Today we have a swift visit from poet Kate Kilalea. Her wonderful poetry collection 'One Eye'd Leigh' was published in 2009 by Carcanet and was shortlisted for the Costa Award. I met her at wordPLAY and really enjoyed her collection when I read it a couple of years ago, and have recently revisited it.
What does poetry mean to you?
I don’t know – it’s the kind of thing one just knows. But it’s a lovely thing to think about, like: “What would it be like if I were suddenly very rich?” Or, “What does love mean?”
When did you first start writing?
I remember very clearly the first poem I ever wrote. It came to me one night, lying in bed, when I was about thirteen. Suddenly a series of phrases started to circle in my head. They went: “Standing at the crossroads / I watched the world go by. / Nobody sees the standing figure / but it feels their laughing breath.” I felt the need to get up and write them down, partly to be able to go to sleep, and partly so I didn’t lose them. I don’t think I ever showed that poem to anyone because I was so mortified by the possibility that people would think I was unhappy.
How was it that your first collection was published? What was your journey to that point?
A few years ago, I sent a set of poems to PN Review. They happened to land on the desk of Michael Schmidt, who is the editor of PN review, but also the editor of Carcanet. He wrote back asking to see more poems, and whether I had any plans to publish a book.
Which authors/poets/people would you say have influenced you and your work?
I think there are two types of influence - influence “to write” and influence in “how to write”. Writers like Proust, Mann, Nabokov and Pamuk are influential in the way that they prove that writing is a serious thing. Stylistic influence varies. At university, under the influence of my creative writing lecturer (a well-known South African lyrical poet) I wrote almost exclusively about sad love affairs and sad landscapes. These days, my day job involves writing for architects. There is a pragmatism and economy about the way architects express themselves - the writing is descriptive rather than evocative – which is something I drew from in ‘One Eye’d Leigh’.
What has been the proudest moment of your writing career to date?
I’m very proud of a sequence of poems I wrote called ‘Hennecker’s Ditch’.
What would be the ultimate achievement for you?
I think I would like to write something which was dark and frightening. I would like to write a novel too.
Are you able to tell us what you’ve got in the pipeline at the moment?
I’m working on a poem about a man who gets great pleasure from walking underneath tunnels of trees. The poem also has something to do with the way I felt when I was reading Nabokov’s ‘Speak, Memory’.
Making a living as a writer, a poet especially, is extremely difficult. How do you find the determination to stick to your craft? When do you find time to write?
I’m not really a poet. I’m a publicist who writes poetry. Once, I gave up my job and tried to be a poet, but getting up every morning with nothing to do but write felt like stepping out of the world and into a kind of madness.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring poet, what would it be?
I think I might say something along the lines of trying to abandon expectations and hold yourself open to the possibility of things being however they turn out to be.
In our book forum, we have a Poetry Tree, where members post their favourite poetry books to each other via snail mail. If you took part in this, which poetry book would you chose and why?
I think it would be Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’. It’s not poetry, but I think people who read it come out differently the other side.
Finally, could you give us a stanza from one of your poems from ‘One Eye’d Leigh’ as a taster?
We started this discussion
with me, coming home over the docks, noticing how a round window
lighted from within, looked like a moon.
So many moons coming through the city.
A wonderful example of original writing. She develops forms, illustrates objects, creates portraits and experiments stylishly with noticeable passion. A delight to read.– Poetry Review
[Kilalea] illuminates ordinary events with arresting imagery...The most striking feature of this writing is its sure-footedness, its effortlessness. – Ambit magazine
It's noticeable that a debut volume like Katherine Kilalea's One Eye's Leigh is [...] consistent throughout, and is vigorous with inventive ideas, colloquial voices and formal energy. - Ian Gregson, Stand Magazine
click here to buy a copy of 'One Eye'd Leigh'