There are a lot of writers online – on blogs, facebook and all that – and some of those writers are, we must admit it, simply better than others. It's always hard to back up that 'better' of course (and I'm not going to get into that one right now) but still, I think you know what I'm talking about - some people are just brilliant. I'd have to say that, for me, Ireland's Nuala Ní Chonchúir, is one of those people.
I really only learned about Nuala last year (and still, I'm ashamed to say, I have no idea how to pronounce her surname – some linguist, huh?). The first I knew of her was mentions of her short story collection 'Nude' online and then I bought that book and was absolutely knocked over by it. I don't read short stories all the time but I have read my share over the years and I would say (and have said before) that 'Nude' is as good as short story writing gets (for me). The stories are quite simply sharp, sizzling and sumptuous. In fact just thinking about them makes me want to read the whole collection again (and I will...before too long).
I then found out that Nuala wrote poetry too (and has a novel out later this year...some people!). But the poems couldn't be as good as the stories, could they? That just wouldn't be fair! Well, her new book of poems is 'Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car' (Templar Poetry). And is it good? Oh yes. Yes, yes and yes. Here are a handful of observations about it:
It is only 24 poems...several of them quite tiny...but each poem has a fairly huge punch hidden about its personage somewhere.
Like her short stories, these poems are pumping with bold images and deep, passionate emotions. Lots of people try to write like this but few really manage it.
Quite a lot of the poems in this book make you feel as though someone has given you a great big, (in some ways) painful life injection. But in a good way.
Anyone could read this book and understand it (well most of it...enough of it). And I know that isn't always important but it's still worth mentioning, I think.
Nuala writes about what you might call women's subjects (pregnancy, childbirth, lack of pregnancy, periods...yes period blood...still shameful to mention after all these years!) and about other shared physical subjects (like sex) in a way few poets can and/or do. She is a writer for women to feel proud of and for both men and women to learn from. And yes, you can learn from poetry. You can learn from anything if you try hard enough.
And next, with all permissions, I'd like to share with you a poem from her new book. I wouldn't say it's typical of the book in any sense (because it's a very varied collection) but it is one of the slighter poems and one of the softer ones too. I am aware too that just the title is probably enough to make some people wince (men who don't like to know details of our grimness, women who hate the idea of women 'writing about women's issues'...) but I think poets can and should write about everything...somehow, some time, somewhere...
Before the butterfly days are the fly days, and before those, the days of the spiders, and along with them come the waiting days. The mind asks the body if it is happening, invisible and unseen, a cell-dividing miracle. The answer comes on too many of these long summer days, drop by red drop.
From 'Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car' by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (Templar Poetry 2009)
And finally here is a mini-interview with Nuala. Three questions and three fine answers.
Q. 1. Which writing is closest to your heart - poems, stories or novel?
Hi Rachel and thanks for having me over for the second stop on my Red Car Virtual Tour. Even though I am touting a poetry pamphlet just now, I’d have to say that short fiction is the form closest to my heart. As a writer – and as a reader – stories are what get my heart racing. I love how they can be absurd or moving in content, adventurous with language, and that they often contain a vast landscape within a small space. They are such gems when done well. I love poetry too and I find when I am in a poetry-writing phase, I read a lot more of it and wonder why I don’t do that constantly. I grew up on novels and am usually grazing on one; currently the rather brilliant writing of Zoë Heller.
Q.2. How would you react to a word like 'brave' if it was used to describe your writing?
Brave? I guess I’d like that. As a woman writer and as a feminist I’m aware how important it is that women’s direct experiences of life be aired. If by sticking my neck above the parapet (however slightly) I then make it easier for another woman to do the same, that’s a good thing. Poets Sharon Olds and Eavan Boland, and fiction writer Edna O’Brien have all done that for me – their candidness inspired my own. As writers who are also mothers/lovers/daughters/friends/workers it is important that we reflect life as lived by women, I feel. A lot of the poems in 'Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car' can be described as confessional, as they deal with aspects of my life including marriage breakdown, fertility issues etc. Personally I love to read poetry that comes from real experience; it usually has more humanity and feeling in it.
Q. 3. What book (by someone else) have you most recommended to others (friends, family, other writers, students...) in the past 5 years? And why?
Probably 'Silk' by Alessandro Baricco, a beautiful novella translated from Italian. It is ostensibly about one man’s impossible love affair, but it’s really about his wife’s strength and intelligence. Why do I recommend it? Because it is gorgeously well written and it’s a real story, with layers and motifs. I also love its fairytale-like quality.
Thanks for lovely questions, Rachel, and for having me at More about the Song. Next Friday the 29th January I am at Total Feckin’ Eejit’s blog. Maybe some of your readers might join me there.
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.