Ivy Alvarez is a poet, editor, and reviewer. Her publications include Mortal (Red Morning Press 2006), Disturbance (Seren 2013), Hollywood Starlet (dancing girl press 2015), and The Everyday English Dictionary (Paekakariki Press 2016).
Ivy has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has received grants from Literature Wales and the Australia Council for the Arts.
Hi, Ivy. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on the publication of your verse novel Disturbance with Seren in 2013. Can you give us a bit of background on the collection and what it was that inspired you to tackle the project?
Thank you for inviting me, and for your congratulations! I started becoming obsessed, in 2004, with the story that eventually became Disturbance. I first read about it at an Arvon Writing course in Moniack Mhor, when it became lodged in my head. The only way to expunge it from my system was to write it out of there.
Amid the front matter of my book, this appears, which might help contextualise the story:
This book is an imaginative retelling of and a response to actual events. It does not purport to be a documentary work, a factual account or a work of record. Names, actions and thoughts of the characters are the products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
Writing such dark material, and having to take on the personas of so many characters, including the killer and victims, took me almost seven years. I finished writing it in 2011 and sent it out to publishers soon after.
The book has a narrative thread running through it, although the poems themselves are quite kaleidoscopic and give multiple character viewpoints of the incident and crime. I’m curious if you wrote these poems in any sort of chronological fashion and do you think the book needs to be read in order to appreciate it properly or can readers just dip in and out of it?
I am always curious to hear how readers engage with Disturbance, whether they read it start to finish, or at random, and what their experience of the book is like.
I first wrote it with a spiralling-in structure in mind, where we hear from the personae peripheral to the crime first (real estate agents, police, the telephone operator), then the relatives and friends, and then those involved in the crime itself.
The process of redrafting and editing refined it further, but I believe a ghost of that structure is still there, even if it’s only me that sees it.
You published a pamphlet called Hollywood Starlet last year, which explores 20th-century female icons of the silver screen, and the various losses and sacrifices lurking behind their fame. What was it that drew you to write about this topic and how much research was involved in finding out more about their lives?
…arose from combining two separate prompts I came across at the time: one from The Guardian and another from the Poetry Society. The first prompt provided a list of names, places and situations, while the second prompt requested 100-word poems (excluding the title). After writing a poem each on Jacqueline du Pré, Ringo Starr and Katherine Hepburn, I kept going, fascinated as I was by the rich seam the Hepburn poem exposed, and which catalysed this short collection.
The amount of research depended on the poem. The starlets about whom I knew little required a bit of reading until I found something in their past I could latch onto, such as for the poems “What Frances Farmer Ate” and “What Clara Bow Stole”.
For the poem “What Marilyn Monroe Ran From”, however, I did not need to do much research since, when I was younger, I read as many of her biographies as I could access at the time. I even kept one or two scrapbooks filled with clipped articles about her life.
So when it came to writing the poem, all I may have done was check Marilyn had not been to Wales before.
I understand you have also have a new pamphlet called The Everyday English Dictionary. Could you tell us a bit more about these poems and what readers can expect?
Spain, 2008: I was at a writing residency at Fundación Valparaiso, working on Disturbance, and I needed a dictionary for reference, so I went to the residence’s library, where I found the original Everyday English Dictionary.
Flicking through it, I was very amused and captivated by the words contained therein, with many unusual, archaic words I’d be hard-pressed to imagine being used in everyday situations. So I decided to provide my own definitions to some of these strange words. Here’s one from D:
Amusement and diversion was the main driving force for the Dictionary, a welcome relief from the obsessive pall that descended over me during the writing of Disturbance.
Are there any dates in the poetry diary you have enjoyed this year or are looking forward to?
My two highlights in 2016 were launching The Everyday English Dictionary in Bloomsbury, and a reading at Ye Olde Murenger House in Newport, Wales. Both came about by chance. I was initially accompanying my partner to London — travelling from New Zealand, where we now live — who was there to present at a conference. When I mentioned this to my publisher at Paekakariki Press, he wrote back to me and said, essentially, “Let’s launch the Dictionary when you’re here.”
So it came to pass that Paekakariki Press simultaneously launched The Everyday English Dictionary, as well as Ian Dunlop’s The Urban Fox and Mo Gallacio’s Promises, at the Art Workers Guild in Bloomsbury, on Bloomsday. A beaming, convivial crowd filled the two rooms, there to hear us read our poetry and celebrate the press’s work.
In another lucky break, the organiser of the Open Mic Spoken Word Extravaganza at Newport’s Ye Olde Murenger House, MC Alan Roderick, invited me to read. He hadn’t known I no longer lived in nearby Cardiff, and it was only by happenstance I’d be there in time for the next Extravaganza. Poet Natasha Borton and I read on that truly warm-hearted evening, and I heard some amazing poetry from the open mic readers.
We raised a good amount that evening, as it is also a fundraiser to re-open Newport’s local branch library Stow Hill. If either your readers or yourself ever get the chance to attend, do go. You would all be welcome.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
This poem is from an unfinished series on lighthouses and the people who worked amid harsh, remote environs, which I began writing in 2014.
Mokohinau Islands lighthouse, 1908
tin boat, tin sails
tin snips to cut out
the shape of our hope
from the night’s grey ocean
send food send word
send both we need more oil
here are three letters
pass them on