Friday 31 January 2014

Interview with Donna Sorensen

Last in a series of repeat posting of interviews for January.

Hello Donna and welcome to emergingwriter. I’ve been reading and enjoying your collection, Dream Country, on the train to work. First how did you first get into poetry?

I've been reading and writing poetry since I was a young teenager, back when I thought I had the 'black dog' that Winston Churchill suffered from! Ah, the drama of being a teenage girl. I wrote on and off for years after that but other things got in the way, like getting my pilot’s licence and travelling the world, so I never focused on it. My mum is a children's author and I dabbled in writing children's texts alongside teaching for a while but it was only really when I was working at the Irish Writers' Centre in Dublin and I started taking part in poetry workshops, that I fell headlong into the poetry world and haven't really come up for air since. I knew straight away it was the medium I'd been looking for, as all I wanted to do whenever I had a spare moment was write poetry. So I'd say I've been really working on developing the craft and getting poetry ready for publication since 2009. Being in Dublin helped; there's such a vibrant network for writers, you can experience and understand exactly how it all works - the editing, the sending out, the different journals being published, the importance of doing readings etc... I really miss it!

Would you recommend poetry workshops or writers groups for people who are just starting out writing? What about for people who have been writing for a while?

Defo for people just starting out. I found it most useful for me to start right at the start in workshops lead by experienced poets who could pass on something of the craft of poetry as well as their artistic insight and then writing groups as I got more confidence and material. Iain Broome and I were just talking about whether we think writing groups are useful now actually in our podcast,Write for Your Life. I think once you're further down the line, it's vital to keep in touch with other writers and to get constructive feedback, but you've got to be in the right group where you respect them as writers and value what they are saying.

You mention having had something of the craft of poetry passed on to you. Do you have any examples you could share?


Caitriona O'Reilly was a fabulous person to workshop with. She's got such a wealth of knowledge about poetry and is a really quiet and assertive intellectual force. I felt she was great at passing on something of what she'd learned along the way. I did a course with her called The Shape of the Poem and we only wrote formal poetry, experimenting with different forms each week. I really liked where it took me, as I don't use formal structures very often when let loose on my own. I wrote sestinas, triolets, villanelles and pantoums and liked being forced into patterns with my writing; liked creating something based on a big wild idea but reined into a constrained space.

And Paula Meehan really helped me with editing. Before I worked on poems with her, I accepted poems and lines and even words that I should have scrutinised more. She talked a lot about putting words under pressure and I've carried that through with me. Is this really the best word for this space? Have you mixed your metaphors? Have you laboured the point, spelled things out too much? Questions I try to ask myself now when I am finished with a first draft of a poem.

Those are some good questions to ask of a new poem. Are there any others spring to mind?

I am not sure whether all people writing poetry feel this, but I am constantly wondering what other shapes a poem could take. I feel sometimes it's like one of those books I used to read as a kid where you had to make decisions and those decisions would determine which page you turned to next and therefore the next adventure in the story. So many different ways to take a poem or a line, sometimes seemingly endless possibilities, it can seem like a big responsibility to finish something at a certain place, to mould a poem into definite stanzas. I guess that's part of the mystery of any creative pursuit! Some of my poems finished in the form they started and quickly too. Others seemed to take ages and much pulling them apart and putting them back together before I found how I wanted them to be on the page.

Are some of the poems in your collection started from the workshops?

Yes, the first poem in the collection, Mirrored Belly of the Sea, was written when I was under the tutelage of Paula Meehan. It's the first poem I had accepted for publication too. I think that's the only poem actually I'd written for a workshop that was in the collection. It was accepted by the Stinging Fly and didn't come out until a year later (back when they were doing once a year submissions) and in the meantime I'd had a few more accepted and published. But this one still felt like the first one.

About 16 or so have been published from the collection I think. It's actually exciting, starting to send out stuff for consideration by journals that's not in the collection! Haven't written masses by anyone's standards, what with having a baby and day job again now, but I am getting round to it every so often. It's a big thing, preparing submissions. I don't think I realised it right at the start, but keeping track of what's where and who's said no to things before and what particular journals are looking for. You've got to keep trying though eh!

Are any of your formal poems in your collection?

I decided not to use my formal poems, mainly because their subject matter was quite separate from that of the collection; I felt there'd be a strong discord. I sometimes feel, too, that poems with more formal structure seem more certain and sure, I guess because of the repetition, the recitation; like mantras. I know this is not true of all of them, but it's just something I associate with that style. My collection evokes more of a feeling of uncertainty, of transformation, of moving through unknown spaces. 

How did the publication come about? Had you been sending it around?

I was really lucky, actually. The Stinging Fly had me as their Featured Poet in the Spring 2012 issue and New Island Books read my poems there, liked them and asked to see my manuscript. I'd written in my bio about getting a commendation from the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award for my 'unpublished collection', which turned out to be a good thing to put in there! I worked a lot on the manuscript in the time between submitting for the award in 2011 and publication, but the main skeleton of it is the same.

And actually, it's something I've always wondered about poets - do they always know when a collection is finished? I have since written poems which I've thought "Oh! That would've worked really well in the collection!" but I guess that's just part of creating something... You could get yourself into an endless cycle of tinkering on things if you didn't have a deadline to work towards.

I read your interview with Billy Ramsell and really enjoyed it, especially the part about poetry rewarding reading in areas not traditionally associated with poetry:

'The richer such a storehouse becomes, the less the poet has to draw from the accidents of his or her biography.'

I can totally relate to this and quite a few of my poems in Dream Country were sparked by really random stories and bits of information I picked up. 'This is London' for example, was inspired by an urban myth I heard that after the war, there were so many books streaming into antiquarian booksellers in London, from the victims across the continent, that they didn't know what to do with them. So they used them to fill in the city's bomb craters. I am not sure it's true but that doesn't matter so much. The image it created was so powerful to me.

Another random poem - 'We Are Far From Home', relates to me and the confusion I have about having ended up in big cities, when I am happiest out in the middle of nothing - but it was sparked by a National Geographic piece I read about Nile Crocodiles they'd found living in tiny holes, burrow and caves deep under the Sahara Desert and thousands of miles away from proper water sources. Completely random I know!

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

My advice for aspiring writers would be - take advantage of the writing and performing going on around you. Get out to readings, festivals, spoken words, read journals, enjoy being part of something bigger, because it fuels and inspires you and right now, I feel very, very far away from all that. Coming back to Denmark has been amazing for my life - I've got everything a person could need to flourish, but I don't have the creative buzz around me that I felt in Dublin and in parts of the UK. I wish I could pop along to poetry readings after work, or drop in to open mic nights, but those are few and far between in Denmark and what with the collection out now, a 1-year-old, a weekly writing podcast and full-time job, I don't feel I have the space to start a night up on my own yet. Maybe I will at some point. I've met some great writers here, but it's just not the same!

