Congratulations to fabulous poet, Mary Ford Neal, on the release of her brand new collection Relativism published by Taproot Press. Mary has come along to share her reflection on writing. Without further ado, it’s over to Mary.
Reflection on Writing
Mary Ford Neal
Most of the poems in Relativism were written in 2020 and early 2021, when my son and I were temporarily living with my parents for practical reasons arising out of the COVID-19 restrictions. It can be no coincidence that living with my family during a pandemic caused me to meditate on themes of history, remembrance, belonging, allegiance, old certainties and new uncertainties, all overhung with spectres of loss and ending, and questions about what really matters. The title ‘Relativism’ obviously signifies family members, and the book is full of mothers, fathers, husbands, children, and grandparents; but it also evokes relationship and connectedness more generally – relationship to times, places, ideas, values, and so on. The word ‘relativism’ also refers to the philosophical idea that (very simply put) truth, falsity, right, and wrong are not objective or absolute, but context-dependent. This is another theme in the book: a loss of old certainties, a journey into doubt, and trying to make sense of a new, less certain moral and social landscape. So ‘relativism’ is meant to evoke all of these things, and I also like the fact that the word represents a connection with my academic life as an ethicist.
The writing process for this book was my usual one, beginning with a period of intense reading where I just let myself steep in the work of other poets. Canonical work always features, but I tend to focus on more contemporary work – collections by my favourite living poets, and recent issues of online literary magazines. I just immerse myself in writing that inspires me, letting it prompt me in various ways. At this stage, I keep a note of any images or themes or lines that suggest themselves, but I’m not trying to produce finished poems. After a while, once I’ve done enough reading and reflecting, I find the poems just begin to land. The ‘landing’ is always exciting, and sometimes a poem lands almost fully-formed, but most often I’ll spend the days or weeks that follow reworking it into its final form. I find my writing happens in themed blocks – so the first book was all about a particular relationship, and the second book is all about whatever ‘home’ and relatedness and belonging mean. So I don’t find that I need to try to theme each collection; that seems to happen naturally. At the moment I’m working on a new group of poems which may one day end up being in a third book, and these are also themed and very much distinct from the previous two collections. A key priority for me is not to turn poetry into ‘work’ – I have a career already. That’s not to say I don’t take my writing seriously – I do – but I insist on doing it, and the stuff that comes with it, only insofar as I enjoy it. If I find it becoming a chore, I step back for a while.
About Mary Ford Neal
Mary Ford Neal is a writer and academic from the West of Scotland, and still lives there with her family, working as an academic lawyer and healthcare ethicist. Mary is the author of two poetry collections, ‘Dawning’ (Indigo Dreams, 2021) and ‘Relativism’ (Taproot Press, 2022). Her poetry has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and has been Pushcart nominated. Mary is an assistant editor of Nine Pens Press and 192 magazine.