Hello Leeanne and welcome to emergingwriter. How did you first get into Poetry?
As an adolescent I was very much committed to the idea of being a writer although I had little or no concept of how that was going to be achieved but it was always my answer to the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ question. I loved poetry at school and my Soundings copy was well worn but it wasn’t until I came to college that I started to actually concentrate on writing. I began with some very badly written short stories until I had to concede that the form just wasn’t right for me, it wouldn’t yield so to speak, and I suppose gradually I started to realise that the shape I wanted to give to words was suited to verse. Something seemed to click into place for me when I abandoned my attempts at prose and turned to poetry. So I wrote and kept the poems mainly to myself until I gathered up the courage to attend a poetry writing class at the Irish Writers’ Centre with Maggie Smith Hurt, who now co-runs the Big Smoke Writing Factory, and I’ve been writing poetry since.
What did you study in college and where? Were you writing at college or after?
I did Arts in UCD. Initially I studied English, History and Philosophy. In first year I applied for a place in Mode One English which meant I was able to study English solely for my remaining two years. This was brilliant for me because as much as I enjoyed my other subjects, I really wanted the opportunity to focus all my attention on English. I absolutely loved it and was lucky to be part of a very dedicated and talented class. After UCD I did an MA in UCC and wrote a thesis on Virginia Woolf and Wyndham Lewis. I really enjoyed my time in Cork, the UCC campus, the city- it was a great experience.
Then it was back to Dublin for my PhD and it was at Trinity that I really started to concentrate and focus on my poetry. By this stage I think I was running out of steam in terms of the academic side of things. I was writing on the fiction of Philip Roth and was going through the ups and downs of what felt like, and what was, a very long haul. I was reading and reading but seemed to be hitting a wall in the actual writing of the thesis. I think I very much took solace in writing poetry at that time, and the more I wrote the further it took me from the actual academic work of writing the thesis. Shortly after I finished the thesis, I put together a manuscript of about thirty poems and was starting to think about where I could send them.
What do you remember about your first publication?
I remember it very well, the excitement and in many ways the sense of reward for the hard work and dedication. I was in Trinity at the time and I had sent a poem into West47 online. They accepted the poem and I’m very happy to say that it has made it into the book. It’s called ‘In Paint’ and it was the first poem I wrote that felt different to what I had been writing previously. So it was very nice to have it accepted for publication.
I was very proud of it and it definitely made me more determined to bring my writing to the centre of what I was doing and to take it out of the ‘dabbling’ or ‘hobby’ region.
I think that can be the case for a lot of people. With your first publication you go from a place of being almost embarrassed about the fact that you write to a place of encouragement and reassurance, however slight this may be. I think it’s very important and can be a real boost for someone just starting out.
Can you talk a little about the Faber course, why you chose to do it and what you got out of it?
I saw the Faber course advertised shortly after I submitted my PhD thesis. I sent in an application and a sample of my work and was accepted onto the course. It was a big decision for me as the fee was considerable but I applied thinking that I may not even get the place. When I was accepted, financing it became my biggest worry but I weighed things up and decided to go for it. The course was led by poet Paul Perry and I met a fantastic group of people who were seriously committed to writing. As well as forming creative friendships, I would say the main thing I got from the course was discipline. It was a very productive six months for me.
How did the collection, Before You come about (available to purchase here)?
The collection came about when I started to look at the material I had in terms of a manuscript. I began to see a narrative emerge and worked to bring the poems together in a way that gave them a sense of connectedness, and a continuity of theme. Pat Boran came to speak at the Faber poetry course I was attending. He talked about the business of publication, his role as an editor and what he looks for in poetry. I was very impressed by what he had to say and I was drawn to Dedalus Press as a forward looking press. So I sent off my manuscript and was extremely happy that Pat liked the work. Once it was accepted, I moved from considering what I had as a manuscript to viewing it in terms of a book, which changed in some ways my relationship to the material. I began to look at it as objectively as I could and the decision process started in terms of what stayed and what went.
What advice would you have for writers starting out who don't choose to go the academic route?
I don’t think the academic route is a necessary path to take if you're interested in writing fiction or poetry. I chose to study English because I was drawn to books and reading and probably because I wanted to write and thought this would be the way to go about it but I soon realised that, aside from the fact that you read a lot of books, the disciplines are very different. A creative voice is very different to a critical and analytical voice. In many ways I’m thankful for choosing Philip Roth as a topic- he’s about as far from poetry as you can get! I think regardless of your career path or profession, if you write the commitment required is the same. Read as much as you can, expose yourself to as much poetry as possible, write and rewrite, and try to find fellow writers who you can share your work with in an objective yet nurturing manner.
What magazines do you read and which would you recommend for people new to Poetry?
I read a wide variety of poetry magazines and journals, both print and online. I would recommend The Stinging Fly, The SHOp, Southword, Poetry Ireland Review, and The Moth. I’ve also just been reading the Burning Bush 2 online. Outside of Ireland, I would recommend Poetry magazine and Agenda. Poets.org, Poetry Foundation and The Poetry Archive are also great online poetry resources as of course is writing.ie!
Thanks Leeanne and good luck with your launch in the Irish Writers' Centre in Dublin on February 1st at 7pm.