An Interview with Neile Graham
What is the first poem you remember reading?
Dr. Seuss's ABC. I was enchanted by its music and whimsy — still qualities that I admire in poetry.
You are presently working on a collection of poems blending the landscapes and folklore of Scotland and the Pacific North-West. Was there a particular moment when you felt this was a thing you wanted to do? Was there some similitude between your experience of both places that struck you and sparked off this project, or is there a more personal reason rooted in your own heritage?
While writing a collection of poems about travelling to Scotland and to middle age, I was struck by how much the north-west coast of Scotland felt like my Pacific Northwest home — dramatic coastal landscapes, rocks and waves, wind and rain, and the green-ness of it all. I wondered what Dsonoqua (a Northwest forest spirit) would make of the mythic Scottish landscape and there she was (see "Dsonoqua on Lewis, The Outer Hebrides" in Strange Horizons — "The Old Woman of the Moors Returns the Call" is a companion poem to this piece). That was the first poem that spurred me to explore these folklores and play with this dynamic.
The Scotland connection was odd. I accidentally went there with a friend and fell in love with Scotland, and once there it struck me that three of my four grandparents were born and grew up there. For ten years I went back there as often as I could put the time and money together.
These poems strike us as very green and very blue, full of cedar and rain and stone and sea. Have you felt drawn to writing other landscapes in your poetry? Do any of them feel more like your poetic language's home?
This is definitely my poetic language's home. My very first book, Seven Robins, published in 1983, was about growing up on the west coast — and it had many folkloric touches, so this project feels very much like coming back to the world where I belong. Other landscapes I have lived in and travelled to have only sparked a few poems here and there.
Do you have a favourite flower?
I am very fond of the flowers of the smoke bush (now a tree) that covers my front window. Its flowers are what look like smoke and give it its name. More traditionally, I love old-fashioned thorny, perfume-y roses and love-in-a-mist.
You find yourself in a great hall, full of folk in shifting bodies, animal heads on human limbs, human heads above backs sprouting wings. They look hungry, intent on you, and they demand a song, or a poem, or a story. What do you choose to perform?
A poem, definitely. I write poetry because I can't sing. It's the nearest I can get. And my stories are all too long.
Do you have any other upcoming projects you'd like to share?
I have a multitude of projects in the works: a contemporary fantasy novel based on the "Gypsy Davey" ballad and the Donkeyskin fairytale is in the final stages of revision; I have a complete draft of another based on the "Demon Lover" ballad and the Persephone myth; I'm expanding a young adult short story to novel-length about a young woman on a Pacific Northwest archeological dig who finds fairy bones buried in a midden; I'm also playing with a rather meta misfit collection of poems which melds, distorts, and tangles some of my earlier work and obsessions.
Thank you so much for speaking with us, Neile, as well as for sharing your dazzling work.
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