Monday, November 26, 2007

MADE FOR WEATHER and an interview with Kay Cooke

Last Sunday Salon I started my reading with a book of poetry by Kay Cooke called MADE FOR WEATHER. Early this morning I finished it. The second half is just as beautiful as the first with quite stunning word choice and imagery:

'Fetid with winter's dead leaves,
the soil, as it warms
in spring, elbows out off its bed
the split seed...'

That word 'elbows' makes the poem for me - strong and conveys exactly the right emotion.

In the next poem waves 'arrive wearing a chainmail of mist' in a 'fingernail-shaped bay'. Again really evocative imagery.

There is humour too - here she observes herself in the mirror of a changing room:
'...How generous
the double helpings
over the wiry frame
that used to be
more obvious.'
But she returns again and again to the landscape that she knows and obviously loves, and the people that are now part of it too.

Kay has kindly agreed to answer a few questions and provide a short biography.


I was born in the south of the South Island, New Zealand where the weather is wild and windy and the trees are crippled by salt-laden winds blowing straight in from the Southern Ocean. I have had two books of poetry published by University of Otago Press. (note from CD - the first of which won 'best first book in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards' - something Kay modestly forgot to mention!) I am presently working on a third book of poetry as well as working towards a collection of short stories, and other prose writings. In true procrastinator style, I haven’t worked out which is the best time of the day in which to write, can’t decide whether I’m writing a poem, a novel or a short story, cannot write until I have made myself a cup of tea and always have to wait until the clock is on the hour before I begin.

Interview. The Seven General Questions:

CD: Do you have any connection with snails?

KC:I don’t have any early memories of snails. I remember reading about them as a child; stories and poems about a little creature with a house on its back.

I don’t remember my first encounter with one, but as an adult I do have to admit to laying snail bait to keep them off our vege. garden, and also throwing them over into the neighbour’s garden! (Someone told me though that they will always come back.)

Interest in the origins of the name of your blog Clare, has actually helped me into a greater appreciation of the snail. I have learned recently that New Zealand has native snails that date back to Gondwanaland – the Flax snail, the Giant snail and the Veined snail being just three of these rare species. These are found in the North Island. I have never seen any of these snails. The common, Brown Garden snail, a visitor from Europe has spread to all parts of New Zealand now. As far as I know it is not considered a noxious pest – except maybe to gardeners.
Perhaps I didn’t see any snails as a child because at that stage there weren’t any (or very few) in the far south of New Zealand.

There is a tiny mud snail in the USA that is threatening their fishing rivers, and it is called the NZ Snail. It is a tiny Southern Hemisphere snail.
Snails are rather fascinating! Here is a great site all about snails.
Clare, I promise, I will never look at snails as just slimy pests ever again!

CD: What is your proudest moment?
KC: Well I can’t deny that bearing and rearing three sons would have to be right up there.
Since then, hearing the editor of Otago University Press, Wendy Harrex, tell me that they would publish my first collection of poems, was also a really thrilling moment.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
KC:The sudden death my father of a heart attack when he was forty-eight years old and I was fifteen.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?

KC: Hearing the words, “Your father’s dead.”

CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
KC: To be able to, as a friend says, ‘Act entitled’.
In other words, to be more confident. Being in my fifties now, I have heaps more confidence than I used to have, but I’m still a big scaredy cat. Basically I have never fully let go of a fear of other people. Scrape away the veneer of bravado, and I have never left the schoolroom; I am still the quiet, shy bookworm aiming to please by doing what I’m told, keeping my mouth shut, and smiling.

CD: What is happiness?
KC: Happiness is when everything is in balance. When all aspects of my life are ticking along like a well-run car – a vintage Humber in my case!
Happiness is a good night’s sleep.
Happiness is hearing from all of my family on the same day.
Happiness is conditional – I wish it wasn’t, but it is.

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
KC: Check that I am still alive! Then make a cup of tea.

