This is not the first visit to normblog by Katy Evans-Bush. In February last year she was the subject of normblog profile number 179. Today, however, Katy's visit is a stop on a a virtual book tour. Her debut poetry collection, Me and the Dead, has just been published by Salt, and I'm very happy to welcome her here to talk about the book. I start by posting the opening poem from Me and the Dead and then go on to ask Katy a few questions about her writing.
The Only Reader
As the book can only fall into temporary hands,
Its spine cracked where one page or another's been favoured
By a boy in love with love or a homesick old man
Till its glue dries up and its stitches disintegrate,
Its leaves falling brown and acidic on someone's floor,
Lines scattered randomly and perhaps thrown on a fire;
As the Canada goose honks serenely, unaware
Of foreign towns below him - as only the sky
Has meanings and tones - where foreign people gaze
Through open doors at his leaf-and-cloud-coloured flight,
And the Amherst woods carried with him as he goes,
And the air momentarily clearer where he was;
As the curator loves the careful strokes of the scribe
But can know nothing of the man himself who lived
A thousand years back, knowing only that he was a man
Temporal like us and who lived for the oblique,
Giving the gold-leaf ascender everything he had
Because there was no other place to offer it;
So we keep dim faith with our craft; so the reader
Pulls in illumination, and I send out my letter:
Dear Being, which art the Emperor of the Empirical,
And hope some electrical current will pick it up
To fly on a lightning-bolt like a rag on a kite-tail
So high on the hill that not even time can reach it,
And there's only the poem itself, and a goose going by.
Katy kindly agreed to do the following interview:
What is your central ambition as a writer?
OK, let's start with the easy one. Clearly the internal ambition one has for any poem, book, etc, is to succeed at having captured something - some quality of life, sense of atmosphere - and with luck to show people something they never thought of before. When I write this kind of stuff I am very much trying to work something out; I use the writing process to learn. I think a lot of writers say this. But when you're writing something, I really believe, you are making something to give someone. I want people to be able to read my poems and have that feeling of pleasure, of recognition: one purpose of revision is to make sure the thing holds together in some way that will be enjoyable for other people. It can't be just about my own inner landscape.
My external ambition is to make the process of writing as central to my life as possible, I suppose. Materially.
Do you see any major unifying themes in Me and the Dead?
I'm not sure I'm the one who should be looking for themes. But I'd say the persistence of the past is one. There are poems about history or even prehistory in there: how it kind of stays around or just melts away; poems about famous characters from the past; reminiscences of people in my life who have died.
We're all part of it, as we get older and our own childhood belongings become 'vintage', then 'antique'. Anyone who ignores the past is just ignoring the fact that they themselves are the living dead.
Too depressing? Nah! The upbeat way of saying the same thing is, 'we're all in it together'. And anyway I hope my poems are also, in some way, funny.
I also increasingly seem to write from dreams - a few of the poems in this collection came to me as a result of things I'd dreamt. But that's not a theme, except in so far as it is another kind of consciousness, which a poem also is.
In what way does a poem first come to you?
Like a dream. I do sometimes jot things down on a pad if I have an idea, but those things rarely come to anything; with me the fatal thing seems to be trying to capture something in words too early. I can sit with an idea for weeks. Let it just sit and gather things around it. I either know it's there or not, and often when I do suddenly have that moment - the writing of the poem - even if it is ostensibly about something else, I'll find afterwards that it was really about those things I'd been mulling over for weeks. You see, once you come to do it, all your top-layer ideas and conscious strategies for structure, trope etc, were not needed at all.
Are you quick or slow as a poet?
Oh, both. Maybe more quick than slow. I tend to write the poem in a relative rush, when it comes. But I will revise and revise. And I do believe in the principle of letting things sit. You see much more in something, both its faults and its real potential, months after you wrote it.
Do you regard your poems more as verbal pictures or, rather, as expressions of emotion and ideas?
Of course they are both. I think you'd be better placed to say which element stands out. I think I do mediate experience visually, and I'm told I have a good eye for detail. The more abstract poems in the book - say, 'Or Something' or 'The Wind' - still rely on solid image to make their points. They're both sort of about mood, maybe, but mood may be something you see. And as for emotion, though people tell me these poems are emotional, I think it's best just to say what happened, and let the rest fall into place.
Did you see the goose (from 'The Only Reader') going by or did you just picture it?
I think it would be most accurate to say that the goose came to me. It came complete with its cloak of air. In some sense it is a goose from the past - though in the poem it is the eternal goose, I suppose. In my own personal lexicon it is probably one of a flight of geese I saw going past outside the window one afternoon when I was about nine, and I'd fallen asleep at my cousins' house. I woke up, all alone, and saw these Canada geese flying over the pond...
Who are your three favourite poets?
I'd have to say Wallace Stevens. How can I choose three!? 1) Stevens, for his daring, his beauty, his depth and his sense of play. 2) James Merrill, for his elegance and wit, his doubt, his beauty, his humanity. 3) Joseph Brodsky, for being there - both 'for me', through my adolescence and beyond, and also literally: for making it out of the USSR and setting the example of seriousness (though with jokes) in the cause of poetry, and for his sort of jazz take on formal verse.
But this list is leaving out Louis MacNeice, Les Murray, John Donne, Keats, Byron. Frank O'Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, Archy and Mehitabel.
More writing. My publishers, Salt, want my second collection to be out in 2010 or so. I have some big ideas for that, though as I've just been saying, big ideas are often little fallacies. I also have a couple of other irons in the fire... We'll see.
Many thanks, Katy. Me and the Dead is an enjoyable and interesting collection.