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Ruth O’Callaghan or How Poetry Can Save Lives
article [ Interviews ]
Compilation: Cultural Crossroads

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by [Aritmosa ]

2011-02-11  |     | 

Ruth O’Callaghan has published three volumes of poetry so far: "Where Acid Has Etched" (2007), "A Lope of Time" (2009) and "Goater’s Alley" (2010). Part of her poems have been translated into Italian, Romanian, German, Hungarian and Mongolian. This interview was taken under the auspices of the MTTLC programme, led by Prof. Dr. Lidia Vianu.

How would you describe a poetry evening in Great Britain? What does cultural hybridity add to such events?
A poetry evening in GB is as varied as there are poets writing. Do not forget that GB comprises of four distinct nations and within each nation there is great diversity, not only with those who are indigenous to that particular part of G.B. but also to those who have adopted it as part of their lives.

How would you characterize the contemporary British poetry scene to a foreigner who may not know very much about it?
Extremely varied ranging from classical to performance with what may also be described as ‘hip-hop’ poetry. Poetry has always traditionally been aligned with jazz but nowadays it is linked with choral, rock, installation art and any other creative area that you care to name.

Do you consider your poems as modes of travel? To what places?
All poems are modes of travel, whether physically geographical or spiritually so. The places are, or should be, as much a surprise to the poet as to the reader. If the poet is not surprised as to where the poem may lead it is unlikely that the reader will be surprised/engaged.

What role does geographic travel play for the life of poetry?
Having travelled from Antarctica to Greenland via Outer Mongolia, India, different parts of Asia and a fair chunk of Europe, it would be unusual if travel had not informed some of my poems. This does not necessarily mean that there will be a description of the Gobi or Sahara deserts or a paean to an iceberg but, rather like the latter, the impact remains 9/10ths submerged below the surface.

How would you describe the writing process? What are the main themes of your poetry?
The writing process is different for every individual. For myself I would prefer to write everyday but this is not possible – other matters impose their own demands. The main theme of my poetry? I have no idea – but my quest is to write that most elusive of beings a perfect poem – whatever that may be!

What are the things that influence your writing?
I think what I mentioned earlier about the iceberg answers the question somehow. It is the inner rather than the outer self that appears to influence my writing – although perhaps, as many people have said that I do not put the ‘I’ into my poems, it is not immediately obvious and probably especially not to the casual reader.

What contemporary and classic poets do you appreciate and feel at heart most?
Marilyn Hacker for her syntactical dexterity and brilliant usage of metre; John F. Deane for his engagement with the fundamental spiritual necessities of life; the list is endless…

What particular experience determined you to write and publish your first volume?
No particular experience. I had been dipping my toes into poetry for about 5-6 years insofar as I would attend a class once a week but never thought anything more about it from one week to the next. Finally I decided that this was a waste of time and I should either take it seriously or not aspire to be poet if I was reluctant to put in all the hard work. So late in 20005 I decided that it was now or never. Since then I have been very lucky and invited to read in many places – I have just returned from Taiwan, before that it was Mongolia, Budapest, Ireland etc plus U.k. and Europe.

Because you are involved in a project of performing poetry to the benefit of the homeless people, how do you see the social role of poetry? What about the differences between the local, the national and the international impact?
The project goes on all the year round and occupies a vast amount of time. Not only is there the running of two central London venues with international poets and publishers to liase with and organise etc. we also have a yearly anthology which comprises mainly of poets from the floor but also some internationally known poets and also a competition to adjudicate. However, it is wonderful to be able to do something you love, poetry - which many people regard as an airy fairy kind of occupation – and seeing it have some practical use. Indeed, the minister of one of the shelters has written that it is literally saving lives – especially in this bitter weather – and without the money raised by the poets the shelter would have to close. It would be wonderful to see such a project duplicated both nationally and internationally.

What are the differences between the poems meant to be read in silence and the poems read aloud on a stage?
A good reader can make a relatively poor poem seem better than it is in actuality. Of course the reverse is true and a good poem can be spoilt by a poor reading. On the page the poem stands by itself.

Are you currently working on anything?
Yes, I’m working on my new book of poems plus a book of interviews of influential women – of which Lidia Vianu is one – plus have just published a 168 anthology of Mongolian poetry plus…..the list goes on.

What advice would you give for young poets or writers?
If you want to take your craft seriously it is hard work but extremely worthwhile.

January, 2011

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