Poetry

‘My Dark Horses’ an interview with Jodie Hollander

To celebrate the release of her latest collection, Sophie Hewitt is in conversation with Jodie Hollander, delving into the influences and inspiration behind My Dark HorsesRead on for a poem from Jodie’s collection, entitled ‘A Box’, and see where you can catch her UK readings this May.
Can you tell us how you came to choose My Dark Horses as the title for your collection?

Anyone familiar with my work knows that my poetry isn’t afraid to face darkness and dysfunction. When I wrote the poem, My Dark Horses, it instantly felt like I hit upon a theme central to the collection, so it wasn’t long after that I wanted to make it the title poem. I love the symbolism that the title portrays, and I feel that it prepares the reader for what’s to come.

Many of your poems have the subtitle of After Rimbaud. What is the significance of this?

During a wonderful residency in France, I started working on new book of poems that engage with and respond to Rimbaud’s collection, Illuminations. My translation of certain lines in Rimbaud’s work inspired a whole new series of ideas for me. At first, I thought this work would be part of a separate collection, but I found the ideas were grappling with similar themes as the poems in My Dark Horses. As I look at them now, I’m pleased with the different aesthetic that they bring to the book. I still hope to compile a collection made up exclusively of Rimbaud response poems.

Many of the poems contain references to classical music, whether it’s about classical instruments or specific pieces. How much of an influence has classical music had on your poetry? Do you think that music in important in writing poetry?

Music was everywhere during my childhood. My mother, father, sister and brother are all professional classical musicians, and a typical dinner conversation usually centered on the Bach Double Concerto, or the final movement of a Paganini piece. All three of us children were required to take classical music lessons. While my sister and brother quickly emerged as virtuoso talents, I found myself working twice as hard yet progressing at half their speed – so I convinced my parents to let me quit music lessons. This was a huge relief, but being the only non-musician in the family meant I was often left out of family discussions and music-centered events. I don’t think any of this was purposeful on the part of my family, they were all just infatuated with classical music, and I had other interests. Looking back on it now, I think this time was really when my poetic sensibility began to develop. I spent a lot of time alone, taking long walks or lying under the piano and observing the family practice sessions. These early observations stayed imprinted in my mind and later found their way into my poems.

To your second question, Duke Ellington said it best: “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” I think music is the single most important element in writing good poems. In my mind, poetry exists somewhere in between music and prose. Good poetry is pleasing to the ear, and therefore, the music is part of the meaning of the poem. This is also why I love reading metrical poetry, and why I’m working on mastering the craft myself. Without music, I feel that a poem is just prose organized in a different way.

Family appears to be the main theme running throughout the collection. What has drawn you to write about family in your poetry?

So much happened to me during my childhood, that I felt I had a story that needed to be told. That being said, I don’t think we necessarily get to choose our subject matter. If I did have a choice I’d probably write about climate change or some hot political topic. Instead, I write about what’s on offer – what comes to me. I’m hoping that my next book will be about something different, but for me, the muse must approve.

Your poems confront difficult issues such as grief and loss but have been described as containing a ‘tough humour’ (Brackenbury). Why did you decide to include this underlying humour in many of your poems?

As Shakespeare and many other great artists have taught us, life is a mixture of both tragedy and comedy. I think the best works of art in any medium find a way to embrace both of these conditions. In my own poems, I often see the irony or even hypocrisy in many of the situations I describe, and sometimes that can be expressed through a kind of humour. I wish more contemporary poetry used humour, as I feel it’s a wonderful quality in poetry; it offsets some of the darkness, and really deepens the experience of the poem.

Below is ‘The Box’ from Jodie Hollander’s latest collection My Dark Horses

A Box

All those years

of trying to understand

which of this is her,

which of this is me?

Getting at the truth

was always so confusing

amidst her craziness;

how to separate?

And though the shrink said

Put her in a box

I never quite could

 

until that Saturday

when the doorbell rang:

and there stood a man

thin and bedraggled,

dripping in the rain.

He held a clipboard,

a small warped box,

containing my mother

or rather her remains.

Sign here, he said,

and handed me the box.

 

Funny how this came

surprisingly unbidden,

though I’ve often wondered

if in a weak moment

I didn’t wish for this.

But now that it’s here

what am I to do

except to hold it close,

feel its roughness

up against my cheek,

smell that terrible smell

of factory cardboard

now finally between us.

 

Jodie Hollander

Jodie Hollander was raised in a family of classical musicians. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Poetry ReviewThe Dark HorseThe Rialto, Verse Daily, The Warwick Review, The Manchester Review, Australia’s Best Poems, 2011, and Australia’s Best Poems of 2015. Her debut pamphlet, The Humane Society, was released with Tall-Lighthouse in 2012. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa, and was awarded a MacDowell Colony fellowship in 2015.

