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An Interview with Lucy Hamilton on Stalker by Ian Seed

An Interview with Lucy Hamilton on Stalker by Ian Seed

These questions come from a seminar with my creative writing students at the University of Chester. Stalker is a set text on third year course Life Writing that I teach there. Ian Seed

1.Why did you choose the form of the prose poem to write Stalker ? Why not longer prose or lineated poetry?

This is a question I often address when I give readings. Stalker didn’t begin as a collection of prose poems. It was twenty years before I could write about the events referred to in the title sequence. I wrote a short story called ‘Stalker’, which was published in a small magazine that also included my article on John Steinbeck. This was my first published work. Some years later I took the manucript of a novel to an Arvon fiction course. It was based on my two years living in Paris as a teenager. One of the tutors asked if I wrote poetry and a year later I signed up with Mimi Khalvati at the Poetry School in London. I was writing long rhymed poems about Vincent Van Gogh. Then one day, out of the blue, I wrote a long poem in unrhymed quatrains and took it along. It was about an experience in the States and unlike anything I’d written previously. I received positive feedback, no-one suggested revisions. Yet for some reason the poem didn’t feel right to me and I didn’t send it anywhere. Three years later I got it up on my screen and started playing with it. I did away with the first four quatrains and put them into a paragraph. Suddenly it felt right! The sensation was almost physical: as if I’d altered a sweater and now it fitted and felt comfortable. I changed the remaining quatrains and worked on it and gradually the pieces became ‘Algae Beds, Wyoming’. This form acted as a catalyst: all at once I was writing prose poems set in my teens and twenties, including my two years in Paris, which are referred to in Section 2: Storms & Stations. The prose poem offers enormous scope: it doesn’t have to be linear narrative, you can jump around, twist and turn, play, begin after the beginning and end before the end.

2.Did the ideas behind he book dictate the form of the prose poem, or did you decide on the form first?

I have no doubt that the poem ‘Algae Beds, Wyoming’ chose its form and that this form released all the other poems belonging to that period, which eventually became Stalker.

3.Who are your influences?

The most important writers for me are those concerned with the psychological and spiritual predicaments of men, women and children grappling with the everyday exigencies of their lives from the perspecitve of their own times and cultural backgrounds. Writers who may have influenced my own writing will invariably reveal a poetic sensibility in their work, irrespective of genre. Also those who use historical and mythical epics as a vehicle to portray aspects of the modern world. Aside from writers mentioned in Stalker, others who made a great impression on me include the Irish dramatist Seán O’Casey, Carson McCullers, Hermann Hesse, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, Nawal El Saadawi, Michael Ondaatje, James Baldwin, Edmund White. Also Virginia Woolf and George Eliot. South American writers with their magic realism entranced me. Also classical French writers such as Jean Giono and short story writers such Alphonse Daudet and Guy de Maupassant, whom I loved for their use of French dialect as well as their portrayal of working and peasant life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Short story writers such as Catherine Mansfield, E. Annie Proulx, and contemporary writers such as Lydia Davis, Lyn Hejinian, Anne Carson who blur bounderies between poetry and prose. The poetries of Derek Walcott, Yehuda Amichai, Rumi … too many to mention them all. But I should mention a critic who had an enormous influence on my perception of writing and on my sense of affirmation: the French Algerian writer, playright, poet, philosopher and literary critic, Hélène Cixous. I read her while I was still attempting fiction and can’t over-emphasise the excitement and encouragement I felt when reading her books for the first time, particularly: Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, Coming to Writing and Other Essays, and Rootprints. Cixous is a feminist writer but she is not sexist in my view.
Reading and translating ancient and traditional texts from the French, which are themselves translations from the original Arabic, has influenced aspects of my new book. This second collection of prose poems attempts a greater textual layering than Stalker : a desire to reference history within the present. I have also been greatly influenced by visual art, as is apparent from the obsession with Vincent Van Gogh. I have a strong visual memory and my current work-in-progress (for three years) begins with my making a visual photomontage, which can take weeks or months. This visual work then acts as a stimulus for the poem that follows. The poems are all in unpunctuated couplets, so it’s a departure from prose poetry. Again, I believe the poems found their own form.

