Tierra de Ahulema

Tierra de Ahulema

viernes, 24 de junio de 2011

Interview with MARTIN MOONEY (II)

1.- Irish poetry has always been related very deeply with tradition, is still alive this tradition in new poets? In which way?

Is this a uniquely or particularly Irish thing? I doubt it: I think it’s integral to the art of poetry (at least as it’s understood in European and European-rooted cultures, which is all I’d be able to talk about.) Even as a practitioner of an oral art, the poet learns from his or her predecessors, develops what’s been learnt, adds new things but is always looking back and forward at the same time.
There’s a terrible danger in the stereotype of Irish culture as somehow more organically or authentically linked to the past than other cultures: it’s nonsense, as far as I can see, but politically risky nonsense, and attractive to a certain kind of sentimental, right-wing nationalism. ‘Tradition’ is always more or less an invention.
As to whether contemporary poets feel a connection with writers of the past, I’d be astounded if someone who didn’t could write anything at all. Why would they want to? How would they or their readers and listeners know what they meant when they used the word ‘poetry’? I’m continually taken aback when I hear people use ‘literary’ as an insult, and mean something like having an awareness of one’s forerunners in the art.
At the same time I’m fascinated by the notion that there could be something like naïve poetry, as a distinct art form, there way you can have naïve painting. Actually, there is: anyone who teaches a writers’ class or reads a lot of the ‘poems’ published in local newspapers or on the internet has come across it. Poor stuff, mostly, with an aspiration to a kind of Georgian versification that most of the writers just don’t understand well enough to handle competently. Or, conversely, the ‘poems’ that get declaimed in slams and so-called spoken word events: again, the key factor in their failure as poems is a failure to grapple with the poetry of the past.
I’m sure that sounds like snobbery. It’s not meant to be. I’m cheered and consoled by the fact that so many people still feel instinctively that poetry is the way to express intense feeling or mark important events in words. And I’m increasingly committed to an approach that I’m tempted to call ‘poesia povera’ – a poetry made up of the ordinary neglected margins of language and experience. But as an art form, poetry can’t exist in isolation from the past.

2.- Sometimes we can think that Irish Poetry started with W.B. Yeats and was followed by Seamus Heaney, what are your poetic roots as a writer and which other writers would you recommend us? And what is the situation of the actual Irish Poetry?

Well, this is a good place to make clear that when I talk about the poetry of the past, I don’t have a lot of time for an imposed and unchanging canon, a singular monolithic Irish (or English, or whatever) tradition. Like most poets, probably, I’m a bit of a magpie. And certainly I wouldn’t define myself – and wouldn’t want to be exclusively defined – as a poet in an Irish tradition. My closest companions in the art are probably the English or England-based writers I’ve known since my twenties, my dialogue is as often with British and American poets as it is with the Irish. My own writing began in adolescence and was sparked by two poets whose work I’m not sure I’d rate as highly these days – Leonard Cohen, and DH Lawrence!
There is a kind of Irish canon, though, as you suggest. A sketch of it might be Yeats-Clarke-Kavanagh-Kinsella-Montague and from then dividing into Northern and Southern streams. The Northern stream attracted a great deal of attention from the late 60s, and there’s a fair bit of ill-feeling sometimes simmering below the surface whenever poetry’s discussed in this way. And of course it shouldn’t be discussed in this way, not by poets anyway.
If I was introducing Irish poetry to someone new to it, I wouldn’t start with poets: I’d start with poems. Off the top of my head, one reading list might be: ‘
The Yellow Bittern’, ‘Kilcash’, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’, ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, ‘The Planter’s Daughter’, ‘The Great Hunger’, ‘Autumn Journal’, ‘Like Dolmens round my Childhood, the Old People’, ‘A Disused Shed in County Wexford’, ‘Broagh’, ‘Stephano Remembers’, ‘Meeting the British’….
And another poet (especially one who knew Irish) would give you a wholly different list.
As to the question of how things stand today, the honest answer is I don’t know. The environment seems pretty hostile to the small-press magazines that gave me and most of my generation our first openings and helped us shape our outlooks. The few established journals that survive don’t, on the rare occasions that I see them, fill me with hope. And I don’t think we’ve found the way to build that kind of small-press subculture on the internet, yet.