Seven Questions about Writing:

CD: You have an exotic and very interesting ancestry - do you think that influences how you write? If so, in what way?
KC: I think my ancestral background influences my writing greatly. I am constantly aware of my heritage, which is Maori (tangata whenua; people of the land) and European settler - Northern Irish (Derry), English (Sussex, Yorkshire, and Cockney) and Scottish (Border and Highland.) All this gives me a deep identification with the land and with family.
My ancestry grounds my writing and gives me my voice; a woman’s voice, described by another writer as ‘authentic Pacific’.

CD: Which poets do you especially admire? Have they influenced you? If so, how?
KC:I admire a lot of New Zealand poets, especially Ruth Dallas, Cilla McQueen, Richard Reeve, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell and Katherine Liddy.
Among the overseas poets I admire, are Wallace Stevens, Louis MacNeice, Amy Clampitt, Denise Levertov, Fleur Adcock, Diane Wakoski, John Dolan, Les Murray, Michael Longley and Judith Wright.
The so-called ‘dead’ poets that I admire, are Dylan Thomas, Gerald Manly Hopkins, John Donne and Emily Dickinson.
All of these poets have influenced me in various ways because of their use of language, their subjects and, most of all, their voice.

CD: The characters in your life come over strongly and yet subtly - are there any that you feel you are particularly drawn to? Who are they and why?
KC:I am particularly drawn to family. That is where I am grounded.
I write of family members – much to their amusement, and I daresay in some cases, horror. Then there are the amusing characters I come across in day-to-day life. People are often funnier and more interesting than they realize. I overhear conversations on buses, and use them; anything that I hear, or overhear.

Poetry is also a good way to get revenge. If someone offends me, I have been known to get my own back in a poem!

But the people I am most drawn to are family – those who are still with me, and those who have passed away.

CD: When did you first start writing poetry?
KC: From seven years old when my mother encouraged me to write poems and send them off to the local newspaper, the Southland Times. I haven’t stopped since.

CD: Is there anything that especially provokes you to write a poem?
KC: Travelling gets the poetry juices flowing. Moving from one environment to another generates a flow of images and small vignettes I feel urged to capture; conversations and impressions I feel the need to record.

When I journey, in order to observe, I close down socially and am reluctant to engage with people. (I am the silent passenger sitting beside you on the bus or aeroplane.) As I receive impressions, I am mentally recording. I try to carry a notebook and jot down the impressions as I go.

I am principally a chronicler. This is what drives me to poetry more than anything else. A feeling that ‘this must be captured’ before it is lost to time.

Landscape is another thing that provokes me to poetry … nature, birds, weather …
I am less provoked by politics. I am not a political animal. I am not a political poet. However, I have been known to write one or two political poems, although they are more likely to be poems to support others in the front-line, rather than poems to try to tear down things I feel are awry.

CD: Have you ever written a poem about something several times? Has your view on the subject changed? If so, how?
KC: I am always writing about the death of my father. In the latest New Zealand ‘Listener’ there is a very moving article about a man whose wife committed suicide. In it he says, ‘Grief is with you for life’. This is true. I have actually written a poem in ‘made for weather’ that addresses this grief and more or less says, ‘Dad, after thirty-seven years I have buried you for good now’. I felt that as he was younger than I am now when he died, I should have ‘outgrown’ the death. However, I know deep in my heart this will never be true. My father’s death will always haunt and will always be a present sadness. It is like a scar that, although healed over, is still able to be faintly seen on the skin.

CD: You are an accomplished prose writer too. Do you find that your poetry 'helps' your prose - or vice versa?
KC:I think it’s my poetry that helps my prose writing because it alerts me to aim for constraint. I don’t say that I achieve it, but it helps me to head the way of saying a lot in as few words as possible. The honing and crafting that a poem demands, carries on over into the prose.


Blogger Shameless said...

Oh, this was such a pleasure to read! :-) Well done Kay and well done CD for putting this up.

Mon Nov 26, 01:07:00 pm  
Anonymous c.s. said...

thanks for sharing a good read and a wonderful interview! :)

Tue Nov 27, 12:50:00 am  
Anonymous Clare said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Shameless and C.S. - I did too!

Tue Nov 27, 08:55:00 pm  

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