Sunday, 12 January 2014

Interview with Poet, Eoghan Walls

Continuing my repostings of interviews, here's Eoghan Walls whose collection The Salt Harvest was shortlisted for the Strong Award for first collection

Hi Eoghan and welcome to emerging writer. How did you first get into poetry?

I wanted to write from about three, when I was mainly into Bananaman.  Over the years, I got into horror - great cheap pulp titles generally, with titles like Slugs! and Scorpions! - and then studied English at University. I loved the way literature could open a new world for the reader - or briefly refresh this world - and at University, I saw how this could be done in poetry, with Hopkins in particular.  He jarred me awake.  Prose always has its great exciting moments, but often has to string them together with what my younger self would have called "the boring bits". This is not always the case.  But with Hopkins - and Williams, and Eliot, and Muldoon - I saw writers not wasting time writing the boring bits, getting straight to the words where the world could refresh itself.

Have you found Bananaman and Slugs! have had any influence on your poetry?

Heh - I guess I asked for that.  But - well - I would like to say they are becoming more of an influence.  For years, I have been drawn to poems that play at the boundary of high and low culture.  On this side of the Atlantic, I guess I mean poets like Paul Farley or Simon Armitage, but the Americans have more - like with "Attack of the Crab Monster" by Lawrence Raab.  The poem is playful, frames itself as a B-movie - and yet it covers a very powerful and moving love-story at its core.  Gorgeous stuff.  
For years as a young poet I immersed myself in the big dramas - death, sex and sacramental life - but the heavy-handed sincerity of young men does lack the richness such poems achieve. I still think poetry must concern itself regularly with the visceral ends of life, but am only now becoming capable, in my 30s, to approach these with both humour and gravitas.  At least, I hope I am.  

How did your collection with Seren come about?

I have been working on my collection for years - since my Eric Gregory award in 2006 - and it was never quite right.  I kept fiddling about with poems that should have really been abandoned as juvenilia.  I got it into shape - finally, you might say - two years ago, and decided to send it off to a few publishers.  We are warned against simultaneous submissions, but publishing houses have no duties to the aspiring writer, and so I think it is wise, if your collection is ready, to send it to more than one at a time.  Thankfully, a few houses were interested, and I liked what the poetry editor, Amy Wack has been doing at Seren - for a relatively small press, they have been winning a lot of the big prizes recently, and getting nominated for many more.  I was delighted to go with them.

What specifically appealed to you about Seren?

They are a small press, but they are consistently nominated for the big prizes.  Over the last few years, Kathryn Simmonds and Hilary Menos - both Seren poets - snagged the Forward Prize for the best first collection.  Both books were excellent, with high production values and a great variety in the work.  But even this year, two of the six shortlisted were from Seren.  They get a lot of attention.  As an Irish poet, I am aware of the need to be read in Britain as well as Ireland, and so I wanted to get one of the high profile presses.  Amy Wack - their poetry editor - is a great woman - she has a sharp critical ear.  

What advice would you have for new writers?

Stick at it.  Read all you can of your chosen genre.  There is a common debate on whether or not poetry should aim to be popular - to compete with apps, films and novels - or should it be happy with its relatively niche status.  Of course, the market is probably bigger in numbers but not percentage-of-the-population wise, so it is hard to know, but when one does see that they made Big Momma's House 3, it is hard not to get jealous of more lucrative forms of culture.  But a good poet and friend Alex Wylie said to me, in the middle of one argument over pints,

It is not our duty to sell poetry to everyone; it is our duty to try to be better than Dante.  

A tall order, no doubt with snobbish undercurrents, but if we are writing poetry, isn't it because we respect and love the form?  I came to poetry not because it was shinier or gorier than films or comics, but because it could concentrate power in a different way.  So I guess that would be it.  Read a lot, and try to be better than Dante.

Me, I’m trying to be better than Wendy Cope. What have you got coming up?

I guess mainly the book, The Salt Harvest, available from or Amazon.  Also I’m in, The Best British Poetry 2011, available from Salt publishing.  No readings coming up in the near future I can think of, but I am sure some will come along.  Thanks for everything.

Here's a link to Eoghan reading provided by Seren.

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