Friday Poem – ‘Sea-Front House’ by Anne-Marie Fyfe

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Sea-Front House’ by Anne-Marie Fyfe from her new book No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters.

No Far Shore by Anne-Marie Fyfe is no ordinary exploration of coastlines. She combines travel writing, history, memoir and poetry in an intriguing meditation on the sea, the land, and the maps, lighthouses, islands, north, journeys and other things which mark them. In the process, she also looks at the work of a number of writers for whom the coast has been influential including Elizabeth Bishop, Herman Melville and Virginia Wolf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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‘No Far Shore’: An Interview with Anne-Marie Fyfe

No Far Shore  by Anne-Marie Fyfe is no ordinary exploration of coastlines. She combines travel writing, history, memoir and poetry in an intriguing meditation on the sea, the land, and the maps, lighthouses, islands, north, journeys and other things which mark them. In the process, she also looks at the work of a number of writers for whom the coast has been influential including Elizabeth Bishop, Herman Melville and Virginia Wolf.

In this interview she tells us more about why she moved away from poetry in this exploration and how the book developed during her journey.

You write that the collection takes ‘no settled form’, and it is written in a mixture of poetry, prose and music. How do you think this enriched the story you were telling?

It wasn’t so much a means of enriching the story, as recognising that unsettledness of form – like the unpredictability of coastal seas – was a way of exploring the story in all its depths. Having published  five collections of often strange & slightly surreal poetry, I’d let much remain beneath the surface. It isn’t just that poetry allows one to avoid explaining – it had also allowed me to avoid exploring. Since I’ve been teaching poetry & creative non-fiction in the US, I’ve been struck by how much hybridity of form, mixing traditions, crossing boundaries, offers certain writers not just a new aesthetic, but precise metaphors for subject matter. And it seemed that, for me, setting out into new forms paralleled setting out into the unknown waters of a deeper narrative.

What commonalities would you say that the writer and sea fearer share? Why do you think literature has such an enduring romantic association with the sea?

I’m not sure it’s specific to writers. So many creatives, whatever their artform, music, film-making, painting, etc, feel the need to grapple with the sea. We have to face its threats & dangers if our options aren’t to narrow down into one safe piece of dry land; & its vastness, its distant horizons have always been somehow magnetic. My puzzle wasn’t just why so many writers are drawn to the sea, or why I’m particularly drawn to those writers, but why so many sea-farers & those who spent childhoods by the sea, went on to become writers.

In the collection, you discuss the idea of ‘journeying map-less’, arriving somewhere without expectation. How much direction would you say you have when you begin writing?

I can answer that with Bob Dylan’s line about No Direction Home, or TS Eliot’s idea that all our exploring will lead us back to where we started and that we’ll know the place for the first time. I guess the book was always going to come full circle, back to Cushendall (where I grew up) after the actual journey (Felixstowe, Orkney, Barra, Hook, Swansea, Martha’s Vineyard, North Haven, Maine, Nova Scotia & on to Cape Breton), after the literary journey, exploring coastal writers’ lives. And, of course, after the emotional journey into my own & my own people’s sea-girt pasts. But I didn’t set out knowing what I would find in terms of ‘understanding’ other writers’ passions, or knowing how my family’s story would fall into place.

No Far Shore is filled with meditations on horizons and edges, which seem symbolic of knowledge and certainty. How do you explain both the thrill and fear that seem embedded in self-discovery?

It’s knowledge & un-certainty really: we know when we’re leaving behind the familiar & trying to map the unknown. The two defining edges are the near edge, shoreline/tideline/coastline, between known & unknown, & the illusory far edge. The horizon appears geometrically straight but actually curves horizontally, as well as falling away from us into the distance & off the edge of the known world. So there is No Far Shore in one sense.  And when I lead workshops entitled Edge of the Depths as I’ve done all along the coastlines I’ve travelled, I’m thinking of both near & far ‘edges’.

As for ‘self-discovery’, in a sense that Joseph Conrad would recognise as clearly as TS Eliot, all voyages are self-discovery &, as with any other journey, excitement & dread are involved.

In some senses it’s been the opposite of write about what you know. It’s rather write because you don’t know! The act of bringing together memory, myth, fact, history, poetic fragments, snatched thoughts, conversations, the act of writing it, is less about retelling & more about exploring.

