Monday, 12 October 2015

Launch of the Hibernian Writers Anthology

The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work is an anthology of poetry by the Hibernian Poetry group. This group is bursting with talent so this anthology will be well worth a look.

20 October 2015 19.00
Teachers’ Club 36 Parnell Sq. Dublin

The collection will be launched by the poet and publisher Macdara Woods with some reading from the contributors. All welcome.


Published by Alba Publishing

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Baileborough Poetry Festival and Workshop

I'm teaching a poetry workshop at Baileborough Poetry Festival this Saturday so please sign up here and show up if you are anywhere near Cavan. It'll be great. And an absolute bargain at €15 for 3 hours including tea and coffee.

Bailieborough Poetry Festival 2015 – Programme of events

Friday 9th October: (Murtagh’s Lounge, Main St.)

18.30 Official launch of “Behind the Lines” Anthology by LitLab. Introduced by Myles Dungan and Julia Rice O’Dea.
19.45 A Wilde Night by Patrick Walsh.
20.00 Poetry reading by Michael Farry.
21.00 Open mic.

Saturday 10th October:

10.00 Poetry workshop* – Kate Dempsey. (Bailieborough Library)
14.00 Competition prize giving – Michael Farry & Honor Duff (Bailieborough Library)
14.00 – 17.00 Special poetry-themed afternoon tea in Bailie Hotel on Main Street.
16.00 Literary walking tour of Bailieborough with John Ed Sheanon- (starts at Bailieborough Library)
19.00 Open Mic. Featuring writing/ arts groups. – (Murtagh’s Lounge)
20.00 Poems and stories by Patsy McDermott – (Murtagh’s Lounge)
21.00 Poetry reading by Tony Curtis.

Interview with writer, Roisin Meaney

Hi Roisin and welcome to How did you first get into writing?

Short answer: I entered a competition when I was 18. Part of the entry involved finishing a sentence in 10 words or less. The first part of the sentence was "I would like to win a Ford Fiesta because.....' I ended it with ' father won't let me drive his.' I won a Ford Fiesta.

Long answer: When I left school I went to Training College (just after winning the car) and in due course I qualified as a primary teacher. After 9 years of teaching I felt like taking a break but didn't know what to do. A cousin suggested I try to get a job in advertising 'because you're good with words.' He was referring to all the other sentences I'd finished after winning the Ford Fiesta, which had resulted in my winning a lot more: two holidays, a hotel break, a bicycle, a watch, a sweater, a dairy foods hamper, a set of crockery and enough air miles to fly to San Francisco and back. I took my cousin's advice and wangled a job as advertising copywriter in an agency in London. I worked there happily for three years and then returned to the classroom. While I was in London I began to think about writing a book, but it was to be another decade before I took another career break and flew - yes, to San Francisco (remember the air miles?) where a brother of mine lived. There I wrote my first book, not having much of a clue about what I was doing, just telling a story and hoping for the best. It ended up winning a 'Write a Bestseller' competition and was published by Tivoli Books in 2004 as The Daisy Picker.

What a great story in itself!  How does writing full time compare to teaching?

Impossible to compare, although I did love teaching, almost as much as I love writing. But being a full time writer brings so much flexibility that teaching couldn't offer, like being able to work in my pjs - even to bring the laptop to bed for the day if I feel like it, or relocating to wherever I want to write - anywhere the sun is shining, or setting my own working hours - my insomniac tendencies often have me awake before 5.00am, so my working day could start then and finish by lunchtime.

One thing full time writing doesn't deliver is the company of children, which of course I had in spades during my teaching days, so to compensate I tell stories once a month to 'smallies' in my local library, and I also visit schools and libraries and chat to kiddies about life as a writer. Teaching had a lot to recommend it; every day I experienced the joy of having a gang of little ones to nurture and look after, but on balance, I'm happier as a writer, and feel very blessed to be making my living doing what I love most.

Where do you do your writing?

Here's where I write: the kitchen table, in all its higgledy-piggledy glory. (The book on the table was pure chance - I'm sending it off to someone today.)

I know you sometimes head off with your laptop. Does that help your writing, do you think? Or just your headspace?

I think it helps with both, Kate. It’s good to be away from distractions of family and friends - and a bonus if wherever I'm heading doesn't have wi-fi! - and I always feel the writing is turned up a notch when the surroundings are unfamiliar, and my routine as a result somewhat changed. I love going somewhere sunny, not because I'll be lying out in it, but even looking out at a blue sky does me good, and I feel perks up the writing too.

