Winter Papers Arena Takeover

On Monday night I was part of a special Arena takeover with Kevin Barry, novelist and co-editor of the Winter Papers, Ireland’s arts and literature annual (kind of like the Beano for artsy types). Myself, Sarah Baume, Paul Lynch, Mary Morrissey and Kevin chatted with Sean for the full hour about our contributions to the annual and also got to choose a winter-themed poem or song to play. I chose Winter by Kristen Hersh. Afterwards, we headed into town for the first Christmas party of the season.

Kevin and his partner and co-editor Olivia Smith do an excellent job commissioning and collating poems, short stories and articles and producing a beautiful book – so lovely I didn’t want to take it out of the house on my trip to the studio for fear of it getting rained on.

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This year, Olivia and Kevin approached me to write an article on Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, a Sligo-based theatre company who specialise in interpretations of European contemporary classics, and new writing. I focused on their recent play Shackleton, a movement-based reimagining of the story of Ernest Shackleton’s voyage on the Endurance, using puppetry and soundscape, but also took the opportunity to chat to director Niall Henry about what drives the company. I really enjoyed writing the resulting essay on the company’s work – especially because although I’ve worked in theatre for the past ten years I’ve rarely had a chance to reflect on the process of theatre making through my writing.

Novelist Sarah Baume’s contribution is an intriguing and intimate account of her meeting her hero, artist Dorothy Cross, in her home in the West of Ireland. Paul Lynch’s short story is a study in masculine tension, skilfully interrogating a father-son relationship. And Mary Morrissey’s story is fuelled by poignant but clear-eyed reminiscence. The anthology also has short stories by June Caldwell and Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits, and poems by Stephen Sexton and Roisin Kelly.

You can listen back to Arena here and buy a copy of the anthology (before it sells out!) here. 

 

 

Making a Modest Proposal

One of the most exciting projects I’ve been working on for the past year has been a series of poems in response to Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’, which was published by typographer and designer Jamie Murphy’s The Salvage Press alongside the original text and a series of illustrations by artist David O’Kane. The resulting art book is a thing of beauty and I’m lucky enough to have one of them to look at whenever I please – only 35 were printed.

In the run up to the launch I had the pleasure of writing an article on the process of bringing the project together, which includes some amazing insights from Jamie and David. It was featured in the Irish Times, along with Rory Conaty’s gorgeous publicity video, and you can read the article and watch the video here.

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Essay on RTÉ’s Poetry Programme

I also had the opportunity to contribute an essay on the writing of the poems to RTÉ’s Poetry Programme, now presented by Olivia O’Leary. Producer Claire Cunningham was really supportive of the idea and I’d also like to mention Julien Clancy’s fantastic sound work on the piece. I’m really delighted with the resulting piece, and it was broadcast on the 7th October. You can listen back here.

Summer Happenings

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog, mostly because I’ve been busy in work and had a few readings and other writing engagements lined up.

At the end of June, I was in Derry for a reading at CAIS (The Canadian Association for Irish Studies) Conference. The reading was organised by the wonderful Dr. Willa Murphy of the University of Ulster, and I read alongside Grace Wilentz, Kathleen McCracken and John T. Davis. It was a lovely mix of voices and styles, with great music from John, and a very nice flying visit to Derry.

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Reading at CAIS in Derry

At the end of June, myself and Billy Ramsell had the pleasure of judging the iYeats International Poetry Competition. The competition has two categories; one for Emerging Poets under the age of 25, and another General Category. It was especially heartening to read the quality of the work in the under 25 category and see so many ambitious and promising voices, many of whom seemed to be relatively unfettered by notions of what poetry should be. The standard in the General Category was also really high, and we had a great time choosing two winners and ten highly commended poems. Here’s our joint statement on the winning poems:

“It’s a pleasure to declare ‘The Varying Hare’ by Tammy Armstrong the winner of this year’s iYeats competition. This is a special poem, one that manages to combine depth of ambition with deftness in execution, rendering, with enviable clarity, a crepuscular, fog-tinted milieu. Its uncanny, depopulated landscape is one readers are unlikely to forget as it leaves us ‘wrong edged’ and ‘thicket-blind’, lingering, despite ourselves, in the ‘animal time’ it so vividly conjures.

In the Emerging Category, ‘The Last Hour on the Flight Deck’ by Cynthia Miller stood out for us as an ambitious poem full of surprising and well-rendered details. From the air stewardesses who ‘arch their feet inside boxy heels’ to the dusk which ‘siphons lavender shadows across the room’, this is a poem which explores distance and dislocation through vivid, intimate imagery.”

Videos of the winning poets performing their poems can be found here.

In July, I visited Jamie Murphy of The Salvage Press to sign the freshly printed pages of ‘A Modest Proposal’, a project I’ve contributed nine new poems to. For the 350th anniversary of Swift’s birth, Jamie has reprinted the original text of Swift’s satire, along with my poems and some striking new lithographs from artist David O’Kane. The resulting book will launch in August, and myself, Jamie, David and Swift expert Andrew Carpenter will be taking part in a panel discussion on the process of bringing the book together in November at the Swift Festival . Tickets are free, but limited. I also recorded one of my poems with videographer Ruairí Conaty as part of a longer video promo for the book in the atmospheric surroundings of Marsh’s Library – I’ll share this as soon as I have it.

During my visit to Jamie’s base in NCAD, I signed copies of each of the books and got a few nice shots of the poems. This is a project I’ve found really stimulating and inspiring and I think the gothic flavour of some of the work has permeated a lot of the work I’m currently doing for my second collection.

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I also received my contributor’s copy of ‘A Bittern Cry’, a new anthology of essays and poetry to commemorate Francis Ledwidge’s centenary, edited by Tom French. This is a really beautiful book and I’ve enjoyed dipping in and out of it over the past while. Other contributors include Katharine Tynan, John McAuliffe, David Wheatley, Eavan Boland and Gerry Smyth. It isn’t on general sale just yet, but here’s a sneak preview of the cover and one of my poems.

 

Finally, July also gave me the opportunity for a flying visit to the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh, where I read with Dedalus Press poets Pat Boran and Enda Coyle Greene. We each read our poems from the Dedalus Anthology The Deep Heart’s Core, but also had a chance to read a few more pieces to a really attentive and appreciative audience. I stuck around for an excellent masterclass with Mark Doty afterwards, and had the opportunity for great catch up chats with Anne-Marie Fyfe, Iggy McGovern and Paul Maddern. A fantastically run summer school and one that I’m keen to get back to in future!

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And last but not least, today my poem ‘Calais’ from the May edition of Acumen has been featured on the Acumen website as one of their Guest Poems. If you’re not suffering poetry fatigue by this point, you can have a look here.

Canvassing for Votes at Saboteur Awards 2017

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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.

Vote here 

Reviews of ‘Stranger, Baby’ by Emily Berry and ‘The Unaccompanied’ by Simon Armitage on RTÉ’s Arena

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.

One Day Courses at Big Smoke Writing Factory

 

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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.