4.What for you, the author, are the most important themes of Stalker?

For me the most important themes are those that compelled me to write it. I think they can all be viewed as a form of stalking. Dreams, for example, have always been part of my life and, especially when I was young, could haunt and stay with me for weeks. Dreams are a rich resource for writing, but it was years before I could make use of them. Living alone is another theme. I had never ‘dealt’ with my experiences of living alone as a young woman, trying to make sense of the world, trying to find a meaningful way to live that was true to her own nature. How to be true to your conscience. How to love. Being a twin is another important theme for me. As one poem says, my first memory was of two. We are not identical, in fact we are very different in temperament and interests, but the the depth of intimacy between twins is unique and can certainly be felt as haunting, a form of stalking. Language itself, the origin of words, my mother’s native tongue are all food for creative writing. In her review of Stalker Sandeep Parmar says: ‘Words are stalked through the ages by their roots and, by using them, we are also dogged by what they signify… Ultimately these types of ‘stalking’ are what gives life its viscosity…’ (Sandeep Parmar, PN Review).

5.Why do you make use of so many literary references?

Reading is an important theme for me. These references are to books I was reading at the time I was actually living the events portayed in Stalker. To have omitted reference to what I was reading during those periods in my life would have been unthinkable: a denial of my inner life. Books helped me make sense of what I was living. Not by giving me a replica, but by showing me the inner lives of women and men during different periods in history and in other countries and cultures. Great literature gave me paradigms against which I could test out and measure my own beliefs and position. It inspired and encouraged me by showing me essential truths about human nature and behaviour.
The poem ‘Nigg Bay, Aberdeen’ relates directly to Tolstoy’s Resurrection, which was like a revelation to me when I read it while living in Aberdeen aged 18 and very unhappy. Tolstoy’s book helped me so much because it showed another human being grappling with his own conscience and remorse, as well as loneliness. The fact that his hero was a privileged prince living in the 19th century didn’t matter to me because Tolstoy revealed Nekhlúdov’s innermost feelings as a man, a human being. Nekhlúdov had betrayed a woman he had loved and she was now in prison. I was working in a Care home for young boys, some of whose fathers were in prison. The theme of conscience is also in the poem ‘What Men Did Not Read in Their Hearts’, which quotes the Catholic Catechism I had to learn as a young child, and again at the Catholic secondary school I was sent to. I didn’t like the Catholic belief in absolution, which seemed to suggest we aren’t accountable for our own actions.
Steinbeck was very important to me as a writer for similar reasons. I read him at a time I was grappling with love, life and work while living alone in Gravesend, Kent. Gravesend was an edgy place to live in the late 70s, when many rented bedsits didn’t even have a payphone in the building. The title sequence ‘Stalker’ refers to this time. A time when it was unusual for a woman to go to a café on her own, and virtually taboo to go alone to a pub, since that’s what prostitutes did. This didn’t stop me as I needed to be independent, but it was hard in a town without a student culture to make pubs and cafés feel women-friendly. I loved Steinbeck’s portrayal of misfits and people living on the edge. I was blown away by his Journal of a Novel. This is the diary he wrote every morning to warm up before continuing his day’s work on East of Eden. We see the famous author struggling with his own demons, women, drink, two broken marriages, children he loved.

6.There is a feeling of depersonalisation throughout the book. Is this one of the effects you wished to convey? If so, why?

No, I didn’t choose convey an effect of depersonalisation, though I know it is there. That is to say, it wasn’t an ‘intellectual’ decision. I think it springs from an involuntary and organic need to be objective in order to write about these experiences.