3.- As a poet you admire values such as decorum, tone, manner... how do you transfer those values in a modern speech with the language used in the streets in the 21st century?

Well, ‘
decorum’ means more than just polite, well-mannered behavior. In literary terms it means something like sensitivity to the linguistic choices a poem makes, fitting the right vocabulary and tone to the subject matter at hand. I think the relationship between the literary artifact, the poetic utterance, and what Wordsworth called ‘the real language of men’ is the key issue. It’s certainly what I wrestle with when I’m trying to write, and when a poem fails – as most do – it’s because it hasn’t discovered its own version of that relationship.

But very sweepingly, you can’t write well in anything other than your contemporary speech – that’s the bedrock. It’s what you do in and make of that common language that makes or breaks the poem.

4.- According to your works we could thing that your poetic voice is very wide, it runs from social poems, where you "translate" what surrounds you, to an inner voice almost bordering Philosophy, do you mix both ways in your poems? Why?

See my answer to question 7. I don’t have an agenda, I don’t think poems have to be about one kind of thing rather than another, or be written in one kind of way rather than another. It’s enough of a struggle to make any sort of poem, I take what comes!
But more seriously, Louis MacNeice writes somewhere of a kind of ideal poet as an ordinary citizen: one who reads newspapers, votes in elections, has love affairs, earns a living, argues with friends about the important issues of the day and in the next breath discusses Saturday’s football results – and whose poetry can accommodate all of that and more. I think there’s more truth in that than in the notion of the poet as some kind of enlightened visionary or prophet.
Another way of looking at this might be to look at the
metaphysical poets of Elizabethan and Jacobean times. They were criticized for letting all kinds of new learning and the associated vocabularies into what were called ‘strong lines’ – breaking up the accepted sweetness and melodiousness and conventional subject matter of their predecessors. But they lived like we do at a time of profound social and intellectual conflict and change, and the times make irresistible demands on the language and scope of poetry.

5.- You are very concerned with your social environment, you are from Belfast, with a mixed religious background in your family, how have you lived the social and political evolution in Northern Ireland not only as a citizen but also as writer?

This is a difficult question. For many reasons, personal, social, geographical, the conflict here had little immediate effect on me as I grew up. I suspect the same is true for the majority of people. As a citizen, as you say, as well as a writer, you try to take account of what others are going through, but I’m not a journalist, and forced poems about ‘issues’ have nothing to offer.
Besides which, the ideological alternatives at the heart of the conflict were – and are – singularly unattractive. The narratives of unionism and nationalism, both socially conservative, both more or less culturally monopolistic, have never seemed to leave room for the real lives of the people I knew. I might think differently if I’d grown up elsewhere or had different experiences, but the so-called ‘two traditions’ seem pathetically shallow and artificial to me. And while the end of armed conflict here was overdue and welcome, the peace process doesn’t alter the ideological and moral bankruptcy of the main political forces in the state.
One of the things I continue to draw strength from and orient myself by, in terms of my upbringing, is not just that the family had no affiliation to either of the confessional ‘traditions’ in the north, not just that it was ‘mixed’, but that we had no investment in religion at all. So for all that a form of Christianity was force-fed at school, I seem to be pretty immune to the supernaturalism that’s still a powerful force in society here. And that’s a very particular and not widely-shared perspective on our local issues…

6.- Poetry is language, sometimes can be a kind of a game looking for images, or metaphors or sounds etc, what is the importance you give to language in your poetry and how do you use it?

