I’m delighted to feature Dublin poet Daragh Bradish on my blog and chat about his poetry collection Easter in March, which was published by Liberties Press this March.
Welcome, Daragh. Tell me about the structure of this fine collection. It begins with the wonderful ‘Easter in March’ one of my favourite and one which curiously reminds me of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova – ‘so you fill up with imitations of a life’. And then we follow three, sequential parts within which are poems which explore the extraordinariness alongside the everyday of what it means to exist.
Thanks, Shauna – it’s good to talk.
I’m delighted you mention structure at the start and the title poem. I suppose the collection, with the exception of one or two poems existed for about a year before I submitted it to a publisher, and yet I knew it was strangely incomplete.
I found the process of shaping a collection unsettling. The poems were not written with a collection in mind. Of course I wanted a ‘first’ but I was not working with a definite programme. I had ideas which I had sought to express, but how do you give diverse ideas a overall shape?
Getting it right was very important to me. Fortunately, as with so much else in the creative life the problem solved itself. When I had finished the poem ‘Easter in March’ I knew that it contained the touchstone for everything that follows. I remember thinking I have a collection even if it never gets published. It opens with just two key words: ‘It recurs’
I used the Rilke quote at the front of the book to set up the metaphor of circuits which underpins the collection. You mentioned Akhmatova which is interesting as I have been drawn more and more to the great Russian masters, Pasternak, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, and Akhmatova, though I’m not aware of any direct influence on my own writing here.
You studied fine arts, Daragh, and in some way the poems have the touch of a fine brush – the way textures and colours permeate each poem and how the visual is used as a way to bring us further into the detail and the emotional world. Do you think your formal study has had a particular influence on your poetry?
An interesting question Shauna. All in all I think reading, and reading a lot, both poetry and prose, has been more important. Although an appreciation of beauty was something I imbibed through studying visual arts. The Rilke quote is taken from his ‘Letters on Cezanne’, and some of the poems are directly inspired by paintings and photographs. I do look closely at things and I stand back a bit.
Yes, I like that juxtaposition of observing both closely and from a distance. I very much enjoyed the role memory plays and how it seems to be the backbone to these poems. Indeed, Paula Meehan described you as a ‘tender memorialist’. I’m thinking here of ‘Radio Drifters’ and ‘Sounds That Are Bright’ in the first section. And if I may quote a few lines from ‘Radio Drifters’ that illustrate – for me anyhow – the power of the sensory memory of sound:
This unexpected lift of tenderness/in airborne song/awaking magic motion in our lives
And from ‘Sounds That Are Bright’
Since you are gone it is your singing voice I hear…..This then is your returning gift to me. Once more,/today I rose from plucking weeds, and standing back, sore,/heard the sounds of past-loved summers sung.
I find it interesting as so many of us put the emphasis on visual or olfactory memory and yet, as you capture in these poems memories are often pushed into present by music, and as you show us in ‘Pathfinder’ and ‘Gift Maker’, also by tactile memory.
Yes, there is a lot of music going on in the poetry, both in inspiration and in the language I try to work with. Music has always evoked memory for me. It’s pretty well instantaneous the way it works really. You might be sitting in the car watching the world about its business when something comes on the radio and transports you off to another time and place. It’s great, you can’t get penalty points for thought travel, not yet anyway. There are so many routes into past, sometimes it can be as simple as the feel of sun on your skin. I think often a number of things are happening simultaneously.
That’s true; the connections between emotional and sensory memory often involve a number of things happening simultaneously. I also love how emotions – past and present – unfurl through our connection with everyday objects, particularly objects of purpose. I’m thinking here of the railings in the tender ‘Turnabout in the Age of Recovery’:
I used to paint old crumbling bars for days,/working my brushes through scrolls and trellises
And how you remind us that we sometimes arrive – almost unconsciously or magically – at a point:
I have come without arrangement to this place,/finding myself in the vicinity of want.
And I’m thinking of how we see life almost as if through lenses of a camera or a microscope, something that you capture beautifully in ‘Small Lives’.
Thanks, Shauna. I think that when you are writing about emotion you need to be very careful not to allow sentiment the upper hand. To me poetry is about conveying emotion, hoping to evoke a response in your reader. So constraint is crucial to the exercise. The use of concrete detail is really important in anchoring to the world as we all recognise it. Of course you need to be sparse in the amount of detail you use. ‘Small Lives’ are two of the shortest, or is it one of the shortest poems I ever written, I intended to be part of a longer sequence, but it sort of told me it was finished, and I went with that.
Even in times of sorrow and grief, beauty is present in your poetry. If, as Dostoevsky wrote, ‘beauty will save the world’, do you think that poetry can do the same?
I’d like to believe that it could. It certainly enriches this life. Solzhenitsyn references that Dostoevsky quote in his Nobel acceptance speech. What he has to say about the role of the writer and art is very interesting, well worth checking out.
Can poetry do the same? I don’t know. In the end its’ our relationships that redeem us, and poetry can open doors, breaks through walls, pushes shutters apart. It has a role to play in presenting an alternative voice to all that noise they keep throwing at us and which we have to contend with. I think it can in some way heal the tormented soul. So it’s not a bad start to make in setting the world to rights.
Lastly, Daragh, what books are you reading at the moment?
Christian Wiman’s ‘By Bright Abyss’; Annie Dillard’s essay collection ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’; In poetry, ‘The Shadow of Sirius’ by W.S.Merwin, and ‘Only So Far’ by another wonderful American poet Robert Cording who deserves to be much better known both sides of the Atlantic.
Annie Dillard’s a favourite of mine! So, any books that you have abandoned? Or do you tend to plough through them regardless?
Do I ever give up on a read? Yes, life is too short to waste.
Readers will be interested to hear about any poetry readings you have coming up and any thoughts on your next collection?
No plans as yet. I do have a body of poems I didn’t feel right for Easter In March, and I’m working on a sequence on Boris Pasternak.
Reading at the Pearse Meseum, Rathfarnham with Maggie O’Dwyer and Ron Carey 14th May, and at O Bheal, Cork on 30th May
Thank you, once again, Daragh, for such engagement with my questions, to Liberties Press for the collection, and I very much look forward to reading more of your work in the near future, and hopefully, hearing you read!