March 06, 2007

‘Negotiations’, Extracts from an interview with Gwyneth Lewis by Ian Gregson

As I was seven years old when I started to write, I was probably reading Enid Blyton and books like The Little Wooden Horse! I started to keep my own anthology of best poems in a notebook, which I still do, and seem to remember an I.D. Hooson ballad about two rabbits being a particular favourite. Later, I was mad for science fiction. As to poetry, I was knocked sideways by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and took hours trying to dissect the poems to see how they worked (as you’d dismantle an engine). Oddly enough, I learned a lot about poetry from Latin verse. Because we weren’t fluent speakers, I looked more carefully at how Catallus and Virgil achieved their effects, and was very keen on The Aeneid. Later Milton became a particular enthusiasm, both at school and again in university, when I was lucky enough to undertake a special Milton paper, taught by Geoffrey Hill. As well as opening my mind about seventeenth-century poetry, he also knocked some shape into my essay style, he had a very acerbic way of telling you not to be foolish!

Gwyneth Lewis on Parables and Faxes

I had noticed two strands merging from my writing. One was the straight “I” poems, in which a poetic self was the protagonist, poems which look autobiographical (but which may not be) and a more indirect way of conveying one experience in terms of another. This looks like a parable but can be a more accurate way of describing autobiography in code than the “I” narratives. What I discovered is that neither mode of exploring reality is watertight and that both bleed into each other so that at the end of the sequence I could no longer tell whether any individual poem was a “fax” (a direct copy of my personal experience) or a parable (reality described in the third person). (54-55)

Lewis, Gwyneth. ‘Negotiations’ (Interview by Ian Gregson). Planet: the Welsh Internationalist. Vol. 173. 50-56.


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