Thursday, 21 January 2010

Hot wheels

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.

Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car is available to buy for £4.50/€6 at Templar Poetry. Nuala blogs at Women Rule Writer.


Kat Mortensen said...

Wow! I must focus on that poem you have shared, Rachel. It is startling, yes, but has such a courageousness and truth. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

Rachel Fox said...

Glad you feel that way, Kat. It kind of backs up why I like posting a full poem with a review/piece about a poetry collection. A poet spends so long getting their work just right...why not let readers have a look at that if you can. The only time it's difficult is when a collection is full of very long poems...but then you can just include a long excerpt from a poem.

Dick said...

Well, I'm ready to shell out. Lucky Nuala - an inspirational profile and interview, Rachel.

Kar said...

Hi Rachel,

I loved this book! I carried it around in my bag for a few weeks, now its beside my bed and although small its bursting at the seams with wonderful words! I have some of Nuala's other poetry books and they are equally as brilliant.
Thank you for the interview, lovely intro and great questions.
Kar x

Marion McCready said...

To be that good at poetry and prose, how unfair :)
That'll be another book to add to my list then!

Rachel Fenton said...

I'm already sold. I love the unashamed honesty and rawness of Nuala's writing; how she makes the minutiae seem as all encompassing as a universe.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Great questions, great answers, great poem, great book, great price for the book, great ,great, great, it's all great,over to mine next? Great! (Don't panic Mr Mainwaring!)

Liz said...

Nice one, girls, deffo top notch writing...enjoyed...brava to both!

Rachel Fox said...

No surprise Nuala already has quite a fan club! Maybe a few new members now though too.

Unknown said...

Oh she's just as good in the flesh as in the blogpost, if you can't meet her in person. They're all great poems, N. And these are great questions, Rachel.

Colm Keegan said...

that poem is stunning. Great questions but I'm all about that poem right now.

Rachel Fox said...

Other poems I had on my 'ask for this poem' list were 'Turning', 'Other People's Children' and 'Die Kinder'. But they're all good. I think I went for 'Menses' in the end because it's so different to everything else I've read recently.

Group 8 said...

Thanks everyone, for the great comments. I'll have an enormous head. You are all v nice. Special thanks Rachel for being such a gracious host. Nuala x

A Cuban In London said...

I loved the poem, the book title and the interview. But especially her poem. It's almost as if someone had taken a video camera and zoomed out of it. It's ever so good. Many thanks for introducing me to someone so talented.

Greetings from London.

Rachel Fox said...

And I've just remembered I also wondered about asking for 'Dream after a Reading' and 'Woman and Cosmetics' (Titus one for you!). So many I liked so much!

The Rejection Queen said...

Hey I just stopped by your blog. I wanted to say good luck to you in 2010.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I shall join TFE on the 29th rachel - that poem is so clever.

Titus said...

Just loved all of this: the introduction, the observations and the interview. And then the poem - exqusite. Must search out the book and the short stories. Thanks to both of you - great post.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks, T. I'm sure you will love her writing. We women of a certain age aren't such useless specimens after all...

Dave King said...

I'm pleased you chose Nuala to champion, she has long been a favourite of mine - but i, too, don't know how to pronounce her name.

Ken Armstrong said...

Great posting! I don't know her (for shame) and will seek her out... well, her writing out.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Dave, she's great and yes, Ken, start with 'Nude' (stories).