"WHEN THE conversations are over/in your car, by the sea,/You are still here/and so am I/after love." These are the opening lines of Dani Gill’s new poetry collection, After Love, which is published by Salmon and launched this Saturday at 2.30pm in the House Hotel.
The book thus sets out its stall from the off, with most of its poems written following the end of a long-term relationship. It is a subject that Gill handles with honesty and elegance, not shirking from describing raw heartache and pain while still finding moments of succour and hope.
For the past six years, Gill was director of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, a role she stepped down from some months ago. After Love sees her make the step from literary programmer to published author.
“I’ve always been writing though while working on Cúirt, I didn’t really advertise it because I was wearing a different hat,” she tells me. “In the last two years I started to send poems out and I’ve been published in a few journals and magazines. In March, 2015 I decided to write a collection and work at it for a year and see how I got on. I didn’t want it to be a compilation of poems that I had already written. I wanted it to be something new and with a unifying theme – then the theme I started out with changed!”
This last remark is delivered with an easy, unforced laugh that suggests she is over the heartbreak she describes so unflinchingly in the poems. Was it hard for her to write so candidly on the topic I ask?
“It’s not easy to be vulnerable,” she admits. “I’ve always been a private person so I never thought that I’d be putting very private moments on a page and in a public forum. I have nowhere to hide with the book; parts of it are quite raw but it is what it is and I had to accept that in deciding to publish it. But I am very happy with it now.
"Someone said something lovely to me the other day; I’d read them some of the poems and they said, 'Everybody has had these experiences but not many people would write them down and show them to the world. Sometimes someone needs to kick down that door so other people can walk through it.’ I do think if you show your vulnerability people connect to that and if people like the book it will be for that reason, that they find themselves in it and that’s the whole point really.”
Writing the poems was itself part of the healing process; “It definitely helped,” she agrees. “Any artist whether they be a painter, writer or whatever, finds some type of healing or transformation in their work. For me this book it was my anchor during the 18 months that I was writing it. It was a huge gift to me in that way. I hope now when I launch it and let it go into the world that it will be a gift to other people and what they’ve been through.”
Notions of healing are also present in the motif of water that runs through the book, from poems like ‘Blackrock’ to the final piece in the collection ‘Mermaid’ with its closing lines: "I must live on land and learn/to be stronger/I must turn my back on you and/the horizon;/our myth trailing,/coating everything with glitter."
“I love the sea and I often go in at Blackrock,” Dani tells me. “For me the sea has always been a healing element. That recurring motif of the sea and water suggests revival, rejuvenation and healing which are traditional associations with water. With ‘Mermaid’ I was pleased to end on that poem because it ends the book on a note like a fairytale. There is a finality to it but they say every ending is a beginning and that is hopefully in that poem.”
It is not all sorrow and grief in the collection, with poems like ‘Wintering’ ("We wintered well/collars up, the newness/of things still crisp between us." ) evoking the relationship’s happy times. “I tried to capture the different aspects of love; being in love, falling for someone and getting over love,” Gill explains. “I think that even when we go through change, such as the end of a relationship, it’s still important to honour what the relationship was, and all of the good things in it. ‘Wintering’ is a very sweet poem, there is a lot of innocence in it. It’s one of my favourites.”
In the middle of the book is a sequence of poems dedicated to Gill’s grandmother, one of which is ‘Recovery’: "It is there in the crook of my arm,/your recovery, the small steps of it,/as we shuffle back to your room /my irises tall in their water bottle."
“She’s turning 80 this week,” Gill reveals. “In the year I was writing the collection she became quite ill which was obviously difficult for our family. The poems I wrote about her in the collection are about her bravery and her struggle through that experience. They’re also about the erasure or change of an identity which I was also going through for very different reasons. So there was a mirroring going on with my grandmother and what she was going through. The poem ‘Recovery’ expresses that.”
The collection is prefaced by a Vedic quote: "Every person is like a piece of gold. If you were a gold ring, a gold watch, a gold chain, you could say 'I am a ring, a watch, a chain', but these are temporary shapes. In truth, you are just gold – that is your essence, no matter how the shape changes."
“I chose that metaphor because for me that is very much what the book is about,” Gill states. “It’s about love and after love and there are loads of poems about that but it also about identity and selfhood and finding yourself and asking who are we without other things and people, without something we’ve become used to.”
It also provides After Love with its cover image of a gold stone by artist Finbar McHugh; “Finbar was working on a stepping stone series of paintings,” Gill tells me. “The day I heard the book was going to be published I called to his studio and he showed me a new painting he had done of this gold stone on lovely cream paper; it was really beautiful. He said it represented self love, what we look like when we are totally healed and I thought that was lovely. Though the book starts with the vedic metaphor about gold and there isn’t a poem in the book called ‘Gold’ so Finbar doing this painting seemed serendipitous -so I took it! I wanted it to look metallic and it’s printed with foil so the cover will be shiny - Maureen Keith did the design.”
After Love is launched at the House Hotel at s.30pm on Saturday by novelist Sarah Baume. The book is available for €12 from good bookstores and www.salmonpoetry.com