Thanks to the cooperation of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) and Creative Writing at The New School, as well as the tireless efforts of our students and faculty, we are able to provide interviews with each of the NBCC Awards Finalists for the publishing year 2015.
Kay Sorin, on behalf of Creative Writing at The New School and the NBCC, interviewed Sinéad Morrissey about her book Parallax and Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which is among the final five selections in the category of Poetry for the 2015 NBCC Awards.
Sinéad Morrissey is well known as the winner of the 2013 TS Eliot Prize and as the former poet laureate of Belfast. The recently released Parallax: And Selected Poems is a compilation of her work over the past several decades. Ms. Morrissey’s work spans several continents as she spent much of her twenties traveling and living in New Zealand before eventually returning home to settle in Northern Ireland. In the following interview she discusses her dedication to form and how she is inspired by location.
Parallax And Selected Poems is an accessible entry point for new readers unfamiliar with Ms. Morrissey’s work, providing a varied introduction to her wide-ranging style. It is also a beautiful collection that offers devoted fans the opportunity to reengage with her work in a fresh form.
Ms. Morrissey has many years of writing ahead of her, but at this significant juncture in her career, it seems particularly appropriate to celebrate her success and present her work to a new audience of readers. -Kay Sorin
Kay Sorin: The title of this collection takes its name from the word parallax, an apparent change in an object as a result of an actual change in observation. It is a compilation of poems from previous publications, including those written as many fifteen or more years ago. What is it like to see your work compiled in this way, with some of your earliest published work juxtaposed with your more recent writing? As your position as an observer of your own work has changed over the years, have you experienced a parallax?
Sinéad Morrissey: That's a very good question and one I haven't thought of before... Yes there's an obvious disjunct in the book between the earlier and later poems as my writing has developed, and the styles and themes are very different.
KS: How were the poems for this collection selected?
SM: I didn't want any of the poems from my first collection included, as it's a book I can no longer stand over. Other than that (my own stipulation) the list was agreed between me and my FSG editor, Mitzi Angel.
KS: Much of your earlier work was inspired by your travels overseas, but you have since returned home to Ireland. Has your recent work been inspired by your home country? How do you feel this change in location has affected your work?
SM: I've been back home for almost two decades – since 1999 – so it's the travel-inspired poems of Japan and New Zealand and Arizona which seem far away from me now. Coming home was liberating as it allowed me to stop obsessing about place and to explore other things – history, language, parenthood, form – in poetry. And post-ceasefire Belfast too, a little bit. I live beside Belfast Lough, and can watch the ferries pass on their way to and from Scotland from my living-room window, and this seascape is everywhere in my work.
KS: What are you reading right now?
SM: In terms of poetry I'm reading Ange Mlinko's Marvellous Things Overheard, everything by Matthew Francis, Caitriona O'Reilly's Geis, and Frances Leviston's Disinformation. In terms of fiction I'm reading Beryl Bainbridge's brilliant, hilarious, heartbreaking novel about the sinking of the Titanic, Every Man for Himself.
KS: If you could only recommend one poem from this collection to someone who has never read your work before, which would you choose?
SM: "Electric Edwardians".
KS: The collection includes a variety of different forms, ranging from sonnets to free verse. How do you choose which form to write in? Do you find form follows content in any specific ways?
SM: Form comes first and enables everything else; I am obsessed with the articulacy of form and see each individual poem as a kind of architectural challenge. I am very interested in the formal spokes which hold up the wheel of language, and the complex tensions and excitements which they can generate.
KS: What advice would you give to aspiring young poets?
SM: Read what you love and then interrogate everything about it very closely. Don't be afraid to reinvent yourself. Beware of the kind of narrative you tell yourself concerning your own creative trajectory.
Sinéad Morrissey was born in 1972 and grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is the author of five poetry collections: There Was Fire in Vancouver, Between Here and There, The State of the Prisons, Through the Square Window, and Parallax. She has been the recipient of the 2013 T. S. Eliot Prize, the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, the Irish Times Poetry Now Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and first place in the 2007 UK National Poetry Competition. She teaches creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Queen's University, Belfast.
Kay Sorin is a poet and writer who was born and raised in New York City. She graduated from Columbia University and received her MFA in Fiction from The New School in 2015. In her free time she enjoys exploring other worlds, both real and fictional, and cuddling in bed with her cat.