Hierdie is die LitNet-argief (2006–2012)
Besoek die aktiewe LitNet-platform by www.litnet.co.za

This is the LitNet archive (2006–2012)
Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Menings | Opinion > Onderhoude | Interviews > English

Michelle McGrane, author of The Suitable Girl, in conversation with Janet van Eeden

Janet van Eeden - 2011-10-06

Untitled Document

Michelle McGrane

Michelle, I have always been a fan of your poetry and loved your previous two collections which dealt with poetry from a more personal perspective than this anthology. While this collection has a few poems of a personal nature, it has a broader perspective too. Many of the poems are told from the point of view of women other than yourself. Among others, there is a poem from Marie Antoinette, one about a rural woman walking miles to get to a clinic, one from Greek myths and others from Russian history. (I’ll quote a few lines from one of them here.) Was it a conscious decision to examine women and their lives, focusing inadvertently on their freedom or lack of it, throughout history in this volume? What made you choose the particular women featured here?

I wanted to explore, examine – and, in some cases, provide an alternative vision of – the lives of a few unconventional women to whom I’ve been drawn because of their characters, their contradictions, their stories and the way they’ve been traditionally portrayed.

“The Suitable Girl” is a poem from your second anthology. With this perspective, it lends a special focus to your choice of subject matter in this volume. What made you decide not to include it in this collection?

Well, the poem “The Suitable Girl” was published in 2003 and although it identified the theme of the new collection, it didn’t need to be republished.

Very often the poems in this collection depict women trapped through circumstances beyond their control, sometimes wishing for a different life. Did illustrating the lack of liberty of women through the ages allow you to highlight the way many women are still disempowered by society’s expectations of us? Or have modern generations of women escaped the trappings which earlier generations were unable to avoid?

The specific often illuminates the universal, doesn’t it? Many women, particularly in developing nations, are still disempowered due to social, political and economic constraints. It’s incumbent upon us to avoid complacency and make whatever contributions within our means to ensure that future generations of women around the world receive equal education, equal pay, equal opportunities. Bearing witness, keeping the lines of communication open, really listening to one another, telling the truth about our lives and guarding against self-censorship bring us closer to healing the wounds and effecting the changes that need to be made.

Your writing shows a real maturity in this volume, Michelle. You have really worked on the craft of poetry. Can you tell the readers of LitNet how a poem comes to you? For example, what was the inspiration behind the series of poems “Lunar Postcards” and how long does a poem or a series of poems take from start to finish?

Ideas come from everywhere. People. Emotions. Conflicts. Books. Art. Films. Music. “Lunar Postcards”, for example, evolved from a challenge to write a postcard poem.

Some poems take weeks, others months. Often it helps to have distance between the writing and the editing. I’m learning to trust the process.

This volume was first published in the UK and then by Modjaji Press. Well done on that double coup. How did you find the publisher in the UK? And what does Modjaji bring to the publication of the book in South Africa?

Pindrop Press approached me about publication in the UK and then Modjaji enquired as to the feasibility of co-publishing the collection in South Africa. I feel fortunate to have my work read both here and abroad – and to have been guided by two passionate independent publishers.

The Suitable Girl
Michelle McGrane
Publisher: Modjaji Books
ISBN: 9781920397265
Price: R117.95

Writing has always been a very important part of your life and has helped you through difficult times. While most of your poetry in this collection is about the universal rather than the personal, I was touched by the poems written about the death of your father. Do you still find poetry is useful as therapy or do you prefer to write fewer personal poems at this stage of your life?

At times in my life when I experienced anxiety and depression I wrote poems expressing loss, despair, defiance and ambivalence. I wasn’t writing with a reader in mind, but for myself. As I’ve become more comfortable with the tensions and unresolved areas within myself I’ve developed as a poet. It’s an advantage to be flexible, to be able to write outwards, to write beyond oneself, if that’s what one chooses. I find personas interesting; it’s one of the greatest challenges we face as writers and as human beings, to put ourselves in another’s shoes. My ideas of what poetry is and can be are fluid, wide-ranging and constantly shifting.

Poetry is obviously your first love, but have you ever considered writing a novel, for example, or any other form of prose? If so, what?

When I have enough time for poetry perhaps I’ll consider other creative forms, but for now my writing is determined by how many hours I have to hand.

When do you write? Do you set aside time every day or is it something you squeeze into free moments between other demands? Or is it as vital to you as breathing?

I have a full-time job, so I write in the early morning or in the evening or over the weekend. Beginning a poem tends to be intensive: I’ll work on it for as long as possible in an initial burst. That’s a transcendent experience, it’s complete absorption. In between working and writing I try to read as widely as possible – poetry, fiction, non-fiction – and I usually have several books on the go at the same time.

You were the poetry editor/coordinator of LitNet some years ago. Now your own blog has become a vibrant site for poetry lovers as you review and promote other poets. Can you tell the readers of LitNet how this site developed and what your hopes for it are? Could you also give me the url here so we can include it?

Friends suggested I begin a blog and I tried it. I didn’t have a particular vision for Peony Moon, it’s really just evolved and it’s great to be part of a creative international network.

What is next on the cards for you, Michelle? Can we expect another volume soon or does it take you a long time to build up a new collection?

I’m enjoying working on some new poems and I imagine it’ll be some time before another collection is completed.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions.