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.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Skylight Journal submissions

Quick one: Deadline 1 October

Skylight 47 is seeking submissions for its next issue.

Skylight 47 is a poetry magazine in newspaper format, and is published twice a year. The next issue will be launched in Autumn/Winter 2015. They are looking for poems and original artwork from Ireland and abroad.

Please send up to four poems, along with a short biographical note (max 60 words), to
Send your poems both as a single attachment (.doc, .docx, .txt or .rtf) and in the body of the email.

Works should be previously unpublished.
Poems to be no longer than 40 lines.

Facebook: Skylight Poets
Twitter: @Skylight47Poems

The 17th Francis Ledwidge International Poetry Award

Do yourself a favour and read some of the poems by Francis Ledwidge.
Here's the annual poetry competition in his honour.
Deadline: 5th November 

The first prize is the Ledwidge plaque inscribed with the winner's name and a cash prize as well. Cash prizes and books for second and third places with merit certificates for all finalists. The certificates are always beautifully done and well worth having. The first three poems will be entered in the Forward Prize UK and in addition the winner will be invited to read at the annual Francis Ledwidge Commemoration at the National War Memorial Gardens in July 2016.

The poems must be the competitor's own work and not previously published or broadcast and must not exceed 40 lines of type with a max of six poems entered. 
The entry fees are €4 per poem or three for €10 and six will cost you €20. Put your name and address on a separate sheet and send your entries to:

The Francis Ledwidge International Poetry Award 2015,
C/o 20, Emmet Crescent, Inchicore, Dublin 8.
Winners will be notified and results announced at the annual awards night.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Interview with writer David Butler

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

I think I always felt the compulsion to write. When I was in 4th and 5th class in St Brigid’s, Castleknock, a few stories I wrote were read out to the whole school. Later, like many teenagers, I had the hormone that spontaneously produces bad poetry, though one or two did find their way into print. Pretty derivative stuff, really, all Plath and Hughes with a dash of Leonard Cohen. In my twenties, the poetry hormone morphed into the one that leads to over-written prose, very stylised, very self-conscious.  Only in my late thirties did I finally manage to tame these sufficiently to produce publishable work.

Can you remember your first "proper" adult published writing? What was it?

My first proper adult publications were undoubtedly the poem 'Swallows', published in Poetry Ireland Review in 2000 which went on to win their Ted McNulty Award; and the story 'Dubliner', which featured in issue 9 of the Stinging Fly in 2001.

How do you move between forms? I mean how do you know if an idea you have or a note in your notebook or an overheard scrap of conversation will end up in a poem or a play or whatever? Or do they sometimes show up in more than one. Or move?

I've usually no idea how or where such scraps and ideas and thoughts will wind up. That said, as a modus operandi, I’ve found that having something on the go in different genres has often got me out of jail in terms of the dreaded writer’s block. I wrote my first published novel, The Last European (2005) while supposedly doing my PhD in Trinity, and whenever the novel got jammed, I worked certain passages into poems which eventually led to the Via Crucis collection. Likewise, a large chunk of my current work in progress, Under the Sign of the Goat, has evolved into a one-act play, Blue Love. My reading would be just as various, jumping from poem to play to mother always used to say I've a grasshopper brain!

Can you give me some examples of the mix of things you've been reading recently and which you would recommend?

One great thing about drama is that where a novel might take 10 to 20 hours, you can read most plays in under two. Over the last few weeks I've reread Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, Tom Murphy's House, David Mamet's American Buffalo and, in the run up to seeing it, Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats. The last novel I read is John William's wonderfully restrained song of despair, Stoner, and I've now entered the haunting world of Orhan Pamuk's Snow. I've been dipping in and out of the collected short stories of Eudora Welty and the new Young Islanders anthology. Oh, and my favourite living poet is Carol Ann Duffy...

I read Stoner. The writing was terrific but really, I didn't enjoy it. Plus he was rubbish at writing believable, rounded women, which always disappoints me. Not a fan of Orham Pamuk either, My Name is Red is one of those few books I stopped reading part way through. But Carol Ann, now you're talking!
I wonder how long a drama takes to write compared to a novel? I haven't read a play for a long time.