7.Your main character remains something of a mystery, which some readers will find frustrating. Why doesn’t she have a stronger presence?

Yes, I understand this reaction. Again it wasn’t a conscious decision to create a mysterious character. I think it relates to question 6 and is to do with an instinctive need to keep a distance from painful experiences in order to write about them at all. No doubt a better writer would have been able to overcome this. For me, even from this distance, I often found it extremely painful to relive the experiences as I wrote about them.
The issue of character presence also relates back to question 1. Stalker is prose poetry, not fiction. There is usually an element of mystery in poetry, of ‘showing it slant’. The novel I took along to that Arvon fiction course dealt with the two years I lived in Paris as a teenager. It is written in the 3rd person and I think the narrator has a fairly strong presence throughout. But I wrote it without any group support or feedback and it was unwieldy and poorly structured. Years later, I took it along to a small fiction workshop and was encouraged, but life intervened and finally I had to choose, and chose poetry. But I love the blurring of boundaries and cross-overs in different art forms. There are really exciting things happening including innovation and experimentation. I think it’s important to explore and keep open to possibilities, and then be true to what feels right for yourself.

Lucy Hamilton’s Stalker is published by Shearsman (2012) and was short-listed for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her new collection is Of Heads & Hearts. For more information, go to http://www.shearsman.com/browse-poetry-books-by-author-Lucy-Hamilton

Ian Seed 2nd February 2018

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Long Poem Magazine Issue 15, ed. Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black Sure Hope 1, ed. Joseph Persad

Long Poem Magazine Issue 15,  ed. Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black  Sure Hope 1,  ed. Joseph Persad

In The Pavilion Hotel, 37 Leinster Gardens, London W2, Ken Edwards gave an interview on 15th February 1995 in which he talked about the world of poetry and the world of poetry magazines. Reality Studios had a ten-year lifespan and Edwards made it clear that he was interested in questioning the ‘basis of belief and acceptance of what writing is’.

‘So that is what I was trying to do in the magazine’.

Ken Edwards also made it clear that he did not want the magazine ‘to have a dogmatic line on anything, because I do not feel I have one…The thing is when you edit a magazine, people do come to you with preconceived notions of what you are doing, like if you publish soandso’s poetry, therefore you support this line and therefore soandso must be an enemy. Unfortunately, poetry is riddled with this kind of factionalising.’ One year later Iain Sinclair’s anthology Conductors of Chaos appeared and his introduction emphasised those points in vivid language as he suggested that poets ‘are a quarrelsome bunch; dealing with them is like dipping an arm into a sack of vipers’. In terms of the publication of an anthology (and the same could be said of a magazine) they demand ‘Who else is involved’.

This month two magazines have appeared and in their different ways they are exemplary in showing how the best can be achieved. Long Poem Magazine has been running for a few years now and it is produced with care and style. The editors, both poets in their own rights, were able to announce in the opening pages of this recently published issue that LPM has been awarded ‘an Arts Council grant to fund issues 15 and 16’. They also presented a clear sense of their own purposes as editors:

‘Since LPM’s inception, we have striven to publish an equal proportion of women to men, and to foster a sense of literary community and engagement across languages, cultures and countries—publishing translations from nine languages to date, with a tenth in the pipeline.’ The range of poetry is eclectic as work by the Russian of Anatoly Movshevich (translated by Peter Daniels) brushes shoulders with that of Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Ian Brinton) and the ‘Extracts from Uruk’s Anthem’ by Adnan al-Sayegh, translated by Jenny Lewis, are simply outstanding. I am reminded here of the published letter of Jeremy Prynne to Andrew George concerning the latter’s Penguin translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh in which he congratulated the translator on his ability to present ‘with great clarity and force… a poem of tremendous nobility and passion, evidently linked by many threads to the social structures of governance and adventure among men who still felt themselves close to the world of an elaborate pantheon of gods and supernatural agencies, but also displaying deep powers of psychological insight and human character and interaction’. To listen to Adnan al-Sayegh reading from his contribution to LPM at the launch was to be stilled for a moment, to be caught in a web of interwoven histories.
Submissions can be sent via http://www.longpoemmagazine.org.uk

Sure Hope 1 is a delight to read and its editorial note looks forward in the very best sense. As its title suggests it is here to stay for a while.