No Far Shore is peppered with references to mythology. In what ways do you think the sea/or a sea-faring journey reflects aspects of human identity? What can we learn about ourselves from looking to the land and seascapes around us?

In a way all our sources, literary, cultural, historical, local, & family, are what shapes us growing up. So Treasure Island & Greek myth &, say, news reports of a local shipwreck in the years before I was born, stories from local fishermen, conversations on a family car journey, all have equal status: what they all do evidence, though, is the looming presence, since the earliest times, of the sea in our geographic & psychological mindscapes. What we learn from those stories, & from simply gazing at oceans & horizons, is more complex than simply longing, aspiration or awe. Which is what the journey & the book taught me, & is the book’s hesitant conclusion.

You cite Elizabeth Bishop’s value of ‘aloneness’ and write of your own desire to discover that ‘other self, deep down’. How do you think the figurative journey through poetry and the physical journey across the sea, differ in unearthing the ‘other self’? How would you define the ‘other self’?

I’d long cherished Bishop’s ‘aloneness’ remarks as touching on something both positive & negative in my own feelings about coasts, isolation & home. Finding or not finding a ‘far shore’, finding the ‘other self’, is simply the long journey towards understanding oneself: an understanding that I’m sure, for some, could be found simply by reading, writing, & contemplating. But for me that understanding required the physical journey, going back to coasts, headlands & harbours, gazing at islands & lighthouses & horizons that Bishop, Woolf, MacNeice, Melville, Tove Jansson & so many more had gazed upon: the difference between ‘research’ at one’s writing-desk & an actual ‘quest’, an ‘odyssey’ perhaps.

You talk about the ‘lure’ and ‘lore of islands’, that ‘Island is illusion’. How influential is the concept of intangibility over your poetry and prose?

On islands/isolation, of course, I’m playing with words & concepts, & while the idea of the desert island in children’s literature always fascinated me, islands can be isolated from the world & yet be some of the most closely-knit, supportive places to live. Like Barra in the Outer Hebrides where my McNeil family originated. Like North Haven in Maine, where I found one of Elizabeth Bishop’s holiday homes: it’s an island outsiders love for its remoteness, its escape from the busy world (unlike, say, fashionable Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket) and that year-rounders, conversely, love for its close community & family ties.

I’ve lived happily with intangibility & a certain evasiveness in poetry that’s never seemed difficult, just a little strange, perhaps, oblique or mysterious. But this new strategy of combining, around each coastal theme, poetry fragments, observations, reflection, memories, facts & – as you’ve mentioned – myth, creates much more tangibility. It’s an approach that allows the reader many different ways of joining me on the journey.

What was your favourite place to visit during the travels that inspired this collection?

Difficult to weigh up, favourite-wise, the tranquility of blue harbours at Loch Eireboll, Fresgoe in Caithness, Fethard in County Wexford, or Lubec on the US/Canada border, against the magic of a moon-silvered midnight in the Western Isles. But the most important times for me were the nights spent in Elizabeth Bishop’s childhood home in Nova Scotia, which were pivotal in my thinking not just about her life, but about my mother’s, and my own.

Although the text predominately explores themes of isolation and solitude, it also demonstrates remarkable ties of connection between literature, people, home and place. Would you say we can only understand our ‘aloneness’ by understanding the ways in which we are connected to others?

The ’story’, the exploration, unfolds to show that a desire for solitude can arise from the need, not to imagine an elsewhere, or a future, but for sufficient remoteness from the world to allow us to recapture, momentarily, a vanished past, to spend time in the imagination with people who mattered to us and whose memory is often lost in the noise & busyness of the world. Oddly that desire to be alone with one’s reflections isn’t inconsistent with the desire, as a writer, to share one’s solitary, personal reflections with the wider world in poetry, novels, or books like this.

You end the collection with a coastal soundscape, which among many things, consists of Morse code and music. What inspired you to end the collection this way? How do the visual and audible aids capture what you were trying to convey in a way that poetry and prose alone could not?

