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 it...so 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 shade...it 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 is...it 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.
• 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.