These things have also meant that I am not writing as much as I want to. I am scribbling lines here and there and feeling annoyed with them. I've done more abandoning now than I ever have before. I wonder if it's also the pressure of having had a collection published and feeling like I have to be more serious or more perfect. Whatever the excuse (and you can see I have many!) I am only writing the odd bit of poetry here and there. I am hoping to come over to Ireland to do a reading in the spring and would love to enjoy Dream Country a bit more - take some time to read from it and show it to people. I feel like it's been cast out into a sea of books and people and I need to haul it in and wave it around from the deck to passing ships.

Is there any English language literary scene where you are?

I'm in Copenhagen and there is virtually no literary scene in English. There's a writers' group I've tried out and a few writers scattered about, but no regular nights. There are a couple of literary festivals, but really, you do feel completely adrift here! I'm just spending any writing time I've got glued to the computer, Twitter in particular, to keep abreast of things and read good stuff. Anyway, can't complain as it's a great place to live! Just feel like I had to sacrifice something big creatively in order to move back here. I also use Danish all day every day at work and I feel very contained and not myself - operating in a second language is a really interesting exercise and you get to know a lot about yourself, but mostly I just sit there thinking that people around me are not getting the full me and feeling a little sad about that. When I write, I am reconnecting with my Englishness and my full person.

Thanks very much Donna and good luck with your writing.

Donna Sørensen is a young poet, originally from the UK. Her début collection, Dream Country, is published by New Island Books in Ireland where Sørensen lived and worked, in the literary sector, for three years. Sørensen's poetry has been published extensively in Ireland, and in the UK, including literary journals such as The Stinging Fly, Poetry Ireland Review, THE SHOp, Southword, Crannóg, Orbis, Revival, Cyphers and Bare Hands. While in Ireland, she was a board member of the Irish Writers' Centre, where she had previously worked as a volunteer coordinator.
Donna Sørensen was selected to read at the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2011 and the Cork Spring Poetry Festival in 2012. An early version of this collection received a commendation in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award 2011. She now lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, and works as English-language Content Manager for VisitDenmark. She is also the co-host of the popular weekly podcast for writers, Write for Your Life (
Dream Country is available to buy in bookshops and on New Island Books (

Thursday 30 January 2014

Interview with poet, Billy Ramsell

Continuing my repostings of interviews, here's Billy Ramsell
Billy Ramsell was born in Cork in 1977 and educated at the North Monastery and UCC.  He holds the Chair of Ireland Bursary for 2013 and has been shortlisted for several other prizes. He edits the Irish section of the Poetry International website and recently judged the Shine Strong award for best first collection by an Irish poet. He has been invited to read his work at many festivals and literary events around the world.  Complicated Pleasures, his first collection, was published by the Dedalus Press in 2007 and a second, The Architect’s Dream of Winter, is forthcoming. He lives in Cork where he co-runs an educational publishing company.

Hello Billy and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.
How did you first get into poetry?
It began for me in Barcelona in September of the year 2000. I’d just moved there, to the village-like suburb of Gracia, and I was renting a room from what had to be Spain’s most boring woman. Montse. I’ve never managed to meet an interesting woman with that name. I was still making good my arrival in the city. I spoke only the tiniest amount of Spanish and precisely two words of Catalan.  I knew no one of course, though that changed after a few months when I managed to land a job in one of the world’s worst language schools. In such isolated circumstances you tend to turn inwards. Or at least that’s what happened to me. I watched poetry -and the composition of poetry, the self-pleasuring interiority the craft – become increasingly important to my mental health.

Those were the circumstances in which I wrote my first published poem, which was entitled ‘An Otter’.  It came out in The Shop the following September, during the week of the 9/11 attacks. I was back in Ireland then, working in a call centre. Bertie Ahern gave everybody the Friday off; a national day of mourning entirely appropriate to the atrocity we’d all remotely witnessed.

I woke that morning in a friend’s apartment on Barrack Street. She had the strangest accommodation; sort of a disused auctioneer’s office with flat colourless mushrooms sprouting in the corners. I’ll always remember coming to in her living room that Friday. I’d been drinking fairly heavily the night before and I awoke to a peculiar sense of disembodiment, mingled with the conviction that I was in my own bed somewhere else.

I walked into Waterstone’s that morning and came upon a copy of The Shop with my poem in it. I was thrilled. I had no idea I’d been accepted. I walked around the block before purchasing a copy,
I'd dabbled in a number of different areas before poetry. I'd been in a band. I'd written several acts of what was surely the worst play in the history of Irish letters. It was about a once-successful but long-broken-up band reuniting to play at their drummer's funeral.  I'd written a few poems.
One thing I knew for certain is that I was no scholar: At college I was willing to read almost any book in the library on almost any subject; architecture, marketing, chemistry. You name it.  However, once a given title was prescribed or placed on any kind of official reading list, I found myself almost physically unable to take it off the shelf. It was a kind of allergy. I overcame it in the end and managed to do a reasonable amount of course-related study. But it was always minimal and always a struggle.

That's one of the great things about poetry. It rewards wide, broad and deep reading, especially into topics normally considered non-poetic; information technology for instance, or population studies. But you don't have to pursue knowledge in any structured way. You can follow your nose, hunt and gather. You're building a silo of facts and fantasies, of theories and information, which can be used to fuel and nourish your creative work. The richer such a storehouse becomes, the less the poet has to draw from the accidents of his or her biography.

I suppose it'd fair to say an interest in poetry was always native to my operating system. By 'poetry' here I suppose mean the micro level interaction of linguistic elements: the crunch of certain consonant clusters, the interplay of fricatives, what might be described as the pentameter's inevitable cadence and so on.

I guess some brains ship with software for recognizing and responding to such things, just as others are optimised for plot or character psychology or for manipulating musical intervals. It was only while living in Barcelona, however, that I seriously applied myself to the craft of actually making poems. And it's a ridiculously finicky, fiddly and miniaturist business: like making superbly-detailed ships in empty bottles.

Love this. Spain’s most boring woman...
What do you mean by: I awoke to a peculiar sense of disembodiment, mingled with the conviction that I was in my own bed somewhere else.
There had been and would be other memorable awakenings, more or less traumatic or tragicomic. But that’s one that sticks out. It was, I guess, a combination of the chemicals in my system and the quicksand-armchair in which I’d nodded off. Or maybe the room was filled with fungal spores from the mushrooms in the corner. I don’t know. But for whatever reason I seemed to float at some length and with unusual potency right at the meniscus between sleep and waking.  For a few seconds I felt almost capable of shaping the waking world the way you can sometimes manipulate dreams; that I might will myself to wake up anywhere: Limerick, the Taj Mahal, Las Vegas. Of course half my half-asleep self knew that this was all nonsense. But that didn’t matter. It was an incredible moment. Impossible to convey, really. I’ll never forget it.

Did The Shop not tell you you’d been selected? Actually, that’s happened to me a couple of times. Not with the Shop though. It’s all the sweeter, I think
It was indeed a sweet one. I’d been living in Spain when I submitted and I suppose by the time their acceptance reached my Spanish address I’d moved back to Ireland. As late as 2001, the bulk of such correspondence took place via the old snail-mail. It’s kind of hard to believe now.

