Recently, I sat down and talked with poet John Saunders, author of ‘Chance’, which is published by Cork’s New Binary Press. Later in the week, I’ll be posting a review ‘Chance’.
Philip Cummins: Many of the poems in Chance have an anecdotal tone and feel. What is it that attracts you to poems that recount moments, that tell stories? Which poets influence this quality in your poems?
John Saunders: I suppose most of my poetry is anecdotal. The collection in Chance is rooted in the idea that almost everything that happens to us is the result of chance. Incidents, accidents, decisions influence our lives enormously in contrast to the concept of a planned universe. I have little regard for predestination or the will of a god.
PC: Which poets influence this quality in your poems?
JS: I think Phillip Larkin and Robert Lowell have had a profound influence on my writing style.
PC: In poems such as ‘Monday Night- Lawlor’s Hotel’, ‘The Dream Hotel, ‘In the Victoria Hotel’, ‘At Limerick Junction’, I Listen to Joni Mitchell…’, there is, again and again, a deep identification between poet and place, poet and past. Where does this come from and what interest does it hold for you as a writer?
JS: I believe strongly that poets no more than any one else are of this world and we must write about what affects us, so it’s not surprising that most poetry is about love, death , birth, etc. My poetry is no different although I take the point about poet and place. Many of poems that I write are inspired by an event, a person, sometimes a thought; thereafter I let my imagination take over. I have been preoccupied by many of the legacies of Irish society such as the stories of child abuse, sexual repression, theocracy, agrarian history, and social control. Having said that I have many poems which do not rely on location or past and seem to be detached from any reality.
PC: How much does your role as director of Shine, the national organisation for those affected by ill mental health, influence your poetry?
JS: Undoubtedly there is an influence. I have met many people in great distress and I think that this comes through in some of my poetry. I have written poetry about issues such as depression, psychosis, self harm and suicide. I think my work has given me an insider’s view of what it’s like to have such experiences.
PC: You recently worked with Dedalus Press editor and poet Pat Boran on Shine On: Irish Writers for Shine, an anthology of poems and prose by Irish writers in support of Shine. How was that experience and what did it teach you about editing an anthology of poetry?
JS: That was a great experience and it was wonderful to work with a professional like Pat Boran. I realised during the process that there is an almost endless supply of good Irish poetry out there. My only regret is that we confined ourselves to what was eventually published: we could have produced a book double its size. I was pleased to learn recently from a prominent published poet that the anthology is now viewed as one of the most authoritative illustrations of contemporary Irish poetry.
PC: Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, Shine On and Chance– which collections would they be?
JS: What an impossible question. If I must answer, I think I would keep the complete works of Seamus Heaney, the Collected Poems of Phillip Larkin, and to lighten things up, the complete works Billy Collins.