I’ve finally got around to playing with Word Clouds. I’m brushing up a poetry MS to send to a few different first collection competitions and messing with t’internet is proving a nice distraction. Here’s what you get when you enter a Jessica Traynor poetry collection into a Word Cloud programme (and then mess with the colour scheme for a while. And make it bird-shaped, because, well…birds.)


I’m intrigued by some of the words that have popped out. Have I really used ‘flatness’ in a poem?? I’m not sure if these Word Clouds really point out anything you don’t already know about your work (I was hoping a prospective title would present itself), but it certainly does allow you to spot the odd absolute clunker.

42nd Hennessy XO Literary Awards 2013

So, on Tuesday night I won the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award.


Myself, Ruth Quinlan and John O’Donnell with our prizes

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.)

Me and Declan working the red carpet.

I’d like to mention at this point that the work of the other category winners was really excellent. John O’Donnell’s story
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An Education in Silence

Heard Julie McClure speak on the radio last week about the experiences of the women in the Stanhope Street Laundry and wrote this poem in response to her story. She and her parents had been told that there were opportunities for young school leavers to gain an education by going to the Stanhope Street ‘training centre’. When she got there, at the age of 13, she was made to work in the laundry for the following three years.

The poem has been published today on Poetry 24. Please do leave a comment as while I’m completely unequal to the task of summing up her experience, I do think it’s an important national issue.


New Poem for Nollaig na mBan

Just another quick post to say I’ve a new poem featured on Poetry 24 today here: http://poetry-24.blogspot.ie/

Poetry 24 is a great blog which features a new poem every day. The idea is to respond to a current news item, so it’s a wonderful marriage of on-the-spot creativity and relevant content. I’ve had a few poems featured here. I find the prompt of writing an immediate response to something topical very challenging – and most of what I come up with is a very personal response, i.e., an exploration of the topic through my own personal experience. This is fine, but I’d like to push myself a little further and try and achieve that elusive blend of the universal and the particular which Patrick Kavanagh spoke about. I think it’s a very important exercise for all aspiring writers to try and broaden their sphere of reference beyond the purely personal and Poetry 24 can really push you to do this. So have a look and get writing!

Strokestown Festival Round-up

This is very belated, but I’ve been flat-hunting, living between two houses, writing an article on a tight deadline and having the usual bewildering new-flat experiences (Why are there no teaspoons? How will I hide my cat from the landlady when she comes to collect the rent?) While considering these and other lofty questions of existence, I like to cast my mind back to Strokestown to calm myself…

Strokestown, for those of you who haven’t been, is a very small town. It’s a crossroads, a big house and not much else. But don’t read that ‘not much else’ as pejorative; in small Irish towns the ‘much else’ is usually miles and miles of bungalow blight and ghost estates. Strokestown remains intact and architecturally coherent. The houses at the crossroads are all small Georgian buildings which echo the architecture of the big house – a small but perfectly formed mansion displaying the almost obsessive symmetry of its era, but with what I imagine Jane Austen might have deemed a ‘very pleasing aspect.’

When we first arrived at the house, everyone was in the lovely courtyard café, so we were free to snoop around the various rooms, which have that air of ramshackle elegance that speaks of generations of use and love; this place doesn’t feel like a museum. The room in which the readings took place has two French doors either side of the lectern allowing the audience to look out at the swallows skimming the grass-tips. We stayed for the afternoon reading on the Saturday, which was Liane Strauss and Seosamh O Mhurchu. After hearing how well they both read I panicked and ran back to the apartment to practice (and wind down by drinking half a bottle of wine while watching Die Hard on TV.)

I vill help you mit your po-et-ik vo-cal delifery

I was reading first on the Sunday morning at 10am and was in great company. Jim Maguire (who came first in the competition) was the first reader and gave us a beautiful sequence of poems on music, the nature of the creative process and loss of that ability. Lovely to hear stand alone poems that interweave together thematically in such an organic way. Liam Ryan (who came third) read after me and his poems were witty, elegantly sparse and built up a lyrical and resonant picture of everyday life. I had a very warm reaction to my own reading with lots of people asking where they could buy my book (publishers everywhere take note!)

The drawing room where the readings were held

So I spent the rest of the day seeing as many poets read as possible. Highlights were Shirley McClure, Isobel Dixon, Lydia McPherson (I’m sorry to say I missed the rest of the shortlisted poets as I only made it to the festival on the Saturday – if I hadn’t, they’d be on my highlights list too.) I didn’t win a prize, but got really positive feedback from both judges and spent two days in the most beautiful surroundings listening to poetry and chatting to poets. I’m going back next year and may decide to haunt the place when I die…