Someone asked me this recently and I thought it was interesting, “If you could see a dead poet reading, which 3 would you pick?” Obviously they would be alive....
Well let me go right back to basics and choose Amergin, the bard who accompanied the initial Celtic invasion of Ireland. They say his verses soothed the very ocean. That’s a performance worth checking out, eh? The original slam champion.
My second choice is James Clarence Mangan, just because he’s probably Irish poetry’s greatest enigma, and I’d wrap it up with the wheezy aspirations of Seán Ó Riordáin. Can I be greedy and ask Beckett to be MC for the night? I think they’d all get along. It’d be some evening. Well, I think Beckett and Ó Riordáin would get along.

We'll let you have Beckett. Can you tell me a bit about Poetry International? How did you get involved?
Poetry International Web is an online project based in Rotterdam, an offshoot or adjunct of the long-running eponymous festival. The project was founded in 2002 and has gradually attracted contributing editors from around the world: from Denmark, the United Kingdom, Iran, India and so forth. Ireland joined the club in 2005. We’re excited because it now looks like France are finally coming on board too; that’s a major poetry vacuum plugged.

Each contributing country is awarded a number of 'slots' per year during which they forward material to the central editorial staff in the Netherlands to be processed and uploaded to the site. At the moment Ireland has three such slots: one in January, one in June and one in November. Or thereabouts.

I have funding to fill those slots with the work of eight poets: six writing in English, generously funded by the Munster Literature Centre, and two writing in Irish, generously funded by Foras na Gaeilge. It's more or less a condition of the project that everyone involved be paid for their work. Except me. Like several other national editors, I'm a volunteer.

The Irish domain is administered by the Munster Literature Centre and until January 2012 was edited by its director Patrick Cotter. Then I took over. I’ve tried to impose my stamp on it but the constraints of space and funding make it frustrating.

Y’see it’s’ all about balance. In both the English and Irish categories I can't just add my favourite poets or indeed the poets with the greatest critical reputations. It's got to be fairly evenly measured between old and young, famous and not so famous, straight and gay, emigrant and immigrant, conservative and experimental, Dublin-based or otherwise. And so on. My goal is to be representative rather than canonical.

Who have you chosen for Poetry International already and are you allowed to say who is coming up?
It’s been a good mix so far I think:  Dave Lordan, Máire Mhac an tSaoí, Mary O’Donoghue, Harry Clifton, Simon Ó Faoláin, Trevor Joyce, Bríd Ni Mhorain, and Paul Perry. I’d like to think it reflects at least some of the Irish scene’s diversity.

In July we had Alan Gillis and Eileen Sheehan. After that who knows?

What do you enjoy doing outside of poetry? Do you find it crosses over?
I’m a sports fan and you’d be surprised how often that seems to make its way into my writing. I’m also a small bit of history bore but strangely enough historical characters and situations never seem to feature in my stuff. In about 2008 I rediscovered music in a big way, especially trad and electronic/modern classical/ambient stuff. I’d be happy if that particular interest came through in the work, an attraction to noises, patterns, acoustic images and so on.

I run as far and as frequently as I can and in recent years that’s become a big part of my approach to writing. Of course the endorphins and adrenaline provide a creative boost. But it’s amazing what drifts across the mental heads up display when you start to motor, when you start to push it in that rhythmic way: stray words and phrases, idea-germs, ways out of compositional problems. I highly recommend it.

Lastly, what have you got coming up yourself?
Well I just judged the Strong / Shine Award for best first collection by an Irish poet, which was an enjoyable but challenging experience; it's hard to trust your refereeing instincts when you're sole arbiter, there's no linesmen, umpires or replay-technology to act as sounding board for your decision-making process. And in this instance there were some agonising decisions to be made. I must admit though that in the end I'm delighted with the winner: Michelle O'Sullivan is a special poet, one who has applied herself to the art-form with unusual seriousness and zeal.

Now that's out of the way I'm focused on seeing my next book, The Architect's Dream of Winter, through the final stages of production. It'll hopefully be coming out with Dedalus Press in the next couple of months.

There's a few other bits and pieces too: putting together the next upload for Poetry International, completing a couple of modesty overdue reviews, helping as best I can to organise The Winter Warmer, a weekend of poetry in Cork this November that's being produced by O Bheal. And there's another big project waiting the wings that I'm excited about but can't really discuss yet...

I've got a few outings coming up as well. I was delighted to be reading at the Bandon Arts Festival alongside Matthew Sweeney in September. I'll also be appearing at the Model Gallery in Sligo as part of Kate Ellis's Resound collective, which is an ongoing collaboration involving music, art and spoken word and is an incredible project to be involved in. Then I'm off to the Poetry Africa festival in Durban. After that it'll be time to sit down, shut up and try to write a few poems.

Thanks a million, Billy and good luck with all of that.

Here are some links to Billy's poetry in wordlegs
and on his website
and in southword

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Interview with Poet, Fred Johnston

Continuing my repostings of interviews for January, here's Fred Johnston. His new collection Alligators Datys is just published.

Fred Johnston has such a long writing CV, I can only summarise it here. He was born and educated in Belfast. He has lived in Toronto, Canada, Spain and Africa. 'Orangeman', a collection of stories in French, translated by film-maker and writer and good friend, Christian le Braz, appeared from Terre de Brume (France) in October 2010 and has just published a second volume of short stories, 'Dancing In The Asylum,' from Parthian Books (UK) Among his poetry achievements are Founder of Galway's annual international literature festival, CÚIRT, in 1986. Writer-in-Residence to the Princess Grace Irish Library at Monaco, 2004. He is the Founder of the Western Writers’ Centre – Ionad Scríbhneoiri Chaitlín Maude – based in Galway (

Hello Fred and welcome to emergingwriter. You've had such a long writing life so far, I'm not sure where to start. But I'll start at the beginning. How did you first get interested in poetry?

I was writing poetry very early on, at about the same time that I began to write short stories. I wanted only to be a short story writer, as it transpires. Steinbeck influenced me, and James Baldwin and later the French writers. Dear me, but I toted things up the other day, and it is forty-two years since I published my first short story! Poetry was always dear to me in so much as, writing songs, which I also did from an early age, I believed in the measured potency of words. I also believed - and it was in the air then too - that poetry had a social and political importance; certainly, that poets had or should have. Not many Irish contemporary poets want to hear that now, sadly.

You write both fiction and poetry. How do you change from one to the other?

One doesn't so much 'change' from one to the other as permit oneself to be led into a different manner of seeing things; poetry has one way of doing things, let's say, prose quite another: which is why it saddens me to see young poets banging out poems which are actually merely acts of chopped prose. I blame writers' workshops, some of the worst kind, anyway, for this. In poetry I am dealing with music; in prose, with a sort of oration. Each demands something quite different from you.

You also do book reviews. With Ireland a very small place, you must often know the writers you are reviewing. And the reviewers of your books may often know you. How do you keep the review separate from the relationship?

