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This interview is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.

In Conversation with Peter McDonald Fran Brearton

FRAN BREARTON: There's a poem which opens your first collection, Biting the Wax (1989), called 'The Dog', about the Northern Irish Troubles - the violence outside on the streets, the fear and darkness inside a house under threat. What appears often in the poems as your childhood 'normality' is, of course, for many of your readers, incomprehensible. Can you say something about growing up in the Belfast of the 1970s?

PETER MCDONALD: Yes, that poem opens the Collected now. I'm not sure that I ever thought of it as a poem 'about' the Troubles - but it does, I suppose, have a lot of the Troubles in it. The whole thing was meant to have a strongly surrealist tinge, though, rather than a documentary one. I suspect that, at the time of that first book - which was being written, in fact, from about 1982 onwards - I regarded the surreal as about as close as I could come to a straightforward report on things.

The last image in 'The Dog' is of a helicopter, and it's true that you do see a lot of helicopters in the skies of 'Troubles' poems, so much so that they achieve something like cliché status there. Mine had a blade missing, to mirror a three-legged dead dog, and the point was meant to be a bit unclear, a bit perplexing. Normality was all wrong. I'm not sure if that's entirely 'incomprehensible' now - actually, I suspect there ...


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