Do you have a writing group or a reader?

No writing group, no reader. I'm a bit precious in that respect, hate showing it to anyone until I surrender the completed first draft to my editor and agent simultaneously. I'd be iffy about letting a group read it, in case they all came back with different verdicts - and I'm not sure that I'd trust the judgement of a single reader either.... As it is, my editor and agent each give me feedback, so I have two sets of notes to work on for draft two, which I feel is plenty.

I guess your editor and your agent are your readers then! How did you get this agent?

My agent, Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates in London, was recommended to me by Vanessa McLoughlin, the brains behind which is a wonderful go-to for all things writerly.

Didn’t you have an agent before her? I'm interested in how you got your first agent.

My first agent came on board after I got the publication deal, so I'm not sure that'll be of any use to any writers out there! I won the two-book deal and then I thought 'I'd better get an agent' and I emailed Faith O'Grady, who had recently taken on Judi Curtin, a friend of mine who'd finished her first novel a few months before mine. Faith took me on, and handled my first six or seven books, after which I felt it was time to ring the changes - I wanted a London-based agent because I thought it might put me in a better position with the UK market, and Sallyanne is actually Irish so knows the Irish market well too, which is ideal.

What tips would you have for writers with a novel in progress?

Best tip I think I could give is KEEP AT IT. If I had a cent for everyone I've met since I started writing who said 'I'd love to write a book if I had the time' I'd be rich. If anyone REALLY wants to write a book, they'll find the time, and they'll keep on finding the time every day until the book is written. Roddy Doyle wrote Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha when he had a full time teaching job AND a toddler or two on the scene. I have to discipline myself all the time to keep writing when a book is in progress. Mind you, having a deadline from a publisher definitely helps!

Another tip would be to read. I firmly believe you can't be a writer unless you're an avid reader - genre immaterial - but amazingly, I meet people who don't read but who want to write. Can't understand it.

What have you read recently that you'd recommend?

I enjoyed Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, and The Green Road by Ann Enright - shades of the wonderful Let the Great World Spin, I thought.

I enjoyed Elizabeth is missing too. Kate Atkinson is on my list. I've read everything she's written.

I'm a huge fan of Kate Atkinson, and did enjoy A God in Ruins, but I'd have to say I preferred Life After Life, which I thought was stupendously good.

All women. Do you find yourself discriminated against much or pigeonholed as a woman writer?

Discriminated/pigeonholed.....hmmmm, probably pigeonholed more as a chick lit author than a female author, thanks in no small part to the book covers, which are NOT of my doing! In fairness I'm not writing literary fiction, but I'd love if there was a middle ground between the two.... My readers are predominantly female, of course, but the odd male crops up from time to time in my inbox! Can't say I've experienced discrimination, no. (Although I sometimes suspect I'd have better luck getting publicity if I lived in Dublin and was around for all the bookish events that take place there.)

Yes, there’s a definite flavour of book covers that scream chick lit. Can you give us one or two pieces of advice you wish you'd known when you were starting out?
  1. If you get a publishing deal, your publishers will choose your book covers, not you. The sooner you realise this, the happier you'll be. They also write the blurbs. I've learned to accept this. It took a while.
  2. You need to put almost as much energy into marketing your books as you do in writing them, even if there is a dedicated marketing person working on your behalf too. Someone who has not written a book will NEVER be as invested in it as the person who wrote it. You need to become a publicity slut, and befriend journalists, booksellers, librarians and anyone else who can help to sell copies, or spread the word about your books. You also need to shout about the books (in a nice way) on social media.
I think you do a great job on social media.

Social media - the bane of my life, spend far too much time on it! But it is good to get the word out.....

Do you also write short stories? What about poetry? Plays? ever dabbled?

Never tried short stories, wouldn't know where to start! Poetry ditto - a mystery to me! I have thought about writing a play or a screenplay, have done a few courses/workshops, wrote an episode a few years ago of a TV drama I was planning, an adaptation of one of my novels.....but my agent showed it to one or two who weren't interested, and the momentum was lost. Might resurrect it sometime.

You have a good ear for dialogue. Maybe a radio play would suit you? With a new novel, how do you start? Do you start with a plan? Know where you are going from the start? Or only a rough destination and strong characters?

I start with a plan, but the actual plot would be fairly sketchy - deliberately, so I have leeway. I'd also write bios for the main characters, and a bit of background for the story.