I was a book reviewer for newspapers and journals and indeed theatre and visual art for many years. I have no problem keeping the relations between reviewer and acquaintance separate, but I have learned that there are those who believe you are betraying them if you speak your mind. Joyce said, and I paraphrase, that the big sin in Ireland was to put things in print. He wasn't wrong. I expect he meant opinions that ran contrary to the consensus, or some consensus served up by a tiny group, poets, writers or politicians.
The cultural world in Ireland tiny, the poetry world a tinier world within an already tiny world. Everything is personal. Everyone connected to one degree or another. Friends help out friends, review friends: woe betide the reviewer who speaks his mind to his friends! It is held, schoolboy-fashion, that some poets are not to be criticised save favourably and sanction will be sought if one attempts to criticise them unfavourably. Of course, this attitude prevents the poet under review ever from maturing. I believe also that a writer is not divorced in some quasi-mystical way from his or her work; this view is not tolerated easily in some quarters.
For instance, if a poet who epigraphs his work continually with quotes from old Soviet Union poets who were incarcerated for their work, yet will himself never join a demonstration or write a letter of protest to a newspaper, I see it as a reviewer's duty to point out the obvious disconnection inherent in this. This rather more 'holistic' approach is not welcomed in Ireland. One doesn't lose real friends by being a reviewer, it should be said. One only loses those acquaintances whose time it was to go anyway.
Have I 'suffered' professionally from writing negative reviews? Oh, without a doubt. But I'm against cultural love-ins, they do the art no good at all. One should rather have art and literature that was excruciatingly bad than art and literature that slapped itself on the back. The word 'consensus' sounds too much to me like the sort of thing a doctor might write on one's chart at the end of a hospital bed.

You have embraced Facebook. What, if anything, do you get out of it as a writer?

Facebook is merely a communications tool, for opinion, viewpoints and dissent, sometimes. But God protect us from a day when some budding poet adds to his bibliography that he or she 'had three poems published on Facebook.'

What advice would you have for poets who are starting out or at an early stage of their development?

One could be dreadfully cynical and suggest that he or she finds some well-connected friends in the media before writing a line. Too much of publishing and promoting poetry is a 'who-you-know' game. It has become particularly thus through the fashioning of 'poetry celebs,' God help us, and that sort of thing.
On a more positive note, one might suggest that they stay true to their first creative impulse, that they do not crave publication as if it were the height of poetic achievement nor desire to have a collection of work published while they are too young to have anything to say; that they do not look to a writers' course ever to turn them into poets nor seek poetry prizes. Of more real value to the world is to be the local postman.
As Eliot said, writing poetry is a mug's game. One writes, I would add, because one has no choice. There is no other motive.

What can you remember your first publication?

It was a short story published by the late David Marcus in the New Irish Writing page of the old Irish Press. It was based on real experiences.

How did you feel, do you remember, when your story was accepted?

I felt very good when my first story was published, four decades ago. I was also very young. I believed the publication heralded the beginning of an illustrious and adventurous Bohemian career. I was incredibly naive; but these days anyone who publishes anything is looking at once at a collection of this or that and being encouraged to do so. Dreadfully damaging in the long run. I had one real thing to say and I said it. I was eighteen years old. At twenty I probably had one more thing to say. That's all.  Most things that I believed pertained only to my own view of the world. With some contemporary writers, this affliction never quite passes.

Have you got a good writing prompt for a new writer?
I am unsure as to what you mean by a 'writing prompt,' as I had always thought that, firstly, inspiration was a personal affair and secondly that imagination worked from there. The writing should prompt the writer.
I guess what I mean by a writing prompt is just an exercise a new writer could use to kick start the imagination. What do you do? Walk? Read? Meditate? use a notebook? Memoirs? Use photos or visual art?

I have personally never used prompts as such beyond giving ideas time to mature. I can't say much more about that.

Time - a great writing prompt!
I know you write in French. Does the initial idea come in French? Do you dream in French. Do you do your own translations? I have tried poetry translation (I speak Dutch) but I found it extremely tough to get both the meaning and the rhythm and nuances out. 
Excellent question. I have occasionally had dreams in part-French! The nuances. . . well, when translating, your faced with a choice: to go for the adaptation of the poem, or the more precise translation, which is always more challenging, naturally. But I suppose that's part of one's job. And one's risk.
The initial idea derives very often from a sort of verbal play, if you like; I simply want to use French to see how it sounds, how it works text-wise. Yet just as often I have a theme which, odd though it may seem, is more suitably handled in French. I am freer in my writing, I think, in French - I envy very much those who can, for instance, write in Irish as well as English. One can deal with subjects in a very different, not to say more open and even intimate way. It's always hit-and-miss.
I am always delighted and surprised to have one of my poems in French take by a French publication. For me, changing languages is changing my mind-set, my emotional response. I suppose one literally becomes someone else. I have respect, I would hope, for the translator's task and detest the fact that in Ireland so much of what is published as a translation by some poets is in fact a crib from an original translation altered slightly. That's just messing about, to put it mildly.
I think I would add that the French have more respect for poetry than we have. We're churning it out, paying little attention to style and some times, to form; we think emotion is poetry. It isn't. Too many of us see poetry as a way to get trips abroad and a handy grant. I hate to say this, but Irish poetry is far from being in a healthy state. It needs serious critical revision. But sadly, I doubt that it will get it. We're not who we think we are.

Trips abroad and grants galore. I wish!
What have you got coming up?

A new collection of poems, 'Alligator Days,' is being published by the redoubtable Revival Press. I was extremely lucky to receive a literary bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland and another from the Northern Ireland Arts Council this year, and for this second bursary I am working on a project with Lagan Poetry in Derry.

Monday 27 January 2014

Interview with writer Niamh Boyce

Continuing my repostings of interviews, here's Niamh Boyce whose lovely book, The Herbalist won Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Books Awards. Congratulations!

Niamh Boyce's first novel The Herbalist, was the winner of the inaugural Novel Fair at the Irish Writers Centre in 2012. Since then she has been working very hard on whipping it into shape with her publisher, Penguin Ireland. I was lucky enough to get a review copy and my nose was stuck in it for a long weekend recently. Set in 1930's Ireland, it is packed full of great characters and fascinating stories. Do yourself a favour and get a copy to see what all the fuss is about. Here's an interview on some of the burning questions I had on the book's journey to publication.

Welcome Niamh, to emergingwriter. Congratulations on your novel. You have 4 women narrators who are quite distinctive. I am particularly fond of Emily. How did you keep their individual voices and attitudes?
The women were so different in circumstance, age and attitude that their voices felt very distinct from early on in the process. I wrote them exaclty as I heard them – but  did vary the point of view. Emily, who was a real chatterbox, narrates from the first person; which is the most intimate. And Carmel and Sarah were written from the third person. It was no effort really to keep their voices distinct- they're at such very different stages in their lives and have very different attitudes towards life, love and the Herbalist.