I said earlier that the common speech is the bedrock, the basis for everything, but that it’s what the poem does with it that counts. And the power and shock and truth of a poem will often be communicated through the pressures and distortions ordinary language is forced to undergo in shaping the poem. That’s the important tension for me, between ordinary English and the intensity of the image or experience at the heart of the poem. And that tension can be summed up in the word ‘form’.
But I think it’s important to be precise about this – ‘ordinary’ language includes slang, idiomatic speech, dialect, jargon, subcultural codes. We’re not talking about ‘Plain English’ whose primary aim is direct and accessible communication of clear and unambiguous messages. The poem is like an avant garde orchestra that has violins and clarinets, of course, but also has vacuum cleaner hoses and car hubcaps and food mixers …
Is it a game? Just a kind of intellectual puzzle? Well, I don’t think anybody sets out ‘just’ to play games. But there’s a kind of self-satisfied moralistic outrage on the part of some people when they see playfulness or puzzle-making in poems, a puritan disapproval that seems Calvinist and inhuman to me. What’s wrong with play? The alternative seems to be a ‘poetry’ composed of moral lessons with no room for delight or surprise or learning…Hymns. Boring, if you ask me

7.- Do you think if any subject can be suitable for poetry?

Absolutely. Why not? What’s the alternative?

8.- What do you think about new technologies in order to spread and make known literature further than the traditional ways or in which way those technologies influence on literature?

I’m not a Luddite, but I’m not an early adopter either. I think the internet is invaluable, I think its influence has already been profound and profoundly disorienting for the advanced economies. We have not nearly begun to come to terms with it.
As far as writing and writers are concerned there are some terrific resources out there. The
Gutenberg Project and Bartleby are invaluable. Closer to home I know a number of poets and small publishers with terrific web presences, and there’s a sense of writers taking over a kind of brand management from publishers who just don’t have the resources to do it any more.
What doesn’t seem to be working – yet, maybe – is online publication. I don’t mean the e-book, which may or may not catch on but doesn’t seem to me to be any threat to the book. But the literary journal, periodical publication, seems to be a dying form, and I’ve seen little online to suggest that the web can fill the gap. And I think the novel and the historical biography and maybe even the short story will survive that relatively unscathed, but poetry simply won’t. And what seems to be missing is editorial vision and its enforcement. The supposed egalitarianism of the web isn’t always a wonderful thing…
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9.- How do you work with a poem or in a poem? How do you focus your work?

That’s really hard to answer without huge generalization. It changes from poem to poem, and has changed as I’ve grown older. Sometimes poems seem to come fully-formed from a single seed – there’s a poem in my new collection called ‘The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife’ that seemed to arrive more or less in its final form, while others took a lot of development and revision.
If I can generalize, what happens is that something – an image, an anecdote from history or the papers or of course my own experience – will stick in my head and with luck act like a seed around which other images and ideas and tones of voice and vocabularies will crystallize. But the whole structure has to be interrogated, analyzed, dismantled and reformed, often many times before it finds (or reveals) a rhythm and a settled form.
It’s not unlike scientific research, where hypotheses have to be tested again and again and discarded when their explanatory power is exhausted. And, less pompously, it’s not unlike solving a cryptic crossword clue, where the answer may in the end seem to have come to you by inspiration, but has actually been arrived at by a series of more or less conscious and rational procedures.
And the key procedure is revision. As Robert Lowell said, ‘revision is inspiration.’ The poems in the new book were being revised right to the point of publication, in many cases.

10.- A new book of yours is going to be released, what is the title? what can you tell us about this new work?

The new book was published this spring. It’s called The Resurrection of the Body at Killysuggen, and some of the poems and some background ideas are online on my blog of the same name. It has taken almost seven years to complete. For a large part of that time I wasn’t really writing poems at all, and was pretty sceptical about the value of taking part in a literary culture that seemed to be less and less valued by a society that increasingly paid lip service to it. Literature in general, but poetry in particular, was being absorbed into some kind of amorphous enterprise called ‘heritage tourism’, or being marshaled into the service of state capitalism in the name of ‘the creative industries.’
But I managed to find some time from my day-job in the early spring of 2010, and was lucky enough to be awarded a bursary by Newtownabbey Borough Council to spend time at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. I worked on what was really a bundle of rough drafts and half-finished ideas, and was gratified to find that there actually might be a book there. There were themes and cross-cutting images, common approaches, and with a great deal of help from my partner Janice, who’s a trained editor, the collection took shape.
What’s the book ‘about’? I think that’s for readers to decide – if there are any!