Tuesday, June 22, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Eleanor Hooker

Eleanor Hooker’s third poetry collection and two chapbooks are due for publication in 2021. She holds an MPhil (Distinction) in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. Her poems have been published internationally in literary journals including Poetry Ireland Review, POETRY magazine, Poetry Review, PN Review, Banshee, The Stinging Fly, Agenda, Winter Papers, The Blue Nib, the Irish Times Newspaper. Her poetry has been published in translation, in Hungarian, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish and Romanian literary journals. Eleanor is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London. She is a helm and Press Officer for Lough Derg RNLI lifeboat. www.eleanorhooker.com

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

After my first poetry collection, The Shadow Owner’s Companion (Dedalus Press) was published in 2012, life continued in most respects as normal, but I allowed myself greater confidence and belief in my writing. I’ve no desire to be characterised as a poet who writes a particular type of poetry, so I constantly push myself, vary my motifs and hone my craft so the poems I write are the best I can write. I think the poems I’m writing now are more mature, more upward looking.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

Poetry has been a part of my life, all my life, but I started out writing fiction.  I found fiction harder and slower to write than poetry, which I wrote primarily for myself.  It was only after sharing some poems with a dear friend, Pat Kelly, who encouraged me to attend a poetry workshop with him, that I considered sharing my poetry. I was astonished by the other participant’s reaction to the poems I’d brought, and by the workshop leader’s words of encouragement. That was about twenty years ago. I began to realise that the poetry I was writing could have merit. 

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I set myself deadlines, and find that concentrates my mind. I write notes on my phone and always keep a pen and paper on my bedside locker, ready to record a dream or some thought that comes to me in the night - if I wait until morning, the notion will have dissolved with the dark, and nothing I do will entice it back to me.

I need to be at my desk every day and write, waiting for inspiration is just procrastination and doesn’t work.

I try to get the first draft down in one or two days.  Re-writes and edits can take days or weeks, longer sometimes. Often the completed poem bears little resemblance to the seed from which it grew.

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

My poems used to arrive from ideas that needed to be shaped by words, but now my poems begin with phrases or words or things in the world that startle themselves, and me, by being things in the world.

Stories begin with language; I love listening to people talk, to steal a bit of their talk for dialogue.

Curiously, it’s not until I’m putting a poetry collection together that I identify themes running through series of the poems, which I put into sections in the book.

Poems arrive over time, often unbidden, and they will declare their bruises if they’re pressed into a ‘book’ shape for the sake of a theme.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Yes, I do enjoy doing readings. Poetry is an aural art. I recite new poems aloud on walks to test their flow and their memorability. This discombobulates my dogs, but it’s a litmus test for new work, whether it runs or stumbles.

I like the connection with the audience at readings, and too choosing to read less, so as to leave the audience wanting more. I don’t enjoy those readings where the poets mutter into their beards (men and beardy women both), where you grow roots into your chair, you’ve been sitting so long. Or where the poet gives a fifteen-minute intro to a three-line poem…

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

It’s always the same question, why?

The answer is usually a new poem.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

In 1821 Shelley wrote that that poets are the 'unacknowledged legislators of the world’ and if one looks at countries where poets are imprisoned for their art, it would appear that some fear the poet and his/her potential to unseat them.

In 1915, when Yeats was asked by writers James and Wharton for a war poem, he wrote ‘On Being Asked to Write a War Poem’ which includes the line ‘We have no gift to set a statesman right’. His poem was published by them (with the title ‘A Reason for Keeping Silent’) in an anthology in 1916, in a time of total war. I think Yeats was questioning the power of the poet to make change, and the value or impact of poetry that attempts to do so.

In his elegy to Yeats, ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’, Auden writes…

Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

It might be that poetry that sets out to be didactic or full to its brim with polemic, fails as poetry. It might be that the role of the poet is to write, from the truth place, so that its effect, as opposed to its purpose, is to heal, to comfort, to unsettle, to interrogate, to make the world anew.

I really like Adrienne Rich’s 2006 essay in the Guardian, in which she questions how poetry with its little monetary benefits and perceived elitism, continues to impact upon our lives in ways that resist easy definition or constraint.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

The relationship requires compromise. I like the process, but if I feel strongly about a poem, I won’t jettison it.

The relationship is essential when preparing a book for publication, and oftentimes an editor, having distance from the work, will see where edits are critical and this is where the writer needs to listen to the advice. 

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass’, Carlo Gëbler, one of my lecturers on the MPhil in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin, often repeated this Chekhov quote on writing. I think it applies as much to poetry as it does to fiction.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I think poetry alludes to, whilst prose elucidates. I thoroughly enjoy the mind shift needed for each genre.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I try to get to my desk early in the day. I need to be more disciplined. I no longer write at the kitchen table, my desk down the house is set up for writing and not worrying about domestic chores. I keep a list of writing deadlines and I shift between those when I’m getting stuck on a particular piece. I take lots of walks through the fields with my dogs, which clears my head.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Woodsmoke – ash or oak burning away in the stove, and that sweet fragrance up from the chimney and in the yard when we return from our walks.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Writing comes from being present in the world, and yes of course, reading is absolutely essential in learning the craft, but subject matter in writing comes from living - immersion in nature, music, science and visual art is definitely part of that.

The music I listen to when I’m writing changes (I only listen to music when writing prose, never when writing poetry), at the moment, my favourite is Tchaikovsky’s Hymn Of The Cherubim and Miserere mei, Deus by Allegri.

I hugely admire Jeanie Tomanek’s paintings, many of which inspire new poems. One of Jeanie’s paintings is the cover image on my new collection.

I love to learn new facts about the bad-ass many-eyed critters everywhere; nature is terrifying.

14 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Finish my novel. Learn to play the blues harmonica.

15 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

When I was small, I used to say to my Dad that I wanted to be on the stage and he’d reply that ‘the last stage has just left town’. He thought it was hilarious, and me being the literal creature I was, never got the joke.

We have almost no light pollution where I live, so on a starry night, sitting on the bench on our pier, I think I’d love to be up there, astronauting.

I trained as a nurse and then as a midwife, I’m doing things the other way round. I’ve always wanted to write.

17 - What are you currently working on?

My third poetry collection and two poetry chapbooks are ready and due for publication later this year. So I’m working on three new poetry projects, the first is a translation from German to English which is almost complete, the next is a collaboration which will come to fruition later this year, and the third is a research piece which will be published in 2022. And from time to time I return to my novel to see what Lizzie, the main character, has been up to in my absence.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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