Dragonflies present… Pratibha Castle

Pratibha will be joining us to launch her debut pamphlet A Triptych of Birds and a Few Loose Feathers

So we can all get to know Pratibha a little better we asked her some questions:

What was the inspiration for A Triptych of Birds and a Few Loose Feathers?

I blame a pair of courting sparrows. The natural world has been my refuge, saving me, one way or another, since early childhood. A few years ago, for a variety of personal reasons, I hit a fallow period with writing. I still read voraciously, but wrote little. After a while, the urge to write returned. Having learnt at University how it can be a great work-out to get the creative juices flowing, I buried myself in poetry. A stepping-stone, I imagined, towards resuming my half-written novel. The Muse, however, had other plans. Enthralled one day by the sparrows in the forsythia outside the back door, I captured the event in a short poem. The poem, as poems often do, surprised me, by developing into an elegy for my father. Memories and images flooded in, resulting in a clutch of poems about my Irish Catholic childhood and adolescence, and more particularly about my relationship with my mother, whose death had been the trigger for me to return to writing as an adult.

Birds featured in many of the poems that followed. One day, a phrase floated – feather-like – into my mind. It lingered, to became the title of my book. Meant as a doorway into the novel, poetry has, for now at least, taken over my life. 

What is your top tip for editing poetry?

Be prepared to work. In the words of Thomas Edison, creativity in whatever form is ‘one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration’. Gentle perseverance is another way of saying this. In my experience, inspiration can be a shy beast, retreating when pressed. Like Flannery O’Connor, I write to discover what I want to say, with no idea where it is taking me, if anywhere. I start out with an image or a phrase, often appealing for its music or sensuality. The initial idea expands over the hours or days and a theme or possible direction becomes apparent. There comes a point where I have to put the poem aside and leave it to simmer by itself. That process may take days, weeks, or months before it becomes possible to see with fresh eyes and to recognise what excess words or images to prune, what hints to develop.

What’s the best prose book you’ve read lately?

The prose book that has enthralled me most in the past months is A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa. Concerned with motherhood and nature, Ni Ghriofa weaves together the tales of a contemporary poet-mother with the tale of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, a poet-mother of the eighteenth century, and author of the well-known 18th century poem, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoighaire. Caoineadh – a lament for the dead – is 

“a literary genre worked and woven by women, entwining strands of female voices that were carried in female bodies, a phenomenon” she perceives as “cause for wonder and admiration”. 

This tale, in haunting poetic language, portrays how a woman finds her voice through the freeing of the work of another woman who, she suggests, has been …’wilful(ly) erase(d) …’  The question Ní Ghríofa poses with this book is how different might history appear if value was placed on the contributions of women as other than the wives of men or mothers of sons. 

What three other poets (present company excepted) would you want with you on that dreaded island?

Definitely Mary Oliver. With her ‘visionary’ awareness of nature, she would help me recognise the beauty and surprise in our surroundings should my spirits sink. And Eavan Boland, whose work when I read it, refreshes like a dip in the morning waves. Liz Berry would be my third. Not only does her work astonish and delight me, but I get the impression from a master-class I did with her, she would be a fun companion in isolation. 

What’s Your Cure for a Missing Muse?

For me, the greatest block to writing is pressure. The pressure I burden myself with, to produce, and to produce well. I have learnt to listen when ideas come, however insignificant they seem. Whatever comes, I record immediatley it arrives. My phone is the simplest way for me to collect ideas or work on early drafts whenever I have a spare moment. If I dry up, I turn to other poets’ words, which often sparks an idea. Or I go for a walk – the South Downs have inspired many ideas, particularly this past year – watch a movie or series on the tv, cook a meal, have a bath. Sleep. Potter in the garden. Read a book. What I don’t do anymore, is fret. For writing gives me great joy. When it becomes a burden, I look elsewhere for that joy, which invariably leads me back to the joy in writing. And I try to remember what Natalie Goldberg, a great resource for me at the start of my writing journey, urges in Writing Down the Bones: ‘have compassion for yourself when you write. There is no failure – just a big field to wander in.’

In Pratibha Castle’s sensual, sacramental debut pamphlet, words hum like insects in high summer, tempt the tongue like the last sweet smear of cake batter, and fly like feathers after a lifelong mother-daughter catfight. From lonely childhood Wimpy Bars to lecherous confessionals, Portobello Market in the Swinging Sixties to a garrulous Friday night down the pub in Kells, remote family homes to mourning walks in the South Downs, all the vivid spirit and pain of an Anglo-Irish girlhood coming-of-age is resurrected in these pages and released like petals on the wind. Castle’s poems have a heady perfume and courageous way with a secret reminiscent of Edna O’Brien and Medbh McGuckian – and a subtle incantatory magic all their own. Naomi Foyle

The poems in this collection are full of nature and memory, love and loss. They speak movingly of the hinterland of self, of how we are shaped by people and places – and how, no matter where we go or who we become, the landscape of the past still lies within us. Pratibha Castle sustains a clear, lyrical voice, but is also not afraid to speak directly to the heart. A great debut collection. Moyra Donaldson

How I have enjoyed reading this collection by emerging poet Pratibha Veronica Castle as she guides the reader into the liminal spaces that rest between love, loss and the spiritual world. It is as if we are witnessing a life searching for meaning and purpose. Her use of imagery, language and metaphor both informs and empowers her work. There is a strong elegiac quality to the poems which adds depth and richness, a delightful tapestry of light, shade and gravity. ‘A Triptych of Birds and a Few Loose Feathers is a beautiful work of art. Raine Geoghegan, MA, Dip RWTA. Forward Prize, Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Poet, Writer, Playwright and Coach. 

Sparrow Love (extract) 

               …he arrows 

from beneath the eaves 

to return in a tail’s flicker 

to the drain. Where he struts, 

the bon mot of a small white 

feather in his beak, proof  

to the Beloved how fine 

a catch he is. As I dream 

of its ghost kiss

against my cheek, 

the cot this snowy boon 

will fashion for its 

prize of eggs, 

an image drowns my heart. 

My father, eyes behind his 

black rimmed glasses, shiny 

with incipient grief. Tears 

I caught a hint of just the once… 

Pratibha Castle, at various times a holistic therapist and workshop facilitator, singer, hippy, was born in Dublin and now lives in West Sussex. Though she received some acclaim as a writer at the age of nine, winning a Cadbury’s essay competition, also writing, directing and acting in a school play aged ten, she only turned to writing as an adult at the age of 60, prompted by her mother’s death. She graduated from Chichester University with a first-class honours degree in English and Creative Writing, studying further on their Creative Writing MA. Joint winner of the Hedgehog Press Nicely Folded Paper Competition 2019, her work appears in Agenda, Dreich, The Honest Ulsterman, Saraswati, Reach, The Blue Nib, Words for the Wild, Bonnie’s Crew, Poetry and All That Jazz, Fly on the Wall, Lothlorien Journal. Winner of the NADFAS poetry competition age range 13 – 17, 2009, she was Highly Commended in the Sentinel Literary Journal Competition January 2021, Storytown 2020 Poetry Competition, and Hedgehog Press Competition, Postcards from the Hedge: A Bestiary of the Night. She has been longlisted and shortlisted in additional poetry competitions, including the Brian Dempsey Memorial Competition and her work appears in various anthologies. She is a regular reader on Wilts Radio, The Poetry Place. Pratibha loves birds, but has a hard time with the heron who visits at dawn to eat her carp.



Return to Dragonflies present…