Monday, 27 February 2012

Interview with poet Eleanor Hooker


Eleanor Hooker lives in NorthTipperary. She has a BA (Hons 1st) from the Open University, an MA (Hons.) in Cultural History from the University of Northumbria, and an MPhil in Creative Writing (Distinction) from Trinity College, Dublin. She was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2011. Her poetry has been published in journals in Ireland and the UK. She is a founding member, Vice-Chairperson and PRO for the Dromineer Literary Festival. She is a helm and Press Officer for the Lough Derg RNLI Lifeboat. She began her career as a nurse and midwife. The Shadow Owner’s Companion is her debut collection of poem.


I met Eleanor Hooker at the Harbourmaster pub in the IFSC over a lovely chowder and dark brown bread.

Hello Eleanor and welcome to emergingwriter. How did you first get into poetry?

y discovering that poetry was an even better, safer depository for tender things, that it could even restrain shadows.
I’ve always told stories. I grew up in South Tipperary, a landlocked county. When I was a child we used to drive to the sea at Spanish Point. It took forever. Dad got me to tell stories to keep my brothers and sisters entertained on the car journey, but by the time we got there, no one would get in to swim! My Mother says that when I was small, if I didn’t have a word for something, I made one up.
I used to send stories out, but got so many rejections. Some were encouraging and kind, but many more were careless and disinterested. I abandoned writing stories when one rejection letter was addressed to a ridiculous version of my name. You think, well if they couldn’t be bothered to get my name right… That was when I began writing poems in earnest. In the last two years I have returned to prose.

Do you use made up words in your poems?

Made up words are powerful when you get them right. The only thing is, they make Spellchecker go mad! I like magical thinking. I like my poems to veer off and sometimes you need made up words for that.

Tell us about the Creative Writing MPhil you did at Trinity College Dublin. What did you learn?

For me, acceptance on the course was a sort of validation and was a huge source of confidence. We had fantastic lecturers, Gerald Dawe, Deirdre Madden Carlo Gebler, Molly McCloskey, Jonathan Williams and Richard Ford, and a whole host of visiting writers. On the MPhil in Creative Writing a certain proficiency in your writing is assumed at the outset, and they use the workshop environment to help improve your writing through critical examination of new pieces every week. It was incredibly enjoyable, but required hard work and total commitment. I stayed in a hotel in Dublin one night a week and travelled up and down from Tipperary on the other days, it was worth it.

How do you start a poem?

I keep a notebook in which I write down all sorts of things. I sometimes record dreams and use surreal elements from them in my work. Typically, poems begin as an idea, rarely with a word or phrase and never with a preformed line. Some ideas become poems and others become short stories. On occasion I will take it on a long walk and allow an idea to season. Of course, there is a danger than the idea will go off the boil. Some poems have an urgency and need to be put down immediately, while others mature with time like a fine wine.
When I’ve written a poem, I read it aloud. If there’s no musicality or if it stutters along, it’s not working. I’ve thrown a lot of stuff away, though that’s rarely a good idea. It’s better to put it in a folder and you can go back to it later.

Where do you write?

In the kitchen mostly. Something creative has to go on there as I certainly can’t cook! The picture on the cover of my book The Shadow Owner's Companion hangs on the wall behind me. It’s by Clare Hartigan, a good friend and fabulous artist with whose work I feel I can really connect.
‘Nightmare’ was written in the hairdressers. It needed to be written straight away. I asked for a pen and some paper and the poem has remained largely untouched since then.

Your first collection,The Shadow Owner's Companion, is coming out soon with Dedalus Press. The launch is on 1st February at 7pm in The Irish Writers Centre. (Available to purchases here) Tell us about that.

I met Pat Doran of Dedalus Press at a workshop about five years ago. He talked about our work at the end of the workshop and asked if I would like to send some more. My poetry at that stage simply wasn’t ready. Nevertheless, Pat was incredibly supportive from the start. After I completed the MPhil at Trinity I sent him a lot of poems. He is an attentive, meticulous and thoughtful editor. To my surprise, some of the poems I had the most doubts about were ones he felt worked well. The oldest poem in my collection is ‘Granddad’, written after he died. I was fourteen.
The ‘Shadow Owner’s Companion’ is made entirely from the workings inside my head. With a book, you issue an open invitation to take a look out at the world from the inside of your head, and while they’re in there, you hope the reader has enough room the to interpret or understand each poem from his or her own perspective.

Does your family read your poems?

My sons have been known to say - Another freaky number, Mum! My husband sometimes gets concerned over some of the darker poems. He is a kind man and my best friend in the world.
It’s pointless to self-censor, so I stopped doing that a long time ago. There’s no advantage to a poem to change it so that it’s palatable to people who are close to you. The best solution is not to show something I’m working on, because a negative reaction will seep into my head and affect my own view and I could lose confidence in it.

Which poets do you admire?

I subscribe to poetry journals and I love to read new writing as it comes out. I regularly read the poetry of Paula Meehan, Mary Oliver, Kerry Hardie, Sylvia Plath, Sinead Morrissey, Colette Bryce and Kay Ryan. I enjoy the works of Charles Simic, Pat Boran, Derek Mahon, Billy Collins, Paul Celan, Tony Curtis and Michael Harnett. Hartnett in particular has such honesty in his poetry; his books are always kept within easy reach.

What advice do you have for a new poet?

I’m no oracle, but for what it’s worth, this is what I’ve learned.

Don’t get dejected by rejections.
Find your own voice; you shouldn’t try to mimic or be dictated to by other people’s sounds.
Allow the reader or the listener room to infer, it does not have to writ large.
Passion and truth (even if it is a lie) is essential. A poem that is beautifully constructed and pings like cut crystal when you touch it, but is hollow at its core, adds nothing, it is beautiful cold thing.
If you spend a lot of your time monitoring what other people are doing, you’re not writing yourself. Turn off the social network sites!

Thanks very much Eleanor

3 comments:

Titus said...

Very good interview; inspiring and informative.
And blimey, what a Renaissance Woman!

Emerging Writer said...

Thanks. She does pack a lot in!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

V enjoyable interview, thanks K and E.