Questions and Answers on Beyond this Dark House from Guy Gavriel Kay
This short interview was first available on the Penguin Canada website.
Q: You’ve been writing poetry for longer than you’ve been writing fiction. Why have you waited until now to share a collection of your poems?
GGK: Around the time I began publishing my fiction I stopped sending out poetry for publication – though I continued writing it. Essentially it became something i did for myself. Over the last two or three years an increasing number of people I respect had become more and more persuasive in suggesting it was time to release a collection. I undertook to have a long look at the accumulated body of work and see if a shape and selection emerged for me … and, obviously, they did.
Q: How does your experience as a novelist inform your poetry?
GGK: That’s a complex question that really needs a complex answer. All of us have certain themes and motifs that engage us. These can change over the years, but some core, central elements will remain, and these are likely to show up in poetry, fiction, essays, speeches. In that sense, I’d say that BOTH my fiction and poetry are infused with certain concerns, and readers are likely to see some of these fairly readily. In another sense, over the years of writing and publishing novels, I’m become increasingly aware of how strong my own drive towards narrative and story is. Beyond this Dark House took its structure (to my initial amusement, actually) very much from a narrative point of view and I’m quite sure that’s a result of twenty years of writing fiction and thinking about narrative shape, what I call the ‘architecture’ of a book.
Q: About writing your novels, you’ve said, “I hate writing. The actual writing process is not pleasurable, it’s stressful, anxiety-provoking, draining and intense. And, the sense of responsibility to myself, to the story, to my readers grows with each book.” Do you feel that way about the writing of poetry? And did you feel that responsibility to your readers with Beyond this Dark House?
GGK: One of the pelasures of poetry over the years has been the absence of publication. No deadlines, no sense of competing with myself. The poems emerged and were written to their own rhythm and impulse … and as a result the task and labour element of fiction just wasn’t there. Poetry is also a wonderful relief from the ‘marathon’ aspect of writing my novels which (as I rather suspect many have noticed) are not short. With Beyond this Dark House I was quite conscious of wanting to create a book that would offer insight and illumination for readers of my fiction, but at the same time would stand entirely on its own, for someone who’d never read a page of my novels. In fact, this is analogous to my aspiration in my historical fantasies: I want the novels to ‘work’ for those who know the periods I’m drawing upon for inspiration, but also to be engaging and accessible to readers who know nothing at all of the actual historical periods.
Q: Like your novels, Beyond this Dark House reveals a keen sensitivity to the voices of the past. One poem is this collection is a response to Dylan Thomas’s “Over Sir John’s Hill”; elsewhere, there are echoes of Tennyson. What draws you to these poets? What other poets have helped shape your poetic voice?
GGK: Just as, in my fiction, I draw on past events and voices, so in some of the poems I make use of the same idea. I like the notion of ‘variations on a theme’ that is inherent in a fantasy novel inspired by an actual historical period. In the same way (I mentioned recurring motifs above, didn’t I?) I like playing variations on some other writers, or on – in many instances – well-known myths and legends. Each generation (each writer, painter, musician …) needs to find a new way to approach the ‘central’ material of the human condition. If we didn’t – if we didn’t believe this was possible – how could anyone presume to write a new love poem?