So, on Tuesday night I won the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award.
It’s very difficult to write about these (rare) instances of success without sounding smug – but I think it’s also important to mark the occasion, so please excuse any gloating and here goes:
I really didn’t expect to win anything this year. I had attended the awards in 2011 when the lovely Afric McGlinchy won and on that particular evening I was in knots, terrified and excited and hoping against tiny hope that I might win something. I was a little disappointed when I didn’t, but not surprised and absolutely delighted for Afric, whose poetry is musical, intelligent and rich with memorable imagery. This year, I approached the event feeling a little older and wiser, simply ready to enjoy the fact that I was invited to a cocktail party in the French Ambassador’s residence (on a Tuesday, no less!)
The other nominated poets were all extremely talented – Helena Nolan, Jane Clarke, Michael Ray, Jessamine O’Connor and Patrick Toland and I had absolutely no inkling that I might be in with a chance to win something. Hearing my name read out for the Emerging Poet category almost knocked me over and when I was called up to accept the overall prize I thought they’d have to take me out of the building on a stretcher. I managed to hold it together for my (completely unprepared) speech, but I’m pretty sure the Perspex lectern betrayed how badly my legs were shaking. This makes it sound like an ordeal – it wasn’t – it was fantastic (which, co-incidentally, was the only superlative I could come up with in the interviews afterwards. It was fantastic fantastic fantastic. Poetry howareya.)
I’d like to mention at this point that the work of the other category winners was really excellent. John O’Donnell’s story
was clear-voiced and engaging with a truly gripping narrative drive. Ruth Quinlan’s was elegant, sensual and demonstrated an enviably fluent and poetic turn of phrase. I’m looking forward to hearing more of their work in the future.
Moment of the evening that I will remember on my death bed? When Rupert Thomson, after saying some marvellously complimentary things about the winner’s work, said: ‘The winner of this year’s New Irish Writer Award…is a poet.’ There was a collective intake of breath and everyone in the room turned, just in time to catch me making a noise like a strangled moose. I may excise the moose part on my death bed, but the rest is gold.
You can hear Tara Quirke giving a beautiful rendition of my poem here:
The Indo’s report on the winners is here (love the headline – I managed to plug the day job!)