“The Work Is Full of Ghosts”: An Interview with Pat Barker



At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

This week we’ve debuted four new recordings from the series. Today, the last of the bunch: Pat Barker, author of the Regeneration Trilogy, who spoke with Michael Gorra on April 16, 2001. This interview was never adapted for the Review’s Writers at Work series, so what you hear has been essentially buried for the past fifteen years. From the start, Barker discusses why she disdains being considered a “gritty, working-class” writer because of her hailing from Northern England, and how fiction can help readers face “the past that’s not even past”: 

I think one of the most important things that drives people to write, or drives people to any kind of creative activity, is a resistance to mortality. I feel that memorializing the dead is one of very important urges that drives people to write novels … so that we don’t forget and so that the living are incorporated into us. The work is also, in a sense, full of ghosts … The ghosts are the representatives of the past that isn’t being dealt with, that is, being left as an unfaced-up-to trauma, and that impinges on the lives of the living in a destructive way. Any ignored part of the past isn’t really past at all. The repressed memory returns as a nightmare.

On April 20, 92Y will host the next installment of Paris Review Live: the poet Nathaniel Mackey will read from his work and sit for a conversation with Cathy Park Hong.

Earlier this week, we featured interviews with Norman MailerArthur Miller, and John le Carré. If you’d like to listen to more of these collaborations, check out our previous installments: the Southerners (Gail Godwin, Reynolds Price, Tony Kushner, and Horton Footethe poets (Maya Angelou, Denise Levertov, and Gary Snyder) and the travel writers (Paul Theroux, Jan Morris, and Peter Matthiessen).

We are able to share these recordings thanks to a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, longtime friend of the Poetry Center and The Paris Review.

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.