Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Monday, 11 January 2010

Maximus Miracle Virtual Book Tour

A wee while ago I reviewed Liz Gallagher’s poetry collection, The Wrong Miracle. You can read the review here. At the time I also agreed to take part in her Maximus Miracle Virtual Book Tour and that time has now come. The condition imposed on me was that I could ask three questions; a bit of a challenge to think of something that would complement the review. Here’s what I came up with:

Select your favourite poem from your collection and tell us why it is your favourite.

I am going with my gut instinct and first choice on this and not dwelling at all on selecting a poem from the book as I then would be weighing up/to-ing and fro-ing/ and every-which-way-is-up with the choice... I have just picked up the book, after about a month of not seeing here goes: I've chosen 'My Father Shows Me How to Sharpen a Bush Trimmer'. It is not a favourite as such but it is sort of special for lots of non-poetic and non-technical reasons.

My Father Shows Me How to Sharpen a Bush-Trimmer

He holds one end, I hold the other end. We twist blue string.
We tie knots at both ends. I want to please and run to wrap
the string round the trunk of a tree in Susie’s field. There are

questions that hinge on our lives. He talks about the after-life
and the dead that never come back. His wooden chair is lopsided.
He searches for tiny fluctuations in the temperament of metal

then sharpens the bush-trimmer that lies precariously on his knees.
I watch. In my head, I am feeding him date kernels to calm the heart
and counteract all endings. I look to the sky and see a puppy dog cloud

change to a woman clutching two bare breasts. He says he knows
about the hail of golden bullets, one thousandth the thickness
of a human hair, that can infiltrate the body like a Trojan horse

to kill cancer. My father believes God is stable now and will not
affect his chemistry. I fall into my own consultation loop and think
of reasons to slam the moon. My father rises to snip bushes

into circular shapes. He says the moon’s orbit round the earth
is not circular. I follow him with a leaf -blower that I cannot
handle. We remember the scientist we saw on TV who called

up a slide of a monkey to dispute that everything appeared
out of nothing. As we approach the rusting gate, we see how
a mass of black berries is weighing it down. Our very old cat,

who has more than nine lives, is sitting on the fence. I catch the cat’s
eye. His tongue slips through his toothless mouth. He slowly
begins washing his sunken chest, his tongue circling, evasively.

Tell me about writing the poem: where was written, over what period of time, any difficulties?

I think I have chosen it because it reminds me of Ireland in sunnier times, August actually. My dad has an enormous hedge that has grown a little out of proportion but provides great is the Jack-and-the-Beanstalk of hedges, the only thing is that it now needs the skills of a tight-rope walker to reach and trim it, hence the theme of the poem being hedges and bush trimmers. I enjoy hanging out with my dad when he is busying himself with hedges, bushes, leaf-blowers; we chat and on a glorious August day, as is the setting for most of this poem, I remember there being some incredible cloud shapes in the sky which is something that hardly happens here in the Canarian skyline.

Another thing I get to do in Ireland is linger for ages with the newspaper and totally wallow in its news as normally I read the Irish newspaper online so it is a real treat to get to read it, paper-in-hand. The reference to the golden bullet, Trojan horse and cancer comes from an article I was reading at the time in the newspaper. I often note down interesting concepts, words, images from the paper and did so on this occasion and I also took notes on my observations of the cloud shapes.

Another factor that influenced this poem is the fact that my dad suffers from quite bad health; the particular summer that this poem was written in (07, I think), my dad's heart doctor had just told him: 'Colm, healthier men than you are lying six feet under and pushing up the daisies...' We had a good laugh over this comment but it also put into perspective the serious health issues my dad has/had to deal with and it made me realise once again what a 'survivor' my dad was like an eye-opener...hence the philosophical references to God and scientists.

The last image is of our now deceased and very old cat who definitely demonstrated she had more than nine lives. She liked to watch all activity concerning the hedge and on this occasion she was staring at us both as we were going about our jobs in the garden; she had an incredibly wise way of staring and her image became a subtle reference in the background to the precariousness of life.

I wrote this poem about two or three days after returning to the Canaries, so that would have been about a week or ten days after the events in the poem took place. I wrote the poem in one sitting and then the following day I re-worked the draft and finished it.

Are there are technical aspects you'd like to draw to our attention in its structure? (The underlying question here is: How important is form to you?)

One of the difficulties I had with this poem was deciding whether to keep it in its original couplet format or change it to a three or four-lined poem. I remember trying to have all the lines more or less the same length but also wanting to have each line finish on a good end word, in other words a good line break...this caused a bit of consternation at the time. Another difficulty would have been the emotional memory the poem held for me.

To answer the underlying question regarding form, I let the poem dictate the shape it should take. I do not set out with a particular form in mind but once the main ideas of the poem are worked out, I sometimes re-shape the poem or keep the form that came with the writing of the poem.


That was all very illuminating. If you’d like to see what else Liz has had to say about this collection the other sites involved in the tour are:

Event Museum – Arlene Ang

The Art of Breathing – Brenda Nixon

Women Rule Writer – Nuala Ní Chonchúir

The People’s Lost Republic of EEjit – Peadar O’Donoghue

More About the Song – Rambling with Rachel Fox

Savvy Verse an Wit – Serena M. Agusto-Cox

Savvy Verse an Wit – Serena M. Agusto-Cox II

Peony Moon – Michelle McGrane

Theory of Iconic Realism – Jeanne Iris Lakatos

The Wrong Miracle is available from Salt Publications at the odd price of £7.19.


Kass said...

You ask excellent questions. Just the ones I would have asked. I like Liz and her poetry very much. I especially like that she is not overly descriptive in a flowery way. She gets to the facts and lets us fill in the details of the surroundings, which because of her words, are immensely rich. I wish Salt Publishing were out of Salt Lake City, Utah. I don't know why - it would just be cool.
I'm most appreciative of the careful consideration you had of my last post (and all the ones you have commented on). Your thoughts are always stimulating to many readers.

Rachel Fenton said...

I love the accessiblity of this poem, how easy it is to read whilst also being acutely intelligent. Love the clouds and the existentialism of it all with the down to earth raw love that shines through.

Glad you've put the other tour hosts up because I need to catch up after my long break before Christmas! Had a post-it stuck to my lap top to remind me to do just that!

Liz said...

Morning, Jim, thanks for having me here once again and for listing the tour sites!

Hi Kass and Rachel,

Lovely to find your comments here this morning...much appreciate your reactions to the poem...thanks! : )

Art Durkee said...

Heartening to see another vote in the column of "I let the poem dictate the shape it should take." Which of course is where I vote as well. Let form emerge; it can be trimmed later, like the hedge, if need be.

Great answers to some really on-point questions.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Well done Jim and Liz, an interesting iterview.Iwas interested to learn the genesis of this poem and quite a few things struck a chord with me.I find hedge cutting very symbolic and a powerful metaphor.When my dad died his brothers cut the hedge for mum, it had a deep significance and I have never forgotten how I felt and words(in part not terrifically kind) that wre said to me.Many years later I cut a hedge for one of these brothers and for whatever reason felt immensely proud.I'm not sure what I'm saying here, but that's what (good) poetry does to you.

Elisabeth said...

It's great to read your poem and about your process in writing it, Jim.

I find the whole post very moving. Your poem too reminds me of one that the Australian poet, Les Murray wrote. He's famous here but he may not be so well known elsewhere.

I love the father/son connection and the business of death overshadowing a powerfully shared life that exists in both poems.

Here's the first verse of Les Murray's poem, 'The Last Hellos' see:

Don’t die, Dad —
But they die.
This last year he was wandery:
took off a new chainsaw blade
and cobbled a spare from bits.
Perhaps if I lie down
my head’ll come better again.
His left shoulder kept rising
higher in his cardigan.

It is a wonderful poem and resonates for me with yours.

One day I will learn to make proper links within comments.

Thanks, Jim.

I can understand why you might find this one of your favourites. It has an honesty and simplicity that carries the depth of relationship between a father and his son to deeper layers of meaning.

I love it.

Liz said...

Thanks for reading and commenting Art, Total and Elisabeth.

Art, too true - the trimming, the poem dictating and the hedge, cheers.

TFE, thanks for the story - makes me see the bigger scheme of things with hedges and relieved to know it is not just my family obsession... (my brother in Taiwan, who visits once a year, has main responsability for top trimming of one else is allowed near that part, dad saves it for him! : ))

Elisabeth, enjoyed your reaction to the poem and very much enjoyed the Les Murray poem. Really like his work. Thanks.

Dave King said...

Liked the concept behind the review and very much enjoyed your contribution. Your poem reminded me rather forcibly of Seamus Heaney's A Kite for Michael and Christopher in which he is on one level showing them how to fly a kite, and on another handing over to them. You probaly know me well enough by now to know that no higher compliment could I pay anyone.

Michelle said...

I really enjoyed reading this, Jim and Liz. Thanks so much!

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