Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Griffin Prize Questionnaire: Derek Mahon

The winners of the 9th annual Griffin Poetry Prize will be announced on Wednesday evening. The Afterword has asked the finalists on the Canadian and International shortlists to answer a few questions about their craft.

Ireland's Derek Mahon is the author of Life on Earth; his awards and prizes include The Irish Academy of Letters Award and the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize. His previous collections include Harbour Lights and Adaptations.

Why does poetry persist?

Why wouldn't it, why does money persist? Why does anything? Because it is natural.

How do you know a poem is finished?

I don't, it never is really. In my own case I keep on working at things even when they have been published, I keep tinkering. That's my habit. In the nature of the thing it is never really finished.

Choose one of the other finalists. What's one quality of their poetry you wish was in yours?

The vigour of the late Mick Imlah, tragically taken from us.

Is there such a thing as the perfect poem?


Writers often have that one moment where they finally knew they'd "made it" -- a story in the New Yorker, for instance, a poem in the Paris Review, or their first published book. What's yours?

That's all careerism, it doesn't interest me.

What's more important, the first line of a poem or the last, and why?

The first. Because you have to grab the reader.

What poem would you give a 16-year-old?

Coleridge's Kubla Khan for the magic that is in it.

Do you have a writing routine? What is it?

No, I haven't.

Have you ever read for 800 people before? If not, are you nervous about Tuesday night?

I have read for thousands of people in my life. I don't count heads and no, I'm not nervous.

What's the last great collection of poetry you read?

I keep going back to Elizabeth Bishop's Collected Poems.

Who is your favourite young poet?

I have a different favourite every month.

If you weren't a poet, what would you be doing?

I would probably be in jail.

What are you currently working on?

Currently writing some prose, critical essays, and doing more translations (in the way some of us do to keep our hand in).

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