Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Q&A with Magdalena Ball

Today I am pleased to share an interview with Magdalena Ball, author of Repulsion Thrust. You can learn more about Maggie here, at her website, but please feel free to leave comments or ask questions after this Q&A.

Your latest book, Repulsion Thrust, has such an intriguing title. How was it selected?
It's actually the title of one of the poems. The book actually had a working title of Impact Enigma, which is another of the poems in the collection, but my editor felt that Repulsion Thrust was a more striking poem ('Audenesque' he called it, to my great delight) and also that the title conformed to Wallace Steven's dictates that poetry book titles should be sharply contradictory. I was inclined to agree. There is, possibly, some kind of overarching meaning in the poem "Repulsion Thrust" that picks up the overall meaning of the book as a whole. It was what I was aiming to do with the collection. Which brings me to your next question...

How is the poetry of Repulsion Thrust different from the poetry in Quark Soup?
Quark Soup was a chapbook, which means that it was short and fairly well defined. They were poems that specifically took the human condition and aligned it with physical laws from the macro world of astronomy to the micro world of Quantum Physics. Because Repulsion Thrust is a full length collection, I was able to do more with it - to extend the scope of what I was looking at as a poet. The book is broken up into 3 sections. The first, "Black Dog" is an exploration of darkness: depression, addiction and loss. The second section is an exploration of the environment and moves away from the individual to the world as a whole. The third broadens out further into a lighthearted (I'm not generally lighthearted in my work -- so lighthearted in my own dark, deep way!), almost Buddhistic expansion away from the first two themes and outward. As with Quark Soup, there is much that has been inspired by and pivots around science, whether it's Darwin's work (I've been very immersed in his books of late), or theories of identity, or techological impacts, or astronomy (never too far from my mind) - I read a lot and widely, and when something gets to me, it will usually inspire a poem.

Let's talk about your process. When writing poetry, do you think of how poems will work together for a collection or do you write individual poems and then think about themes and collections later?
That's a good question. A little bit of both in this case. At the start the poems were written individually, but when I got to the point when I had decided I'd be pulling together a complete collection, I structured the book before all the poems were written. Then having created that structure, I began to work the poetry around those themes.

You've also written a novel, Sleep Before Evening. How do you balance poetry and fiction? What does working on both do you for, as a writer?
I find poetry to be a joyous and fully pleasurable activity, so tend to write poetry frequently. Fiction is much harder for me and takes a lot of structural pre-work and much more intensive, long term research to do. So the two activities tend to work very well together. The poetry tends to be more intuitive, more immediate in terms of completion, and more gratifying in the short term, because I can generally send it as I'm pulling the collection together - instant gratification if you like. It gives me an immediate sense of creative fulfillment that helps bolster up the longer term projects. The fiction is a much longer term, more structural creation, and to a certain extent, more left brain for me. So working on both keeps me balanced as a writer.

Tell us about The Compulsive Reader and how it came about.
I had been writing reviews and doing interviews on a freelance basis for a website that folded, and basically I didn't want the flow of books to end! So I decided to start my own website. At first it was just me doing everything, but little by little others began sending me reviews and the site just grew and grew. I added a newsletter and before I knew it I had loads of subscribers and a worldwide network of book lovers. About 12 years later, I'm still going!

What compelled you to write The Art of Assessment?
That actually began as a training manual for would be reviewers. I've always been quite particular about wanting the reviews to be a decent piece of writing in themselves - detailed, thorough, and well substantiated - like a NY Review of Books style review that you might read for pleasure as much as for information. I found that the quality of the reviews I received was variable - sometimes looking like a back cover blurb, and sometimes a plot summary that gave little information about style, quality, characterisation, etc. So I wrote The Art of Assessment as a quick overview for reviewers. But like the site itself, the book kept growing and before I knew it, I had a tangible book and an interested publisher.

Where can readers learn more about your work?
I Google pretty well, but the best place to learn about my work and stay up to date is There's a complete book listing (and I'm about to add Repulsion Thrust - it's due for release on the 2nd of December), a newsletter, blog, links to The Compulsive Reader, contact information and so on there. There's lot of giveaway stuff too, like free e-courses, MP3, electronic books and so on. Please do drop by and have a visit and say hello!

Thanks for joining us, Magdalena!


More author Q&As are in the works, so please check back for more details.

Too, this is just a quick reminder that this Thursday Nov 5th I am the featured poet at the Marick Press “Poets Follies” reading event. The readings begin at 6:30 pm and will be held at the Ewald branch of the Grosse Pointe Public Library, on Jefferson in Grosse Pointe MI. Email for more details.

Thanks for dropping by today. See you next time…

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