A few weeks ago I went to the book launch of a Gill McEvoy's officially published volume of poetry UNCERTAIN DAYS. I say 'officially published' because a few years ago I suggested to Gill that I act as her editor and collected together a few of her many splendid poems and 'publish' them.
Even though this was a strictly amateur venture it was quite a success. It was called 'TIME OF LEAVES' which was the title of one of Gill's poems. Zoë Gotts, the daughter of a friend, drew some beautiful pictures to go with several of the poems and I put it all together on my computer for a local firm to print. Gill then sold all of the resulting copies in aid of the local hospice.
But now Gill's work has been taken on by a real publisher called Happenstance, with a proper editor (on the left here), and UNCERTAIN DAYS is the result.
The back of the volume has this short biography.
As a young mother, Gill McEvoy faced the disabling illness and eventual death of her husband. Just before the millennium, she herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer - the illness which killed her mother. Doctors predicted she wouldn't see Easter. They were wrong.
The collection is arranged as a narrative - it starts with poems about childhood and Gill's parents, and then goes on to some extremely powerful poems dealing with the illness and death of her husband. Then, over a couple more poems, Gill's illness appears, and the poetry deals with her journey through that. This might sound like bleak, miserable stuff, but it is not. She talks about 'the body-shell from which the 'you' has gone' and although it is quite sad it is also defiant. There is no self-pity, more a sense of determination. And of course there is beauty, and always an enchanting cleverness as she links, for instance, 'stars' with 'bright apples always out of reach', and the coat that was 'you' which was 'stubborn in the way it wouldn't burn'.
Towards the end of the book there is a sense of optimism, because of course Gill has been changed by her experiences: 'For I'm a hard woman now. I am diamond, carborundum...' she declares, and then ends the book with a poem that has just seven short lines. It describes the flight of a lark - transposing movement into sound and then sound into sight. 'All you can see now is the song.' she says - which seems to me to be a joyful look forward.
C.D: Do you have any connection with snails?
G.M: Very fond of rams-horn snails: I had a huge pond dug in a garden I once owned and everything was gooey green until I received a consignment of these sweet little snails from a friend. It was like being given an army of cleaners, the water was clear in no time at all! I really miss that pond and those little creatures. A strong memory of that same garden is of a thrush turning over a clay flower pot which was so crowded with snails they were pyramiding out of the bottom of it once it was face up to the sky. The thrush had a marvellous time; all I could hear for ages was the tac-tac-tac of the thrush’s beak cracking the snails open. It had such a lust for them I suspected it might have been of French origin. I hope, as Keeper of the Snails, you are not upset by this!
C.D: What is the saddest thing you've ever seen?
G.M: Saddest moment was once after the Chester Midsummer Watch parade I saw a mother dump in a waste-bin all the silver birds her children had made and proudly carried in the parade. She asked them if they wanted to keep them and they hesitated, probably because they wanted to say yes but understood they should say no, so she grabbed the lot and dumped them. I wanted to rescue the birds, they were so beautiful, and I felt really sorry for those children.
C.D: What is happiness?
G.M: Writing, for me, is happiness! And Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoons.
C.D: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
G.M: Make tea, let the dog out, go back to bed and write.
C.D: When did you start to write?
G.M: As a child. I’ve always written.
C.D: Your work seems to be largely autobiographical. Is all your work like this?
G.M: No, not at all. Just this collection “Uncertain Days”. My publisher selected these poems because they paint a moving and also triumphant picture of a life which has been very troubled, but which still has room for celebration.
C.D: How did your illness affect the way you write?
GM: My illness made me more driven than I already was. I realised intensely that life is shorter than we think and that there is only Today to write; no good putting it off until tomorrow. The saddest thing is I find I get much more tired now than I used to and cannot write for as long as I would like. But I do as much as I can manage, and write most days even if it is only in my journal.
CD: You also write about your childhood and your parents. Did they have a big influence on your work?
G.M: Adversely, yes. I have nothing to thank them for as regards my writing other than that they gave me the chance to be in this world! My father found one of my early childhood stories, a long saga of animals on a journey (much influenced by Tschiffeley’s “Tale of Two Horses” which I absolutely loved), roared with laughter and showed it to all his friends who also roared with laughter. I almost stopped writing there and then.
C.D: What do you think has influenced your work the most?
G.M: Everything I have ever read, I would say; poets like Louis MacNeice, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, Kathleen Raine, Mary Oliver, Michael Longley, Luis Cernuda, and many, many others. Plus the essays of Charles Lamb and HE Bates (do you know his essay collection “Down by the Riverside”? It has the most wonderful description of ice-skating that I know of! And no-one I know has written of the juiciness of pears as sensually as H E Bates has done. He is one of the few writers who are able to convey smell in his writing.)
C.D: Most of your work is free form. Do you ever try to write poems in traditional forms e.g. a sonnet? Do you enjoy these (if so)? Which do you prefer? What would you say are the best features of each?
G.M: I do write in traditional form occasionally; it is a good discipline to do so, but I prefer to create my own forms and I really love internal rhyme.
C.D: What is your favourite topic for poetry? (If you have one).
G.M: It would have to be the world of nature, I think, trees, birds, flowers, insects. But I write about many things.
C.D: What do you plan to/ hope to write next?
G.M: I think I would like to see a full collection of my poetry appearing one day. Although there are great benefits with the chapbook form: chapbooks are cheaper and therefore easier to sell; you can group work on various themes/aspects of your fields of interest; I would have enough work for several chapbooks. I have written many poems about birds and would love to produce a chapbook of these poems. There are some of my bird poems in “Uncertain Days”, of course, but there are many more waiting to be gathered into book form.