Earlier this month, I had the lovely surprise of being nominated for Best Reviewer at this year’s Saboteur Awards. I was really touched by this; I work away on the reviews and they get put up there and I’m proud of them, but generally I don’t have a lot of time to publicise them. So it’s really gratifying to see they’ve been noticed.
There are a number of reasons why I started to review for Sabotage Reviews. As a poet flogging a debut collection, I came up against the usual challenges of getting my own work reviewed; a number of reviewers are friends/ colleagues, so you can’t ask them, many mainstream outlets have little or no funding for poetry reviews, the general lack of a massive poetry reading audience. I did of course also have plenty of successes and good reviews, for which I am forever grateful!
But the experience got me thinking about poetry reviewing and how necessary it is to have people out there reviewing work – for the health of poetry in general. I was intrigued by Sabotage Reviews, a collection of brilliant selfless people who review work just for the joy of reading new poetry, and so I got in touch to see if they would have me. Being Irish and based in Ireland, I was also eager to review work that came from another country. That meant less risk of conflict of interest, and also the golden opportunity to read new work from a very different milieu. Since I’ve started reviewing for Sabotage Reviews, I’ve read new work from all across the UK and the USA. It’s been a pleasure.
There’s a spotlight on the nominated best reviewers here. I’m shamelessly pulling some lovely quotes people left about my work when they voted:
Why voters think she should win:
- Committed, passionate and fair-minded – a force for good in poetry on the page and off.
- A bright and forensic voice
- Jess gets what reviewing is meant to be about: discussing works on their own terms, with a sensitive, empathetic and nuanced critical faculty.
- She is balanced and remarkably frank
As I said above, I really admire the Sabotage Reviews Project. Everyone involved is donating their time for free, for the good of the written and spoken word. I’d love you to vote for me of course, but do have a look at the other nominees and categories too. There’s lots of great work in there that deserves to be recognised.
I had the pleasure of reviewing Helen Dunmore’s elegiac but uplifting ‘Inside the Wave’ from Bloodaxe Books for RTÉ’s Arena last week. This is a book that deals with mortality, but also surprises with its insights and imaginative drive. You can have a listen here.
I had a great time reading some extracts from Pablo Neruda’s work and talking about his life on RTÉ’s Arena last Friday. The poems are such a joy to read, it’s difficult not to get carried away by their passion and music. You can listen back here.
I’m also looking forward to seeing the new Pablo Larraín biopic (image above), but see it’s just been panned in the Guardian…great reviews elsewhere so I might take a chance. I like the magic realist stylistic approach and I think I’ll be happy to forgive any artistic licence taken in pursuit of a good yarn.
I’ve been lucky enough to review some excellent work this year so far for Arena, and these two starkly different collections stood out for me.
You can have a listen to my thoughts on Emily Berry’s dark and compelling Stranger, Baby here.
And my thoughts on Simon Armitage’s The Unaccompanied here. I’d some (enjoyable) arguments with this one, and it certainly feels like a collection for our times.
On the 2nd of March I visited RTÉ’s Arena to do a profile on Robert Lowell for the week of his centenary.
Lowell was a poet I thought I knew, but it was great to have an opportunity to revisit the work with the intention of trying to put together a broad overview of the work. Time flies on live radio, but I did manage to squeeze in readings of some of my favourite poems.
There are some interesting books on Lowell published this year, including a new biography by Kay Redfield Jamsion, which pays particular attention to his psychology.
You can listen to the feature here.
Over the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of having work included in two new anthologies of Irish Poetry.
The Deep Heart’s Core from Dedalus Press takes an intriguing approach to the anthology form by asking poets to choose ‘touchstone poems’ that mean a lot to them, and explain the process behind them. The result is a very varied and thought-provoking selection of contemporary Irish poetry. It’s especially interesting to see which poems each poet selected. You can buy a copy here.
Washing Windows? Irish Women Write Poetry is an excellent anthology of contemporary Irish women poets, published by Arlen House. It’s great to see such an extensive anthology recognising the excellent women poets working in Ireland today. Arlen have long been a champion of women’s writing in Ireland (when it was neither profitable nor popular) and long may their good work last. The book is available to buy from Books Upstairs and online here.
Last week I was on the radio reviewing Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Unreconciled: Poems from 1991-2013’ on RTÉ’s Arena. I thought it was very interesting to see such an extensive retrospective given to a writer known more for his novels. It’s also always a little telling when the references and praise on the cover apply to the writer’s previous prose publications… Have a listen here
The Spring season of writing workshops is really getting into full swing now, and I’m delighted to have a few one-day courses coming up at Big Smoke Writing Factory.
These are great taster sessions for anyone who would like to get into creative writing, but who may not be quite ready to commit to a full-length course.
In April, I’ll be teaching an Introduction to Creative Writing on Saturday 1st and Beginning to Write Poetry on Saturday 8th. These great value courses run from 11-4, and I can guarantee a lot of fun, and a lot of writing.
It’s been a few years since I’ve run a playwriting course, since I’ve been so busy with my work at the Abbey and my own writing.
I’m delighted to be teaching one again for the lovely folks at Big Smoke Writing Factory, beginning on the 9th February. It’s an eight week course that covers the basics of good writing: characterisation, plot, structure, language, style and genre and redrafting. We’ll also be looking at some classics and trying to work up new scenes and play ideas.
There are one or two places left still, and you can book here
I got a lovely surprise this evening to discover that my poem ‘Hamelin’ from my collection Liffey Swim is this week’s poem of the week 0n RTE.com, nominated by the Poetry Programme. In fact, I was so excited when I found out that I treated myself by turning on the heating a full ten minutes early.
You can hear me reading the poem here, along with a review of Liffey Swim by Philip Coleman of TDC.