On the eighth day of every month, Moira Richards, poetry reviewer, will review a clutch of collections that are linked in some way. Not Not Darling, I’m Reading asked Moira eight questions.
1. Your day job is accountancy, which seems somewhat at odds with your abiding interest in reading and writing poetry. Or is that sort of question more indicative of an interviewer’s penchant for stereotyping than an accurate accounting of obvious contrasts?
No contrast at all, actually. I recently retired from practicing and teaching accounting to free time for my writing and editing work, but teaching Taxation to undergraduates confirmed to me the value of poetry to accountants (if not vice versa). Reading poems—engaging with unfamiliar words and word usage; getting inside the text of someone very different to you; teasing out the meaning of phrases and sentences and finding ways in which it applies to wider circumstance—those are all tools essential for learning and understanding the Income Tax Act as well as the myriad other legislation anyone in the business world has to navigate.
2. Do you remember the first poem that sunk its teeth into you? What was it? How old were you? Where were you?
Yes! I was about 10 years old, helping get up some sort of a show to entertain parents and there was Lewis Carroll’s poetry! I wanted Jabbberwocky with its delicious mouth-filling words, and the dastardly Walrus and Carpenter and all those eager little silly little oysters, and Humpty’s zig-zagging cliff-hanger of a poem that ends with “but—”. I didn’t want to ever let them go so I memorised all three poems and decades later, still have snippets in my head.
3. How did your interest in poetry develop from there?
I think Carroll started me on a love affair with words—how they can play and draw and touch as well as talk and teach, which I also love. Poetry in the education system here is (was?) so much dead white men’s angst that there’s little to really kindle fire in anyone who’s not a one of them—and so much that’ll have the resistant feminist roll her eyes and decide poetry’s for the (old) dudes.
My interest in poetry developed, I think, in the last 15 years when I began reading contemporary women’s work to write about it for book reviews. A bit upside down, I suppose, but my approach wasn’t that of an “expert critic” but that of a reader exploring the genre and like Alice (again) I found myself in a wonderland.
4. You practise form poetry and have a special love for renku. What is it about set forms that excite you?
I admire poets who can execute in form because I find it so difficult and I know the work and persistence it requires. Poems in form, can easily become all tied up and prisoner of the form, but when done well, poetry uses form as invisible scaffold from which it can reach into doing amazing stuff. The joy of renku is that it’s collaborative poetry—a whole new approach to poetry (and to one’s self-image as poet) to write with others
5. Do you read anything at all except poetry? You seem to get through at least one collection a week. Is there time for other reading?
I currently read and review a collection of poems every week—the reading only takes an hour or two, it’s the thinking about the poetry and getting inside of what the poet is doing and finding words to convey that, that takes a long, long time. But I carry it all around with me inside my head and bring it out during quiet times with my vegetable garden so there’s time left for enough fiction that I usually have something to talk about at book club every month. Reading so much poetry has made me an impatient reader of fiction—those authors get very few pages in which to grab my interest enough to read their book through.
6. Do you only read poetry written by women? If so, why?
I don’t actively seek out poetry or fiction by men. I already get to hear so much about what men think and want and do—male opinion and ideas are slathered all over television, radio, newspapers (check the VIDA-count of your favourite medium) and etc. What I’m really interested in, is to find and hear the women who are never asked or permitted to speak—there’s usually pretty good reason why certain voices are marginalised by the mainstream.
7. How does South African English poetry measure up to what’s being done in other countries where most of the poetry is in English?
Maria Steyn’s tanka are admired and published in Australia, Canada, the USA, and further. A few years ago, Phillippa Yaa De Villiers placed in an annual international haibun contest judged in Japan. I’ve watched Natalia Molebatsi hold her own on the same stage as performance giant Patricia Smith. Joan Metelerkamp, Kobus Moolman and Karin Schimke, like poets abroad, have gone beyond realist, confessional “experience into words on the page” work and on into a music-like non-narrative transformation of words into experience. Perhaps, if South African readers were more adventurous, even more of our poets would be encouraged to be more adventurous too?
8. To which poets do you return?
So much to read, not much chance for returning, but I never miss a new collection from Finuala Dowling (surely it’s about time for another?) and do find Edna St Vincent Millay’s sonnets have something to say for every occasion. Here’s a couple:
- Moira Richards is a freelance editor and writer, and (co)author of a number of accounting and business textbooks. She’s been reviewing fiction and poetry since 2000 and, with Norman Darlington in Ireland, occasionally publishes renga, renku, haibun and other fine work, but mostly renku www.darlingtonrichards.com.