Writing good drama is supremely difficult. People often confuse it with writing good dialogue. Even at their peak, some of the top playwrights take two to five years to hone each new play.

Have you written a full length play? Would you say it would take about the same amount of time to write as your novels did?

I had a full length play shortlisted for the Eamon Keane Award in Listowel in 2011. More correctly, I'd call it a full length draft. To give an idea, I've a 10 minute play called Forwards just published in the latest Incubator Review in Belfast. This evolved over several years, at least 12 drafts, and was much tightened over its various performances. Only now would I call it finished.
And how long does a novel take? Mine seem to require a minimum of three drafts with gaps in between (often of several years).

What is your approach to writing? Where do you write? 

My desk overlooks the sea. It’s a magnificent arena to face down the silence of the keyboard. That said, the majority of my new writing (as opposed to compulsive rewriting, which is probably 9/10 of what I actually do each day), is composed while out walking, or while listening to the voices and phrases that haunt my insomnia. Luckily, I've a decent memory.

I've a shockingly bad memory. It's an advantage when I come back to something I've written recently and I can't remember writing  it at all. I can read it with a remote eye.
Any tips for new writers?

Perhaps my first tip for new writers: Don't be in a hurry. Don't be satisfied with 'pretty good' or (worse) 'mostly good, except for...' A huge problem is differentiating what's in your head from what's on the page. I think you need to allow enough time to 'forget', which in my case means (a) months on end and (b) writing other projects in between. It's a good practice to hear your work read out by someone else, someone who hasn't been primed in advance with 'what I'm trying to do is...' Related to this tip, don't be defensive...
The other tip: READ! Then read more. Read widely, but also deeply (as in re-read good stuff again & again). Also re-read your own stuff, aloud if it helps.
Oh, and don't give up. I've yet to meet someone who gave up who was subsequently published!

Thanks David, that's terrific advice.
Have your plays had staged readings? Do you know the backstory behind your characters even if it's not used in the play/novel?

All three of my one-acts which have received awards to date were indeed workshopped and received staged readings and/or performances, which I put on a dictaphone (it's amazing how much redundancy, repetition and clumsiness comes to light by listening several times). Being a member of several amateur dramatic groups is a big help here, but other routes include the Cork Arts Theatre, which staged Blue Love in February, Theatre Upstairs (Lanigan's) which did a staged reading of Sweet Little Lies last September, and the Scottish Community Drama Award, responsible for staging ‘Twas the Night Before Xmas in 2013 and Sweet Little Lies this coming November.
By the way, acting is also a terrific help in non-dramatic writing. To act convincingly rather than simply playing a caricature, you need to believe in your character (Believe they exist but also buy into their world view, however twisted). To WRITE a convincing character, you have to do the same...And in answer to your question, yes, I think you need to know far more about your character than is actually shown, whether acting or writing. The real skill is to orchestrate convincing, vivid encounters which bring out those aspects and facets you want shown in such a way that the audience/reader intuits the solid mass behind them.

What about your non-play writing?  Is that generally workshopped?  Are you in a writers group or do you have a reader?

My other half, Tanya Farrelly, is also a writer, so she regularly gets works-in-progress inflicted upon her!
I've also been part of a writers group that has been meeting up fortnightly over the last year. Typically, you get to submit a piece of about 2000 to 3000 words without commentary every second month. It's then helpful to listen in on the discussion that follows, as is hearing your work read out...

Your publishers are a mix of UK and Irish. Do you think there is an advantage being an Irish writer?

One advantage to being an emerging Irish writer is that you can approach the publishers here directly, also the many high quality literary journals like The Stinging Fly, Gorse, The Moth, The Incubator etc. In contrast, the bigger UK publishers require the intermediary of a literary agent, and securing an agent can be extremely difficult, since (in round figures) their 10% of the author’s 10% of sales needs to make it worth their while. With five books in print, getting an energetic, pro-active agent would be high on my wish-list for the coming year.