The women in your novel are to a certain extent, defined by their clothes. How would you recommend any emerging writers consider this for their own characters?
It depends on the character really. Many might not notice clothes at all. For someone like Emily however, with her love of Hollywood glamour and silks, satins and furs - clothes become very important. They symbolise the kind of woman she wishes to be. 
Clothes can be very evocative, a child's shoe can evoke loss, a leather belt can evoke terror.  When I facilitate writing workshops, I often use small items to help writers to create with characters. Lipstick has worked very well in the past, often bringing up stories of betrayal, murder and lust, as well as some touching personal memories. A hat can represent a part of someone’s personality they usually keep hidden, there are endless ways to work with characterisation through clothes, it’s a very rich area, and very enjoyable.

Your novel won the novel fair in 2012. What did your agent and publisher recommend you change between then and the final draft?
My novel fair entry was a condensed version of my original manuscript, so the first thing I did was work back in those scenes I had cut for clarity in the fever coming up to the novel fair! The next stage was working with a calendar, an excellent recommendation from my publisher. I printed out a calendar from the year of the novel, one for each character. That way I knew where everyone was on any given day. It was very helpful; I’d recommend it to anyone writing a novel.

Niamh blogs here and you can see the Amazon link for The Herbalist here, or better still, buy a copy in your local independent book shop.

Other blog tour links are:
6th June
June Caldwell of the Irish Writers Centre

13th June
Alison Wells at Head Above Water

20th June

Sunday 26 January 2014

Interview with Poet, Grace Wells

Continuing my repostings of interviews, here's Grace Wells

Hello Grace and welcome to emergingwriter. How did I first get into poetry?

I don't exactly remember. I think I have probably been secretly writing poems all my life. It began to crystalize into something serious in my early twenties when I accidently discovered the work of Canadian poet Annie Cameron. She produced these very witchy, outspoken, Lesbian, feminist poems—and I was entranced. I didn't know such honesty was allowed. She gave me permission to write. Around the same time, a friend gave me Raymond Carver to read. He was equally honest, and wrote quite shocking scenes of domestic dysfunction, but with an aching beauty that really paved my road into poetry. 

That was a long time ago now and my work has moved quite far from its original impulses but both those writers gave me strong, unshakeable foundations in what I do.

What have you been doing as Kilkenny writer in residence so far and what plans do 
you have?

I've been working with Kilkenny County Council since 2009, so by this point, we've done a bit of everything. I began by holding one-to-one mentoring sessions with anyone who was interested. I met with about 70 writers. I was also teaching creative writing, prose and poetry, in several county libraries. The scheme mutated in 2010 so that other facilitators were leading the workshops, and the mentoring morphed into my working intensely with 16 people. The following year that was reduced to 8 mentees. I've seen huge progress in a lot of writers in that time. I've also seen the whole writing community come together and create their own opportunities as a result of the scheme. 

Kilkenny has a regular open-mic night now, and most literary events are very well attended because there's a huge feeling of connectivity and support between writers, it's been great to have been part of that. I'm not sure what will happen in the future with Kilkenny, but County Waterford Arts Office were impressed by the scheme and took on aspects of it themselves, so now I'm mentoring writers in Dungarvan Arts Centre.

What is your opinion on the debate about whether writing can be taught at all?

To be honest I haven't followed the debate very closely. I'm a little dismissive of the any hot air on the subject because I've been taught & I teach. At workshops I've learned tools and disciplines that are invaluable to me. 
I come down heavily on the Yes side of things. But I'm more of the opinion that writing is facilitated. As teachers we're here to draw out other writers' Voices. The more confidence I can give an emerging writer, the better their work flourishes. 
Can I teach writers to edit their own manuscripts? Possibly not, I don't know that many tricks that cut down the years required to hone our own skills. Can I teach writers to show instead of tell? Probably not without everything becoming very formulaic. Can I help writers develop their own natural powers and write manuscripts that best reveal their individual strengths—yes. For me teaching, or facilitation, is all about my listening for Voice. Get a writer's Voice out, get it flowing well, and you cut down on the amount of teaching/crafting that needs to be done later. 
Does that sound glib? It isn't meant to. All I know is that yes, writing can be taught, but however it is taught or facilitated, we're talking about a very long process of learning. One I'm very much involved with both as a teacher and as a student.

What poets would you recommend new writers read (and why?)

I think new writers need to find the poets they love. We need inspirational poets to pull us further along the road. Poetry is a very subjective matter, one person's meat really is another's poison. I love Paula Meehan and Raymond Carver but people need to read around to find what they love for themselves. 

What I really think is that new poets should read poetry journals. Read them and SUBSCRIBE to them. Poetry journals constantly feed us with outstanding, memorable pieces. In them you can find the names of poets worth following up. 

It's essential we read and subscribe to the journals because they are our lifeblood. Journals publish our work and over time give us a publishing record that we can take to the larger publishing houses when our collections are ready. It always saddens me when student writers don't read or subscribe to periodicals. Especially here in Ireland where there are so few journals keeping our industry afloat. All of them are run by very passionate individuals who constantly give of their time and energy. As poets I feel we have a moral duty to return some of that energy by supporting the periodicals with subscriptions. I subscribe to The Shop, The Stinging Fly, The Moth and The North, which an English publication that I really like. I think The Shop most reflects my own editorial taste, and it's always a good day when the latest edition comes in the post.

We need to know our contemporary industry, know who is writing what, and who is publishing what. In an American journal, I came across some fantastic poems by Shaindel Beers. In the back, her bio said she was poetry editor of Contrary magazine, so I sent her some of my work, and it was accepted. As a result, I've been reviewing Irish poetry for Contrary for some years. 

It can be hard to get your hands on examples of poetry journals and decide which ones reflect your own editorial taste, but libraries are often willing to get periodicals in if you ask. Anyone going to London should call in at the Poetry Library in the South Bank Centre. They have shelves full of the latest magazines, you can just sit there and read for hours. I'm always hoping Poetry Ireland will be in a position to open a place like that here, it's the kind of resource poets need.

How did you first collection come about - When God Has Been Called Away to Greater Things (available to purchase here)?

I think all emerging poets are working on a first collection. I was no different to that. Over the years the poems collected up and gradually the wheat got separated from the chaff, the weaker poems fell away. 
When God Has Been Called Away to Greater Things has a largely auto-biographical narrative. The poems weren't written in any sequential way (quite the opposite), but as they collected up, they asked to be placed in a narrative order. And as time moved on, the narrative story also developed.
It took a long time for the manuscript to find a publisher. Early on I had a number of very sensible rejections which allowed me the time to do more winnowing. One English publishing house sat on the manuscript for 18 months. More winnowing! Before they got back to me with a yes or a no, Pat Boran heard me give a reading in Bantry, and asked me if I'd like to submit my manuscript to Dedalus Press. After many grim years of gritted teeth, everything happened very fast.

What are you working on now and any plans?

I always have an amount of poetry on the go, pieces that I haven't finished that I go back to and tweak. For me poetry is a slow process and my output is actually very small. I don't mind that fact, I feel poets only ever produce 3 or 4 really good poems a year, the rest is usually second rate and can be confined to a drawer. Dermot Bolger once told a friend of mine, 'Advice to a poet: write one good poem a year', so I try and bear that in mind, I definitely think that where poetry is concerned, less is more.