You can find Jodie at the following events around the UK this May:

May 9: Pavilion Poetry Book Launch and reading with Nuar Alsadir and Marilyn Hacker
May 10: Reading and presentation at the Liverpool Athenaeum
May 11: Reading at York Central Library with Nuar Alasdir and Ruby Robinson 
May 13: Reading at The Bookcase, Hebden Bridge Yorkshire
May 16: Reading at Albion Beatnik Bookstore, Oxford with Ben Parker and Harry Man
May 17: Lunchtime Reading at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford with Jane Spiro
May 18: Daunt Books, Cheapside, London with Sarah Westcott and Susan Wicks
May 21: Torriano Meeting House, London with Sarah Westcott and Sarah Corbett
May 23: CB1 Poetry, CB2 Cafe, Cambridge Reading with Sarah Howe
May 24: Pighog Poetry Reading, Nightingale Room, Brighton
May 25: Words and Ears, Swan Hotel, Bradford on Avon
May 26: Reading at Keats House, Hampstead, London
May 28: Reading at Octavo’s Books, Cardiff with Christina Thatcher

 

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Poetry

In conversation with Nuar Alsadir on ‘Fourth Person Singular’

To celebrate the release of Pavilion Poetry’s three new collections for 2017, and in the run up to the official launch, we have a series of exciting interviews to share with you. This week, Natalie Bolderston is in conversation with poet, writer, and psychoanalyst Nuar Alsadir, on her brand new collection Fourth Person Singular

Fourth Person Singular

1) Could you explain the title of your collection, Fourth Person Singular?

There was a period during which I was trying to figure out what kind of speaker to use in my poems. I was grappling with the recognition that even though I’d developed an aversion to confessional poetry, the poems I found moving, which served as my measure of a poem’s value, were invariably lyric, written in the first person and addressed—as is all speech—to a second person, whether circumscribed or implied. I spent the bulk of my waking hours trying to work out this problem until one night, during sleep, my dream voice said, “The fourth person singular exists in the fourth dimension.” I woke up and immediately began attempting to decode that fragment by researching the fourth dimension (I have a background in neuroscience, so the task was not as daunting as it may have otherwise been). Amazingly, through the lens of four-dimensional space-time, it is possible to grasp the meaning of the fourth person singular. There’s a lyric essay in my book that explains what I came up with.

2) In that essay, you discuss physics, with particular focus on four-dimensional space-time. What are the challenges of this?

I suppose the biggest challenge would be that the ideas might seem too difficult, alien, causing the reader to disconnect. But that’s always a concern with science and math, which are often shrouded with so many associations of impenetrability that it can be difficult to step back and allow the beauty to come through—as one might be more able or willing to do with a complex piece of music.

3) Can you tell us a bit about how your background as a psychoanalyst feeds into your writing?

I am endlessly fascinated by the mind, how it draws associations, redacts, displaces, represses, moves. The most useful sessions occur when the analysand does not have an agenda or subject and allows themselves to simply free-associate. In doing so, the mind will invariably come upon something significant that the analyst will ideally recognize, point out, so that it can be explored. That free association is similar to improvisation in dance. The improvisation is necessary to figure out how the body is organized and moves, but eventually certain gestures will stand out, demand interrogation, and become the basis of the choreography of a piece. The choreography may appear improvised because of where it originated, but is, in fact, carefully crafted.  I hope my writing similarly retains that free associative, improvisational impulse even as the choreography of the book is consciously set.

4) Throughout the book, you make use of a range of poetic forms and intertextual references. As a writer, do you have any particular influences – literary or otherwise?

The poetic forms reflect the shape of the gestures or thoughts propelled by that free associative, improvisational impulse I just mentioned. As for influences, I’m really more of a thinker than a reader. When I read, I like reading poetry, aphorisms, philosophy, theory—texts that I can read very little of and then think about, off-page, for hours. As I turn over phrases, images or ideas in my mind, I invariably alter them. In the book, I’ve used the altered forms—representing my Franz Kafka, or my André Breton—and have then provided the correct version in the notes. All of the texts I reference in my book are important to me, but I’d have to say the greatest influence on my writing is quotidian experience. I’m probably as inspired by what happens on the subway as I am by what happens within texts. There’s a great line in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, “I’ve been around the world several times and now only banality still interests me… I’ve tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter.” Virginia Woolf has that relentlessness, as does Larry David, Tracey Emin. I can think of many contemporary poets whom I’d consider bounty hunters in that same way.

5) In one of your lyric essays, you reveal the process behind creating your ‘night fragments’: waking up at 3:15 a.m. each night, and writing down whatever was at the top of your mind. Do you have any other processes or rituals that help you to write?

Marianne Moore once wrote, “We must have the courage of our peculiarities.” That precept guides my process. I’m open to letting my peculiarities reveal themselves, and to exploring whatever sense of shame that revelation might evoke. In psychoanalysis, there’s no subject matter or material that is higher or lower than any other. I approach poetry in a similar way.

