August 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Cherry Smyth by Jeyda Karamehmet
1. What do you enjoy most about being a poet?
Writing restores my lightness, my innocence. What I enjoy most about being a poet is being humble, being gifted the value and reward of language and being able to access insights that can transform myself and others. I love the joy of the sudden, unbidden arrival of those insights, the understanding and self-knowledge that they grant. Poetry gives me a way to lead an intellectual and philosophical life.
2. Has your work changed or developed since you started writing?
While once I wrote to understand and process my emotions, now I write more to understand my thoughts, my being in the world. I read more, study more, and this has strengthened and deepened my work – formally, thematically, intellectually and aesthetically.
3. Is there a particular process you use when writing poetry?
I usually take myself off into a space of solitude and silence to write. I read other poets and philosophers, diligently, make notes and allow poems to begin to surface. The editing process which can take 10-30 drafts can be done in London. My first and second drafts are always done in pencil.
4. Where and when do you write, especially when writing about strong emotions – is it immediate, or on reflection/from memory?
I rarely write about strong emotions immediately. ‘The Slip Road’ for example, took several years to emerge, although I had anticipated that I would write about it at some point and a part of me was horrified by the seemingly parasitic aspect of the poet looking at her parents’ car crash as material. But that is the ego talking, the failed and frightened pre-poet who is not in the rich, redeeming innocence of the creating poem. The poem forgives its provenance and so must you. With world events like 9/11 and 7/7, there was also some delay but I felt more of an imperative to write something in response and not allow ‘terrorism’ or ignorance to silence me.
5. What inspires your poetry the most, and why? Is there an aspect of your life that is particularly influential on what you write?
What inspires me are the ethics of love, loss, identity, belonging, the body – how it desires, how it changes. Painting, visual pleasure, nature being itself.
6. ‘Now You’re a Woman’: how did you bring together the different ideas and inspirations in this poem?
‘Now You’re a Woman’ uses a fairly classic formula of the inverted fairytale: what if Sleeping Beauty had willed the century-long sleep? It was inspired by a lover who loved nothing more than sleeping and by self-harm as a release, an escape. There’s also a nod to metaphysical poets there with the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin at the end.
7. Why do you use a particular verse form, mode or style ‘Now You’re a Woman’?
The form, mode, style often come with the poem – a certain, unalienable voice, but the structure is malleable. At times, I will try out the finished poem in 2-line, 3-line stanzas, imposing form, and at other times, I let it have a more ragged, fragmented free form if the emotions demand that. Often the emotion in the more measured, linear poems seems more resolved.
8. Why do you write about a particular emotion in a particular way ‘These Parts’?
‘These Parts’ is about intervention. I was thinking about Iraq and about the politics of intervention – by who and when and how does it become right? I hear this terrible squealing and everything in me wants to put a stop to it but I can’t. I am held outside it, separated by different cultural laws, men’s laws, and I imagine the initiation of the young girls into that culture and how watching that scene will shape them and then I feel entitled to steal an orange (the echo of Eve’s apple of course) and I accept the knowledge being this kind of witness has bestowed. Just as Demeter is angry but must accept that Persephone is gone for half the year, this poem is about restraint. ‘These Parts’ are not only the geographical parts but the physical parts of the sow or wild boar that is being slaughtered. In short, I don’t know why the shape, form and tone emerge – it’s craft, a raft, a vehicle – it goes fast and slow and sometimes it sinks.
9. What can you express in poetry that you can’t in another literary or art form?
What I can express in poetry is emotional truth, linguistic control and agility and philosophical insight. I think I could some of this work in painting. I like artists like Cy Twombly who uses poetic text in his abstract work but there are many artists who inspire me – Sandra Blow, Vija Celmins, Susan Rothenberg, Raoul de Keyser.
10. What keeps you writing and sharing your work in a society that listens less each day?
If I keep feeling, I must keep writing. It places me, rewards me, replaces all the crassness society fills me with. It nourishes and replenishes me. Just because the world is full of fast food, doesn’t mean I have to eat it. We often neglect the time to do deep reading. I try to limit my internet/email use as it shortens my attention span, makes me stupefied. I hate to start my day online, often don’t switch on my laptop until after lunch. There has to be time every day when you are not saturated by responding. Writing is like exercising – it’s a way of staying healthy. It’s a choice you make and you have to keep making. A good diet. A liveable, tolerable life.