Sure Hope is a magazine of the arts, fairly convinced that writing, radically considered, remains an optimized framework for investigating the continued possibilities of hope, invisibility, equality, expansion, space, history, love…..It is hoped readers will enjoy what is presented, observing that these contents look out to broad horizons of conversation, life, and argument…’.

The range of contributors is impressive as Ian Patterson and Anthony Barnett rub shoulders with Justin Katko and Sophie Seita; Lisa Jeschke & Lucy Beynon appear along with Ian Heames and Luke Roberts. From the migrant camps of Calais we can read Harry Soolia as he chalks up the ‘intelligent and deliberate manipulations of opinions / tintin’s tears dripping from the feed’. This new magazine is worth supporting and submissions can be sent to troposphereeditions@gmail.com

Ian Brinton 23rd May 2016

Long Poem Magazine 12 edited by Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black

Long Poem Magazine 12 edited by Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black

http://longpoemmagazine.org.uk

Issue Twelve is as eclectic as ever and features long poems by Salah Niazi, translated by the author from the Iraqi with David Andrew, Patricia McCarthy, Martyn Crucefix’s versions of parts of the ‘Daodejing’, Richard Berengarten, Jeri Onitskansky, John Greening, Norman Jope, Tamar Yoseloff, Ben Rogers, Varlam Shalamov, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler, Alexandra Sashe, David Andrew, Alistair Noon’s Pushkin inspired travel narrative, and W.D. Jackson. Linda Black’s editorial offers insights into the current reading habits and recommendations of several contributors. Alexandra Sashe ‘neither wrote nor read poetry’ until she discovered Paul Celan: ‘The predominance of Language, which writes itself, which dictates itself … this same Language lived by the writer, becomes a new entity, something other: “essentialized”, and, faithful to its centripetal life, increasingly personal …’.

Sophie Herxheimer’s ‘Inklisch Rekortdinks’ series of dramatic monologues impressed sonically and thematically. Based on the experience of her father’s family who emigrated to London in 1938 and written in the Lenkvitch, a sort of German Jewish – English hybrid accent, of her paternal grandmother, they probe identity and immigrant experience from alienation through war and assimilation to friendship and domesticity. The sumptuous language and narrative angles make the world of Herxheimer’s poems sparkle.

Vis efferi Snip off Dill I fezzer
on my feinly slizzered Kewkumpers
I re-azzempel Leipzig
Birch Treez, Promenaats.

Vis efferi chop off peelt Eppel
es it sutds into my Disch
for Pie – zerburban Etchvair
ordinerry: I kerry on.

Timothy Adés’ ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’ uses the Oulipo univocal lipogram omitting a, i, o and u to produce a narrative poem in rhyming couplets drawing upon the film version of Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. This one hundred line sequence comes with a set of multi-language footnotes all with the same impediment.
Lucy Sheerman clearly articulates the relevance of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life as ‘a touchstone for experimentation with the representation of thought in the field of the long poem’ in her essay feature. Sheerman quotes Juliana Spahr on Hejinian’s achievement:

Hejinian works rigorously against a capitalsed ‘Self’ or
any stability of the self. Her subjectivity, more empty
than full, concentrates on the ‘separate fragment
scrutiny.’ It is defined by fluctuation, by the
move from ‘I wanted to be’ to the lack of fixity of ‘I am a
shard.’ Or, as she writes citing the title, ‘My life is as
permeable constructedness’ (93). One of the crucial
distinctions between the multiple subjectivity of current
autobiographical criticism and Hejinian’s fluctuating
multiple subjectivity is the absence of stability in
Hejinian’s subject. Instead of offering full multiple
identities, My Life is a process-centred work that
calls attention to the methods by which the
autobiographical subject is constructed by both author and
reader. Hejinian’s constant resignification of subjectivity
confronts head-on the constructed reality of
autobiography and the reader’s seduction by this
construction.

