GIVE ME THE SMALLER RITUALS
a candle lit for the dead, an aftermath-cigarette.
Give me the takeaway (which is also the getaway) coffee
at a night-shift window, in a car parked in a layby.
Give me the throwaway rituals, the ones
without excess baggage, unless it’s duty free.
Describe your style (this could be limited to your writing style, or style, in whatever sense of the word you’d like to conceive it in, and how that relates to you as a writer)
I usually leave it to others to describe my style (in any sense of that word), but here goes. As a person, my style could probably be summarised as laid-back, casual. As a writer I am attracted to the shorter, imagistic lyric forms, what I call suitcase poems or portmanteaus, that open to give the reader something strange, sensual and lingering: sensations and images that hopefully stay in the head like the air of a good song, something musical that can be grasped and carried and is ready for travel.
What do you feel makes a poem ready for consumption by others?
When it’s three-quarters cooked (al dente) or transcribed in an elegant hand onto rice paper.
A good cup of coffee has the power to seduce. What role does seduction play in your writing (i.e. – is it a theme in your work? Do you seduce yourself into the act of writing? Or does the seduction come when someone is drawn to your work – are you out to seduce poetry readers? Does seduction have some other role entirely vis-à-vis your work, or, does it have no role at all?)
Keats said “we hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us” and the same might apply to people who have designs on us (i.e. seducers with hidden agendas, etc.). Much of my poetry is fairly open and immediate and I would like to think that readers are invited rather than seduced by it. Stephen King once compared a good short story to “a kiss in the dark from a stranger”. Poems can also be like this (and with good poems the kiss is often deep and lasting). I love the playfully erotic dimension in poetry, as in Donne’s ‘The Flea’ or Jo Shapcott’s ‘Muse’, and I sometimes try for this in my own work (my last collection has a poem called ‘Breasts’). As for coffee, a good strong cup is very much a part of what kick-starts my late-morning writing ritual, so you could say that seduction-by-coffee is important to me.
At this moment in poems and writing, who’s writing the poems you like to read?
All the usual suspects who are still with us: Heaney, Longley, Eiléan Ní Chuillenáin, Rita Ann Higgins, Carol Ann Duffy, etc. Then there are Irish poets who, although published, might be better known, such as Joseph Woods, Yvonne Cullen and Noel Duffy.
Where do you do your writing? How important is ‘place’ and a sense of ‘space’ for a writer?
I feel it’s important to have some kind of designated place to take out pen and paper or open the laptop. I usually begin writing in the kitchen, which is at the end of our apartment, separated by a corridor from the living room, etc., and this is my refuge during the later part of the day. I also occasionally drive to the sea in Blackrock or Dún Laoghaire and sit there writing in my four-wheeled study-with-a-view.
Stevie Smith once said that “poetry never has any kindness at all”. How true do you think this is?
There is certainly truth in this, though I am wary of any absolute statements about poetry. Stevie Smith’s most well-known poem is probably ‘Not Waving But Drowning’, which manages to be both melancholy and dispassionate. Yeats spoke in favour of poetry “cold and passionate as the dawn” (note the apparent contradiction) and I am sure that many people feel that Mary Oliver’s popular poem ‘Wild Geese’ offers some kindness, even comfort and consolation. Among Philip Larkin’s best known poems is the bracing ‘This Be The Verse’, with its unforgettable opening line: “They fuck you up your mum and dad.” Yet Larkin also wrote the far less well know (but still brilliant) ‘The Mower’, whose last lines are: “we should be careful / Of each other. We should be kind / While there is still time.” If you wish to take a more broadly applicable “truth” from Stevie Smith’s aphorism you would probably need to rephrase it as something more prosaic, something like this: the main purpose of any good poem is not to offer kindness but surprise, or even shock, by reinvigorating the language; but kindness (even consolation) can come of such shockwaves, reinvigorations, catchings of breath.
When it comes to writing poems, and how events are captured on the page, do you think it is better for the poet to suffer from excruciatingly good memory, or excruciatingly bad? (i.e. what role does the truth have in writing a ‘good’ poem?)
Poetry is a kind of fiction so I think “the truth” (whatever that may be) is of less importance than an essence or distillation or slant/angle, etc. A good memory always helps though, even if you tweak or alter a detail here and there.
Describe the last time you had a really stunning cup of coffee (or tea).
This morning, my mug of Lavazza.
Black, Strong, or Sweet?
Just enough milk to make a kind of earthy brown, with one level teaspoon of sugar.
Mark Granier was born in London in 1957 but came to Dublin in 1961 and has lived there since. His has published two collections with Salmon Poetry, Airborne (2001) and The Sky Road (2007). His third collection, Fade Street, was published by Salt in 2010. Prizes and awards include the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize in 2004, two Arts Council Bursaries and a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in 2011. He currently teaches Creative Writing for UCD’s Adult Education programme.