In between my mentoring commitments, I've been working on short stories. I'm building something of a collection, but the work feels very raw. Besides which I write these incredibly long short stories, some up to 18 thousand words, and that makes them slightly redundant in a market place which increasingly calls for flash fiction and stories of less than 2000 words. The fact is I'm exploring my fiction voice, and seeing where it wants to take me, and sometimes that process is quite daunting. 

 Thanks very much Grace and good luck with all your plans.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Interview with poet Joseph Woods

Continuing my repostings of interviews, here's  Joe Woods who recently stepped down as Director of Poetry Ireland.
Thanks very much for agreeing to this interview. Could you introduce yourself to the readers please?
I’ve been Director of Poetry Ireland for eleven years and recently my third book of poems Ocean Letters was published by Dedalus in May of this year.

How did you first get into poetry?

It was a teenage thing; I was first very interested in music and lyrics and this expanded into poetry and words essentially. I remember various obsessions when I was in my mid-teens from Dylan Thomas to Austin Clarke, Byron, Shelley and Beckett. I was also hugely interested in nature and kept notes on everything I saw, I was an avid birdwatcher and was always compiling lists and notes. I’ve only recently come to the conclusion that this fed into the poetry; observation, for one thing.
I sometimes think people write poetry because they’ve been frustrated at something else. In my case, what I really wanted to be was a zoologist but unfortunately I wanted to be a nineteenth century one and there weren’t very many openings for that kind of carry on.

A loss to the world of zoology. How did you progress to Poetry Ireland?

I’m not sure if it’s ‘progress’! I’ve had mixed careers. I was managing a language school in Dublin when I saw the job of Manager (not Director) advertised. I was writing and publishing poetry at the time and had done an MA a few years earlier in Poet’s House in Northern Ireland under the late James Simmons. I was also attending readings and was ‘involved’ somewhat in the poetry scene if you can call it that, but also slightly wary of throwing my oar into the administration of arts and literature and thinking it might have a negative effect on my own writing.

So did/does working at Poetry Ireland have a negative effect on your writing? And presumably some positive effects too?

I suppose the negative and oddly positive effect is that you sometimes eat, live and drink poetry. My day isn’t always about poetry though; there’s a team of seven people and the different strands to the organisation that ensure that – but there’s enough of it that sometimes the idea of going home, changing desks, and writing a poem is anathema. That said, I often put in a day behind the desk followed by an evening at a reading and go home and wind down by raiding the shelves for poetry! Four or five years ago, I found I stopped writing altogether and I took a complete break and went travelling with my wife for eight months and that got rid of the administration cobwebs or ‘toad work squat’ [ing].
The positive effects in terms of my own work is a constant engagement, reading and trying to keep up with the world of poetry and I’m sure that informs some of the work. On another level, you also get to personally engage with poets who often are impressive or wise and in a sense are the embodiment of a life or lives in poetry and that too is a source of inspiration and simple wellbeing.

How has Poetry Ireland evolved since you joined and what do you foresee coming in the next few years?

One thing that was on the agenda when I joined Poetry Ireland eleven years ago was the matter of 'premises' or finding a permanent home for the organisation. It remains so - despite the raft of building lunacy over the past ten years and including some regional arts centres that are virtually empty because operational or programming staffs were never properly provisioned for - we never got on that ladder or have been a beneficiary and we remain without a proper permanent home to house administration and performance space to function to the best of our abilities.
That aside, in all areas of the organisation I believe there has been radical development and improvements; we have three people working in education including not only delivering school visits but in delivering Writer in Residence programmes across the country. We have recently acquired the Writers in Libraries Scheme in addition to our two Writers in Schools and Residencies Schemes which greatly adds to our the suite of choices not just for partners but for writers themselves and of late we have been working in Northern Ireland delivering residencies north of the border.
In terms of publications, Poetry Ireland Review has undergone a radical design overhaul some years ago and with the independent support of the organisation and has seen its 100th issue since its foundation in 1981. That record coupled with its previous incarnations going back to the inaugural issue in 1948 and the establishment of the then, Poetry Ireland (the journal) edited by David Marcus make it one of the oldest poetry journals in Europe.
Our website is regarded as the de facto events literary listings website in the country but site does much more than that and is full of additional resources from 'getting published' through to offering advice to emerging poets and established poets and has discussion fora, twitter, etc.
Lastly our readings program is greatly enlarged and now encompasses more than 120 funded readings annually and in additional Poetry Ireland runs the 'Introductions' series which offers a showcase for emerging writers and All Ireland Poetry Day which programmes readings in every county in Ireland on the first Thursday in October.

You'd have thought there would be a spare, empty bankrupt business building available for you somewhere! For all the poets reading this who are working towards a collection, what advice would you give?

My advice would be to take your time, you've all the time in the world to get it right, if it's wrong or you're not happy with it, it's in print and on record. Get as many of the individual poems published in a variety of outlets to the point that you are making a selection from published poems in order to make the book. We get lots of queries in the office from people who want to publish a first book but who often haven't published a poem which seems the sensible place to start.
Greg Delanty estimated in Agenda some years ago (2005) that approximately 1400 poetry books or individual collections were published in the US every year which averages out at about 18 books a week. That makes it virtually impossible to be heard and in addition, 2,500 students are earning Creative Writing degrees every year and looking to get books published. Of course, it's not as crowded in Ireland but it's worth reading a couple of dozen first collections to try and determine what distinguishes one from another. It usually comes down to a new and interesting way of saying something or seeing things coupled with craft.

Thanks for that. What have you got coming up?

We've just had All Ireland Poetry Day on Thursday October 6th, now in its fourth year and where we organised poetry events in virtually every county in Ireland; highlights included specially commissioned poems delivered to patients in hospitals. Readings countrywide including open mic, broadcasts, bi-lingual, in Dublin airport and even on canoes in Portora, the list goes on but what was wonderful about it was the way different partners responded to the day.
Autumn is always our busiest season and we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Salmon Poetry with a gala night in the Unitarian Church. We're also about to appoint a new editor for Poetry Ireland Review which also has its 30th birthday this year.
Autumn also means Arts Council applications and as we're funding by both, we have two to compile and complete, it's a necessary chore and we're searching for a new a busy time.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Interview with Roger Gregg of the Bee-Loud Glade

Continuing my repostings of interviews for January, here's Roger Gregg

 Roger Gregg is an award winning playwright, composer, audio-producer and actor. Over the past 25 years he has written for Crazy Dog Theatre, Dublin Youth Theatre, TEAM, The American National Audio Theatre Festival, Graffiti Theatre, The Razor Edge, Oberon Theatre and The Gaiety School of Acting. His plays have also been produced by New York University, the University of Missouri, the Theaterpedagogisches Zentrum in Nuremberg, Germany.  His Crazy Dog productions have won many international awards including; 3 American Mark Time Science Fiction Awards, 2 Ogle Fantasy Awards and 2 AUDIOFILE Golden Earphone Awards. In 2006 in a special feature reviewing his work, BBC Radio 4 hailed him as ‘one of a handful of truly great radio dramatists’.

