I was thrilled to be asked for an interview by Emma Lee Davidson. Emma is an English Graduate, a Scott and a brilliant reviewer of contemporary collections. See below for the interview.
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May 27, 2016May 27, 2016
Interview: Maria Apichella
Paga, which won the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Competition in 2014, is the debut collection from poet Maria Apichella. Covering such ground as grief, love, religion, and the divisions and similarities of East and West, there is a lot to get your teeth into. Her poetry often surprises in its use of form and imagery. As such, I was delighted when Maria agreed to let me ask her a few questions about Paga, which she describes as a ‘shadow collection’ to her forthcoming full volume Psalmody.
The poems vary greatly in subject matter and in places it feels like more of an exploration. Was Paga always envisioned as a collection?
Yes and no. I knew it was going to be a part of the shadow collection which was less focused than the main one, so there was a sort of freedom with not having to think about overarching themes etc. I did not start to think about how to put it together until I had written a big bulk of poems I was happy with as individual poems. Once I had done that, I could see obvious themes and so I started to think about it as whole collection. I knew I wanted to start sending work to pamphlet competitions so I put a lot of thought into the sequence of the poems.
How long did it take to write?
I wrote the poems between 2008 to 2011 as part of my PhD. When I first started at Aberystwyth we were meant to write a full collection which would be the main part of our project and what we would write about in our critical thesis. However, we were also expected to write a shorter, shadow collection. This was my shadow collection.
Where did the inspiration for Paga come from?
The poems I wrote for the main collection are coming out with Eyewear this year – the poems are inspired by the Psalms. And so the poems in Paga are offshoots from that as I was totally immersed in the Psalms. They started off fairly random and were also based on personal experience and interests. For example, I was really into Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot at that time, and I also went to Margate as I was visiting my sister who was at University in Canterbury. We went to see the Turner museum. I remember taking photographs of the old, abandoned fairground Dreamland. I drew on these experiences for several of the poems. At that time my grandfather had dementia and was dying. My parents had moved into a new house and were caring for him at home, so lots of poems came from that.
There is a strong religious element to the poetry. Has religion always been important to you?
I grew up with religion but it is independently mine as well. My Dad is Catholic and my Mum protestant, and I went to Catholic school. I was also influenced by reading Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher and interested in the Psalms, particularly in their celebration of earthly life. King David is a fascinating figure to me.
The relationship between East and West provides a through line for the collection. Which specific locations did you have in mind?
Well, I did not really have a specific place in mind exactly. Before I decided to write about the Psalms I was interested in Persian Ghazels. I was interested in Israel and the East. I also had a lot of friends from India that I was living with for one summer so those poems really came from interacting with them and hearing their stories and witnessing their perceptions of the UK. I originally wrote those the East and West poems as a whole poem but I decided to break them up. I had been reading Michael Symmons Roberts’s collection Corpus and I loved the use of sequences which seemed to unite the collection, so I decided to borrow the idea.
Many of the poems are formally rebellious. To what extent is this an intentional subversion of expectation? Do the poems just happen like that, or is there something more calculated at work?
I am naturally drawn to free verse; I don’t like to feel constrained. I think about the line breaks very carefully.
How much do you rewrite? Do you come back to things after a long period of time?
Definitely. I am constantly editing, tweaking, and changing. I have a tendency to ramble. I studied creative writing at University so there was a strong emphasis on revising work. I was advised by Jen Fortune, the editor of Cinnamon Press, to chop off the last stanzas of most of my poems and it definitely improved them.
Which poets do you like to read, past and present?
I love poems by Alicia Ostriker, Tiffany Atkinson, Matthew Francis, Kathryn Maris, Czeslaw Milosz, Gillian Clarke, Mary Oliver and Jane Kenyon. I also enjoyed Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, and Deryn Rees-Jones’s collection Quiver, which was a source of inspiration for Psalmody. Obviously, I love the Davidic Psalms and Persian Ghazels by Hafez. I also loved modern Ghazels in The Meanest Flower by Mimi Khalvati. I was really influenced by reading the modern Psalms by Michael Symmons Roberts in Drysalter.
What is the relationship between the Psalms and your forthcoming collection?
Psalmody is a love story between a man and woman in Wales. It is connected to the Psalms in that they are both linked to King David. Some of the poems are very angry and questioning, about sorrow, and worship, and joy. The next collection is more focussed because it is telling a story.
Psalmody will be available to purchase later this year; Paga is available from the Cinnamon Press here.