Poets sometimes make odd observations. I think this poem qualifies. It gives us a series of moments featuring the colour pink. Many of these could hardly be expected by any reader. Clearly, only this poet could have written this poem, or even anything in this ballpark. Another writer would surely develop the theme in a different way, but even if he or she took the same approach, the elements chosen could not be the same.
We expect domesticity from the title, yet that domesticity only arrives halfway through the poem. Instead, it deals in colours and associations, hinting at personal memories. It could be considered a poem of perception. Not only perception connected with images, but also in a more general, intellectual sense. The everyday human perception of animal flesh, for example – our carnivorous eyes transform the flesh of a few unfortunate species into meat.
The tone of the poem lulls the reader into a sense of security, with its sedateness. Then, a certain word (I won’t spoil it here if you haven’t read the poem yet) – as much the sound of the word as its meaning – cuts into the reader’s consciousness, jolting him/her out of any complacent readerly notions of “I know how this poem will end”. It shows how important it is to surprise the reader, a principle which should surely be applied to every art form.
Pink is the colour of life
of new babies’ wet heads
and open screaming mouths.
Pink is the rose hip of a woman at the heart
of what’s between her hips
and the tip of my tongue between bud lips.
There’s the hint of pink on daisies
when they open their petals to say
hello to the birth of a new day.
But pink is also the colour of death
as the knife slides between the flesh
and separates it into food.
Pink is a suggestion of sickness when I pierce the skin,
dissect the sinews, glimpse the tint of it and turn
it to the heat to kill the pink and the possibility.
It’s the quiver of the comb atop feathers,
and the neck as it’s sliced from the body
by the executioner’s axe.
It’s the colour of cunt
and the hint in the sky
when the cock crows.
(“Cooking Chicken” was first published in Banshee Lit Spring 2017 issue.)
I was born in Dublin and reared in Co. Mayo on the West coast, I currently split my time between the two. I hold a BA in English Literature and Philosophy from Trinity College Dublin. I’m starting a Masters in Writing in NUI Galway in September 2017.
My poems have been published in many journals and newspapers, including; Headspace magazine, The Fem literary magazine, Poetry NI Holocaust Memorial Anthology, Poethead, Icarus, Headstuff, The Galway Review, The Sunday Independent, Hungry Hills Wild Atlantic Words Anthology, Skylight47, Boyne Berries, A New Ulster, Live Encounters Magazine, The Ofi Press, The Stony Thursday Book, Banshee Lit, The Pickled Body and The Irish Times. I am included in Poethead’s indices ‘Women Poets’ and ‘Contemporary Irish Women Poets’.
My work has been shortlisted for several competitions, including, the Annual Bangor Poetry Competition 2016, Hungry Hills Wild Atlantic Words Poetry Competition 2016 and the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Competition 2016. I was commended in the Jonathan Swift Awards 2016. I was longlisted for the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Prize 2017.
I was the assistant editor of Looking at the Stars, a limited edition anthology of Irish writing edited by Kerrie O' Brien to raise money for the Rough Sleeper Team of the Dublin Simon Community. The anthology sold out and raised €21,190.29 for Dublin Simon Community.
My debut play ‘The Passing’ was staged as a part of ‘What’s the Story’ at the Liberties Festival 2016. It went on to be performed at Cruthú Arts Festival and Temple Bar Culture and Arts Festival in the same year. The Passing will be performed as a part of Little Shadow Theatre’s New Irish Playbook in May 2017. My second short play ‘And Now We…’ was chosen for ReActors at Cruthú Arts Festival 2017.
This year I am a writer in residence with SICCDA (South Inner City Community Development Association).
My first book of poems, a pamphlet called Flower Press will be published in 2018.
For more details visit aliceekinsella.com, Facebook.com/AliceEKinsella, or follow me on twitter at @AliceEKinsella
I’ve heard it said a few times that poets notice things that others don’t notice. I’d say it applies to this poem, anyway. Would you agree or disagree (both in relation to this poem and in general)?
I do agree, but I’m not sure it’s some innate ability of perception. I think poets train themselves to notice the details, to see the world in a different way.
In this poem I think the details are all things that anyone would notice individually, once they look, they have to be for the poem to make sense. It’s the connection between these things that makes the poem. With this poem it was very much about noticing details. I tend to be rubbish at titling poems, and this poem is called ‘Cooking chicken’ because that’s exactly what I was doing at the time. I was cooking chicken for the first time (I’m a vegetarian) and as I was trying to avoid poisoning the person who would be eating it, I noticed the pink in the middle and the lines started to pool in my mind. I wrote the bones of this poem there and then, (at the dinner’s expense). So there is definitely an element of noticing things in a different way. Poets are trying to present their subjects in a new way, that’s what makes their poems interesting, so we must always be on the lookout for new images and ideas.
Colours/the senses clearly play an important role in this poem. How important are they to writing?
Many great poems are rooted in and successfully portray profound ideas about life, but, for me anyway, what brings a poem home is its connection to the physical world. I think poetry is about making the personal universally accessible, and this accessibility depends on the reader being able to feel their way around a poem, to know what it is to be in the world of the poem.
If the reader can visualise what the poet is describing, they can be brought on a much more evocative journey. And like you said, it’s not just visual, I try my best to evoke as many of the senses as I can. What we’re doing as poets a lot of the time is trying to capture a moment on paper, and the thoughts and feelings that might go along with that moment. How we experience things through our bodies is very important to our minds.
It’s not exactly typical for a poem which begins with babies’ wet heads to give us “the colour of cunt” near the end. Do you think it’s particularly effective or important to surprise the reader?