As a composer and multi-instrumentalist, Roger has created music and soundscapes for numerous exhibitions, films and theatre productions. In particular he has created many soundscapes for BARRABAS Theatre Co. In 2010 he was nominated for Best Sound Design in The Irish Times Theatre Awards for BARRABAS’s acclaimed ‘Johnny Patterson The Singing Irish Clown’. In 2010 he was also awarded an Artist’s Bursary by the Arts Council of Ireland to research the integration of acoustic sound craft into live stage performance.  Since 2008 he has been working a great deal in concert shows and recordings of poetry-set-to-music and sound, namely 'The People's Republic of Gerry Murphy', 'Selections From Thomas Merton's Cables To The Ace' and an on-going series of living anthology of contemporary Irish poetry 'Bee-Loud Glade' cabaret shows.[Bee-Loud Glade, book & CD, Dedalus Press.]
As a voice actor Roger plays Eddie the computer in BBC Radio 4’s Sony Award winning Tertiary and Quintessential Phases of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Hi Roger, thanks for agreeing to the interview. Tell us about the Bee-Loud Glade and the Crazy Dog Theatre.

The whole project was developed from an initial show I did of my friend's work. This is Gerry Murphy - the poet from Cork. In fact I first did a stage show of Murphy's poems in 1987. 20+ years later I wrote a new thing using selections from Gerry's by now much more extensive collection of poems.

This project had the blessing of Dedalus Press [Pat Boran]. The resulted in a live show, a CD, a set of well produced videos and a 5 part radio documentary series.

This most favourable outcome in turn led to Bee-Loud Glade, which is taking the same approach as the Gerry Murphy show but instead drawing upon and selecting from the poets/poems published by Dedalus - the only exception to this thus far is Patrick Chapman, another poet whose work I admire very much, Chapman has given me permission to use his work.

How do you choose the poems to use?
With the Dedalus poets, Pat Boran made up a long listand I read over that and from this we culled it down to a short list. From Pat Boran I am given the rights to use the poems, set the to music and sound and also direct the actors in how to perform them.

How do you know if it would work well with the accompaniment?
I wouldn't select the poem if it didn't inspire me. You have to not only like the poem, but also it has to suggest something to me in music and sound. Not all poems are inspiring in any sense ...

How does the collaborative process work?
There is and there isn't a collaborative process. Pat Boran makes the long list then we cull it down. Once I have the poems selected then I work alone to put together the music. I usually make demos of the music to pass along to the musicians so they can learn and/or devise their parts. Then in the rehearsal process together as a band we sculpt and craft the piece. Then we perform it.

It sounds heartless but the Poets do not have any involvement - intentionally so. If they did, I would not do this. Poets do what they do best [write the words] then professional musicians and actors do what they do best - perform the piece. We always make it a point to stress that the result is an interpetation of the poem - a music/voice/sound piece that is initially inspired by the poem. We never claim that it's in any way THE definitive way the poem should be heard or presented or read.

Even if an audience member or listener thinks we got it 'wrong'; with a piece, we still hope and believe that at the very least it got somebody talking about the poem! Even if the poet themself thinks its 'wrong' - that's okay. They are free to distance themselves from the interpetation - and hopefully get some more people interested in checking out their work to see for themselves! We always plug the poets and their books. We want everyone to win.

We're trying to move beyond the usual pigeon-holes and traditional ways-of-presentation. It's not a Poetry Reading, and it's not Performance Poetry, it's not anything you see at Spoken Word Tent [- at least not yet anyway ] It's like a band-gig only instead of singing all the words, the words are largely spoken by actors in character or in a mood. My belief is that there should be plenty of different fruit in the fruit bowl. Not just apples and the odd orange, let in some grapes or bananas... whatever. Entertainment is about ENGAGING it's not about fitting properly into some Critic's category.

The digital age and the internet has done so much already by young people [who mercifully don't know any better] who creatively combine words with pictures and music/sound, dance with stand up comedy etc. etc.;

Poetry Officialdom has a lot to answer for. Academia and Theory which surround it and interpet it 'properly' for it's small audience of other would be Academics and Theorticians. There are far too many Poets writing with one eye on Officialdom. Especially in Ireland. Trying to be Profound or tick the boxes such as use the odd bit of ancient Greek or reference to a Veda or whatever they think will impress the Elite in the Know. The result is 'heavy' as in ponderous and 'clever' - but it doesn't engage and certainly does not delight.

And then of course there is the condescension meted out to Performance Poets who largely actually do connect with much wider more diverse audiences and even ruin everything by 'Entertaining' people. At the Bee-Loud Glade I don't hide the fact that as a Theatre guy I WANT to entertain and engage the audience. If we don't, we have failed.

I had a listen to the Bee Loud Clade CD. It's great fun and takes the words to a new level. I don't like them all but I wouldn't want to. I do agree with you about wrestling poetry from the grasp of the academics. There is too much po-faced poetry out there already. Let's take the po out of poetry. The poetry divas collective is an ever evolving group of women poets whose mission is to blur the wobbly boundaries between page and stage. We want to perform our poems without compromising the integrity of the word.
'Integrity of the word': This is a complicated one and throws up a red flag. Why? It's the favourite phrase of the PO in poetry division.In my experience far, far too many 'heads' offer this 'integrity' as a justification for poor, unexciting, unengaging delivery. As in: it doesn't matter that NO ONE finds my words interesting or engaging when presented. Pity.

Hermenuetics and Science tell us that human beings can not but filter any words through their own selves, their experience, temperment and culture etc. The same exact words can have exactly opposite meanings. This is irregardless if we're hearing them or reading them. It's impossible to experience a pure 'word' in all it's integrity - probably such a thing does not exist. 'Sono Mama' - isn't that the Zen expression? A 'thing in and of itself itself' , without the blurring filter of the 'word' or mind thoughts interpeting the 'thing'. And this unavoidable ambiguity of the 'word' or the painting or the sounds, is itself a key component of most art. It means different people take can different things or experience differing meanings when supposedly experiencing the same 'art'.

But I agree the words DEFINITELY need to be clearly heard in the 'mix'. My general rule is the words MUST be heard otherwise what the fuck are we doing? [Sometimes of course in live situations there can be p.a. and mix issues - but they're certainly not intended! .] If the text is mumbled or buried under screaming guitars or whatever something essential is awry.

Have you any links?
Yes, on YouTube you'll find several pieces from our original Bee Loud Glade showcase.

What have you got coming up?

