Nichola Deane was born in Bolton in 1973. She was educated at the Universities of St Andrews and Manchester. In 2012, her first pamphlet My Moriarty won the Flarestack Poetry Pamphlet Prize, and was later selected as PBS Pamphlet Choice. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Poetry London, Magma, Archipelago, Oxford Poetry, The Moth, The SHOp,and The Rialto. Yesterday’s Child was Highly Commended in the 2014 Forward Prize.
‘ [Nichola Deane's poems] leave me with the very distinct feeling that what we have here is the work of a future English Elizabeth Bishop―sculptured, vocal and beautiful.’
– Douglas Dunn
‘My Moriarty is a pamphlet of intelligent, beautifully crafted poems’ and that it ‘introduces a remarkable new voice.’
– Karen McCarthy Woolf
Review of Nichola Deane’s Trieste
Our thin futon mattress on loose parquet,
white sheets, the sanctus of our resting skin.
Then light wakes me early.
A coolness, doves.
Morning comes like a refutable proof,
grief-balancing two hearts, where what’s
between them is held like the bubble in a spirit level.
Crooked, violable is the way of the angel,
a candescent road.
Later we will bathe in the tideless, winter sea
and watch the carboned-up, gunpowder sky
move in, dark as the lord of hosts, above it.
All those sceptres of lightning.
Here, a few miles down the coast from Duino,
Rilke’s shade still asks the sea wind
‘What is coming? What approaches?’
And weather, like a Spartan messenger,
runs in, breathless
Nichola on her work:
What was your introduction to poetry / how did you first start writing poems?
Poetry and I were never introduced. I look back now and poetry always seems to have been there: in the rhymes I wrote in greeting cards as a young child; in the rhyme and alliteration games both my parents played habitually, every day of —our lives? —our life; in my mother weeping at a sunset, say, or Tchaikovsky ‘because it’s beautiful’; in my father and I weeping (I didn’t know then why I was weeping) at The Muppets —of all things—singing ‘If I Could Save Time in a Bottle,’ both of us overcome— in a wordless place, suddenly, beyond any sentimentality or language.
The rich soundscape of my childhood (its Swing, its Symphony, its Be-Bop, its Hickery-Dickery-Dock) drew me to poetry, yes, but so did the Presence of Time, its swells and rising and looming, its current; that and my Time-sensitised parents themselves, who also, perhaps consequently, had and have a very strong sense of beauty.
There were no small emotions in our house. Clocks never ticked there (the clocks moved silently and the hours flowed like water round a waterwheel) though alarm-clocks kick-tocked in all my recurring dreams. And none of us (my parents, my sister and I) ever seemed to have enough of a skin to protect ourselves from Time.
But poetry! A place we want to go to, as Longley says, but also a way –perhaps the way— to that place. A way to ride the emotions—and Time.
When I first began to write seriously, at seventeen, it was at a moment when I had begun to sense the ordinary enormity of what I was about to do. I knew I was soon to leave the house of my childhood—but without any skin, godhelpme, and without the enormous, peculiar love of that childhood.
So, was this why I began to make a skin? a thin skin, a hide, from words (miracle! who knew that even the wrong words, the failed lines, the botched poems can protect us!) and made from that hide a little coracle, an open boat, a bowl of a craft to set out in on the Big Big Sea.
Do you have any favourite poems, or favourite poets, that have influenced your writing?
Poetry influences— that’s what it does: a kind of writing that, because of its patterning, flows in, mingling with, influencing the underground streams of reader-mind, as complex and unwilled as water.
Influence isn’t the male-male wrestling I took it to be as an undergraduate; it’s not some hierarchical struggle—not, say, Robert Lowell v. John Milton, naked and sweaty in a locked room like Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. Who, with any sense, hasn’t come in time to refuse all those daft hierarchies and Our Fathers? Edward Thomas, to quarrel a little with Ted Hughes, is not ‘the father of us all,’ though he befriends every poet coming after lost in ancient and dark places, on rising roads.
At any one moment, I don’t know how all the mass of work I’ve read is acting on my mind, and neither do you. Charles Wright, Hamlet read repeatedly in sixth form, Plath, Eliot, early on, Sharon Olds, Rilke, Alice Oswald, Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop: what are their utterances doing in my mind, to it? All I know is that the gorgeous words go places and make places for themselves to inhabit. That they’re more than welcome.
