Isn't this smashing? My friend and vastly talented writer Nuala Ni Chonchuir has popped across from Ireland to natter abut her new collection of poetry, The Juno Charm, out with Salmon publishing. Right, I'll just pull up a couple of chairs...
Vanessa: So, multi-book person, poet, short story writer, novelist, tell me how you think the perspective of a poet, indeed any creative writer, changes when they start to see the world as a parent, not just as a 'free spirit' adult with no eye on the genetic inheritance and its future success or not.
Nuala: I'll restrict my responses to those of my poet self... I wrote poetry all along but I didn’t get serious about it until my late twenties, and I was already a parent by then (I had my first son at 23). I think as a parent you do see the world differently, because it suddenly becomes a scary place for your kids. Some of my work has been inspired by my kids: pregnancy poems, birth poems, charm poems that wish for happy lives for them. There’s a poem in this collection called ‘Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale’ and it’s about 9/11 with reference to my son worrying about worldly dangers.
I would never censor myself because of my kids – in my experience, writers’ offspring have little interest in the writer parent’s work. I do hope they will read my books as adults and maybe understand me a bit more as a result.
Vanessa: I want to ask about all the poems, as they have your stamp of being mesmeric, many are seductive, and all seem beautiful to this reader ... but I will confine the question to one - hidden in the middle, ‘The Japanese Madonna’. I love that. Can you tell me about the images here - where does this come from? What's the 'story?'
Nuala: We had a spate of moving Virgin Mary statues here in Ireland – people were convinced the statues were rocking, crying etc. I have a great love for the BVM as an icon – she was one of the few women to feature prominently in the church of my childhood and I think we can claim her as a strong mother, whether we are religious or not. So I’m interested in her in all her forms and I came across a picture of a Japanese Madonna and thought, ‘Of course, why wouldn’t there be such a woman?’ She appeared to a nun in Japan and she wept and bled (apparently). So, she was a good story for a poem, in contrast to one of our own moving statues who just rocked. (You can reproduce the poem if you like.)Vanessa: I do like! Thanks so much. And here it is - the little gem:
The Japanese Madonna
As Madonna of Akita
I was carved
by a Buddhist from
a weeping katsura.
I forsook kimono and zori
for an unpainted robe,
a European chin,
and an aristocrat’s gaze.
I dropped blood-tears,
my sweat stank of roses,
and I warned that fire
would fall from the sky.
I was made of stone;
I just flexed my fingers
And one more, sorry, I can't quite let this go... the final poem, ‘The Writer’s Room’. It is very funny – I’d love to know about the photographs it was inspired by. But more importantly, you say the writer is 'unassailable' whilst keeping space for the prizes to come, on the shelves... loved that! But I wondered, you, the writer – how to stay 'unassailable'? How to you tackle the demons who tell you something is rubbish, not to write it? Or don't you suffer from those?
Nuala: The Guardian used to do a series of photos on a Saturday of writers’ rooms and there was often a po-faced description (from the writer) about the space, the muse and so forth. So I was poking fun at the kind of writer who seems to adore the idea of being a writer and comes out with a lot of egotistical rot as a result.
One of the writers said they were ‘unassailable’ at their desk and there is that feeling, when the work is going well, that you are safe in your working (yet imaginary) world.
Sometimes the voice that says something is rubbish is a sensible voice telling me to re-look at the work. I’ve written two unpublished novels (years of work) and they will never be published because they don’t deserve to be.
There are always doubts, about everything. Bringing out a new book is a horrible mix of fear and elation. Will everyone hate it? Will they get it? Confidence in the work waxes and wanes.
Vanessa: Many of the poems are wonderfully physical, sensual pieces of work. I think I made that point in our discussion on Red Car – some poems from that reappear here in The Juno Charm and it’s lovely that they may find a broader readership. I am finding increasingly that the process of writing is a physical one. I’m not talking backache and RSI here (!) but more the physical sensation, a sort of 'don't do this Vanessa,' warning when I am 'controlling' the work too much and not letting the characters/ words flow as they will, at least at first draft stage. Do you find writing a physical process?
Nuala: Yes, in the sense that I jig in my seat when it’s going well; I rub my hands together and laugh. I also get tingles when things start to flow in the right direction, or a logical connection happens that, up to that point, I hadn’t seen. Real tingles – hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-rising stuff.
I read my work aloud all the time so I throw myself into it. I love that all-jigging, smiling, hair-raising feeling, I must say ☺.
Vanessa : I'm perennially interested to know this - but how do you know when a poem is being born? And how do you know when it is finished?
Nuala: Gosh, erm, it just feels like a poem as opposed to fiction. It has a shorter span as it plays out before me. I’ve written poems and stories on the same topics, so it’s not necessarily a subject matter issue. I guess something just hits me and it won’t go away until I write it down.
As for being finished, it’s done when I grow tired of tinkering and when its music sounds right to my ear when I say it out loud.
Thanks so much for having me, Vanessa, and for such intriguing questions. Next week my tour takes me to Co. Kildare and writer Niamh Boyce’s blog Words A Day. It would be lovely if people could join me there.
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, is launched this week in Dublin and Galway.
Here is the link to the page on Salmon if people want to buy the book: HERE!
Credit:The portrait of Nuala is by Emilia Krysztofiak