Vanessa Quigg talks to Mary Noonan whose debut collection of poems, The Fado House, is published in May 2012 by Dedalus Press
An academic in French at the University of Cork, Mary Noonan is about to launch her debut collection of poems, The Fado House, the product of over a decade of writing. Inspired, in her own words, by ‘the stuff of the average life, relationships, loss, memory – and travel’, the collection won the Listowel Poetry Collection Prize in 2010 and has been described as having ‘an intense musicality and a determinedly outward look’. She caught up with Poetry Matters to tell us more about the collection, Bing Crosby, and why good poetry can only happen on A4 paper.
Could you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write The Fado House?
The Fado House was written over a ten-year period, so I’d have to say that many people, places and things inspired it! But really, the stuff of the average life, relationships, loss, memory – and travel. I’ve always been inspired to write when travelling, as if my mind is on holiday, and free to dream and invent.
Have your academic interests fuelled your more creative writing?
I try to keep the poetry in a separate compartment from the academic work, as I feel they are so different. Yet, my work in French studies has always centred on drama and theatre, and I guess I’ve always loved poetry that is dramatic in some way, poetry that is highly inventive, that invents other worlds, and where the poet is not afraid to ‘try on’ roles or personas that are not those of her everyday life.
Your work has been described as having an 'intense musicality'; where would you say this came from?
Well, I sing like a crow, and I can’t play a musical instrument! But my parents loved to sing around the house – music from the old Hollywood musicals, Bing Crosby, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. My mother loved opera, and had a lot of records of operatic music. My father adores John McCormack, and any good tenor. They were both fascinated by the singing voice, I would say.
Which other contemporary Irish writers do you admire?
I like the poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin very much. And that of Matthew Sweeney. They both have that quality of strangeness I like. Further afield, I love contemporary American poetry – Sharon Olds and C.K. Williams, and the Canadian poet Karen Solie. In the UK, I admire the work of Jen Hadfield, the young writer who lives in the Shetland Islands. And I adore the poetry of French poet Valérie Rouzeau, she plays so much with the sounds of words.
Could you tell us a little about your method of writing?
I don’t really have a method. But I do have fetishes! For example, I can’t compose a poem on a small piece of paper, it has to be A4. And I always write first, and usually second and third drafts by hand. For me, once I go to the computer, the first nudging of the image, word or phrase that’s propelling the poem, is over. From then on, it’s work on the shape and on the language, and I can do that on a keyboard.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of your poetic career?
I just want to get better. A first collection is the beginning. There is so much to learn, from other poets, from reading their work. I’d like to try some formal writing – sonnets, villanelles, sestinas – and then to cast them off! I hope I will have the courage to take risks when the time comes, to know where tradition ends, and the individual poet begins.
What about some advice for aspiring Irish poets?
My advice is to be simultaneously very easy and very hard on yourself – it’s a difficult tightrope act! An overly critical internal judge will cripple your writing. So, switch off the critic. Don’t try to be poetic. Listen to the sounds of the words or phrases rattling about at the front of your brain. But once the writing is there, you need to get tough, to be as rigorously exact as possible. In tandem with your writing practice, read, read, read poetry. There is no other way. You will not grow as a poet unless you read poetry, lots of it.