December 2019

The usual frantic run-up to Christmas was leavened by two events which fortuitously found themselves referred to on the same page on the Poetry Ireland website. So before that page vanishes into the ether, here is a preserving screenshot, dear reader, for your future perusal:

Poetry Ireland Review (129) was launched at the Poetry Ireland offices in Parnell Square East on 12 December 2019, with Christmas Drinks.It was a lovely celebratory occasion, and I was particularly honoured not only in being published in this issue, the final one edited by Eavan Boland, who was there in person, but also in being asked to be one of the readers for the event. So I read ‘Requiem’, a poem about my late father’s old age, and managed to get through it with only a single stumble (I had practised – a lot!). It was great to read in the company of poets from all over the country (including Amanda Bell with this little gem); and to meet up with old friends, compadres and mentors.

In a funny way, ‘Requiem’ links also to what I travelled on to the next day, which was my week-long residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Rachael Hegarty, fellow-recipient of the Mid-Career bursary, was at the Queen’s Writers workshop, facilitated by the late Ciaran Carson, where I got feedback on an early version of ‘Requiem’. It was at Rachael’s suggestion that poem found its final form, as a non-iambic, non-rhyming ottava rima. When I realised that the total length of the poem would therefore be 64 lines, I remarked that at 64 my father had suffered his first heart attack. The form was immediately given a final seal of approval by Ciaran: “Meant to be”. Indeed. I find it a continual source of magic how subject finds its form. I subsequently read Rachael’s marvellous and moving second collection, May Day 1974. Among its many accomplishments, is the technical achievement of the number of lines of each ballad that represents the voice of one of the dead, matching the age of that person. What a wondrous thing that a poem’s very structure takes shape from the life and death of its subject. All these ‘meant-to-bes’ in the writing of poetry intimate that something more than one’s own limited self is authoring the work. It is a humbling experience. 

At the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, like many before me, I found there a level of stillness, focus and sustained concentration that was enormously beneficial to my work.  At a purely practical level, I found the undistracted time to write completely revitalising and inspiring. The fact that all my material needs were smoothly taken care of afforded me a deeper sense that my poetic practice is worth supporting. This gave me a powerful injection of conviction in the importance of my poetry – that it matters, and that protection of the time to create it is vital. Just the awareness that I was following in a long tradition of other writers and artists was helpful: that the very seat I was sitting in, the desk I was working at, the window I was looking out of, marked a place that predecessors had occupied and successors would take up; this sense of being part of long line of creative endeavour proved a powerful incentive to press on into my work. 

This, btw, was my lovely desk:

Added to these was the synergy of working daily alongside other artists and practitioners and thereby gaining further collective support and impetus. I think for all artists who work largely in isolation there is a a sense of relief at finding others who are actively engaged in similar (or entirely different!) work. I felt embraced and encouraged by the connections that I made with other writers,, I was also greatly inspired by finding common ground with the practitioners of other artistic forms: visual artists and sculptors; composers, and spoken word practitioners in a variety of genres.

Sincerely thanks to all the wonderful staff at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, who made my stay so delightful as well as fruitful; and also the selection panel for the Mid-Career Bursary, for granting me this prestigious and affirming award. 

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