Good luck with that David and thanks for your time.


David Butler has been writing full-time since 2010. His novels are The Last European (Wynkin de Worde, 2005), The Judas Kiss, (New Island, 2012), and City of Dis, (New Island, 2014), which was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2015. A poetry collection, Via Crucis, was published by Doghouse in 2011, while a short-story collection, No Greater Love was brought out by London publisher Ward Wood in 2013. His one-act plays, Twas the Night Before Xmas and Blue Love won the 2013 Scottish Community Drama Award and 2015 Cork Arts Theatre Writers’ Award respectively.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

South Dublin Readers Day

Join renowned writers for a relaxed and intimate day of readings and public conversations chaired by Dermot Bolger. This year’s line-up features award winning authors Jennifer Johnston, Mary Costello, Martina Devlin, Michael O’Loughlin, Joe Duffy, Carlo Gébler and Hugo Hamilton.

This is always a good day

When: Saturday 17th October 10:15am - 4pm
Where: Civic Theatre Tallaght

Admission: €10

Booking as part of the Red Line Festival

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

ISLA Literary Festival

ISLA Literary Festival returns this October with a programme packed with activities. This year the theme of memory is the background for a series of conversations, film screenings, workshops and literary walks.  Enjoy three days of events featuring 20 authors from Spain, Latin America and Ireland. 

The stories we tell define our memory and our memory, in turn, defines our identity. There is no story without fictional elements because there is no memory immune to the corroding effects of oblivion. We can just remember what we have somehow begun to forget. We can only be who we are when, without noticing, we have stopped being who we were.

These are the themes the Festival will address during three days. Our guests will guide us in drafting, once again, our past from that place, sometimes in the margins, called literature. We will read our memory, full of images to remember and we will look back to travel, once more, with them that path between reality and fiction that struggles for ever to keep us from oblivion.

Link here and programme here

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Interview with poet Rafiq Kathwari

Hi Rafiq. Congratulations for your upcoming book. Hope it all goes well. So first question, how did you first get into poetry?

Poetry got into me, was always in me, as it is in all of us, I suppose. It took the generosity of a group of friends, in Manhattan's West village, who helped me plumb my depths, every Tuesday evening, over ten years, to try recreate my mother who has been afflicted with schizophrenia ever since I was a lad growing up in Kashmir.

Was that a writing group?

Yes, that was an amazing writing group.

Is there where most of your poetry collection was written?

Substantially. Stuff got sorted at that workshop. Later, at Columbia U, I had the privilege of working with teachers who nurtured me as well as other students, naturally. We read seriously, thematically...reading is crucial to writing...that is where my work was structured, styled, chiselled.

When did you move to New York? I’m trying to get an idea of how long after Howl you came to it?

I moved to NY when I was 21. Howl was first published in 1956 as part of a collection. I came to it nearly 20 years later.
What pushed you into poetry rather than, say, prose?

My mother's madness, and a bit of my own.

But I’m asking why poetry and not prose or film or painting or butterfly collecting?

My first recollection is when I was five/six years of age, my sister read me 'The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner' as a bed time story. One night, when the rain and wind were desperate, she read, Macbeth. I bet that was her home work assigned by the blessed nuns at the Jesus and Mary Convent in Murree, Pakistan. Later, as a teen growing up in Kashmir, I enjoyed hearing long-haired poets, wearing bell bottoms, recite Urdu ghazals at poetry gatherings. That chutney must have formed an inner template, an inner homeland for language.

What a lovely mix of east and west. Do you write only in English?

I write only in English but I have translated from the original Urdu selected poems of Sir Mohammad (Iqbal), one of the two great South Asian poets of the 20th century writing in Urdu.
Tell me a bit about the Urdu Ghazals?
The ghazal (in Middle Eastern and Indian literature and music) is a lyric poem with a fixed number of verses and a repeated rhyme, typically on the theme of love, and normally set to music...(that's copied and pasted from Google).
Many contemporary poets, including Paul Muldoon, have written ghazals following its strict metrical discipline. The title  of my collection, In Another Country, is a ghazal, dedicated to my childhood friend, Agha Shahid Ali, whose main contribution to contemporary English poetry is that he showed many poets how to write it correctly. Sadly, Shahid died young...whom the gods love die young.