How much of the next book would you like have done before  your current book is launched?

My new book, I’ll be Home for Christmas, is launched in mid October by which time I hope to have made some inroads - 20K words or so - into the next, but it varies. First draft takes between six and eight months generally, depending on how much research I need to do.

Anyway, if you had to choose one book out of your twelve (wow, prolific!) to represent you, which would it be and why?

Oooh, tough question, like asking a mammy to choose her favourite child - but if I was tortured to within an inch of my life and made to pick one it would probably be Something in Common (2014). It was the one that caused me the most grief in the making, and the one I was most proud of in the end - and maybe that's how mammies feel about the child they secretly favour!

Thanks very much, Roisin. Roisin Meaney’s new book I’ll be Home for Christmas is due out from Hachette on 15th October. Look out for some early festivities.
I'll be Home for Christmas
I'll be Home for Christmas

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Interview with poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Welcome Doireann Ní Ghríofa to emergingwriter.
1st question: How did you first get into poetry?

A wonderful anthology was gifted to me in my teenage years. Edited by Niall McMonagle, it was titled  'Real Cool - Poems to Grow Up With' and the cover featured a teenager wearing the sort of tall Doc boots that I would have coveted in my grungey days of the mid-1990s. 

The selection leant towards Irish poets: Paul Muldoon,  Rita-Ann Higgins, Paul Durcan, Brendan Kennelly, but it was here too that I first read poems like Sharon Olds's 'The Moment', Denise Levertov's 'Leaving Forever' and Adrienne Rich's 'Aunt Jennifer's Tigers'. A particular poem that blew my teenage mind was 'The Pattern' by Paula Meehan, a poem that I am still in awe of. I wasn't writing poems yet but with this book, my mind was split open to the wonders of poetry. Beware giving this book to teenagers - it's a gateway drug.

I’m not familiar with Real Cool. I’ll have to look up some of those poems. Well chosen by Niall then. So what happened next? Did you just start writing away for yourself? When did you start sharing?
I didn't begin to write for many, many years after that, not until after I'd finished college, gotten a job, had my first child. I was a voracious reader all along though, and I think that really tunes the ear to language. I was 28 writing my first poem and like many people, for me, it was grief that sparked that initial writing impulse.
I began to write every day and before long I had a poem or two published in journals. Then I was shortlisted for the Emerging Writer Award at the Oireachtas literary awards, which was a great boost. I kept writing daily until I had a manuscript and then I sent it to the publisher of my favourite poet, Biddy Jenkinson (Coiscéim), fully expecting a rejection. I was thrilled when the editor, Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, rang me to accept my work and that manuscript became my first book of poems, Résheoid. Another book, Dúlasair and a bilingual chapbook,  A Hummingbird, Your Heart  from Smithereens Press followed and then I started writing in English. Dedalus Press published Clasp, my first book of English poems, earlier this year. At the moment I find that poems are coming to me in Irish again...

So you started writing in Irish? How much of your life was in Irish?
Much of my primary and secondary education as well as my work life has been through Irish, so it was natural that my first two books (Résheoid and Dúlasair) were both in Irish too.

Where did you grow up?
I'm a proud Clarewoman! I led a very bookish childhood in Clare, many of my fondest memories relate to the library in Ennis. Edna O'Brien was a writer that I would have been very aware of as I grew up. She was often spoken about and I read her books in fascination. I understood from a young age that this was a woman of bravery, that a life in writing demanded both courage and grit. Not a bad lesson to learn early!

I've often wondered about the difference when writing in two languages. Do some themes/images/memories fit better in one language than the other? Do you write exclusively in one language for a while and then, for whatever reason, switch?
In terms of the shift between languages I've often wondered the same thing, but I'm afraid it's as much of a mystery to me as it would be to anyone else. For a long time I wrote exclusively in Irish, then I wrote bilingually (with a first draft growing simultaneously in Irish and in English); I also spent a time writing only in English and for the past while my poems have been only in Irish. This is more troublesome as I've never had the privilege of a translator so writing solely in Irish means that I'm creating a lot of translation work for myself in the future... but self-translation is an interesting exercise, it requires me to examine my work through a different gaze,  to deconstruct and reconstruct it again. Translation is always a challenge.

