Heather Nolan: Both my writing and attention move in cycles

March 2022

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I like to take long walks, just looking. Sometimes taking photographs. Recently I’ve gotten into designing knitting patterns as a way of engaging with the landscape. I live in St John’s. I like having pints with my friends and having brunch with my partner. I’m not the kind of person who can keep a house plant alive. I think I am probably happiest when working in the field.

It’s my impression that, as in Land of the Rock/Talamh an Carraig, you tend to write poems in cycles, or series, is that correct? If so does that always shape your approach to your work, or does it just happen?

I like the idea that poems could be written in cycles. I think my writing does tend to take this shape, as both my writing process and my attention move in cycles. I have a tendency to keep digging into an idea as long as it is still providing interesting discoveries, and that was largely the way I worked on this book. There were particular ideas and notions that interested me at a given time, and since I had to travel to the particular locations of the book, the places became very entangled with the ideas I had while working there. I definitely leaned into the cyclical nature with this book. I think I often do with other writing, as well.

In your acknowledgements you make references to hiking trips, faerie stories, and the food fishery. What was the genesis of this debut collection, and how did it all come together?

The first poems for the book were written during my first trip to Ireland in 2017, poems about common island themes and the sense of misstep that comes from returning to a ‘homeland’ you’ve never been to. Within weeks of coming home to Newfoundland, I had begun the family research on the Southern Shore and begun to map out my intentions for the structure of the book. From very early days I knew what I wanted the book to be, and almost all of the poems were written with that structure in mind. In that way, I suppose it isn’t a typical debut collection. I am too interested in the cohesion of a collection to have put together a miscellany, though I do love to read that style of poetry collection!

Do you have a favourite word or phrase?

An Uisce Beatha is classic, meaning both whiskey and water of life. Also a great pub in Waterford! I love how playful the Irish language is, even to a beginner learner like myself.

What artists, not necessarily writers, inspire you?

So many! Poets Mary Dalton, Andreae Callanan, Agnes Walsh, John Steffler, Doug Walbourne-Gough, Kelly Norah Drukker, and Carlos Reyes and essayists Robert Macfarlane, Don McKay, Rebecca Solnit, and Kathleen Jamie were particularly inspiring in their considerations of place, landscape, and cultural identity, visual artists Jane Walker, Frances Scott, Emily Critch, Alex Antle, Marlene Creates, and Lucas Morneau, linguist and writer Manchán Magan, forager and chef Lori McCarthy, knitwear designer Julia Reddy, and the makers at Cushendale Woolen Mills all inspired me while writing this book.

What’s next for you?

I am just finishing edits on a novel coming out with Goose Lane next spring about queer urban isolation, which I am very excited about! I have also just received a Canada Council grant which I am very grateful for to work on my next book.

Land of the Rock/Talamh an Carraig is published by Breakwater Books ($19.95)
Author photo: Graham Cox

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