Marion McCready is a Scottish poet. Her poetry pamphlet Vintage Sea was published by Calder Wood Press in 2011. She received a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2013 and won the Melita Hume Poetry Prize the same year.
Her debut full-length collection Tree Language was subsequently published by Eyewear Publishing in 2014 and a second collection Madame Ecosse is due out later this year.
Hi Marion. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Your next full-length collection Madame Ecosse is due to be published later this year with Eyewear. Can you tell us a bit more about the collection and how you think it compares to your debut Tree Language?
Thanks very much for inviting me to take part. Yes, I’m delighted that Eyewear Publishing have not only accepted Madame Ecosse for publication but are publishing it this year. I assumed it would be published in 2017 at the earliest!
In 2013/14, as part of winning a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, I was extremely fortunate to be mentored by Vicki Feaver over a period of nine months. It had a tremendous effect on my writing. Vicki was an incredibly perceptive and generous mentor. The experience built up my confidence in my own writing and helped me expand my voice.
One obvious result is that the poems in my new collection are generally longer than many of those in Tree Language. Just as in in my debut, there is still a large focus on nature throughout the new collection. However, the new poems feel more political and Scottish – there are poems about Mary Queen of Scots, a long poem about Trident, and of course the title poem is about Winnie Ewing who is widely regarded as the mother of the Scottish National Party.
You have been described in the past as ‘a writer who succeeds in making nature sound unnatural’, perhaps in part due to your ability to evoke elements of the uncanny and the unconscious in your poems. I’m curious if you are aware of any influences that have shaped your style of poetry writing?
I realised a long time ago that there was a strand of American nature writing that I was particularly drawn to but was unable to put my finger on until a couple of years ago. It goes back to the different historical influences on the American Romantic tradition as opposed to the British tradition, particularly the work of transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The poetry of Theodore Roethke is very important to me in this respect as well.
I’ve also been very much influenced in recent years by the work of Sujata Bhatt. The sheer breadth of female experience, whether that’s been personal through the lyrical ‘I’, or explored through historical figures in her many collections has been a constant source of challenge and inspiration.
I understand you have been involved recently in a project to write a poem on the subject of Polphail, a ghost village on the banks of Loch Fyne. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Yes, I was invited to participate in an exciting new project curated by Scottish poets Andy Jackson and Brian Johnstone called Scotia Extremis. The project was set up with the objective to “explore the “soul of Scotland” through specially commissioned poems which will examine the extremes of the nation’s culture from all angles”. Throughout 2016 two poems will appear weekly on their website.
I hadn’t heard of Polphail before I saw it on the list of topics to pick from. When I googled it and saw that it was an abandoned village, only an hour-and-a-half drive away from where I live, I knew immediately it was the right topic for me!
Built to house oil rig construction workers in the 1970’s during the Scottish oil boom, no workers ever made it there despite it being fully functional and furnished with kitchens, a laundrette, bar and leisure facilities. The village was left to natural decay and a few years back an artist group gained permission to brighten up the place with graffiti-style art work.
It’s an amazing place to visit – quite surreal! My finished poem ‘Polphail Village‘ was published on the website last week.
It’s interesting to find out the different approaches poets utilise in their writing. Do you have any set routines or methods you employ in putting together your own work from initial draft to finished product?
I generally make a lot of notes, especially if I’m going through a dry period. I do a lot of walking and take lots of photos and then make notes from the photos to see if there is anything which jumps out at me – even the tiniest spark from an image to a word/phrase/line. Then I follow that spark obsessively.
I never work on a poem via pen and paper – always on the computer. I end up with masses of notes from stream of conscious writing, reading and internet research. Then I start to sift the poem out of the mass of words and phrases which requires reading aloud as I go.
I have a private blog only I have access to and use as an important part of my drafting process – seeing drafts ‘published’ on my private blog helps create the distance needed to give me an objective view for re-drafting.
What does the rest of the year hold for you? Are there any dates in the diary you are looking forward to or are there any specific poetry goals you have set yourself?
Madame Ecosse is provisionally scheduled to be published in September so up until then my main focus will be on ordering, pruning and proofreading the manuscript. However, now that my manuscript has been accepted I feel pretty excited and ready to open the door to something new – a new poetic challenge.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
I live in Dunoon, a small town on the Cowal Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Our life here is dominated by the short ferry ride across the Firth of Clyde which we take in order to get to Glasgow or really anywhere in central Scotland – the drive round by road is a much longer affair! I use the ferry journey in this poem to explore some key moments in my life in which the ferry crossing has been integral.
The ferry hums through unseen waves;
strip lighting flickering above our heads,
late night conversations struggle around us.
The streetlights of Gourock grow smaller.
Squinting, I transform the orange balls
into rows of glowing crosses,
calvaries, ascending the black hillside.
I’ve been here before, many times –
my sixteenth birthday
when he proposed on the upper deck
in the heart of this dark estuary
against the backdrop of Orion
and the Seven Sisters.
The land-lights are drifting further
away as we sail deeper into the Firth;
life swarming beneath us –
basking sharks, mackerels, silver eels,
a colony of flame shells, sewing themselves
together on the seabed.
We skim across the surface of the Clyde,
across dark waves and into dark skies.
I imagine my mother’s final crossing
strapped to the ambulance bed, breathing
through an oxygen mask, like a struggling
high altitude climber or deep sea diver.
The streetlights form signals now,
signs from dry land, the intermittent blip
of car lights, journeying the shore line –
a sort of Morse code, message
from the other side.