The best writing is often very evocative. It often plucks at our senses, and, in poetry, the senses of sight and sound are most often called upon. In Eileen P Keane’s poem “Black Pudding”, the senses of smell and texture (or touch) take centre-stage. And that’s why, after reading it, I felt like I’d just had a serious feed.
That’s not to say that this poem isn’t rich in visual imagery. The great expanse of cooled blood is compared to a “molten moon” and “blushed clay”, for example. It’s this immersion in all of the senses that brings the reader into the poem’s world. One of the main things that any work of art should do, it could be said, is to transport the reader/viewer into an alternative world. It may be a realistic world or an unrealistic one, a historical one or some other type, but it takes a skilled writer to execute it, in any case.
Every family is its own world, too. And this is a poem of family and tradition. It’s a poem of secrets and the “delighted fingers” of a curious child. The pudding could be viewed as a metaphor. Maybe a metaphor for savagery, like a complement to those “sibling wars”. Or maybe, with its dark depths and its assault on the senses, it’s a metaphor for love, sustaining a family physically and emotionally. Either way, it sounds tasty.
The cooled blood set and sat in the dark
until the children carried it to the kitchen.
There under the bare bulb it split open scarlet
rills across the surface of its molten moon.
Clouds of waxy belly fat, onion and thyme
were folded in as mother and brood oozed
the gooey mess through delighted fingers.
The scoured out belly, ragged edge folded
neatly back, lay desolate until little fists
reached into its chilly hollow and deposited
their bloodied gift. Then a rubbery-lipped
seam was sewn across its girth. Left to boil,
it seeped into their slumber, it set to a blushed
clay that cooled into moon-filled dawn.
They ate thick slices, fried with soda bread,
drank milky tea. Then with shins bruised
gentian-blue in sibling wars they shouldered
heavy bags along the old road to school,
where they knew better already, than to breathe
a word of this, their pagan practice.
I now live in north Connemara near my homeplace. I returned here four years ago after being away for a long time. I have travelled widely and lived in many countries in Europe and South America. In addition to writing prose and poetry I am a singer/songwriter. I have aspirations to garden and have a weekly book show on Connemara FM.
Publications: Fish Anthology, Skylight 47, Galway Review. I have performed all over, including Electric Picnic. My music has been played on RTE Radio and television. I will be a featured reader at the Cuirt/Over the Edge showcase this April.
Do you think there are any similarities between cooking and writing poetry (and particularly in relation to accessing “bloodied gifts” when writing)?
Cooking is much easier than writing unless of course you are on Master Chef. If you want to make good black pudding follow your mother’s recipe and you will probably fare O.K. Write a poem about making Black Pudding there is no recipe you have to make it up and usually it goes wrong and you have to start again and again and even then it takes a lot of time rewriting, trimming. Putting stuff in and taking stuff out. Bloodied gifts are just that bloodied with effort. However its enjoyable effort mostly, whiles away many the rainy day.
Is poetry as an art form, compared to, say, fiction or painting, particularly useful for exploring/describing intricate processes? If so, why?
I’m not great at painting and fiction is not my thing. I write creative non-fiction memoir and poetry so really I can only talk about those. Each form feeds the other poetry teaches precision and economy, long form prose allows you to tunnel in a long way maybe you find diamonds maybe you don’t, maybe you are not looking for diamonds only wishing to see what it’s like in the tunnel . Poetry is about polishing the stone, finding what’s hidden and making it shine. Of course none of this is true!
Considering the natural flow of the poem, it’s interesting that you have adopted a pretty rigid structure, in terms of all five verses containing four lines. Could you tell us about the importance of structure here and in poetry in general? Any particular thoughts on choosing a consistent number of lines per verse, as opposed to a varying number?
Structure is something that presents itself. The structure of this piece has remained consistent from the very start and in the writing it was central in providing containment. The structure holds the pudding if you like! I often use four line stanzas but again it seems the subject matter chooses. Julian Barnes the novelist says something to the effect that the right structure for his ideas is essential. He gets an idea and then waits for the right structure to make itself known. Often if a piece is not working for me I try a different structure. Sometimes a poem works better as a short story and vice versa. I’ve admired poets that use the totality of the page, who experiment with how the poem looks on the page using indent, tabs etc. I’ve always shied away from that until recently writing about a storm the poem just took off and spread itself across the page. What was enjoyable and interesting was that the subject matter dictated the form, led the way.
The black abyss of the pudding is echoed by the children’s silence at the end. What value, or indeed what failings, do you think silence leads to in our lives?
Silence is very important to me. At least the absence of electronic noise, music, voices. Silence is full, when you just let go into it it’s enormously rich. For me the trick is knowing when I have had enough and that is usually very close to the moment when I’m thinking this is bliss! I live in the mountains and spend time in the city every so often. I’m glad usually to get back and after a couple of days you really settle into the quiet and the work changes. It goes deeper. Balance is the trick for me. We all have very different needs when it comes to solitude and silence.
Why do you write?
Because I need to. I go a bit daft if I’m not writing. I start writing in my head and then if I can’t get to the page I get angsty. Like a lot of writers I write to hear myself and to mythologise my life. Once a piece is finished or as finished as you can make it, it’s no longer yours. When it gets published, broadcast, read by others it becomes something else, it belongs to the reader and becomes part of their imagination. I also write because having tried almost everything else it has been my one consistent companion. I wrote for sanity, to exercise the need for years, before I ever considered writing professionally. I’m also a singer and performed quite a bit and wrote songs brought out an EP got played on the radio did the Electric Picnic but I always struggled with it in away I don’t with writing. It took me a long time to let go and stop struggling and just do what feels comfortable.
If you had one piece of advice for a writer, what would it be?
Write! Then write some more! The best bit of advice I’ve ever been given was from the novelist Greg Baxter he said ‘writing is hard won.’ I really understand this and it helps me to persevere through the hours and hours days weeks months and years it takes to get anywhere. There are a lot of people writing now, more than ever before, if you really want it , (the writers life I mean not fame and fortune but being paid now and again would be nice!) then it means making sacrifices being able to resource yourself in non-monetary ways. Find ways to keep the faith in yourself and your work. It’s not easy.