Sheerman concludes with a number of challenging critical comments, which makes the essay immensely valuable and more than a informed introduction.

Long Poem Magazine is a veritable feast of the strange and familiar taking the reader on a wonderful journey.

David Caddy 25th November

Long Poem Magazine Issue 11 Spring 2014

Long Poem Magazine Issue 11 Spring 2014

http://www.longmagazine.org.uk

 

Edited by Lucy Hamilton, Linda Black and Ann Vaughan-Williams

 

Linda Black’s editorial states the magazine’s intention ‘to represent the broad range of contemporary poetics’ and they achieve this with aplomb. Each issue has an impressive range of long poems, introduced by each poet, and one substantial essay.

 

Issue 11 is no exception to the usual high standard. Robert Vas Dias’ essay on Paul Blackburn’s The Journals (1975) is a wonderfully written personal and critical introduction to the subject. It is highly informative, providing a contextualised reading of a neglected, major American poet. By the way, Simon Smith is editing a Paul Blackburn Reader for publication by Shearsman in 2015, which will include hitherto unpublished material from the Blackburn archive at San Diego.

 

This issue has a strong international flavour. There are translations from the Spanish of Mercedes Cebriàn’s 2005 ‘Common Market’ poem by Terence Dooley, and from the Russian of Vladislav Khodasevich’s 1926 ‘John Bottom’ poem by Peter Daniels.

Frances Presley’s ‘OBX’ poem is a tribute to and a dialogue with Muriel Rukeyser’s Outer Banks (1967) and was written in and around the Outer Banks on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina.

 

Mark Sorrell offers a translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Battles of Maldon’, and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s ‘Harald In Byzantium’ captures the eleventh century Norwegian giant between two worlds thinking about home and identity. Edwin Stockdale’s ‘Snowdrops’ stems from an immersion in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1853 novel, Ruth, and Aviva Dautch responds to Pablo Picasso’s 1946 Bull lithographs in the context of Theodore Adorno’s challenge about the possibility of art after the Holcaust. ‘Eleven Developments Of A Lithograph’ employs a first person narrative to follow Picasso’s progression from the figurative to abstraction and response to barbarism. Anna Stearman’s ‘Letters to Dr. Freud’ stems from reading H.D.’s Tribute to Freud (1956) and is mediated through Rilke, Anna Freud, and others.

 

I was pleased to see D.M. Black featured. He seemed to have dropped from view in recent years due one suspects to writing unfashionable poems. His ‘The Uses of Mythology’ reads Ezra Pound’s ambition and trajectory through the myth of Marsyas, flayed alive for daring to compete with Apollo. Similarly unfashionable is Aidan Semmens’ wonderfully titled, ‘A Clergyman’s Guide To String Theory’, derived from a chance method of finding non-poetic lines on page 53 of a selection of books in his home and using playing cards to shuffle the lines and generate a random sequence. The poem begins:

 

I dropped into line with women

rich clusters of columbine heavy and dark

there is serene repose in the body

both sacred and sordid

surrounded by scaffolding

a face cut into stone the steps strewn with lavender

selection of articles collectible figurines and large scenes

a few pieces in relief entirely made by hand

ancient hunters and gatherers painted figures

of animals and humans in shades

of red and yellow ochre

on the cliffs that line the innumerable waterways

 

There is also captivating work by Mimi Khalvati, Anna Reckin, R.D. Parker, Lisa Kelly, James Byrne and Maitreyabandhu, and an editorial by Linda Black.

 

Each issue is £6. Annual subscriptions are £14.50.

 

David Caddy 24th June 2014

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