What poets or poems would you recommend a poet who is starting out should look at?

Depends on one's subject: mine was defined for me by my mother's schizophrenia, which is substantially the subject of my book, from the point of view of a lad growing up, even though it was not until I was in my early thirties that I first learned a dispassionate madness had torn apart my mother, and to a large extent shaped the characters of her six children, the youngest drowned past November, and Mother, who is still alive in New York does not know about it, but she knows...mother's know, you bet.

But I digress, you asked me about poets/poems I would recommend to  young emerging poets: Norton Anthology of Poetry, latest edition. It's over a 1000 pages, Chaucer to present day. Each poet represented by at least 3/ 5 poems, some more. Read. See who you connect with at a visceral level, who you enjoy reading. Then, delve deeper into those poets.

That’s good advice, “see who you connect with.” What writers do you admire? Who are your influences?

In addition to the Norton Anthology, there are separate anthologies on specific subjects, as you may know: on War, environment, race relations, sex/sexual orientation, feminism, pets, madness...what's your subject?
Aside from Shakespeare, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Eliot ... which were standard fare during school and college in Kashmir, I was mesmerized, in New York, by the 'new' (for me) language in Allen Ginsberg's Howl.

You can draw a straight line from Shelley's,  "Ye are many-they are few," ( 'The Masque of Anarchy') to "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness..." ( Howl). I connected to Howl at once. Next, upon reading 'Kaddish,' I discovered that Ginsberg's mother too was 'off kilter,' to put it kindly. That sealed it. I absorbed all Ginsberg wrote.  Through him I found my own voice... such as it is.
I'm drawn to contemporary post Freudian poems which speak to me specifically. That's not to say that pre Freudian poets didn't have any notion of the subconscious. Of course, they did. Wordsworth is perhaps the first pre Freudian poet who mentions 'that inward eye,' but I'm quite certain Wordsworth was tipping his hat at the Bard. 

Yet, for me the most compelling poet of the pre Freudian era is Rumi who says, "Stay with the pain and sorrow, for the wound is the place where the Light enters you." Even Mr Sigmund couldn't have said it better himself. Agree?

Tell us a bit about your links to Ireland.

As the first non-Irish winner of the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award 2013 in 46-year history of the award, it’s not just about the new multicultural Ireland, brilliant as that is, but it's also about the proselytizing of the English language by Irish missionaries. Had it not been for Father Galvin, McMahan, and Sisters Mary, and Aoife, who all introduced me to the English language in my native Kashmir, I doubt if I'd writing this.
Irish literature has had a global reach, from Swift to Heaney, and after Heaney, by the established as well as emerging Irish women authors. The Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, who died in 2013, named his seminal work after a line in a poem by Yeats, Things Fall Apart, where you'll discover gems borne of the Irish experience: ‘When the wind blows you see the chicken's arse.'
We live in a visual culture. In the film Mughal-e-Azam, which is to Bollywood what Gone With The Wind is to Hollywood, a polished marble statue of a beautiful woman comes to life as a Mughal prince unveils it. Don't tell me that isn't a nod to ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.
But in a larger sense, we are all children of Lord Macaulay, and what the British did in India they had already done in Ireland. There is a book out, ‘Masks of Conquest,’ by Gauri Viswanathan, a protégé of Edward Said, in which Gauri shows that English Literature as a subject was first introduced in schools in India before it was rolled out in England. That's pretty amazing.

