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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing January 2023
Gaynor Kane – An interview with Karen Mooney
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Gaynor Kane: Hello, Karen. Thank you so much for agreeing to chat with me about your creative development and your debut pamphlet, Missing Pieces, published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press earlier this year.
Karen Mooney: Thank you, Gaynor, for the opportunity. This would never have happened without The Hedgehog Poetry Press and your encouragement.
GK: The book’s synopsis describes ‘Missing Pieces’ as a collection of poems tracing love, loss and relationships, exploring moments, memories and reflections from early childhood to the present day. How did the collection take this shape?
KM: When I read through the batch of poems that had already been published in online journals and others in a similar vein, there was a theme cataloguing a journey through my past. My father’s demise and subsequent death triggered my writing, and whilst initially, many of my poems were about him, I gradually started to delve deeper.
I have written about experiences that I and many others struggle to discuss. The page is a good listener. I see the poems as stepping stones in how I’ve made peace with some of the experiences that have defined my life so far. And there is a happy ending!
GK: Although the poems are about your childhood during The Troubles, with a father who was a policeman, only one poem mentions this. Was that a conscious decision?
KM: I have only written a few poems that touch upon his work, but I certainly didn’t want that to distort the theme. I have been afraid of backlash about his occupation as we still live in a divided society that’s quick to slap a label on people without getting to know them. A lifetime of keeping your counsel and feeling a sense of responsibility for someone’s security is hard to break, but it does throw up issues and memories that children of The Troubles will carry. Still, I just couldn’t have written about driving lessons without a reference to checking underneath the car. The repressed grief that is released within some poems is perhaps just as much of a date stamp of those times.
GK: Do you have a favourite poem in the collection, and if so, why?
KM: My favourite is Beginnings. It’s a short poem full of possibility, anticipation and hope. It was written around the festival of Imbolc.
GK: Looking back, do you see a moment, memory or experience that hints at the possibility of you becoming a poet?
KM: No, and I still don’t see myself as one, but if someone else does, then I’ll take it. I’m just enjoying being me, someone who writes a few poems and is enjoying finding out what else she can do.
GK: How has the initial reception been to the collection’s release?
KM: It has been very positive, and sales have helped raise £500 for Marie Curie NI. I admit I didn’t appreciate or anticipate how others would react when reading the poems together. I felt rather naked when it was reviewed by Damien B Donnelly, host and producer of Eat The Storms poetry podcast and Editor of The Storms journal. To be appreciated and seen so clearly is very humbling.
GK: As well as being a poet Karen, in recent years, you have produced radio programmes, conducted interviews for Northern Visions TV, sat on various boards and project groups, organised literary events and write reviews and articles. Which do you find the most rewarding and why?
KM: Can I say, “them all?” I always love what I’m doing and throw myself into it, but I get bored quickly and like to progress. I support the theory that hitting a moving target is more challenging! My main interests are in health and creativity – sometimes, they overlap. The health strand, quite literally, commenced soon after I retired due to ill health. I trained with WRDA as a Community Facilitator and delivered health programmes to groups based in areas of deprivation. An appointment to the Patient Group of the RCGPNI followed, and when the pandemic struck, I was approached to join a PPI (public & patient involvement) team for a national project. I blogged about it, so I guess my paths started crossing. Although, in health awareness sessions, I would have read rhymes to lighten things up.
KM: An opportunity to speak on the radio led to a weekly programme about local creatives called Lisburn Reads. That was followed by interviewing for NVTV , and I did so regularly until the pandemic, when I curated a series of local poets’ recordings for broadcast. I’ve enjoyed providing a frame for many local creatives; the team at the station are very supportive.
Events have tended to be opportunistic, in that I saw an advert for an exhibition on Faces of Change: Votes for Women at the National Trust and pitched an idea to add women’s voices.
They loved it, and its shortlisting for a Saboteur Award helped to secure The Art of Conversation, featuring 20 local writers as part of their Festival of Conversation.
As for writing articles, that all came about because I wrongly wrote an article instead of a piece of fiction for writing class homework! It was well enough received so, now and then, when the poetry well is dry, I’m encouraged to have a go at something different.
I suppose you could say that I dabble at many different things!
GK: What is next for you regarding your writing and other interests?
KM: In terms of poetry, I have a joint pamphlet with Caroline Johnstone next year with The Hedgehog Poetry Press. I’m also starting a monthly Poetry & Pancakes session at my local library.
I’ve just become involved in another nationwide health data project to improve COVID-19 vaccine uptake and develop processes to facilitate UK-wide studies. Hopefully, this will enable other non-COVID-19 research on a national scale.
Regarding media, I’ll be conducting some interviews for the Eat The Storms, Poetry Podcast.
GK: To whet the readers’ attention, would you like to leave us with a sample poem?
KM: Yes, I’ll share my dad’s last days. I witnessed this happen, and it made me smile. Dad’s interest in the ladies held fast till the end!
The world would come crashing in around us
in as many days as it took to make
when you return to the care home, conscious
of our presence, attending your own wake.
You perform a rehearsal one evening;
we gasp at what we think is your last breath
then you rally to sit up, eyes gleaming,
ordering breakfast – your last before death.
One by one, folk call in to pay respects,
sit in silence or give a knowing nod.
You aren’t fit to speak, yet touch does affect,
as one lady proved and how I applaud
her cradling your face in pillow-soft breasts;
prompting memories, you smile, feeling blessed.
Note: NVTV, also known as Northern Visions Television, is a local community television station based in the city of Belfast.
© Gaynor Kane
A career in human resource management prepared Karen Mooney for her current activities; cats and words. Sometimes they hide, reappearing unexpectedly; sometimes, they scratch; sometimes, they purr. Her words have appeared in online publications in USA, UK & ROI and Penned In, co-written with Gaynor Kane, published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press, who recently published her debut pamphlet, Missing Pieces.
Gaynor Kane is a Northern Irish poet from Belfast who came to writing late and is trying to make up for time. She has two poetry pamphlets, and a full collection, from Hedgehog Poetry Press, they are Circling the Sun, Memory Forest, and Venus in Pink Marble (2018, 2019 and 2022 respectively). She is co-author, along with Karen Mooney, of a pamphlet of pandemic poetry entitled Penned In (2020). Gaynor has performed at several literary events including The Belfast Book Festival, Open House Festival, Stendhal Music Festival, Gloucester Poetry Festival and Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Recently, she has been a judge for The North Carolina Poetry Society and guest sub-editor for the inaugural issue of The Storms: A journal of prose, poetry and visual art. Her new chapbook, Eight Types of Love, was released in July, this year. Follow her on Twitter @gaynorkane