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This interview is taken from PN Review 226, Volume 42 Number 2, November - December 2015.

In Conversation (Helen Tookey) and Two Poems Helen Tookey

Helen Tookey:  I wanted to start by asking you about what I think is a characteristic structure in your poems. You often start with an object, or even a word, and then the poem unrolls it in various different ways – as in ‘Cigar’, where the idea of unrolling the cigar itself leads into unrolling the material history and the mythical dimensions; or in ‘Pomegranate’, where you explore the etymology and all its associations. Lots of your poems, I think, work like that, spiralling, unrolling.

Grevel Lindop: It’s true that when I think about writing a poem the image I always have is of something in front of me: an object or a situation, that I’m going into. I think of the poem as being an investigation, or sometimes it’s like dissecting something, or it’s like looking into the interior of a watch with a jeweller’s eyeglass to see what’s gone wrong with it, or how it works. I think there’s a lot of that in Heaney – he thinks of poetry as archaeology, doesn’t he? But also I think I’ve always felt that when you get the beginning of a poem – when a phrase or line pops into your head – it’s like a mathematical problem as well. You then work through the poem to get to the solution, to find out why that line was so significant. So again there’s a matter of analysis. And the assumption that the poem’s already there, but it’s got to be discovered or dug out in some way. It pre-exists.

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