We are just starting to see, 200 years after the Minutes of Macaulay, the impact English-medium education has had on India, now fast becoming the back office for global capitalism. But we also see the English language enriching itself in India: Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy-both Booker winners, Amitav Gosh, a prolific bi-continental author, to name just three at the tip of my tongue. English language is the bridge that links an Emerald Isle at the edge of Europe to my border town in the foothills of the Himalayas, where those blessed Irish teachers always reminded us that Irish literature is the revenge the Irish took on the British by infusing the English language with music.

Are you saying that you personally do not have an Irish connection other than in the global world of literature manner? 

Of course I have an ‘Irish connection,’  a physical link to Ireland: I have been livinig here for the past 12 years, up in Ballyoonan, County Louth, where many residents can’t even pronounce my name. Some call me Rafferty. Others call me Dustin, for they say I look like Dustin Hoffman! And a few have been able to wrap their Christian tongues around my heathen name. Thank you very much, folks.

How do you share your time?  Don't you work in New York?
I share my time carefully. I work for myself; so it’s not too hard to share my time between New York, Ireland and Kashmir.
What attracted you about Ireland?

I moved to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years to serve Ireland in my own cross- cultural way. Took a mortgage out on a cottage. Soon, the tiger's roar turned to a whimper, now it’s a whine. I cling on by the cuticles of my nails for I love the usual bright things about Ireland, despite its mostly rainy days. Sadly, things are falling apart, but I'm resilient, like Ireland herself.

I guess I'm asking why Ireland and not Italy or Montenegro or South Africa?
Why Ireland: Personal circumstances. I'd like to think it was destiny.
Do you have readings planned for your neighbours and others in Co Louth?
Yes, have a reading planned for my neighbors: small worldly group.
Thanks Rafiq and good luck with the launch.
The launch of Rafiq’s book, In Another Country is on 26th September in the Patric Kavanagh Centre, Inniskeen, Co Monaghan.
Rafiq Kathwari is the first non-Irish recipient of the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, in the forty four-year history of the award. He lives in Ballyoonan (Baile Uí Mhaonáin), County Louth, but has lived most of his adult life in New York. Born, as he puts it, “a Scorpio at midnight” in the disputed Kashmir Valley, Rafiq has translated from the original Urdu selected poems of Sir Mohammed Iqbal, one of the handful of great South Asian poets of the 20th century writing in Urdu. He obtained an MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University and a Masters in Political and Social Science from the New School University. He divides his time between New York City, Baile Uí Mhaonáin and Kashmir. In Another Country is his debut collection and is available to purchase from Doire Press here with free worldwide postage.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Abridged 0 - 43: Lethe Submission Call

We are what we remember. And what we want to forget. We no longer feel comfortable with our own memories even though we say we have no regrets. We see people as reinforcement and justification. The end justifies the means and the present is all that matters. There is always a need to celebrate and memorialise. The selfie is perhaps the endgame of this: ‘See I’m still here.’ We arbitrarily signpost the past as if 10 years is any more relevant than 9, or 99 less significant than 100. It’s capturing the past, cutting off the rough edges and ribboning it: selling it to others and ourselves. Society rounds us up in a collective memory for easy measurement and we cling to tradition like a rock as if it wasn’t something we define by the present. Each world we build we surround by a Lethe, a border-river keeping out the things we’d rather forget we’d done. Scorch the earth and flood the plains.

Abridged is exploring memory and oblivion in its 0 – 43: Lethe issue. 

We are looking for poetry (up to three poems) and art (up to A4 size and 300dpi or above). 

Submissions can be sent to 

Deadline 1st October.


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Red Line Festival Poetry Workshop

This experiential poetry workshop inspired by the local environment will be hosted by poet and writer Grace Wells. Participants will visit the current exhibition at RUA RED Arts Centre and visit a number of local venues and stimulants, using the real world as a prompt for new writing. The workshop will require a certain amount of walking and clothing suitable to October weather.

Sounds fascinating

Saturday 17th October 11am to 1pm

Free but book it now

Link to book here

Monday, 14 September 2015

Troubadours Poetry Award - Whispering Prairie Press

Fancy getting published in the US? This themed poetry competition may ring your bell, toot your horn or ......(insert another musical pun here)

$25.00 Fee

Ends on 30th November

Van Morrison or Nora Jones? We're looking for your poems inspired by modern troubadours. Any form, no line limit. Be inspired by a musician and/or song of the troubadour/story-telling tradition.