Where do you write mostly?
I write everywhere, Kate, everywhere! I don't have a writing room, I don't even have a desk, but I'm always writing, filling the quiet little moments of each day with words. I'm of that tribe of writers who write in the spaces around small children. I write in the car doing the school run, on the sofa, in the garden, in bed before I fall asleep, whenever I get a couple of minutes alone. My favourite spot to write at the moment is the kitchen table, a moses basket with sleeping baby at my elbow. My writing time is fragmented and scattered but I make it work because I have to. I hope I'll continue to write for many years, I'm curious to see where it will take me next! 
Your first English collection Clasp has been very well received. You have a lot of fans on my twitterfeed! How did it come about and what has happened since?
Thanks Kate, I'm glad to hear that people are enjoying my writing.
Beginning to write poems in English was like starting all over again in many ways: building up a record of publication in journals, seeking feedback on my work, giving readings, etc. It took a while to establish my work in English to a point where I had a manuscript of poems that I thought worth submitting. By mid-2013 I felt ready and consulting my bookshelves, I saw that many of the poets I most admire were published by Dedalus Press - Paula Meehan, Billy Ramsell, Grace Wells, Theo Dorgan, Macdara Woods, Jessica Traynor, Enda Wyley and so many more. My manuscript was accepted in November that year and I was over the moon. Pat Boran at Dedalus Press is such a wonderful editor. As a poet himself, he has a great ear for the pulse of a poem and a very keen eye. I learned a lot through the editing process. I feel extremely lucky to work with him; I've nothing but great things to say about Dedalus Press! The book itself has been widely reviewed and I've been very pleased with the response.
Clasp was only published a few months ago, but in the meantime I've been working on new poems (many as Gaeilge so far). I've also been focusing on a translation project, working to bring the poetry of Caitlín Maude to a wider audience. I've translated many of her poems and it has been both inspirational and exciting, delving into her writing so closely. So far I've placed her poems in Poetry Ireland Review, Cyphers, Translation Ireland, Modern Poetry in Translation and on RTE Radio One. She's a wonderful poet, and I'm very pleased to champion her work. It's a privilege to be allowed to do so and I'm very grateful to her family for permitting me to work with her poetry.

I don’t know anything about Caitlin Maude or her poems. What can you tell us about her?
She was a fascinating woman, a gifted poet, playwright, actress and sean-nós singer. She died tragically young in 1982, leaving a substantial body of Irish poems. TG4 broadcast a wonderful documentary by Aoife Nic Cormaic several years ago which is available on YouTube

You have managed to get a lot of reviews.
My only strategy with reviews is simply to release the book into the world and cross my fingers. Whatever will be, will be. I find that there's a lot to learn from a review, different readings of the book can illuminate the work in a new way. Reviews are a gift (although they can sting, and when they do it's best to suffer in silence!) Dedalus have been brilliant in terms of distributing the book for review. I'm so grateful to each of the newspapers and journals who chose to review my work, particularly as there has been so much written of late on the difficulties for women writers in having books reviewed.

Your collection was accepted in November 2013 but published a few months ago? Is that normal?
A year and a half to two years between acceptance and publication would be standard across most genres in publishing, as far as I know. For me, that time was spent developing the manuscript as a whole and strengthening individual poems, sourcing cover art, arranging the mini book-tour around various literary festivals, etc. Time well spent. Congratulations on your own forthcoming book!

Thanks, The Space Between is coming out with the lovely people at Doire Press soon. It’s slow to hatch.
It sounds like you've given your book time to mature Kate; that can only be a good thing. Doire Press have published such vibrant collections - I particularly enjoyed 'Keeping Bees' by Dimitra Xidous and 'In a Hare's Eye' by Breda Wall Ryan. I'm looking forward to reading 'The Space Between', I have your chapbook from Moth Editions so I know your work well! Congratulations!

Thanks very much. OK, last question. When I was struggling to choose which poems to put in my collection and which to leave out, someone said to look at each poem, and decide that if someone selected this poem as the one to remember from the whole collection, would you be OK with it. So, which poem from Clasp would you choose to be the one you would be happy to be the only one that someone would remember?
What an interesting final question, Kate! Hmmm... I have a soft spot for 'The Horse under the Hearth' (in The Irish Times here) It's a poem that audiences respond very positively to both in the book itself and at readings, so it engages on the stage as well as on the page. I absolutely love engaging with audiences through poetry readings, it's such a pleasure, so it's vital to me that my poems resonate in both private and public settings.

