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.

Derry reading

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!

JHSS pic

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.

Introduction to Poetry at Irish Writers Centre June 2017

Irish Writers Centre - Dublin, Ireland

My next Introduction to Poetry six week course begins on the 8th June. I’m really looking forward to meeting a new group of aspiring poets – the creativity and positive nature of group work always energises me as a writer.

More info on the course content here:

Starts: Thur 8 June 2017
Time: 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Duration: 6 weeks
Cost: €165/€150 Members

This six-week course is ideal for beginner writers, or those who are new to poetry. We will explore different approaches to writing poetry, with the aim of building up a body of work. Participants will discuss image, metaphor, rhythm, sound, the shape of the poem on the page, and then be challenged to respond to a series of fun and inspiring exercises. Favourite poems will be shared as forms of inspiration. There will also be workshop elements for those who would like to share their work with the group. 

Jessica Traynor is a poet and creative writing teacher from Dublin. She is the Museum Curator at Epic, the Irish Emigration Museum. Her first collection, Liffey Swim, was published by Dedalus Press and shortlisted for the 2015 Shine/Strong First Collection Award.

Interested? You can sign up here.

Canvassing for Votes at Saboteur Awards 2017

Sbotage

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 

Feature on Pablo Neruda on RTÉ’s Arena

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.

Neruda

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.

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.