Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Juno Charm visits the blog

Photo: Emilia Krysztofiak
I am very luck in that I have many multi-talented writer friends, one of whom is Nuala Ní Chonchúir - she writes short stories, novels, poetry. Nuala - who is the same age as I am - has published, umm, let's see, three short story collections (Nude, To the World of Men Welcome, The Wind Across the Grass), a novel (You) and now her fourth  poetry collection, The Juno Charm, (the others are Molly's Daughter, Tattoo Tatu, Portrait of the Artist with Red Car). Do I feel inadequate? Is this about me? No, it isn't. It's about Nuala. Here's her full bio:

Born in Dublin in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway county. Her début novel You (New Island, 2010) was called ‘a heart-warmer’ by The Irish Times and ‘a gem’ by The Irish Examiner. Her third short story collection Nude (Salt, 2009)) was shortlisted for the UK’s Edge Hill Prize. Her second short story collection To The World of Men, Welcome has just been re-issued by Arlen House in an expanded paperback edition. The Juno Charm, her third full poetry collection, was launched in November.

I am delighted to be hosting this stop on her blog tour for The Juno Charm, an exquisite, moving, lyrical, visceral - and often very funny - collection of poetry. Since I am a poetry novice attempting to write a few poems, I used this as a chance to pick my talented friend's brain, get some tips. I hope you'll find it interesting too - and it will whet your appetite for the book, which would make an ideal seasonal gift!

Tania: Welcome, Nuala!  Your poems are a wonderful combination of very physical and visceral and soaring flights of language. You use some words I have never heard of (English words!) but didn't want to look them up, I loved the not-knowing. How do you write your poems? Do you search for words that are new to you?

Nuala: I’m now very curious to know what those words were!! [Tania: here are some of them: "jiddering", "drupe", "anchoritic", "lanugo", "vernix", "ocellated"] My poems are written when something flashes into my mind’s eye because of something I have read/seen/heard. Lots of thing interest me but in order to make a poem, a thing has to really grab me and nag at me until I write about it. Like most writers, I love to add to my word-hoard. I use the thesaurus and dictionary daily, when I write, because it’s important to me to always use the right word. I hope that by being a careful writer – meaning one who cares about everything from words to grammar to the overall feel and look of a poem – that I will eventually write something of worth. So, yes, I am always alert to new words and often that new word by itself will spark a poem. ‘Peabiddy’ – Flannery O’Connor’s word for peachicks (baby peacocks) – was a new word to me and it became the apt title to the poem ‘Peabiddy’ which is about my daughter Juno’s birth and my hopes for her. Here’s the text of it:


The flaps opened and out you popped,
biddy-in-the-box, one wing raised
in a super-heroine’s salute.

We put you there, cock and hen,
rattling feathers and shrieking softly
under canvas in a midland field.

You, our emerald peabiddy,
the actual fact of you musters pride
as we watch amazed at your evolution.

How you stomp on sturdy legs and
perfect your calls: the eee-ow of your tribe,
the vowels and consonants of ours.

Safe passage – we cannot fly with you –
but our nest will always be here and
we can guarantee a soft landing.

T: Just a gorgeous poem, thank you! Many of the poems here deal with extremely personal experiences – sex, miscarriage, birth – is this something you feel that poetry helps you express in a way you can't in other forms – fiction or non-fiction?

N: My poetry tends to be about my life (other than when it involves narratives of other people’s lives, like van Gogh, Kahlo etc.). So it centres a lot on life events like birth, death, illness etc. My fiction tends to me more made-up, that is, not drawn directly from my life, but it will always contain parts of me – my opinions and experiences. I have written about all the same things in fiction (pregnancy loss, sex etc.) but I have transposed those things onto people who are clearly not me. It can be nerve-wracking, in that sense, when a poetry collection comes out because now people know all about the real, raw me, rather than the disguised, fictional me :)

T:Your poems seem to be in conversation with each other, reading the book in one go is a wonderful, complete experience. Was this in any way planned??

N: It wasn’t planned in that the poems were written over a four year period and they reflect what was happening to me and obsessing me over those years and before that. So the writing just grows organically out of whatever is going on, in this case marriage breakdown, divorce, pregnancy loss, remarriage, new love, new baby. So if it’s a conversation, it’s one with myself, trying to make sense of all the ups and downs of the past few years. The planning came later, then, in the ordering of the book – which poem to put where. That’s always a daunting experience but satisfying when the book has a narrative flow. I also ended and began with poems on a high note, to lure the reader in!

T: One final question? What advice would you have for a beginner poet , especially one who writes in other forms (i.e. me!)?

N: Read lots of contemporary poetry - find out what people are writing about and how they are doing it. Go to poetry readings and listen to your peers. Some poets read wonderfully and can be an inspiration. Learn a little about form - you don't have to write in forms but it's good to know a little about them. Maybe get a copy of The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, edited by Eavan Boland and Mark Strand. Write about the things that possess and interest you, the things that are dear to your heart. You knit, Tania - I challenge you to write a knitting poem! Thanks so much for having me here today. Next week my virtual tour takes me to Mel Ulm’s The Reading Life blog in the Philippines.


Thank you so much, Nuala, for visiting the blog and for sharing something with us about your process and the writing of poetry, what it means to you. (I have the Mark Strand book so i am on the right track!) Nuala blogs at Women Rule Writer, where you can follow the previous and next stops on her tour. You can buy The Juno Charm here. Go on, you know you want to!


Órfhlaith Foyle said...

Great interview Tania and Nuala.


Thanks Órfhlaith and thank you, Tania, for having me over.

Tania Hershman said...

Thanks, Orfhlaith, she gives good interview, eh??

niamh said...

interesting to hear about the thesarus...I also liked not knowing what some words were:)
I've the boland book too, but I think I need more than a book to get my head around form:)
Great interview, really enjoyed it. Thanks.

Parrish Lantern said...

Great interview & as a lover of words & needing to know what they mean (obsessively)it helps to have a collection of dictionaries, thesauruses etc always close by. As to the poem it reminded of some of the funny warm poems that Sylvia Plath did about her sprogs, particularly "You're" which is a favourite.

Rachel Fenton said...

I like that Nuala's poems are a celebration of the female body - of woman unadorned - "visceral" indeed. And the words you picked up on, Tania - a literary magpie - definitely the workings of a poet:)

Thanks for a superb interview - write us some more, Nuala! Please.

Tania Hershman said...

Niamh, you and me both!

Parrish Lantern, nice to meet you - I'm sure Nuala will be delighted with the comparison!

Rachel, they are wonderful, aren't they. I don't think we have to instruct Nuala to write more, she's one of the hardest-working writers I know!

Tania Hershman said...

Niamh, you and me both!

Parrish Lantern, nice to meet you - I'm sure Nuala will be delighted with the comparison!

Rachel, they are wonderful, aren't they. I don't think we have to instruct Nuala to write more, she's one of the hardest-working writers I know!

Anonymous said...

That's a helpful interview. I usually write short fiction, but am playing with a few poems recently. Congrats to Nuala. Enjoyed your own post on Ink Tears on flash and thanks for the references there