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Writing Poetry: Alchemy by Fiona Perry

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Fiona Perry

Fiona Perry

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I am a late bloomer, having only written fragments of poetry as an adult before my early forties. I started in earnest, far from home, when we moved from England to Australia. My youngest child started kindergarten and I found that I had a little time to be alone and reflective. There is something very compelling creatively about detachment from one’s familiar life. Disruption, a sense of discomfort, a smidgen of midlife crisis mixed with wonder at a new landscape seemed to do it for me! I started re-reading novels that I had loved at different stages in my life and kept thinking, unexpectedly, about Ireland where I was born and brought up but had not lived in for twenty years. I have always had a compulsion to write, but writing a novel, for example, seemed so daunting. What if I devoted 10, 000 words to the process only to discover it was rubbish, or I could not complete it? At breakfast one morning, the mesmerising Alice Munro appeared on the news to discuss her Nobel Prize win for her career as a short story writer. As I opened the front door later that day, I remember making a conscious decision to write a 3,000-word short story, after all most us were capable of that at school, it seemed like a low risk enterprise. It did not have to be on Alice Munro’s astounding level, it just had to exist as a first attempt. The thought of beginning and finishing something creative within the constraints of busy family life thrilled me. After some success with the publication of short stories (a genre I still enjoy) my writing became even more condensed and swerved towards poetry when I received my writer’s copy of an issue of Into The Void Magazine. The poetry in that issue took my breath away. Memories of studying William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Seamus Heaney at school came flooding back. I did not grow up with poetry at home, there were no poetry books in our house as children. But there was a huge wealth of other literature (and an oral tradition) that has always seemed poetic to me- scripture, legends, prayer, family myths and song lyrics. I think in images but also hear poetry in a sort of song form, it has a rhythm to it, distinct from short stories. I also discovered that writing is a subconscious process- you can let yourself ‘daydream it out’. You do not have to have a concrete structure in mind before you start writing. You can let characters or ideas dictate direction. That was a happy revelation for me as a very accomplished day dreamer! I write a draft and then let it ferment, tinker with it, and adjust the form. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about form in poetry. Even the way a poem appears (both the words and white space) on the page affects the flow and emotional impact. To some extent, a poem is a sculpture in words.

I think of Alchemy as a collection of poems that provide a glimpse into how life events, ancestry, nature, political landscape, and culture gradually alter or influence a person’s inner chemistry or ‘break the heart open’.  It is a personal collection but not strictly autobiographical and written in loose chronological order. When I was sequencing the poems based on their themes I tried to reflect the ‘ebb and flow’ of life as it is lived, by alternating between joy, grief, wonder, despair, spiritual awareness, political consciousness, magical experience, and optimism. As well as Australia, we lived in New Zealand before returning to the UK last year. I have some old family links to Aotearoa, my great-great grandparents were living there at the time of the New Zealand Wars. Connections between pre-colonial Gaelic, Māori and Indigenous Australian storytelling inspired many of the poems in Alchemy.

I am so grateful to Turas Books for publishing the work. Liz McSkeane’s dedication and careful attention has added a whole new dimension to the collection that I never anticipated. Having my work edited was a new experience for me and I could not have been in more expert, kind hands.

Panthera

Dublin Zoo 1979

Laughably they said

you are a cat but

caged in plain sight

your crow-coloured pelt

tells five-year-old me you

are shadow incarnate.

 

Steadfast you

pace, posture and rehearse

the hoisting of

carcasses into trees,

refuting the futility

of your instincts

in captivity.

 

It’s true. They have

squeezed your mightiness

into a box. But

ghosts of night forests

cannot be contained.

I believe –

because scrying

 

in your patient amber

eyes, I decipher you

are more black hole

than substance,

a moveable trap door;

one of a shifting

legion inclined

to swallow a child.

(c) Fiona Perry

 

About Alchemy by Fiona Perry:

Alchemy is an intriguing and compelling début collection from a poet who is already strikingly in command of her craft. Mingling daily life with the numinous, these poems reflect on love and loss, on the milestones of lived experience.These poems travel through time and space: from the magic of ancient birds in a New Zealand landscape,to the intensive care ward where a loved one lies dying; from the daily round of household tasks,to the dreamworlds where memory, imagination and reality merge.

Alchemy brings a vibrant new voice to contemporary poetry that illuminates interior worlds, yet does not shrink from tackling the social challenges of our time.

Praise for Alchemy

“Perry’s sumptuous collection shifts through memory, family and nature with consummate ease, journeying through vivid landscapes whilst describing in unflinching detail formative events and places.”Glen Wilson

“Skilfully interweaving sensuous imagery, wry humour and poignant retrospection, Perry dazzles with dalliances into he mythical, and her own vividly-imagined other worlds.”Anne Casey

“Evocative imagery and a distinctive voice are hallmarks of this vivid and multifaceted collection.”Ross Thomson

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Originally from Northern Ireland, Fiona is an Oxford-based poet and fiction writer who has lived in Australia and New Zealand. She is a teacher and editor and writes both poetry and prose. Her many literary accomplishments include Winner of first prize in the 2020 Bath Flash Fiction Award, and Shortlisted for 2014 and 2015 Australian Morrison Mentoring Prize.

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