The Path to a First Collection – Hilda Sheehan on her way to Cultured Llama Press

Evening folks.  Here is another take on the path to a first collection – this time by Hilda Sheehan whose first collection was published a couple of months ago by Cultured Llama Press.  It’s a very different take on it to Roy Marshall’s story which you can find here

and I think you’ll find it interesting!  You can find a Sunday poem by Hilda here

or you could go even better and buy her book from Cultured Llama Press.  This would be a Lovely Thing To Do – especially this week with the news of poetry presses stopping publishing poetry – do something positive and support an independent press by buying a book

The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood

Here is Hilda in her own words.

The Path to a First Collection – Hilda Sheehan on the path to Cultured Llama Press

“I don’t really have the time to write poems. If I didn’t write poems I might still be a nurse or a teacher or a better mother. I’d have more money. Poems are distracting and take on a life of their own in my head. My husband Mike says I live in two worlds and he can tell when I have ‘gone.’ Other people have said that they can have whole conversations with me and then realise, I have not been there. This is where my collection came from. There are not many poems in The Night My Sister Went To Hollywood that I remember writing. Most are written in my ‘unconscious’ and left for me to play with later. This is a rather exciting process, like being gifted a set of strange words to form into something that could be poetry. Over ten years I ended up with hundreds of these mainly surreal, magically-real poems and I noticed that they began to get to know each other, that there were common themes and overlaps. However, they came into what I felt were two categories: the short surreal lyric and the ‘experimental’ linguistically innovative (perhaps). I had two pamphlets because I felt those two kinds of writing might not make a very cohesive collection. There’s also a path the poets must follow, a bit like engagement, marriage, house, baby. In poetry it is: poems in small magazines, poems in bigger better magazines, pamphlet, collection. It’s a career path towards professional poetdom and I got onto this rat-track of trying to fit. The trouble is, for a poet like me with young twins plus three other young people to care about, I had limited time and an even more limited budget to send poems out to where they needed to be going. Result was that I rarely sent poems out but over the past ten years had been putting the hours into becoming a better poet, and writing the kind of poems I wanted to write and not necessarily writing to please British editors. I found that my more work-shopped, less interesting poems were successful in finding the ‘right kind of home’ and those more lively, strange and misbehaving examples did not. I have realised that this is about confidence, my own belief that what I write is how I want to write and that they are OK and work in the way I want them to. Reading American poetry was such a revelation and early modernists such as Mina Loy and Gertrude Stein. This was like having poetry orgasms (and I really think there is such a thing) that made me gasp yes, yes, YES!

My title poem ‘The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood’ seemed to bring this collection together. The collection is about feeling out of sorts, odd, misplaced, ecstatic, grumpy, beautiful, ugly and no one is where they are supposed to be. This is the central theme: we all go missing in our lives to make new – by becoming lovers, mothers, husbands, wives or workers. There is a transformation, and we become different. My sister has never been to Hollywood and nor have I, I have never ridden a streetcar with Vivien Leigh or had a seal in my bathtub but examining these worlds made it possible for me to reveal a truth through the imagination.  My final poem, in its mixed up state of love and speaking beds seemed a good way to end the book. It sums things up and considering the entire process of writing it caused me to vomit, I felt it deserved this final spot. It is a poem I am most pleased with: a poem that made me work very hard, exhausted me, dug deep into my head for the strangest and most pleasurable piece of writing I have achieved to date. It says it all: How found was what? Love was in the biscuit tin. Kiss was in a kitchen cupboard. Guilt was under something under something else. Embrace was nowhere. Embrace they thought was dead behind the fridge. Lust laid out its whole body on a rug and waited for more. Henry definitely found disappointed.

I took the plunge, and sent off my varied collection to a new and wonderful press Cultured Llama. They enthusiastically accepted my collection and worked with me to make it shine. Next is how it is received, my favourite so far:  ‘I ate your book from cover to cover and didn’t need cooking or even a sprinkle of salt. It was like three square meals by Heston Blumenthal -sublime wing-smoked bacon ice-cream in twelve textures, deep-blood forest-gateaux, larks-tongue parfait – and he did all the dishes afterwards.” Cristina Newton.”

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