6) The collection features striking illustrations, photographs and references to visual artists, such as Louise Bourgeois and Marlene Dumas. How do you think poetry relates to or complements visual art?

I’ve always wished my poems could be experienced as art installations, so that the reader could enter and experience them without the linear unfolding created by reading across and down the page. I’ve tried to disrupt that linear unfolding somewhat with simultaneous texts, but the dimensional limitations of the page are unavoidable. The mind doesn’t have thoughts, see images, hear, smell, perceive in tidy succession—that cacophonous chaos, which visual arts often capture so vividly, is exciting to me.

Click here to read an excerpt from Fourth Person Singular featured in Granta 

 

Nuar Alsadir Photo by Grace Yu (c)

Nuar Alsadir is a poet, writer and psychoanalyst. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Granta, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Grand Street, the Kenyon Review, tender, Poetry London and Poetry Review; and a collection of her poems, More Shadow Than Bird, was published by Salt in 2012. She is on the faculty at New York University, and works as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York. Her latest collection Fourth Person Singular can be found here

 

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Poetry

Mona Arshi wins 2015 Forward Prize for Best New Collection!

We are thrilled to congratulate LUP author Mona Arshi on winning the Forward Prize for best new collection for Small Hands, awarded in a ceremony on Monday 28th September 2015. The jury praised her work for its “imagination, sensuality and beguiling playfulness”, also commenting on her “beautiful precision and her willingness to experiment with form, including couplets, ghazals, sonnets and prose poetry.”

Mona Arshi was born to Punjabi Sikh parents in West London where she still lives. She initially trained as a lawyer and worked for Liberty, the UK human rights organisation, for several years. She began writing poetry in 2008 and received a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

Mona’s collection was published in 2015 as part of Pavilion Poetry, a new contemporary poetry series from Liverpool University Press. More information on Small Hands, as well as the other titles in the series, can be found here: Pavilion Poetry.

You can also read more about Mona’s win and watch an interview with her here: Forward Prize 2015.

News, Poetry

Pavilion Poetry and the 2016 Forward Prizes

Pavilion Poetry and LUP would like to congratulate Ruby Robinson and Sarah Westcott on their achievements in the 2016 Forward Prizes for Poetry! 

Ruby Robinson on the nomination of Every Little Sound for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.
Sarah Westcott for her poem Inklings (from Slant Light) which has been Highly Commended by the judges for this year’s Forward Prizes for Poetry. It will be published this autumn in The Forward Book of Poetry 2017.

 

Ruby Robinson

Drawing from neuroscience on the idea of ‘internal gain’, an internal volume control which helps us amplify and focus on quiet sounds in times of threat, danger or intense concentration, Ruby Robinson’s brilliant debut introduces a poet whose work is governed by a scrupulous attention to the detail of the contemporary world. Moving and original, her poems invite us to listen carefully and use ideas of hearing and listening to explore the legacies of trauma. The book celebrates the separateness and connectedness of human experience in relationships and our capacity to harm and love.

Ruby Robinson was born in Manchester in 1985 and lives in Sheffield. She studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia and has an MA from Sheffield Hallam University where she also won the Ictus Prize for poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry (Chicago) and elsewhere.

Sarah Westcott

In her first full-length collection, Sarah Westcott immerses the human self in the natural world, giving voice to a remarkable range of flora and fauna so often silenced or unheard. Here, the voiceless speaks, laments and sings – from the fresh voice of a spring wood to a colony of bats or a grove of ancient sequioa trees. Unafraid of using scientific language and teamed with a clear eye, Westcott’s poems are drawn directly from the natural world, questioning ideas of the porosity of boundaries between the human and non-human and teeming with detail. A series of lyrical charms inspired by Anglo-Saxon texts draw on the specificity of the botanical and its spoken heritage, suggesting a relevance that resonates today. Westcott’s poems are alive to the beautiful in the commonplace and offer up a precise honouring of the wild, while retaining a deeply-felt sense of connection with a planet in peril.

Sarah Westcott’s debut pamphlet Inklings was the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice for Winter 2013. Her poems have been published in journals including Poetry Review, Magma and Poetry Wales and in anthologies including Best British Poetry 2014 (Salt). Sarah grew up in north Devon, on the edge of Exmoor, and has a keen interest in the natural world. She holds a science degree and an MA in poetry from Royal Holloway, University of London. Sarah lives on the London/Kent borders with her family and, after a spell teaching English abroad, works as a news journalist.

 

Take a look at the other nominees for the 2016 Forward Prizes on the official website.

To stay updated with all of our Pavilion Poets follow us on twitter @PavilionPoetry

Ruby Robinson @RubyxRobinson

Sarah Westcott @sarahwestcott1