MORELLE SMITH is, in our opinion, a very fine and accomplished poet, and we are proud to publish her in The Passionate Transitory. Sensitive to language, nuance, shifting mood and light, her lyrical poems are intensely felt and beautifully written, slipping with ease between inner and outer worlds. Indeed, at their best they are capable of producing in the reader the kind of "trance-like state" and "magic" she describes below.
And she's so good at creating that frisson of surprise, that jolt of revelation, that luminous change in direction we are so fond of here in the PT office. Just read the third stanza of When The Almond Tree Comes Into Flower ("And that's when it begins. / That's when some energy of landscape, / birdsong, sunlight, reaches in...") and we defy you not to be moved and illuminated.
Morelle's interview became more of a meditation on her creative processes and influences than a strict litany of question-and-answer – but we forgive her! This is yet another fascinating quinterview, we think you'll agree.
Here the poet Morelle Smith reflects on her early writing, her travels, her meeting with the great Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean, and her favourite poets...
The first time I wrote poetry was an evening in late summer, long ago, when I was 21. I’d written stories since I was about eight years old, and wrote a play while I was studying at university. But somehow, poetry seemed to live in a distant land, it was something one wrote about, essays and literary criticisms, analyses of form, metaphor, language, rhythm and meaning, most of all, meaning. I can’t remember anything of what these first poems were about. But I remember the intensity of the feeling, both as I wrote them, and afterwards.
And it was the intensity of the feeling that led to the writing. Playing music given to me by the first person I’d ever been madly, impossibly, in love with. Evoking all those feelings of love and loss. That was not what I wrote about, but it was what stimulated the writing.
Afterwards, reading the words I’d written, what struck me most was not so much whether what I’d written was anything "good", but that I’d been in a trance-like state and this had produced these words and this was astonishing to me, like a revelation. It was quite different, much more heightened and emotional than the prose writing I’d done before. It was like a kind of magic, that such a thing could happen.
Three years later, after a lot of travelling, and living for a while in the south of Germany, I returned to Scotland and found a mentor and an inspiration in the Gaelic poet, Sorley MacLean, and gave my first public reading with him. Although there would be many other things I would do in life, I was beginning to identify with writing. There’s the very private and personal aspect to writing, and there is the public aspect too, being published and giving readings, talks and workshops. They complement each other, so I find.
At university I studied Eliot, Lawrence, Hardy, Baudelaire and Verlaine – these are the ones that stick in my mind anyway, the ones that I enjoyed and still do. Many other poets I came to love I had to find for myself, sometimes many years later – Rilke, Kathleen Raine, Marina Tsvetaeva, Federico Garcia Lorca, Miklos Radnoti, WH Auden, Emily Dickinson, Louis MacNeice, Rumi – and I’d include Elisabeth Smart because, although "By Grand Central Station" is technically prose, it reads like poetry to me.
Contemporary poets whose work has inspired me include Marilyn Hacker, Simona Gracia Dima, Rachel Boast, Andrew Greig, Rosalind Brackenbury, Sheena Blackhall, AC Clarke, Zou Lu, Geneviève Bertrand and Gilles Baudry – not a definitive list of course, but the ones that first come to mind.
And the poetic (transcendent) and the erotic are very closely linked, as I discovered that evening, when I first wrote poetry.