I am honoured and
privileged that the following writers local, national and international have
agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list
of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is
covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises
too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you
enjoy the experience as much as I do.
American-born Jack Grady is a past winner of the Worcester County Poetry Contest (Massachusetts, USA). A dual Irish and American citizen, he now resides permanently in Ireland. A founder member of the Irish-based Ox Mountain Poets, his poetry has been widely published and has appeared either online or in print in Live Encounters Poetry and Writing; Crannóg; Poet Lore; A New Ulster; The Worcester Review; North West Words; Mauvaise Graine; Outburst Magazine; The Runt; The Galway Review; Algebra of Owls; The Irish Literary Times; Skylight 47; The Ekphrastic Review; Dodging the Rain; Mediterranean Poetry; and in the anthologies And Agamemnon Dead: An Anthology of Twenty First Century Irish Poetry; A New Ulster’s Voices for Peace; Poetry Anthology Centenary Voices April 2016; 21 Poems, 21 Reasons for Choosing Jeremy Corbyn; A New Ulster’s Poetry Day Ireland Anthology 2017; Poesia a Sul 1; and 300K: Une anthologie de poésie sur l’espèce humaine. He read in Morocco at the 3rd annual Festival International Poésie Marrakech, as the poet invited by its committee to represent Ireland, and he was invited to represent Ireland at the 3rd annual Poesia a Sul, in Olhão, Portugal. His poetry collection, Resurrection, was published in Belfast by Lapwing Publications in October 2017 and was nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
Brother Gerard, headmaster and English teacher at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, MA., USA ( a university preparatory school which Frank O’Hara also attended, long before me, of course). Brother Gerard told the class that the sonnet was the most difficult form to write, that is, if you follow the exact rules. For some reason, I took that as a challenge, and wrote one poem in the Shakespearean form and another in the Petrarchan form (though, being inspired by French writers I was reading, I referred to it as a sonnet in the style of Pierre de Ronsard).I continued to write poems in older forms (and even language style) until I first read Allen Ginsburg’s Howl. What a fantastic discovery that was! I was liberated. Nothing was sacrosanct. Nothing was forbidden. I then wrote a Beat-style poem called Pigsty of Desire (long since wisely lost and forgotten), and then wrote a number of others in that style. A friend of mine said Howl ‘was like buying pornography…It’s been called the birth scream of the Best Generation.’ And, indeed, it freed me from the limitations of pre-free-verse poetry.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
That one I can’t answer. I imagine that it was one of my teachers in primary/elementary school, but I didn’t really take any notice of poetry until I attended St. John’s.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
To me at the time, all the established poets were older than me. It only seemed natural that they would be the dominant ones.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I like to start working as soon as I get up in the morning. First, have a cup of coffee, but breakfast might have to wait a while, especially if inspiration immediately hits me. On the weekends, I get up quite early in order to get as much writing done before I have to do the usual weekend chores. When I am free to work later in the day or at night, I often use that time in revising my poems. I also make sure I squeeze in some time to read the work of other poets as well, and I usually have one book of prose (sometimes fiction, sometimes factual, usually related to history) going on at the same time.
5. What motivates you to write?
The work of other poets, history, war or rather anti-war (I am a war veteran and am much opposed to war), old-time jazz, visual art, death, love, loss, empathy for all creatures great and small, and nature, or Gaia (particularly relating to the oneness of life and all things).
6. What is your work ethic?
Basically, it is to be diligent in applying myself to my craft as much as time allows and not to procrastinate. I also ensure that I work hard at revision. Few poems, if any, are perfect at the first writing, and only a very small percentage get by with a few drafts. In my case, I won’t hesitate to do a hundred or more revisions on a work until I am satisfied with it.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Not so much. Every once in a while, I still turn to poets like Anne Sexton and Robert Bly, and to Seamus Heaney, whose work reinvigorated me, helped in my poetic resurrection; but, mostly, it is to poets that I have read more recently.One poet from the past who still inspires me, though, particularly with regard to any politically-related poems I write, is Kenneth Patchen. He remains my poetic conscience.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are so many of today’s poets I admire, including Adam Zagajewski, Nikola Madzirov, Tishani Doshi, Marvin Bell, David Lehman, and Guy Goffette, to name just a few of the many poets whose work I admire. I can also name innumerable Irish and British poets whose work I much admire, but the list would get too long. And then to explain why I admire each one would require a book in itself, and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. So, I will choose one poet who has most impressed me over the past couple of years. It is a sort of tossup between Adam Zagajewski and Nikola Madzirov, but I’ll go with the younger of the two.Macedonian poet, Nikola Madzirov, is one of the best foreign-language poets writing today. The influence of history has had a major impact on his work, as it also has on mine. He is from a part of Europe which has endured centuries of conflict and destruction, even relatively recently. But he also knows that he cannot/should not be bound by history. He seeks an escape from his roots, from all that conflict and hatred that still lingers, if not simmers, in the Balkans.‘History,’ Madzirov says, ‘is the first border I have to cross.’ Just as in the Balkans, Ireland has a similar history, and the Irish also need to liberate themselves from the divisive borders of history. Know the history, but don’t be ruled by it. Madzirov’s spirit is a travelling one, one that goes beyond the limitations of religion, nation states, and ideology, to seek and find the oneness of being, the oneness of us all. I see in his imagery the influence of Transtromer. Madzirov’s poetry is full of startling images but is succinct. He has a knack for finding that elusive Deep Image, the sort of image that all of us seek as a way to say so much, so many different things, with minimal words, with a single image. As a fellow poet who loves Madzirov’s work once told me ‘he makes me think’.
9. Why do you write?
Some spirit inside prods me. Call it a Muse. I am happy when I am writing, when I am producing work that I like, that I think is good (and I am not an easy critic on myself). If I don’t write at all, I am miserable. Writing is an essential part of me. Also, I think that, with all the depressing problems in the world today, poetry keeps me going, keeps my ship afloat. Poetry is my helmsman.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Read, read, read, and then try your hand at writing. But always read loads of other writers. Then, join a writers’ group, if there is one nearby, or start a writers’ group yourself. And don’t just read your work to each other. Provide feedback to each other. Learn to accept criticism, get a thick skin; otherwise, you will shrink inside yourself and give up when you receive your first rejection letter.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Well, one is a collection like my recent one, Resurrection, which will include poems on a variety of subjects, though some themes may dominate. The other project originally started out as a sequence of poems; however, it has since expanded to the point that it will be an entire collection in itself, and it deals with one particular subject, a person who lived in the eighteenth century. The poems are written or will be written in her voice and those of other characters in her tragic story. The idea of putting these voices from the past into poetry was inspired by Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, Yves Bonnefoy’s Pierre écrite, Mary Madec’s Demeter Does Not Remember, and Susan Ludvigson’s Trinity.