Recently on my show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer on Somerville Community Access TV I had the opportunity to interview two accomplished poets who were visiting from London: Sue Guiney and Ruth O’Callaghan.
Guiney, a native of New York City has lived in England for over 20 years. She has two poetry collections published, and recently a novel titled A Clash of Innocents that was published by Blue Chrome Publishing in 2006.
Ruth O’Callaghan, a native of London holds the prestigious Hawthornden Fellowship and is a prize- winner in international competitions. She is an international competition adjudicator, and hosts two poetry venues in London. She is currently compiling a book of interviews with prominent women poets from around the globe.
Doug Holder: Ruth, how did you receive this American poet on the English scene?
Ruth O’Callaghan: Well Sue has a different voice and background. She is such a nice and outgoing person. She is not totally brash as some might expect being that she is from the States, and New York City. Perhaps she has been tempered by the English weather. (Laugh) I’ve known other American poets who have been brash.
DH: Both you and Sue have embraced poetry and writing and aligned it with charitable efforts.
RO: In my case I was at church and I happened to be sitting next to a minister. She told me a group of seven churches were banding together to read at homeless shelters. I became involved. I know extremely well-known poets who could read for free. They attracted an audience to the shelters. We took in money for the shelters and it has been a very successful effort. It is good for the hosting churches and publishers who get a free venue for their poets. A London venue costs up to 600 pounds. We have ordinary poets read with famous ones and some really good things have come from this. Publishers have found some very good poets at my venues and asked me to send them more.
Sue Guiney: Charitable work has not only come from my poetry but from my fiction. I have a novel that has come out of that is the first in a trilogy, Clash of Innocents and it takes place in modern day Cambodia. Cambodia is a country that I have grown to love over the past 5 or 6 years. Through the work I do in writing I have been able to connect with an educational shelter for street kids in the city of Siem Reap. I have set up a writing workshop in English for teenage kids in the shelter. The English program is being taught on-line and on-site, and I spend at least one month a year in Cambodia. When I teach online I give students editorial comments. I use the sales of my books to support the work that I do there. I am now the Writer-In-Residence to the SE Asia Department of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
DH: Ruth you told me you were fearful about writing poetry at first?
RC: I just didn’t have any confidence. I always wanted to be a poet. I had been teaching Special Education students for years. But I felt I was wasting my time because I wasn’t fully committed. I then decided to commit myself to poetry. It was a turning point for me.
I didn’t stay with you forever,
although forever started that first night
when you lifted me into your arms
cradling me, not like a baby
but like a swan,
my long neck curling over
the muscles of your crooked arm.
Softly you settled me onto the quilt
your grandmother had wrapped around her treasures
as she said goodbye to home.
I remember the tired strength of the thread between
the panels, the softness of the fading cotton.
The skin around your chest was even softer,
and the tiny hairs that marched straight down, down,
down to where I’d never been before.
You were not heavy above me.
I don’t recall an unyielding force inside.
Instead, your body and mine,
your face, our lips,
the coverlet on top, the wrinkled sheets,
all were soft, safe, soft,
and stayed with me forever.
Notes on a Journey
The Friends’ Cafe closes shortly.
The vending machine needs 50p’s.
Its cups need care, they disintegrate at touch.
But what is whole?
The crisp-clean touch and turn
inserting a catheter – an addition
to your molecular composition?
Half a mile of corridor
another – green capped, scrubbed –
takes a knife
to discover what lies behind death.
He will be particular
in this particular death
from any other
– o, the wound may be the same
but was, is, the journey?