Vona Groarke is a multi award-winning Irish poet. She has published six collections with The Gallery Press – Shale (1994), Other People’s Houses (1999), Flight (2002), Juniper Street (2006), Spindrift (2009) and X (2014).
She currently lives in Manchester where she teaches in the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester. A collection of her Selected Poems was published in March.
Hi Vona. Congratulations on the publication of your Selected Poems with Gallery Press last month. It must feel like something of a milestone in your writing career. Can you tell us a bit about the selection process you used when deciding which poems to include?
I imagine it’s the same kind of milestone as a ‘significant’ birthday. Bittersweet. Exciting certainly, but maybe not quite as exciting as the publication of a new collection of poems that is all novelty and fizz, pulsing in selfhood, ready to have at the world.
A Selected Poems is a more sobering affair: it means, mostly, that you’ve kept breathing and publishing long enough to arrive at this stage.
It’s nice that anyone would be interested, and I’m honoured that they are, and it will certainly be handier to carry to readings than all those separate books. It will be interesting too to see how the poems breathe (or not) out of their natural element and how they will take account of their new surroundings and context, their fresh inmates.
Unlike an actual milestone, this one won’t indicate the distance to the destination: it’s a backward glance, I suppose, instructive for purposes of comparison, but like most backward glances, is a substitute for the more visceral challenges of the hard look into the future and the girding of oneself for all that.
The selection process? I just picked the poems from each collection that I thought were the best poems.
You have taught at the Centre for New Writing in Manchester for a number of years now. What, for you, are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
I’m glad to be independent and to be of use, but work is what I do when I’m working.
You authored a translation of the 18th century Irish poem ‘Lament for Art O’Leary‘ back in 2008. What was it that attracted you to this project and did it throw up any challenges or surprises along the way that you weren’t expecting?
It was at the suggestion of my editor, Peter Fallon, and was, of course, deeply challenging and surprising, especially since my eighteenth century Irish is on the rusty side.
I wrote an introductory essay to the translation which outlines some of the ways in which I learned from the process of writing a poem that took its every cue from a text and a world which I do not occupy. I quite like my version of this extraordinary poem: it has music and a kind of sincerity to it that strike me as hard-earned, and that still maintain.
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?
I have a book-length essay on the subject of picture frames and related subjects coming out in October. Four Sides Full is my first prose publication of length and its combination of research, memoir, personal writing and historical investigation is something quite new to me.
My poetry goal is, as ever, to write a poem of such extraordinary vigour and beauty that it will cancel out all the anythings less I have published over the years.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
It is about waking to middle-age, a subject not much covered in poems and which requires, I believe, no small amount of gumption to take on.
It’s a poem that seeks to find redress in the facts of the world, for the disruption in one’s body, to translate loss into symmetry and music; to be honest, but not just honest; and to acknowledge the lack of that redress, if no redress there is.
Feeling my way to the brim of a room
I find how the sapling lines up
with the light cord
how the sky has so much linen in it
or the white wall two-steps
how the cramps in my body
answer to nothing
a fist of blood pulling
all the way back from me.