Grand prize $1,000 with option to publish in Vol 14 of Kansas City Voices magazine
Second Place $500
Third Place $350
Honorable Mentions

Submittable Link here

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards 2015

The Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awardsawards are inviting submissions for their annual competitions in poetry and prose.

Fee €4 per poem, or 3 poems for €10, with a max of 6 poems. €5 for prose entry made payable to Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards. 

Ms Maria Wallace, Award Winning Catalan/Tallaght Author and Poet will judge the competition.

Winners will be notified seven days in advance and must be prepared to read their work if possible on the awards night at the Heritage Centre in Saggart Co. Dublin at the end of November 2015. 

Deadline: Friday 30th of October 

The work should be the author's original work and not have been published or broadcast previously. 
Poems not to exceed 45 lines and typed in plain font Times Roman point 12 single spacing on plain white A4 sheet, without decoration or illustration. 
Entries may be in Irish or English and entrants name must not appear on the typescript but only on the entry form.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Rattle Feminist Poets Issue

Rattle are looking for submissions for their Feminist Poets Issue

Deadline:  15 October 2015

While we’re always open to regular submissions of all forms of poetry and artwork, every issue of Rattle includes a special tribute dedicated to some ethnic, vocational, or stylistic group. As always, submissions are free, and payment for publication is $100 per poem. 


Poetry: This issue will feature a tribute to Feminist Poets. The poems may be written in any style, subject, or length, but must be written by those who identify as Feminist Poets and use poetry to advocate for women’s rights. Please explain how this applies to you in your contributor note. We no longer publish prose essays, but instead use these contributor notes as micro-essays at the back of each issue. The poems themselves don’t have to be about feminism or women’s rights—we want to explore the range of work that contemporary Feminist Poets are producing. 
If using Submittable, please be sure to select the Feminist Poets category.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Hodges Figgis Book Festival 2015

Hodges Figgis Book Festival
Hodges Figgis Book Festival
The Hodges Figgis Book Festival 2015 runs from Monday 14th to Saturday 19th September in the well known Dublin Bookshop. There are lots of events and a great selection of different writing, writers and books to see. And what's more everything is free so you'll have enough cash to BUY A BOOK!
It aims to bring together writers from various forms and backgrounds, including the best Irish contemporary novelists, children’s authors, historians, playwrights, poets and musicians. With the finest of Irish writing and storytelling at our core, the programme is driven by the ideas and issues that animate writers across all genres. 

Guests will include: John Connolly; Thomas Morris; Sinéad Gleeson; Rick Stein; Dr. Mark Rowe; Dr. Síghle Bhreathnach-Lynch; Marina Carr; Médbh McGuckian; Díarmaid Ferriter; Liz Gillis; Belinda McKeon; Shane Hegarty; Derek Landy; Pádraig O' Moráin; Poetry Ireland contributors; St. Patrick's Boys Choir; the Blazing Salads Food Company, and many more.
A taster:
Tuesday 15th September1.00pm – JR Ryall, head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House will be in-store with sweet
treats from the infamous Ballymaloe Cookbook.
3.00 pm – Michael Barry transports us back to Victorian Dublin with his beautifully
illustrated historical guide Victorian Dublin Revealed.
6.30 pm – Gallery Press launches Marina Carr’s Hecuba, along with
Médbh McGuckian’s Blaris Moor & Michelle O’Sullivan’s
The Flower and The Sea.
Link to the brochure here

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Novel Fair

The 2015 novel fair cost has gone up to €45. €45!

