddled darling who has dared to take steps out into the world....so with a sporadic big leap of the imagination (and clutching 'The Wrong Miracle' to me), if someone had given me 'The Wrong Miracle', I would think the following: unusual, original, daring, inventive, good fun....sometimes loses the run of itself but means no harm, playful, is a bit on the wild side at times, motivating word play, large expanse of themes, humorous, has a heart, wants to connect, is massive as in it feels voluminous – not so much in pages but in ideas, thoughts etc, treats the theme of love and war in challenging ways, revealing about the author's life, gives specific memories which can evolve into generalised memories, is personal but becomes universal through connecting with reader...is not afraid to speak out, has wings and wants to fly, is not presumptious, is philosophical.....energetic and honest...does not bear grudges....loud and silent, all at once, for those who read in low level lighting settings. See, Rachel, I did try though, but it is fairly impossible to be objective...I just love 'The Wrong Miracle'! ; ) ********************************************************************* Thanks for the chat, Rachel. It's been fun. And next week, on the 10th of December, I hope to be on Serena's Blog 'Saavy Verse and Wit' ...maybe see you there!
Thanks, Liz, for all these passionate and persuasive replies...and especially for that last answer (because it's quite a mean question...and the kind of thing lots of people would make a fuss about answering...). In fact, at risk of sounding like one of those blogs where everyone just loves everybody, I would have to close with the conclusion that that Liz Gallagher, she's a total star. Maybe even the star on our communal Xmas tree. What do you think?
Originally from the north of England, I live in Angus, Scotland where I walk a lot, think a lot, listen to lots of music, sometimes write poems, sometimes read poems out to other people, sometimes write songs, read all kinds of odd things, watch a bit...oh and I look after my family too.
I sometimes organise poetry and music events - details are usually here (though nothing coming up in the near future). This year I went travelling with my family - photos and notes are here. Now we're back I have moved to a new regular blog - it is here.
More about the song
You can buy my book (published 2008) from my website if you fancy it (go to 'book' page) or from www.amazon.co.uk if you prefer the comfort of the multinational corporation. My book is printed on recycled paper and card. I have 12 different poetry postcards available too.