A 'Halloween' special, featuring about 16 different contemporary Irish poems set to music and sound along with a selection of classic material with Halloween themes - such as the Witches from MacBeth. It's Halloween Night. Monday 31 October. Smock Alley Theatre. Doors open 8 pm.
Sounds thrilling. Thanks very much, Roger.
You can buy the Bee-Loud Glade book and CD at Dedalus here, featuring poems by Leland Bardwell, Pat Boran, Paddy Bushe Enda Coyle-Greene, Patrick Deeley, Theo Dorgan, Katherine Duffy, Gerard Fanning, Francis Harvey, Ann Joyce, Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Tom Mathews, James J. McAuley, Iggy McGovern, Mary Montague, Gerry Murphy, John O’Donnell, Mary O’Donoghue, Paul Perry, Leeanne Quinn, Billy Ramsell, Gabriel Rosenstock, Gerard Smyth, Dolores Stewart, Grace Wells, Joseph Woods, Macdara Woods and Enda Wyley.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Interview with Poet, Mary Madec

Continuing my repostings of interviews, here's Mary Madec.

Mary Madec works with Villanova University in Ireland and has taught widely at Third Level (English lit. and Linguistics) but only recently had a shot at teaching writing.  It's a very different process, the teaching of writing, she says and tells us more about her journey with writing here, how she got into it and why she stays with it.
Mary has been working with people with intellectual disabilities for some time now, teaching creative writing. Tell us about that, Mary.
My husband, Claude Madec, and I set up and run Away with Words in Galway city and county with the Brothers of Charity Services and this project has been has been very successful. It's going for four years now. I believe in it because I think that everybody should have a chance to express themselves in whatever way they are able and in the way they choose. We got some local writers to come on board to facilitate workshops - Susan Millar Du Mars and Kevin Higgins are always there generously sharing their expertise and time as facilitators.. The work of all our participants is moving and inspirational and tells us, like everybody else's about their lives. One of our participants recently won the Inclusion Ireland Art and Poetry competition top prize in writing, to be awarded on 30th November in the National Library. Several other members were shortlisted too in writing. 
I also seeded a project in Ballinrobe in Mayo very recently and got a local writer involved there, John Corless so it's full steam ahead in Ballinrobe.  Over the hills in Connemara things are going great too. In this workshop, which I run we have created a script together and are collaborating with Aideen Barry to animate it.  We received very generous support from the Arts Coucil to do this for which we are very grateful. It will be launched at the Cúirt festival in Galway this April so we are very excited...
Last year I started a residential workshop with a friend of mine, Conall O Cuinn for writers who are starting off,  and we ran the first workshops in Kylemore Abbey, in beautiful Connemara in Co Galway. It was a wonderful setting and it did what we wanted it to do. The idea was to provide a space where participants could engage in the process of writing with gentle guidance and try it out , creating new pieces in a sharing environment. We'll be back there next year..Watch out for our next workshop at Kylemore in Summer 2012.
Do you have monks in your classes?
No, no Benedictines as yet!  And they are sisters!  And very supportive.  It's hardly surprising giving that the discipline of poetry and monasticism are not so foreign to each other really when you think about it!
What about your own work?
I'm working on my second collection, title undecided. I find titles tricky. One of the themes is based around the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It's very exciting. I'm finding out more about the myth as I write. The collection though is about the "truths" in my life rather than the facts, the myth providing a scaffold to do this. I'm working with the sequencing of these with other poems. It's interesting how poetry collections are put together. It's a challenge really and often from what I see it's not taken up seriously at all.  If a writer makes an attempt to structure the book it becomes easier for the reader, it sets up some kind of context for the interpretation of the material.
The poet Enda Coyle-Greene likens it to the order of tracks on an album, a kick ass first track, more thoughtful in the middle and again, finish with a bang.
Yes. I like deliberate sectioning in collections. The usual first collection is very autobiographical and after that, you have the freedom to do things in a totally different way. Freedom but also a challenge to be way more creative..I like that challenge but it's not easy!  
Was yours autobiographical?
There was a good bit of autobiography in it - it's hard to avoid it in a first collection.   Of course it's part of what you do in poetry anyway, but it would be a mistake to just seek autobiography in someone's work - at least to seek it as a summary of their life story since it will always emerge in poetry as a complex personal narrative with a purpose greater than the narration of life events. The meaning overall is greater than the narrative and the "truth" in it is not a simple statement of facts. I think anyone who writes can appreciate what I am saying here. 
What have you had recently published or coming up?
I had a sequence of poems solicited from Fox Chase Review, a Philadelphia based publication and in Natural Bridge (University of St Louis, Missouri). I’ve also published here Southward, I've also have a poem in The Stand in the UK about to come out. They took two years between acceptance and publication. Also I had a dog poem in the Salmon anthology Dogs Singing I don't enjoy the labour of sending stuff out to magazines but I try to do it form time to time. Ideally I would like a PA to organise submissions for me!
Wouldn't we all!    How did you first get into poetry?
I’ve always loved poetry. I had a very early reaction to language and nursery rhymes. The line between school and home was blurred with both my parents teachers at local schools so I can’t say which influenced me most. I was attracted to the music of language from the very start. I think, even now, I go for the musicality of a poem first and the meaning second. Sometimes as poets, we work too hard on the meaning, when the construction of meaning is a mutual task between writer and reader. A poem, which takes a long time to write and in which is invested a considerable amount of life experience should take a little time to understand and readers of poetry get this, I think and also appreciate that you get even more out of it if you stay with it.
I am my own worst critic. I go on gut/instinct so I appreciate feedback from others on what a poem means (I have a few close readers) after I think I’ve finished it. One poem I wrote recently was triggered by an insight where a friend of mine was present. I showed her the poem and she pointed out much more than I had realised. Subconsciously my mind had brought that out in the poem. In our best poetry, we are allowing things from our subconscious to come up even though we think we know everything about what we write. Subjects choose you, which is a strange thing to say maybe. But every poet I believe has a whole lot of poems in there trying to get out and sometimes we are wasting our time trying to write other being a writer is also about listening to yourself and making that part of your creative process.
Do you have any techniques when you write to open that up?
No. If something comes to me though, I always write it down, a few phrases. Sometimes I excuse myself from the company and go to the bathroom to take out my notebook!  If I lose the initial flow of words, I find it impossible to recall later so the first stage is important.  After that you are into multiple edits-some poems might be ready after a few days of editing and others not for years.  The poem that won the Hennessy XO Prize in 2008 took two years to write. Writing can be intense sometimes as I am always at different stages with different poems-it's like having a gang of kids-all different ages!!
What advice do you have for writers starting out?
It is very important to workshop your work. If you don’t do that, you’re deluding yourself. However, you must find a workshop that suits you, where you trust the members. A residential workshop is a good idea, particularly when you are starting out. You must ask yourself Is this really important in my life? Why do I want to write?
And honour the creative expression the most. Don’t get obsessed with publication. It is a risk-taking step. The first refusals are difficult. Prepare yourself. I wonder if it is harder now than ever to get a book published?
Also share your work. Read it for feedback and affirmation. It’s a wonderful way of making friends, different friends from those you meet playing sport, for instance. I’ve met so many lovely people through writing who I would never have met otherwise and got to know them at a deeper level because of writing.
Thanks very much Mary and good luck