And that what is not a true poem will not stay—it will slip away unnoticed, while the true poems hide like seeds in the mind’s dark. Hide like Prodigals— see, they return to tears, sometimes, bliss, always re-cognition.
Influence is not a celestial shortlist, it’s the fluidity of what lasts. It’s not conflict but loving contact. A returning to, retuning, a process of attuning, and always profoundly personal. Embrace, if you will: like Hopkins embraced me— and not just once— with Thou mastering me/ God! giver of breath and bread, etc. Poems as givers of breath, poems as leaven. An influence of breath. Definition of an influencing poem: a very contagious breath.
So Hopkins, for all I know (for all I hope) is embracing me now as much as he did, at first, so long ago (‘I keep thinking my dead have a message for me’ C.K. Williams whispers in my ear, and they do). And Heaney has helped redress many a difficult day over the last twenty years, just as Ruth Stone and Lorca and Jimenez, I’m sure, will see me through a fair few stony tomorrows, and, godwilling, the ending itself.
Where / when / how do you write? Describe a bit about your writing process.
Writing is listening. If I am in a receptive state, of real listening, the poems come. But listening requires huge amounts of energy and stamina; it requires the whole self. It’s not easy to listen. It’s a complete letting go, and how often do any of us do that?
One of the times when I feel I can let go a bit more, when I am less anxious and distracted, is late at night, and so, quite often, my poems begin then, just before sleep, often when I’m reading poetry. The first hazy version will go into a notebook. I’ll then switch to the computer pretty quickly, partly because my official writing time is very limited (childcare, my teaching job), and partly because word-processing helps me to sense line-lengths, stanza forms etc. But I’m having doubts about the wisdom of going straight onto computer in this way. I’ve recently bought an A4 notebook for redrafting, in the hope that I can at least re-connect physically with the early drafts before the laptop whisks them away. I’m increasingly dismayed by technology and social media, and so I want more physical thinking, because that, the psychologists tell us, is at the root of attention and memory. And, as you know, Mnemosyne is the mother of the muses…
So I’m interested, now, in developing my attention. Ruth Stone has taught me a lot about this, recently: her sense of poems rushing towards her, the narrow stretch of time in which the poem’s saying is audible before it ‘seriously, sadly runs away,’ the responsibility on the part of the poet to maintain and deepen her listening in order to catch that saying —which is never the poet’s saying, or anyone’s, but life saying itself into singing.
Yesterday, the start of something that might turn into a poem came as I was preparing my boys’ tea. In the middle of buttering toast for their soup, I sprinted upstairs for a notebook. What were the warning signs? A tightening in my chest, somewhere between ache and gasp; a sad elation, as always. I could easily have ignored that moment of feeling, though, and not written anything down. And I’ve realized, through my encounter with Ruth Stone, how often I have missed poems through such moments of sheer laziness—of not running for the notebook.
The pamphlet has gone through two distinct phases, I think. Early on, it seemed more abstract, perhaps (post) religious in nature. But over the course of the autumn I added a few Spanish-influenced poems and it all became somewhat earthier. Lorca’s presence began to make itself felt. That’s one important change. Charles Wright’s gorgeously suggestive phrase ‘I wonder what Spanish poets would say about this’ has been haunting me for months. It made me want to talk to them, made me want them to talk to me.
But that’s not the whole story. Right from the start, two poems in particular seemed to be ‘in charge.’ I knew ‘Bowl’ should be first, ‘Trieste,’ last. ‘Bowl’ is about the whole of our path, especially its ending: it looks far ahead. ‘Trieste,’ however, is more about beginning, what to do at the end of beginning, where to go. It urges the reader, and me, to begin, begin again, to always begin again; by running to meet the ‘messenger’ and ‘what approaches.’ So the pamphlet, I hoped, (wildly, no doubt, and foolishly) might have a role in the longer journey: a small case of essentials, presences to carry, bring along.
In these poems, I am invoking all kinds of assistance in making the journey, everyone from my immediate family and parents to Lorca and Rilke and Trakl, marvelous political activists like Pussy Riot and Erdem Gunduz, enemies (Franco, Moriarty, patriarchy)—all enemies being engines, all loves tinder, tinderbox; flame or eventual flame.