Having set out with a sense that many different literary & oral forms of communication have a place in understanding what makes us who we are, I was also aware that – although Yeats says words alone are certain good – there were other forms of communication jostling for attention throughout the essays/chapters: sea sounds, wireless experiments, songs my mother sang, radio waves, lighthouse signals, Mayday messages, a ringing telephone, even car headlights on a coast road… all part of a visual & aural picture that would bring together the various strands, the interwoven stories, the literal & metaphorical journeys.

No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘What the Dead Don’t Know’, Anne-Marie Fyfe

Friday Poem What the Dead Don't Know Anne-Marie Fyfe

Our Friday Poem this week is taken from Anne-Marie Fyfe’s latest collection, House of Small Absences.

House of small absencesAnne-Marie Fyfe’s poems have long dwelt on the role that the spaces we inhabit, the places in which we find security, play in our lives: House of Small Absences is an observation window into strange, unsettling spaces—a deserted stage-set, our own personalised ‘museum’, a Piedmont albergo, underground cities, Midtown roof-gardens, convent orchards, houseboats, a foldaway circus, a Romanian sleeper-carriage—the familiar rendered uncanny through the distorting lenses of distance and life’s exigencies, its inevitable lettings-go…


What the Dead Don’t Know

Grows quickly, daily, from the perimeter
of a postage stamp, until it’s twice the size
of Norway, and growing fast.

What the deceased can’t understand
is why they don’t still hear from us
day-by-day, hour-by-hour.

What the departed don’t see
is how the lead story has moved on.

What the dead won’t say
is more or less what they didn’t say
when they had the chance. Diplomacy,
tact, reserve: these things endure.

 

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Friday Poem – The Red Aeroplane

house of small absences

Our first Friday Poem of 2016 is from Anne-Marie Fyfe’s new collection, House of Small Absences. We hope you enjoy it, and happy New Year!

Anne-Marie Fyfe’s poems have long dwelt on the role that the spaces we inhabit, the places in which we find security, play in our lives: House of Small Absences is an observation window into strange, unsettling spaces—a deserted stage-set, our own personalised ‘museum’, a Piedmont albergo, underground cities, Midtown roof-gardens, convent orchards, houseboats, a foldaway circus, a Romanian sleeper-carriage—the familiar rendered uncanny through the distorting lenses of distance and life’s exigencies, its inevitable lettings-go…

The book opens with ‘The Red Aeroplane’ where witnessing an apparent plane crash sparks a vertiginous sequence of image and memory. We will follow the author in exploring not just specific places and memories but the ‘exponential function of tangents’, all that is implied and suggested.

The Red Aeroplane

From the oratory window I witness
mid-air doom, a slew of concentric
swirls, a trail of forge-sparks,
and that’s it. A vermilion two-seater
stagger-wing loops earthbound,
so much depending upon centrifugal
drive. Slivers of toughened glass
spangle the outer stone sill,
the vacant co-pilot seat
is plummeted deep in rosebed mulch.

I question now if the red bi-plane
ever was, the way sureties tilt
and untangle from any one freezeframe
to its sequel. Maybe I was glimpsing
that two-seater red pedal car
– injection-moulded plastic –
collected one Christmas Eve night
for a fevered child? Or conflating
the replica cherry-red sixty-three
we’d toyed with, tinkered with, briefly
on a tinsmith’s covered stall
that drenched Saturday?
What can’t be
cast in any doubt is the wreckage,
a fragmentary scattering,
the mangledness on the far side
of glass. And how a Galway blue
skyscape proves ineluctably
the exponential function of tangents.

Order Anne-Marie Fyfe’s House of Small Absences from our website.

Seren at Crickhowell Literary Festival

Wales will see the return of the Crickhowell Literary Festival this month, and this year several of our authors are taking part!

Francesca Rhydderch, author of the 2014 Wales Book of the Year The Rice Paper Diaries and co-editor of New Welsh Short Stories, will be in conversation with Oliver Balch, reading from her work and answering any questions from the audience. She will also be leading a Fiction Writing Masterclass!

Poet and novelist Christopher Meredith will be at the festival for an evening of reading and discussion, and several of our other poets will also be reading from their work. Paul Henry and Philip Gross will be reading poems from Boy Running and A Fold in the River inspired by the rivers Usk and Taff, and Anne-Marie Fyfe will be reading from her latest collection, House of Small Absences, while Costa Award-winner Jonathan Edwards will be reading from his own work.

Whether it’s poetry or prose that mosts interests you, there’s something for everyone at Crickhowell this year. Find out more about all of our upcoming events on our website!

Friday Poem – Street Scene

house of small absences

Today’s poem is from Anne-Marie Fyfe’s latest collection, House of Small Absences, due for release this month.

Anne-Marie Fyfe’s poems have long dwelt on the role that the spaces we inhabit, the places in which we find security, play in our lives: House of Small Absences is an observation window into strange, unsettling spaces—a deserted stage-set, our own personalised ‘museum’, a Piedmont albergo, underground cities, Midtown roof-gardens, convent orchards, houseboats, a foldaway circus, a Romanian sleeper-carriage—the familiar rendered uncanny through the distorting lenses of distance and life’s exigencies, its inevitable lettings-go…

Street Scene

‘Nowhere’ is a setting, a situation and a state of mind.
It’s not on any map, but you know it when you’re there.
– Don George, Tales from Nowhere

When you turn your back on the street
and walk away one block, then two,
the over-familiar street-view’s exposed
as propped-up storefronts and verandahs,
sceneries of wings and facades
that could shudder and collapse
in the whish of the tenderest summer breeze.

The scene’s drained first of Technicolor
and then slips slowly out of focus,
passers-by strutting staccato
into the maze of tram-line junctions
that never make it into town’s gazetteer.

Each new city block takes you further
from the grip of a reality that’s already
packing-up shop behind you, shipping
for storage or the next production.
You’d do best to maintain a brisk walking pace.

Pre-order a copy of House of Small Absences from our website.

‘Understudies: New and Selected Poems’

Anne-Marie Fyfe – as is apparent in her Understudies: New and Selected Poems – is a subtle and engaging poet. She has developed much like a painter, spare themes moving towards a deeper complexity. Her earlier work includes quite a few domestic interiors; rooms recalled from an Irish childhood and stories told by parents and grandparents. Later poems often feature crucial or pitvotal moments in her life and the imagined lives of others: a significant conversation, the look a woman gives herself in the mirror when she’s about to leave her husband, the odour left in the air by a certain perfume. All this eventually evolves into her characteristic poem, a cityscape wrought with careful observation and melded with flashbacks of memory, both her own and including her family, and others, beautifully imagined. Her voice is direct, with a conversational tone that invites you into the narrative. This volume includes selections from her previous books:Late Crossing (1999), Tickets from a Blank Window (2002) – both from Rockingham Press, and The Ghost Twin (Peterloo, 2005).

Published by Seren in September 2010.

‘Interstate’ Poem of the Week by Guardian Books

Author Anne-Marie Fyfe has had her poem ‘Interstate’ elected as poem of the week by Guardian Books Blog!

‘Interstate’ is taken from Fyfe’s 2010 collection Understudies: New and Selected Poems (available from Seren).

Carol Rumens, from the Guardian, says about Fyfe’s collection, “Set variously in London, the US and her native Northern Ireland, Fyfe’s poems have a certain ease and elasticity, even when their structure is regular, as here. The tone is cool, the language plain and unclassifiable. It’s as if travel between places had made it natural to combine associated poetic styles – lyric compression with a certain freedom of line and movement.”

Seren is delighted to have one of our poet’s recognised and congratulations to Anne-Marie Fyfe!

To read the ‘Poem of the Week’ article posted on Guardian Books Blog follow this link http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/apr/11/anne-marie-fyfe-interstate

Anne-Marie Fyfe

Anne-Marie Fyfe was born in Ireland and now lives in West London. A poet,  creative-writing tutor, arts organiser (of the well-known Troubadour club events in London), she was recently Chair of the Poetry Society. She has read throughout the world at festivals and events and on BBC radio and television.

Anne-Marie Fyfe’s poems have a lyric clarity, an ontological accuracy and unflinching vigilance that is both spiritual and revelatory – Tom Paulin

Time, witness, flesh and remembrance – these poems play In the deep end of the pools of image and imagination A rich humanity informs Anne-Marie Fyfe’s new work. The vision is detailed, the voice rings true. – Thomas Lynch

Anne-Marie Fyfe reminds us of the skins we inhabit and shed – TLS (John Greening)

Books by Anne-Marie Fyfe
Understudies: New and Selected Poems