Interview: Olive Broderick

olive_broderick_square_bwOlive Broderick is one of our 12NOW recommended up-and-coming writers to watch out for. Lagan Online chats to her about her craft, her writing career so far, and how nature influences her outlook.

You’re very active in the Down area, working with Castle Ward, local artists, and Down Arts Centre, amongst others. How important is it to you as a writer to feel connected to a larger community?

I came to live in Downpatrick well over 10 years ago and it’s been great to see the literary life of this area continue to thrive and develop in that time. While writers – whatever their practice or preferred way of engaging – can and very often actually do well in their own company, I think community is incredibly important not only for the social and networking aspects but also because of the visible connection points that it offers to wider writing supports. It’s lovely to see people coming to Poems on a Sunday Afternoon and meeting like-minded people, maybe sharing a piece for the first time, then discovering a local writers group, ‘Words for Castle Ward’ or Dundrum Writers are probably the closest, and then from there maybe putting themselves forward for an opportunity, be it reading or submitting work, beyond the area. It’s that kind of thing that develops really naturally when you have people coming together – and I think more of that!

You won the Emerging Poetry category at the 2010 Hennessy Literary Awards for her poems ‘Market Forces’ and ‘Misconception’, with your pamphlet Darkhaired (Templar Poetry, 2010) being shortlisted for a Michael Marks Award. How do you feel your writing has progressed since then?

A lot has happened in the last six years and that has impacted on my writing. The next thing after those that you mention here was supposed to be, in fairly rapid succession, the publication of ‘Night Divers’ which is a collection I had been working on for some time. I had submitted a very early draft as part of the Queen’s Creative Writing Programme. But as they say, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. It’s now due to be published by Templar Poetry early next year. It is quite different now in terms of the work that is included but the general feel of it has held over the time. I’ve also been working loosely on a new body of work that has a different energy to it but it’s all a bit work-in-progress. It’s nice though having worked in the world of ‘Night Divers’ for a long time to be in a new poetic territory. Moving forward feels good.

Back in April, you took up the challenge of National Poetry Writing Month, writing a new tristich every day for thirty days. Having taken some of the creative written classes you’ve facilitated, and heard the ideas you’ve generated, are you always looking for new prompts and inspiration, or does it come in stages?

National Poetry Writing Month was great fun. I think I had forgotten how much I really love writing poetry and it was a real delight in my day to just produce three lines (and an image because I was sharing the progress of the ‘challenge’ on instagram) based on the lovely array of prompts that were available. Some of what I wrote was a bit meh but there were flashes of pieces which felt more complete, or openings to further work. Another great love of mine is the new writing/inspiration based creative writing workshops. I don’t generally have to struggle to much to find new prompts – mind you I haven’t had to find thirty in thirty days! I have a real trust that exactly the right lead will present itself – and it generally does. It is a wonder and a privilege to hear people’s responses.

Being a Cork Native originally, having been up in Belfast since 2003, what would you say is the biggest difference between the literary scenes in the North and the South?

I need to say, that though I’ve had lovely support from all areas, I didn’t actively, maybe physically, participate in literary life to any great extent before I came here. I had begun to do writing workshops in the mid 90s in University College Cork where I was working when Carol Rumens and others,were Writers in Residence, and that was how I had heard about the developments at Queens. I came to Belfast on a year’s leave of absence (it’s funny how some years are longer than others…) and for me that offered a writing community which I was close to the heart of and as we’d mentioned before that is very important to me. Cork itself has flourished in the writing department, I notice also. I’m tap-dancing around the question a bit because I actually do think that the two scenes are distinct – though my belief is that it isn’t particularly a constructed or intended difference – but I’m struggling to put words on it. It may be something to do with the reference points around which the scene (probably more a loose affiliation) revolves being distinct. Not terribly helpful.

The theme of nature appears to be a big influence on your poetry. Is this symptomatic of your working relationship with Castle Ward, or have you always had that outlook?

I have always had the outlook. I’m a bit of a sea/coast fanatic. I suppose coming from a seaside town has something to do with that. The connection with Castle Ward is a real gift, with credit due to the National Trust for facilitating that. It’s not only to do with the natural environment and being so close to Strangford Lough but also how people have co-existed with that, have placed themselves within it – and it’s wider history. It’s like a mircrocosm for a lot of the themes that I already work with. It’s a strange thing that I don’t write directly about it all that much – it’s more like my imaginative ‘still point of a turning world’.

You state on your blog, Letters From Lady Nakatomi, that its purpose is to “chart the prose side of the process of writing the poetry”. How beneficial have you found this practise of charting? Does the practise ever threaten to detract from the actual writing?

I call ‘lettersfromladyn’ my erstwhile blog. I don’t know about others but I can sometimes find it difficult to have the discussions around poetry that I go on in my head, out loud and in company. I don’t know whether that is because I wrote secretly (like so many others) for so long. What I found was happening is that I would do a lot of research and thinking about something to do with the writing and then it would disappear into the ether of my not-too-hot memory. So this new blogging thing – as it was then – seemed to be a place where I could record things for future reference when needed. I have to say that I raid other people’s blogs from time to time so I thought if there was anything useful to anyone else it would be out there as well. Though I’m not sure that there is anything terribly relevant. I have to say I prefer actual writing and I am an entirely inconsistent blogger so it hasn’t really been a distraction – more likely a place of guilt for not updating it. Letters has developed beyond it’s first intention as well and I do try to use is as a website of sorts so people can get a measure of what I’m at if they need to.

Elsewhere on your blog, you say you are “profoundly influenced by imagism”. Recalling the line ‘praise of pure water is common in Gaelic poetry’, where do you feel you have been most successful in conveying imagery in your poetry?

Yes, for me, the image (in the manner of Ezra Pound and co.) is the unit of currency of poetry. That might not be the way for everyone, of course, But from the haiku of Basho to the more modern straight-talking poems of Lorine Niedecker, I love the spareness, the way the poet getting out of the way of the image that presents itself has this rippling effect of experience for the reader which seems to carry across time. I think it has something to do with having trust as a writer in your being party to a poem that is already in motion beyond you – and creating a kind of holding space which conveys but does not capture. Where I’ve been most successful at this is a very difficult question – I am working away at it. I think, perhaps, ‘Misconception’ – it’s a poem about a moon in December. It’s a very accurate description of something that happened but there is that beautiful rippling where everything has a kind of shape-shifting quality and, yet, that image as I saw it was all-encompassing and complete as it was.


Read Olive’s blog ‘Letters From Lady Nakatomi’ here.
Find out more about Olive from her 12NOW profile.

You can also read an interview with 12NOW poet Matthew Rice over on the Oct ’16 edition of The Honest Ulsterman.

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