Thanks Doireann for agreeing to be interviewed. I particularly enjoyed the sequence of Cork City poems in Clasp. 
Thanks for such an interesting interview, Kate, and the best of luck to you with 'The Space Between'!
Clasp is available to buy online at Dedalus Press or at your favourite independent bookshop. Thoroughly recommended.
Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a bilingual poet, writing both in Irish and in English. Among her awards are the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary 2014-2015. Her website is here.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Interview with writer Tanya Farrelly

Tanya Farrelly
Hi Tanya and welcome to emergingwriter. How did you first get into writing?

As a very young child, I was an avid reader, and I guess writing was a natural progression from that. I remember writing stories when I was in primary school, and this passion continued right through secondary school, encouraged robustly by an eccentric English teacher by the name of Austin Stewart who was very much our Mr Keating from The Dead Poets' Society! He used to write comments like "potential novelist" on my short stories, and it was on his advice that I submitted and had my first story published in Woman's Way back in 1999.

How lovely to have a teacher saying things like that. Tell us a bit about your first published story. 

My first published story was entitled 'Serial Lovers', which Woman's Way changed to 'Heartbreakers.' I wasn't mad about that, but was excited enough to dismiss the change as insignificant when I received a copy of the magazine in the post. I hadn't actually been told that the story was accepted. Oh - and there was a cheque, too! Much the same thing happened with my story 'Shadows' when it appeared in The Sunday Tribune. I was on a Sunday drive with my mother in Wicklow and went into the a newsagents to get the paper. I'd always gone straight to the New Irish Writing page, and this time I opened it up to find that my story was up for the Hennessy!

Up for the Hennessy! When was that?

That was in 2002, which was the year when writing really took off for me. I was shortlisted for the Francis MacManus Awards that year, too, so it was a really exciting time. I then, reluctantly, took time out from writing as I returned to college to do a degree in Literature, and then a Masters. I was working full-time and studying part-time, so I had to shelve my writing for four years! When I finished the MA in 2007, I decided that I'd had enough of studying other people's work. It turned out NOT to be the end of academia though - when the recession hit in 2009 and my teaching hours were cut, I took the opportunity to do a PhD - but this time my studies were in Creative and Critical Writing. I wrote a novel as part of that doctorate, which I'm currently re-editing! 

Why did you return to college for your degree? You say reluctantly. What was the urge?

I was not reluctant to return to college, but reluctant to stop writing.
At that time, I was a member of a writers' group in Tallaght library. On a few occasions the facilitator couldn't turn up, and he asked me if I could facilitate the class. It was this that made me realise that I had a passion for, and seemed to be good at, teaching.

Are you in a writers’ group or workshop? Do you have a reader?

I don't have a reader, per se. There are some people whose opinions I really value, and I would show those people drafts of my work.
I was in a group for about 5 years when I began writing. Now, teaching creative writing is my way of reminding myself of the important elements. I've done lots of workshops in the past, mainly at Listowel Writers' Week. Some of them were extremely beneficial and others less so. I think the best workshop I ever attended was one on the novel facilitated by Gerard Donovan - the author of Schopenhauer's Telescope and Julius Winsome. The most valuable thing I learned from that course is that a writer doesn't have to record time. In my first attempt at writing a novel, I found myself trying to fill the character's every moment. I did ridiculous things like sending the character to the cinema for a few hours before the next crucial part of the story happened. Oh dear! :P The best training anyone can do though is reading!  I don't understand people who want to write, but don't actually read fiction.

Absolutely. Where do you write?  What is your writing process?
Tanya's workspace

I'm lucky enough to share my home and writing space with my fiancé and fellow writer, David Butler who you are also interviewing. David and I write in the same room. His desk overlooks Bray seafront, while my writing area is the living room table! We generally put aside a number of hours to write, and then the only sounds in the room are Lyric FM in the background, and, hopefully, the clack-clacking of two keyboards. The sound of David pounding away at his laptop is enough to get me writing as I know that in a few hour's time, he will ask me what I've done. No pressure!
I try to write as often as I can. Currently, I'm rewriting so the momentum is already there. With stories it's different. I might jot down an idea on the go and then come back to it, or I might just sit down at the blank screen until some image presents itself to me. I'm very much a perfectionist when it comes to the short stories, I won't leave a paragraph until I feel it's right.  I rewrite as I go, and so very often when I reach the end of the story, it's already a final draft. Writing a novel is different, you can't afford to be as precious when it comes to getting the language right - not in the first draft.

That sounds like a very mutually supportive environment. How lovely. What are you working on now?

