Alice Kinsella discusses ‘Chase’ and ‘What has night to do with sleep?’, two poems featured in Issue Eight of The Lonely Crowd.
There are some poems you want to write. Poems you sit down determined to write. You fiddle around with them until they finally settle, in all their gorgeous perfection, on your page.
But there are some poems you have to write. Poems that come along half formed and angry, insistent in their presence, no matter how much you tell them where to go. They’re poems you’ll write around, ignore, watch out of the corner of your eye to see if they’ll go away (they won’t), and finally admit defeat and write the damn things down. ‘Chase’ and ‘What has night to do with sleep?’ are two such poems.
I rarely write standalone poems. Storytelling is what comes naturally to me. I can’t tell the story of these two poems alone without their larger narrative. They both come from my book of poems Flower Press that will come out next year. It’s a strange beast of only twenty five poems for the reason that that is the number of poems needed to tell the story. I wrote around this book the way I wrote around the poems, unsure that it really was a book. This time last year I had a manuscript of over sixty poems being read by a trusted friend. He returned it and said something along the lines of It’s good, but it’s two books.
After I finished swearing and telling myself he was some eejit (sorry Ruairi), I had a read through again. Then I messaged him, humble in my defeat, to tell him that he was right: it was two books. That’s when Flower Press began to take form. After years of it knocking on the inside of my brain insisting it got its own story it was getting what it demanded and deserved.
‘Chase’ and ‘What has night to do with sleep?’ were written later than most of the poems in the book. I’ve found poetry to be a spectrum of stubborn words. The two ends of the spectrum being the poems that arrive fully formed and the poems you have to haul screaming into the world. We generally write somewhere in the middle. Maybe we get a handful of those fully formed poems in our lives if we’re lucky.
These are two poems that I wrote around. They weren’t in the original manuscript. They look head on at a subject I did not want to write about. They make me feel embarrassed, ashamed, afraid. As stories, they leave out more than they include. I think that’s important sometimes. These two poems were written on opposite ends of the spectrum I mention above.
Out of all my poems I have great affection for ‘Chase’. It did that thing that all poets pray for in that it landed fully formed in the middle of the night. (Let’s take a moment of silence for those who live with poets and are subjected to lamps being flicked on at 4am to aid frantic scribbling.) I cannot emphasise enough that it is not often that a fully formed poem arrives, at least not for me. I think ‘Chase’ arrived in this way because it comes from somewhere deeply buried, somewhere I’d been rolling around in my head for a while. It’s possibly the first completely honest poem I’ve ever written. They all have honesty in them, but they were loaded with distractions of imagery and rhyming and all that poety stuff. Chase spilled out all at once like a confession. It had no time to be considered, and even on trying to edit it I found very little I felt I could change. It should make me cringe, the intimacy it reveals, but it doesn’t.
‘What has night to do with sleep?’ is a poem that should contain more expletives than it does for the amount of time I spent on it. The first draft arrived fairly painlessly. The idea of those memories we aren’t sure are real, that image of blue light, the sound of a dog barking. It’s a poem that leaves out as much as it says and I think that’s largely because there’s a lot I still don’t know how to say. Those memories we can’t be sure are ours, that feel more like remembering a memory we once had, they’re blurry around the edges, they have great big gaps, they’re usually grounded by one repeating image or idea. That’s what this poem is. Do you ever wake up from a dream and try to explain it to someone? All its fantastic details, the weight of the feeling it brought? Do they look at you like you’ve lost it and laugh when you mutter childishly you had to be there? The first draft of this poem was like that. I captured exactly what I’d wanted to and anyone else that looked at it would have begged that I give up this poetry nonsense at once for my own health and the sanity of those around me.
It took a good few months of returning to it off and on again, swearing, tweaking, swearing some more, before it began to resemble what I had wanted to attain. The final piece slot into place with the name: What has night to do with sleep? The title of this poem is taken from Milton’s A Mask Presented At Ludlow-Castle, The actual quote is “What hath night to do with sleep?” and is said by Comus, a character inspired by the god of revelry. I’d had people remark the Paradise Lost feel of the story before. All that religious Adam and Eve stuff was not something I’d wanted to indulge. But it began to grow on me. In a way it’s the oldest story ever told, it’s one we all experience, the loss of innocence. These two poems are the pivotal point in that loss in this collection. I’m so happy they’re being published here together.
In turn it was with my own loss of poetic innocence in writing these poems and this book that I could move on. I could go from writing the poems I needed to write to the poems I wanted to write.
Flower Press didn’t come easily. It came arse first and covered in gunk like a lamb that wasn’t sure it wanted to be born. These are poems I never intended to write, they come out of a book I never intended to write and in some ways balk at the idea of publishing. I said that I’m not able to move on to the poems I want to write, and maybe I didn’t want to write these poems but I’m certainly glad I did. It could be that want isn’t where the good stuff comes from. Maybe the real poetry comes from necessity, the stuff that makes us blush and cry and hide. That makes us utterly totally terrified.
Alice Kinsella was born in Dublin in 1993, and raised in the west of Ireland. She holds a BA(hons) in English Literature and Philosophy from Trinity College Dublin. Her poetry has been widely published at home and abroad, most recently in Banshee Lit, Boyne Berries, The Stony Thursday Book and The Irish Times. Her work has been listed for competitions such as Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Competition 2016, Jonathan Swift Awards 2016, and Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Competition 2017. Flower Press will be published by The Onslaught Press in February 2018.
© Alice Kinsella, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.