Christmas countdown: in conversation with Chris McCabe

Blog | Published on December 17, 2018

In the lead-up to Christmas we’ve decided to give our readers an exclusive insight into some of the inspirational books we’ve published this year. Each week, Sales and Marketing Coordinator Bex Shorunke will be quizzing your favourite authors on their motivations and writing tips.

Today we interview the maverick poet Chris McCabe about his recently published collection The Triumph of Cancer. In this unflinching assortment of still-life portraits, elegies for his father and meditations on poets and celebrities, Chris revisits the site of personal trauma to confront the language and imagery of cancer head-on. Here Chris contemplates the art and science crossover, the human form as an artefact and the benefits of visiting the National Poetry Library.

What were your motivations behind writing The Triumph of Cancer?

To write a book that explored the crossover potential of poetic and science language. To challenge preconceptions around cancer as an illness. To write a poem about cancer that might make someone laugh.

What would you like your readers to get out of your book?

A sense of walking around a museum of artefacts, with the human body at the centre of it, and making their own connections between that and other living creatures and synthetic forms. The museum includes everything from libraries to starlings to Bob Monkhouse. We had a wonderful launch event at Bart’s Pathology Museum where I got to read the poems in the setting of the strangest and most fascinating jars filled with pieces of human anatomy. I’d like the book to have the individual forensic appeal at the poem level, but to build like a museum collection for the reader.

Thinking about the contemporary cultural scene, who are some interesting writers or artists you’ve got your eye on?

Nobody talks about Luke Haines enough! I saw him last week at the 100 Club and left feeling he’s the most interesting musician we have since Mark E. Smith died, and the one left to keep challenging inherited listening habits. As far as poets go I can’t stop with Alice Notley. She’s in her 70s but so incredibly visionary and original. Her latest Certain Magical Acts is perhaps her best work.

What advice would you give to any budding writers?

Come to the National Poetry Library and spend a day looking through the magazines. Subscribe to the two you like best. Look through the acknowledgements page of your favourite poets and check out the places where they’ve been published, following the links down e-zine rabbit holes until you find what you’re after. For every poem you write read at least a poetry collection written by someone else. Alternate from living and dead poets, and ensure there’s plenty of work in translation, and work from non-Western traditions. For every tweet you make about poetry, have resolved a thought about something to do with the language of poetry.

Order your copy of The Triumph of Cancer for Christmas and get 20% off while stocks last

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