I've just compiled my short stories for a collection. It's called When Black Dogs Sing and is coming out with Arlen House next year.
I've also been re-editing a novel based on feedback I received from agents. I spent a lot of time comparing and mulling over various comments. For example, one agent said that she loved the book, but was not convinced by the last quarter. On reflection, I think she was spot on and I'm working on rectifying that right now.

I know you do some teaching. Have you some classes ongoing?

Yes, I teach creative writing courses for adults in Ballyroan and Tallaght libraries, and for teens and juniors in Clondalkin library. The next course due to start is a 10-week one in Ballyroan on October 1st. The focus is on short stories and over the ten weeks we cover all aspects of story writing. Each class is dedicated to one element, for ex: character, dialogue, setting etc.

Any links for your courses?

Do you have any links to published writing?

Here are a few of links...
You need to scroll down on the Crannog one...
Thanks Tanya. Good luck with your writing.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Magma Poetry Competition

The Magma poetry competition is open for entries. There's very sound advice here from the judge Dalgit Nagra about this competition but on entering competitions in general. Read it.

Deadline: 19 January 2016

Daljit Nagra is the Judge for the Judge’s Prize for poems of 11 to 50 lines.
First prize £1,000, second prize £300 and third prize £150.

Magma’s Editors’ Prize is also open over the same period for poems of up to ten lines:
First prize £1,000, second prize £300 and 10 special mentions £15.

In addition to receiving attractive cash prizes, winners will be invited to read at Magma’s prize-giving event in Spring 2015. The five prize winning entries will be published in the magazine.

The entry fees are £5 for the first poem, £4 for the second and £3.50 for the third and each subsequent poem. Magma magazine subscribers benefit from reduced fees: £4 for the first poem, £3 for the second, and £2.50 for the third and each subsequent poem.

More info here

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Interview with poet Jane Clarke

Hi Jane and welcome to emergingwriter. How did you first get into poetry?

I was always interested in literature and studied English at college but it was when I was training as a psychotherapist in my 30's that I came to poetry as a source of pleasure and meaning in my day-to-day life. I remember the first time I read "The Art of Losing" by Elizabeth Bishop and being so moved by her denial of the impact of her losses right up to the shattering power of that final line. 

As a child I had dreamt of becoming a writer but it wasn’t until ten years ago that I wrote my first poem. I was doing a distance-learning course with the Open College of the Arts with a view to writing short stories but the second assignment was to write four poems.  My tutor, the poet Kate Scott, gave me encouraging feedback on these first poems and I began writing more and more as well as immersing myself in contemporary poetry. I loved how the distilled language of poetry could express the complexity of our lives with such constraint and containment. I found myself enthralled by the process of making an object with words, an object that then went on to have a life of its own.

What poets or poems would you recommend to read when starting to write poetry?

There is such a wealth of poetry but I think what is most important is to read poems that speak to you, that touch you, that make a difference to you, as if you’re walking through a huge garden and are drawn to particular plants and flowers for their colour, shape or scent, how they stand tall or how they huddle into a corner. I found the Bloodaxe anthologies a wonderful introduction to poems and poets. I also dipped in and out of Sources, edited by Marie Heaney and the Lifelines anthologies edited by Niall McMonagle. 

Gradually I moved from reading individual poems to reading collections by poets that appealed to me, including Mary Oliver, Seamus Heaney, Elizabeth Bishop, Michael Longley, Robert Frost, Gillian Clarke, Paula Meehan, Kerry Hardie, Mark Roper, Moya Cannon, R.S. Thomas. I found and still find that reading other poets makes me want to write and often it’s a poem by someone else that sets off a poem for me, with just a word or a rhythm, a memory or a question. Then I stop reading and start writing. 

What I have also found very helpful and enjoyable is a poetry-reading group, which my friend, the poet, Shirley McClure and I set up almost seven years ago. Five of us have been meeting once every month or so to read and discuss individual collections and some anthologies. We have read some of the all-time greats, such as Yeats, Auden, Akhmatova, Rich, Eliot, Hopkins, Dickenson, Donne, Milosz, and also lots of contemporary poets, such as Kay Ryan, Sinead Morrissey, Ruth Stone, Jane Hirshfield, Naomi Shihab Nye, Eavan Boland, Mimi Khalvati. Also Harry Clifton runs a regular poetry reading class in the Irish Writers Centre, introducing poets in their historical and literary context with lots of anecdotes and insights.

What do you get from going to a poetry reading?

