Tuesday 8 November 2011

Interview with poet, Alice Lyons

Thanks very much for agreeing to this interview. Could you introduce yourself to the readers please? 

I was born in Paterson New Jersey in 1960 into an Irish-American family and grew up in the United States. I studied for degrees in European Intellectual History (BA Connecticut College), Sociolinguistics (M.Sc. University of Pennsylvania) and Fine Art (MFA, Boston University)and have taught English literature and language and art&design at third level for most of my career. I love teaching, especially across disciplines. My writing wanders in an out of all these fields as well as into the fields and hedgerows I now live among.
I moved to Ireland in 1998 because I felt it would be good for my work to be here. It was an intuitive leap, and I'm glad I jumped. After being in academia for most of my twenties and early thirties, I removed myself and just worked; it was a process of absorbing all the valuable material I had studied (and lived) and casting off what was of no use to me. That's when the work started to coalesce and take on a life of its own. To talk back.
I make my living by working part-time as a curator of contemporary art and teaching poetry and visual art. I live with my twelve-year-old daughter and soon-to-be husband, filmmaker Colin McKeown.

How did you get into poetry? 

It got into me early...it has always seemed to be the sort of language that feels most familiar. A home. I wrote poems as a child, wrote the usual intense stuff as a teenager. When I visited Connecticut College as a prospective student in 1978, I was lucky to be plopped into William Meredith's poetry seminar in the basement of Harkness Chapel. The students were slumped on shabby sofas and armchairs and Meredith read a couple of poems, which they discussed. The casual atmosphere was alluring. It was my first exposure to a 'live' poet, to 'live' poetry. I was hooked from the get-go. Meredith was wonderful. Erudite, but warm, wise and exceedingly generous. I took all the classes with him I could during the four years I was at Connecticut.

I'll be looking up William Meredith now.
What do you consider your highlights so far?

Winning the Patrick Kavanagh Award was completely unexpected and a very nice thing. I had entered at the last minute, didn't give it a thought, submitted stuff I'd written very quickly and hadn't shown to anyone. An award like that, for a person who knew no one in the literary community here, who hadn't published much before that, helped me to keep sitting at my desk with the notebook open and the pen moving.

Congratulations on that. Can you explain how it works when you are involved in a collaborative art project such as the The Polish Language film?

Films can be a variant of a poetry reading. They can capture the rhythm and sound of words; they can, of course, give the poem a visual dimension. I loved the idea of using film to extend a poem, not illustrate it. I started trying to make poetry films with really limited software that I learned to use on my Mac laptop (iMovie mostly). It was fun, but I felt ham-fisted with the animation.

A friend who teaches animation knew Orla Mc Hardy as she was in his class and making a film based on an Ivor Cutler poem. He thought we would like each other and introduced us. We've completed two films together and are working on a third, all based on poems I've written. Orla is a visual/animation svengali. She always has either an exceedingly elegant or completely random visual idea. I trust this. She has a poet's approach to film making. We laugh a lot and work really hard, always dissecting the text, trying to stretch it, trying to amaze ourselves. These projects have been supported by grants from the Irish Film Board and the Arts Council. They are interested in cross-disciplinary work, so our projects have fit their bill. Our film "The Polish Language" has won a number of Best Animation awards and has been selected for competition is over 30 film festivals world wide.I'm just back from Ukraine, where the film screened as part of the Krok International Festival of Animation, which takes place aboard a river cruiser that travels from Kiev to Odessa over 10 days. It was an amazing trip, and I saw so many interesting films.

There are loads of ways that writers can collaborate in cross-disciplinary ways. I think the best way is to think about people whose work you admire in other disciplines and imagine ways that you might do something together. At first, it might seem like 'merely' playing, but I think play is an extremely under-rated activity for adults, and you never know what kind of serious stuff can come from it!

The films are well worth seeing and are at www.alicelyons.ie and www.thepolishlanguage.com
What are you working on now?

My book Staircase Poems is available from www.alicelyons.ie and Amazon and fine bookshops around Ireland. I'm working on a new collection of poems, which is called The Breadbasket of Europe, and I am writing it in my capacity as a doctoral candidate at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's in Belfast.

Three new poems and a Q & A with me will appear in the December issue of POETRY (Chicago).
Orla Mc Hardy and I are in the final stages of working on our third poetry film, Developers, which has been funded by a Film Project Award from the Arts Council. It will be out early next year.

Congratulations again on the film project award. I look forward to seeing it. Thanks for telling us about your poetry and films.

Thank you Kate. Best of luck in all your work.


Donna OShaughnessy said...

Thank you Kate for the hard work of interviewing and thank you Alice for sharing bits of your writing life. I loved it when you said "it was a process of absorbing all the valuable material I had studied (and lived) and casting off what was of no use to " Will be buying your poetry soon.

Group 8 said...

Thanks Kate and Alice - an enjoyable read. I love the idea of the poetry films and will toddle off now and watch. Nuala x

Emerging Writer said...

Oh yes the films are well worth a watch. I'd love to collaborate with someone who knew what they were doing with a film

Group 8 said...

I watched the films - they are both brilliant and beautiful. Congrats to all involved.