I think it’s a fairly natural conclusion, the babies don’t come from under cabbage patches after all!
I think surprising the reader can be important, it certainly makes a poem more memorable, but, when writing the poem I never thought of the ending as all that shocking. It just seemed like a natural ending. If it’s confronting people with a word that makes them wince, maybe they should be asking themselves why?
Saying that, I’d never put something in just for the shock value, I think every word in a poem should earn its place. ‘Cunt’ earned its place in this poem, it’s not a word I throw about and thought carefully about its inclusion here. It’s included here for many reasons, both technically and thematically. The fact that this is now what my mum calls my ‘rude poem’ is just an added bonus.
Similarly, you’ve given us associations here that we wouldn’t expect (pink as the colour of death, which is unusual, as we’d usually associate pink with stereotypical “girliness” or femininity, and death is usually linked with the colour black).
I’m not sure what the question is here, but going back to what I was saying previously, I think it’s the poet’s job to present things differently. As long as the new associations make sense, I don’t worry about challenging old associations.
The blackness of death is tied up in the spirit and mourning. When I think black and death I think funerals, black horses, hearses, and the great abyss after death. The death that comes into this poem is largely physical. It’s a reminder that in some way the execution of a chicken is the same as our own death. We’re animals too. It is not the death of the mind, it’s the death of the body.
I would argue that the pink in this poem is associated with femininity as much as death. Femininity, or girliness, has different meaning for different people, and when you say girliness I get the feeling you mean lipstick and lovehearts. Pink being a girly colour at all is linked to our anatomy when you think about it, little pink love hearts looking like a woman’s bum and all that. With this poem I wanted to take the idea of that delicate flushed cheek sort of pink, the kind you might associate with a daisy or a new-born, and remind people that it’s the same colour as the flesh of an animal.
I do feel that this is a very feminine poem in that sense, but perhaps not in the usual associations with ‘girliness’. I don’t see it as delicate or gentle, but bloody and sexual and exploring the close line between birth and death, beginning and endings. I am not trying to take pink away from femininity, I more see pink as a common image between femininity and death. That’s more about what femininity means to me than love hearts and pink dresses.
The colour in this poem makes a connection between things that are already linked, it ties the female experience to death. Birth, death, creation. Or at least, that’s what I hope it does.
Why do you write?
The money mainly.
Just kidding. Goodness, so many reasons. I’ll have to be careful not to let this answer get too confessional.
My friend and I were talking about this recently. You know that old idea, if a tree falls and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound? Well, if a writer isn’t writing with the purpose of communicating an idea to an audience, then what is the point in writing? (We may have been a little drunk when we came up with that comparison.)
Anyway, I was arguing that the main purpose of writing, the reason I myself write, is communication. I think literature, be it poetry or prose or theatre or whatever, allows us to understand other peoples’ lives in a way we couldn’t otherwise, it helps us to feel empathy. We learn so much about life, about each other, through reading. I was raised to question everything, and I do that through writing now. When I decided to become a writer, and by that I mean try to follow the path professionally, this was a large part of my reasoning. To be able to ask questions and communicate my thoughts on them. And I’m not talking about a political agenda or anything like that. Even when we talk about art for art’s sake we’re still communicating an idea in that concept itself. I’m talking about how any piece of writing holds an idea or some moral, some hope of wisdom. I’ve always written to explore things and question things and try to convey my thoughts in an artistic manner. I suppose what I mean is that I do believe literature has a hugely positive effect on people’s live, and I just want to add my drop to the ocean.
And that, or something to that effect, something about empathy, understanding, and communication, was going to be my answer. But it’s only half of an answer, it leaves too much to be desired… desire itself, for one. It’s the explanation of why I became a writer, how I justified to myself spending every day doing the thing I love most.
When I started writing, and I mean not really writing I wasn’t putting pen to paper, rather when I started creating stories, I was a child. I think people are all storytellers, we even give our lives the structure of a story with beginning middle and end, I think it’s the way we make sense of the world. I’d rarely write a poem that isn’t a part of a larger narrative, not even intentionally, that’s just the way my brain works. Anyway, when I started writing, I never did so with the hope of anyone understanding or anyone seeing or anyone even knowing I was doing it. It was for the joy of it.
When I started writing poetry I was older, nineteen maybe, and it was almost like therapy. I wanted to find my own answers. I use poetry to take little freeze frames of life. Life is so fleeting, I’ve always had that in the back of my mind, and writing, poetry in particular, is a way of holding onto pieces of life, to appreciate them. Writing can be such a physical joy. Even now, when it’s the day to day job and it takes up a lot of time, and like anything you’re dedicating your life to it can get stressful, it’s only when I’m completely alone with the pen and the paper that that stress gets taken away. I think it is a kind of euphoric feeling to get something down that you’re actually happy with, to figure something out through language, to completely capture an idea or feeling or experience in something that’s so personal, it’s the only time that I’m completely calm… I think.
If you had one piece of advice for a writer, what would it be?
Hmmm, I never feel qualified to give advice in case it leads someone in the wrong direction. There’s advice I wish I’d been given, advice I want to give, and then advice people probably want. I don’t even know if there’s any overlap between the three.
I’ve noticed a lot of the poets previously featured on this site say ‘Read’. I’d agree with that. Read everything, read in the medium you write, read in other mediums, read things you love, read things you hate, read poetry, read fiction, read philosophy, read the bloody dictionary.
Then put the book down and pick up the pen.
One of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever heard, and I can’t remember where from, is to know when to ignore all the advice, if you’re getting words on the page you’re already doing it right, because that really is half the battle. It’s easy to forget that sometimes I think.
Be honest, I suppose. To your readers and yourself.