Described by The Irish Times as a 'Dragon's Den for writers', the Greenbean Novel Fair is an Irish Writers Centre initiative which aims to introduce up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents, giving novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas and place their synopsis and sample chapters directly into the hands of publishers and agents.
The Greenbean Novel Fair 2016 submissions period is now officially open with the deadline for applications on 16 October 2015
The Fair itself takes place on 20 February 2016. Take a look at our video of Novel Fair 2015 to get a flavour for just how exciting this event can be! 
Before entering the competition, please ensure that you have read the Terms & Conditions very carefully as the Fair is open to previously unpublished aspiring novelists only. 2016 Terms & Conditions here.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Interview with writer John MacKenna

Hi John and welcome to emergingwriter.blogspot. First question. How did you first get into poetry?

Going way, way back - in secondary school in Limerick I had two inspirational English teachers - both Redemptorist priests - Patrick MacGowan and Ray Kearns. They both inspired and urged me to read poetry - not just what was "on the course" but a wide range of writers they recommended. They'd loan me books, give me photocopies of poems, steer me in directions. And as I wanted to write I began with poems - and I was given the chance to read the work in public - at school concerts and so on. And then, in 1968, one of the poems was published in Young Citizen magazine and the thrill of publication made me want to go on writing.

Do remember any of the poems that you read and enjoyed early on?

Oh I do. The ones that stick in my mind most clearly are Tennyson's Crossing the Bar and The Listeners by Walter de la Mare. I remember Ray Kearns passionately talking about how Tennyson had got the energy and the motion of the turn of the tide into that poem and that was a revelation to me. And the de la Mare poem was just so full of magic and taught me that writing doesn't need to answer questions, it just needs to ask questions. The others that stayed with me were The Old Ships; The Lost Leader; Tintern Abbey; Spring and Fall and poems by Francis Ledwidge.

That's interesting. The Listeners is a poem that comes up often. Also The Highwayman. Do you remember this first published poem?

The first published poem was called Glory to the New Born King - it was a piece of political verse about poverty and the state of the world, written in rhyming couplets. I still have a copy of the piece in a scrapbook - that and a play written for the 1916 celebrations in 1966, a play called I See His Blood. That was staged in the school too. The poem was published in 1968 (I think) in a then monthly national magazine for schools called Young Citizen ... it was part of the backup material for Civics (a curriculum subject at the time) 

You work in many forms. Do you mix that up simultaneously? When you are writing, say, poetry, are you also writing other forms? And do you ever have an idea that moves from one form to another?

I don't tend to work on two long-term prose works at the same time. I am regularly working on poems or ideas for poems while I'm also working on prose but only once, really, have I worked on two long and serious prose pieces at once and it didn't work for me - neither made any progress. In terms of moving ideas - that regularly happens. A lot of story ideas come from poems; plays have morphed into stories and even novels. Often, at the end of the run of a play, I'll feel there's more to be said. It happened most recently with the play Redemption Song which became - in an expanded form - the novel Joseph (New Island).

How did this most recent poetry collection, By the Light of Four Moons, come about? How long were you working on it? 

I had seen a number of Doire Press publications and was really impressed by the way they looked and read. I sent a collection of poems - too many for one book - to Doire and they expressed interest. The poems had been written for the most part in the previous three years - with a few older ones. As the collection progressed, I added some new work as it emerged and some of the earlier submission disappeared. I think John (Walsh) and Lisa (Frank) found a lot of my poems very short but that's how I write. Once I approached John and Lisa their enthusiasm was fantastic and they were hugely supportive.

Congratulations on the publication of your collection. Did you find any themes or threads going through it? 

When I began to put a shape on the collection I found that the poems fell, generally, into four categories. So I began to look at the idea of sections (out of which came the title By the Light of Four Moons, borrowed from a phrase by Robert Frost). The four sections that emerged dealt with personal issues; the day to day challenges of the world as we meet it and as it awaits us; the world of nature and, finally, spiritual issues - including a sequence drawn from the Old Testament - stories from there that I had reinterpreted through verse.

That's sounds very organic. What is your approach to writing? Where do you write?