I go to readings for the pleasure of hearing poets read their own work and to experience poetry as an aural art.  I like listening out for the tonal quality the poet gives a poem, where they pause, where they put their emphasis, where they slow down and where they pick up speed. I’ve often heard a poem differently at a reading to how I read it on the page and sometimes a poem stands out which I had overlooked in a collection. I’m interested to get a sense of the context of the work through the poet’s introductions, as well as a sense of the poet as a person, which can provide a whole other dimension to their work.

I think festivals and readings are invaluable for introducing us to new poets and for giving us the opportunity to hear and see poets we’ve loved and admired from afar. They’re important too for bringing people to poetry; highlighting or reminding people of what poetry has to offer. There may be relatively little attention for a collection despite years of work in the making and a reading may be one of the few places where the poems are celebrated and acknowledged publicly. I also think readings are important for the community of poets and it’s good to meet other poets, friends and colleagues there.

How do you know where to stop a poem and where to start?

Well, with the first draft I don’t really have a choice. It’s a matter of picking up on that initial spark or idea or rhythm or phrase and following until it comes to its own end. It’s like unraveling a thread or running along the platform to catch a train that is just about to leave the station.

It’s when I begin to redraft that I work with the questions of where to start and where to stop. I read the poem aloud over and over to hear the music as I take out or put in words, work with the imagery, change the lineation. I like creating a sense with the first line of coming in on something that has already begun and with the final line I try to avoid tying it up with a neat bow. At the end of the poem I try to create a sense of openness or surprise or paradox or an emotional undertow – something that will stay in the mind and the heart and might send the reader back to the beginning again. But most of the time I’m not thinking about this consciously because I’m caught up with how to make this particular poem sing.

It is easier to see where someone else’s poem should begin and end and I find being in a workshop group invaluable for honing my editing skills. When I get the poem as ready as I can, the next step is to take it to my monthly writing group. They will tell me if I should have started further into the poem, if I’ve gone on too long or if the ending needs to be stronger. I think that over time we develop a kind of sixth sense for what is working or not and we find ourselves applying that to our work as we are redrafting. However I couldn’t do without the critique and suggestions of my workshop group. 

All the advice is to put the poem away for at least a few months and then to look at it again. I find this hard to do but I think that time away from the poem helps us separate from it and therefore gives us perspective so that we can better see what the poem needs. It’s exciting to come back to a poem and find that I see it differently and so can work with it more freely than I could have months or years before. That’s when I might make the first line the title of the poem or begin at the second stanza or leave out the ending I have crafted so carefully. Mimi Khalvati says that the mind instinctively makes connections and that includes the reader’s mind. She suggests we can be bolder and wilder than we think.

Tell me how your poetry collection came about?

About four years after I began writing I started to think about drawing together a collection. I had won a few prizes and had a number of poems published which I took as encouragement. I started the distance learning MPhil in Writing at the University of South Wales and brought my collection to the residential week at the end of the first year in June 2010. The staff and my peers told me that it wasn’t ready yet and advised me to take more time with it. I was disappointed and disheartened but they were quite right and it was pivotal advice for me. It pushed me to slow down, to read more, to write more, to redraft poems, to set higher standards for my work and for my collection. It also gave me time to get more poems published. I worked with Gillian Clarke as my tutor for two years on the MPhil, which was a privilege. My writing developed with the help of her feedback, as well as that of Philip Gross, the Welsh Tony Curtis and Stephen Knight.

It was another two years, September 2013, before I felt I had a collection I could stand over. I sent twelve poems to Bloodaxe Books in October and Neil Astley asked me to send the full collection in April 2014. It was accepted for publication at the end of July 2014 and published the following May 2015. Along the way I showed drafts to Grace Wells, Geraldine Mitchell, Shirley McClure and Yvonne O’Connor, all of whom gave me invaluable feedback on individual poems as well as the overall structure of the collection. Putting together a collection takes time and I think the poet is working with the questions of the overall arc of the collection and the placing of individual poems unconsciously as well as consciously during that time. I found it to be like the process of writing a poem in many ways, except probably more difficult. I was moving poems in and out and around, looking for a sequencing that felt right to me. I was looking for resonances between poems as well as variety and movement in the collection as a whole.

Then there was all the thinking about the title. One of my first ideas for the title was Where the river deepens so the river was there from the start. Somewhere along the way I realized I wanted it to be The River, to reflect what I saw as the strongest poem in the collection and also to reflect the themes of change and loss and what nature offers us.

