An Interview with Francesca Haig

The other day I was given the opportunity to attend an interview and question and answer session with Francesca Haig who is well known for being a previous senior lecturer at the University of Chester, her various collections of poetry and her very successful young adult novel ‘The Fire Sermon’ which has been picked up by Dreamworks to be made into a film. The event went really well and I loved hearing more about her poetry so much so that it now enables me to view it from a different perspective and in an entirely new light.

We began the discussion, by asking who her main influences were when writing her poetry and novels and they included the famous American and confessional poet Anne Saxton, Cormac McCarthy especially his post-apocalyptic novel ‘The Road’ and finally, the English poet Ted Huges. Her response to all our questions was delivered with such enthusiasm and passion for writing, which was one of the things that I enjoyed the most from being able to talk to her, that and the fact that from listening to what she had to say enabled me to gain a deeper and more emotional insight to her poetry.

We discussed mainly her early poetry, which is predominantly confessional and tends to focus a lot on her sister and her sister’s eating disorder especially in her poem Koonya, Tasman Penisula. I’ve never truly appreciated the purpose of line breaks and structure within poems, however, when discussing them in this poem I was able to discover a more emotional and heartbreaking tone as well as discovering a completely different meaning to various lines. So despite the fact that most of her poetry is free verse and isn’t limited to any structure, the importance of structure isn’t less important or exciting. Additionally, Haig has a gift for metaphors and her advice for creating a good and effective metaphor was for it to be different but plausible and you will know it’s successful when people envy your writing!

I wanted to share one of my favourites from her collection and just show off how beautiful and emotive her poetry is. Koonya, Tasman Penisula is a poem about her sister, which focus on the condition anorexia and its impact on the poet as the involved observer:

Koonya, Tasman Penisula

The tide retreats,
the beach exhales its crabs
Translucent, a stranded jellyfish hold
its coloured centre like a
foetus in a lab jar.
We watch the floating gulls
threaded on the horizon

and imagine the safety of distance.
Lying on your back next to me,
your hip bones are the fins
of two sharks circling closely.
Your ribs are the ridged edge
of a stack of plates.
How close we are

to throwing up the
white flag of our palms.
You shift your driftwood legs
and dream of suicide.
We are too
exhausted to deny
the lone tern’s cry.

My favourite line from this poem, in particular, is ‘How close we are // to throwing up / the white palms of our hands’ as from a first reading without the line/stanza breaks it just shows the theme and feeling of surrender. However, if we take each line on its own it presents something much more emotional and meaningful. ‘How close we are’ can be linked with the relationship and the bond her and her sister share and the statement of love. But with the stanza break and the lines ‘To throwing up the / white flag of our palms’ presents the idea of frustration and that the speaker is giving up on her sister. For me, this is the beauty of poetry and one of the things I admire the most about good poets is their ability to evoke various emotions from their work and formation of words. One day I hope I can be as good as them.

This post was a little different that anything I’d done before but I really wanted to share my experience and I’m sorry if it felt more like an analysis than a blog post. Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever read any of her works or what you thought of them.

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