I tend to work to a schedule - a self-imposed or publisher imposed deadline is best for me. And when I'm working to that schedule - I'm talking prose rather than poems here - I work from 9 to 1 and 2 to 4

and I tend to come back in the evening to look over what the day has produced. That's probably the most enjoyable part, seeing the produce of the day. It's a bit like looking out over the garden in spring and feeling some small sense of achievement. I mostly write with music playing - music that I've chosen as suitable to the mood of what I'm working on. I'm blessed to have a study in which to work - an upstairs room that's full of books (and sometimes the paraphernalia of plays). And out my window I see our garden, and the Millennium Park beyond, that and then the Ridge - a hill range overlooking south Carlow.

I can't really work away from home - yes I carry a notebook and jot ideas but the notion of going to a writers' retreat wouldn't do anything for me. I once rented a house for a month to work in solitude on a book. In the four weeks I wrote one paragraph. Sometimes my wife and fellow writer, Angela Keogh, is at her work across the room from me. That works well. My constant companion in my writing is Leonard, our Greyhound/Labrador - he oversees every word.

What are you working on now and any plans coming up? 

I'm working on a commissioned children's book at the moment - an adaptation of Ernest Shackleton's South. It's for an English company, Good Reads, who have a series of classics adapted for younger readers. After that I'm back to a book of memoir about my late brother. I'm doing a series of readings from my own and my favourite books around Kildare libraries over the coming month - so I'll be reading some poems from By the Light of Four Moons at those events.

Any more chances for people to hear you read from your recent collection?
  • Sept. 2nd Wednesday - Athy - 11am
  • Sept. 9th Wednesday- Kildare - 11am
  •               - Newbridge - 2:30pm
  • Sept. 16th Wednesday - Naas - 11am
  • Sept. 17th Thursday - Maynooth - 11am
  • Sept. 22nd Tuesday - Celbridge - 11am
  • Sept. 23rd Wednesday - Leixlip - 11am
And then back on the road with the play Lucinda Sly (the last woman to have been publicly hanged in Ireland). This is our second tour with this play - first was in the spring:
    four moons 077
  • Sept 23rd Wednesday - Town Hall Galway
  • Sept 25th Friday - Tuar Ard, Moate, Co Westmeath
  • Sept 26th Saturday - Coolgreaney Co Wexford
  • Sept 29th Tuesday - Dunamaise Theatre Portlaoise
  • Oct 2nd Friday - Mill Theatre Dundrum Co Dublin
  • Oct 8th Thursday - The Garage Monaghan
  • Oct 10th Saturday - Central Arts Waterford
  • Oct 16th Friday - Friar's Gate Kilmallock
  • Oct 17th Saturday - Briery Gap Macroom
  • Oct 31st Saturday - Croc an Oir Mullinahone
  • Nov 6th Friday - VISUAL Carlow
Thanks John and good luck with your tour.


John MacKenna is the author of sixteen books – novels, short-stories, memoir, biography and poetry. He has also written a number of stage and radio plays and is a frequent contributor to RTE Radio 1. His most recent publications are the novel Joseph (New Island) and the poetry collection By the light of Four Moons (Doire Press).
His stage play Lucinda Sly is currently on a second nationwide tour.
He is a winner of the Hennessy, Irish Times and C Day Lewis Literary Awards and was nominated for the position of Irish Fiction Laureate. He is a regular contributor to Sunday Miscellany on RTE Radio 1. He teaches creative writing at NUIM and lives in Co Carlow.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Submissions for anthology of LGBT writing

The Limerick Writers’ Centre is seeking submissions for a new anthology of LGBT writing. The anthology, entitled “It’s a Queer City All the Same – An Anthology of LGBT Writing in Limerick”, will be published late October 2015.

We welcome all writers to submit as long as you or your character identify as LGBT. This anthology will feature poetry, prose, essays and more, and will hope to explore the queer experience of Limerick life. We are looking for work that is sensitive, brave, irreverent, and humorous; above all we want writing that is original, fresh, innovative and varied – work that embodies the strength of the region’s queer talent, covering themes and issues relevant to the LGBT community, but relatable to all.

Link here

Deadline: Friday 18th Sept 2015