I didn’t have any idea for the cover image when I sent the collection to Bloodaxe Books, except a slight preference for a photograph. When Neil Astley emailed to tell me he was going to publish the collection he had already found this image of the heron, reflecting the lines from A River at Dawn –
A Heron flies up
from the callows, leads river and rowersinto the day, lean in, catch, pull back, release.
If you had to choose one poem from it for people to remember which would it be and why?

It would be the title poem, “The River”, which is also the last poem. It is probably my favourite poem in the collection and it is also the one that evokes the most response from others. At readings people tell me that it has meant a lot to them and I’ve also had texts, emails, even letters about this poem. It is a kind of meditation on the nature of loss and this is something everyone understands. I wrote my first draft of “The River” in May 2005 but I came back to it again and again over the years and finally finished it six years later.

Was the MPhil solely around writing poetry?
The MPhil in Writing in the University of South Wales is for any kind of creative writing but I chose to concentrate on poetry. 

How much of the MPhil was residential?

I would go over on a Thursday night and stay in a hotel two nights and get a flight back on Saturday evening. It was Friday lunchtime to Saturday at about 5. Check the website to see how many weekends there are now – it could be six weekends per year for two years and one residential week in between. There was only one residential week at the end of year one. The big advantage is that I didn't have to give up work to do it.

What are you working on now? Anything coming up?

My poetry work has changed considerably since my book came out. I had a lot of launches, readings and interviews over the summer and they’ll continue right into November. I believe in people having access to and pleasure from poetry, similar to how music is a part of people’s everyday lives; so I value opportunities to read my work, to meet readers and to perform alongside other artists, particularly musicians. All my readings are listed on the homepage of my website ( I’ll be reading at Clifton Arts Week and in the Courthouse Arts Centre, Wicklow.

I am also working on new poems. I hardly dare say I’m working on the next collection because it’s early days. In some ways it’s like starting all over again, building up a body of work, sending poems out for publication. What’s most important is that I am writing. It’s wonderful to have my book out, it’s wonderful that it has had such a good response but still what is most important, is to be writing, to be responding intensely to the world around me and to be translating that response into poems.  

Where do you write?

I write in all kinds of places - on the train, in coffee shops, in the kitchen , the living room, the office.

Do you write in form?

Most of my writing is free verse though I love writing variations on the sonnet form and I sometimes experiment with villanelles and pantoums. I do think trying to work within the restrictions of a fixed form can be very productive. Sometimes I have tried to write in a particular form, for example terza rima, and it has got a poem going for me (that I might not have found otherwise) but at the editing stage I’ve changed it into free verse. On the other hand, “Who owns the Field?”, one of the poems in The River only took off for me when I tried it as a villanelle. I have lots more to learn about writing in form, which I think would be beneficial for my poetry regardless of whether I use it directly or not.

Apart from putting away a poem for a while to let it cook, what other advice would you have for writers starting out?

I’m thinking of what was helpful for me –
  • Immerse yourself in poetry. Read poetry every day. Read widely to find the poetry you love and that will inspire your own work.
  • Make space for writing in your life. Let it be important.
  • Join a workshop group or set one up.
  • Go to poetry courses, e.g. in The Irish Writers’ Centre or at literary festivals like Listowel Writers’ Week, West Cork Literary Festival, Cork Spring Poetry Festival. I learned so much on the courses I attended and I got encouragement to keep writing. The poet facilitators introduced me to a wide range of poetry and helped me develop my own work. I also met many of my poetry friends on these courses.
  • Take every opportunity that comes your way to read your work in public because that will help your confidence. Or set up opportunities by taking it in turns with a group of friends to host an evening of readings, singing, music.
  • Join or set up a poetry book club.
  • Go to poetry readings.
  • Get six poems as ready as you can get them and send them out to a magazine or journal. Then get another six ready and keep going. Expect rejection and celebrate the occasional acceptance. When they are returned see if you can make them stronger and if not try sending them out again. Different editors have different taste.
  • Last but not least – keep writing and keep redrafting until you have it as close as possible to a good poem.

I’m reading a fabulous book at the moment; The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams, edited by Christopher McGowan. Williams gives the younger poet, Levertov, the following advice. 
“Cut and cut again whatever you write – while you leave by your art no trace of your cutting – and the final utterance will remain packed by what you have to say.” 
He also says, 
“Practice, practice, practice, must be the practice of the artist.”
Thanks Jane for sharing your story and some great advice. Jane Clarke's debut poetry collection is available in bookshops and from Bloodaxe.