Double Shot @Books Upstairs: Jessica Traynor

Double Shot is a new series of poetry readings at the new Books Upstairs premises on D'Olier Street, providing a platform for one emerging and one established poet to share their work.

Double Shot is a new series of poetry readings at the new Books Upstairs premises on D’Olier Street, providing a platform for one emerging and one established poet to share their work.

A new series of poetry readings at the new Books Upstairs premises on Dublin’s D’Olier Street, Double Shot provides a platform for one emerging and one established poet to share their work. Jessica Traynor, one of tonight’s readers, spoke to yours truly about the influence of Michael Symmons Roberts’ prize- winning collection Drysalter, winning the 2013 Hennessy Award for New Irish Writer of the Year, and workshopping with Michael Longley.

What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

My earliest memories come from the speech and drama books which made up a lot of my grandmother’s book collection. I remember her reading me short rhymes like Antigonish or I Do Not Like Thee Doctor Fell. I loved the mystery of them – Antigonish in particular felt quite sinister. Then at school I remember reading The Listeners by Walter de la Mare and Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy evening  by Robert Frost. The sense of mystery continued in these; of something unspoken but deeply felt, and this is probably the aspect of poetry that intrigues me the most.

Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering a new planet? Can you describe what it was like?

It’s very difficult to pick one, but a book that’s stuck with me recently has been Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts. It’s a collection of 150 fifteen-line poems and I really admire the freedom he finds within the constraints of form to explore subject matter both intimate and fantastical. I suppose it’s the metaphysical nature of these poems that draws me to them. And this brings me back to John Donne; I would say that first reading his poems in secondary school opened up a world of possibilities for me around what a poem could be and what it could achieve.

Which poets do you think best characterise the qualities that are found in your own poetry?

This is a difficult question. I’m hoping for some more book reviews so I can find out! I’m not sure how much of the metaphysical I bring into my work, but I think there’s a tendency to question there, to use the poem as a vehicle to attempt to work something out. I’m not sure I ever find satisfactory answers, but perhaps that isn’t the point.

What was your first breakthrough moment in writing and publishing poetry, in terms of your work coming together and getting work accepted and published in magazines and journals?

I suppose my big breakthrough was probably winning the Hennessy Award in 2013. I had been publishing slowly but steadily enough since around 2008, but the publicity that came with the award opened a lot of doors for me. It gave me the impetus to start looking seriously for a publisher.

What’s been the most memorable and inspiring poetry reading / workshop that you’ve ever attended, and why?

Again it’s so difficult to choose, but I remember attending a workshop with Michael Longley in around 2009 where he gently but firmly interrogated a number of tendencies in my work. He was encouraging but direct. At the time I probably didn’t realise it, but his observations stayed with me and I think ultimately helped me shape a more mature approach to my work

Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, your own- which collections would they be and why?

These are all gifts: the first is a 1940s edition of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner with deeply frightening illustrations by Mervyn Peake. Somebody in my dad’s work gave it to him and he brought it home and read it to me that night. I loved it. Again, I suppose in my recollection of first hearing of the poem there’s a frisson of fear – it’s a pretty horrifying story – but I think this sense of being allowed to contemplate the mysteries of an adult world is what got me hooked in the first place.

The second is another gift given to my dad by a friend in work (there seem to have been a lot of poetry floating around Dublin Port in the 1990s). It’s an old edition of Pound’s Chinese translations. Reading these poems is an education in itself; in restraint, in fluency, and again in the power of the unsaid.

The third is Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice, which my mum gave to me as a gift for my eighteenth birthday. It has a personal resonance for the two of us and I also found it illuminating as an exemplar of how the personal and the political can work together to create a lasting poetic record of turbulent times.

Jessica Traynor

Jessica Traynor

Jessica Traynor is a writer, dramaturg and creative writing teacher based in Dublin. Her début collection Liffey Swim is available from Dedalus Press. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History, Hallelujah for Fifty Foot Women (Bloodaxe), If Ever You Go: A Map of Poetry in Dublin and Song (Dublin’s One City One Book 2014), New Planet Cabaret (New Island), Peloton, Poetry Ireland, The Irish Times, The Weary Blues, Southword,  Wordlegs, The SHOp, The Moth, New Irish Writing, A Modest Review and The Stinging Fly. She won the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award in 2013 and was awarded the 2013 Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary.

 

 

Double Shot is a series of poetry readings at the new Books Upstairs premises on D’Olier Street, providing a platform for one emerging and one established poet to share their work. A special emphasis is placed on poets from outside Dublin who have fewer opportunities to read here.
The first line up in series on the 25th February @7pm features Jess Traynor, Graham Allen and Kate Quigley. Tickets available here.

Double Shot @Books Upstairs: Kate Quigley

Double Shot is a new series of poetry readings at the new Books Upstairs premises on D’Olier Street, providing a platform for one emerging and one established poet to share their work.

A new series of poetry readings at the new Books Upstairs premises on Dublin’s D’Olier Street, Double Shot provides a platform for one emerging and one established poet to share their work. Kate Quigley, one of tonight’s readers, spoke to yours truly about her undying admiration for Billy Collins, her time on NUIG’s Creative Writing programme and the importance of hearing poems aloud.

What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

My mother was an English teacher, so there were always stacks of books in the house & being read to was a very established ritual. When I was a little older she used to test out writing exercises she’d come up with for her students on me. I was very lucky to have this kind of start, that kind of access to language & ideas. We actually have some home videos of me ‘reading’ aloud as a two-year old, or something equally ridiculous, but I think I’d just had these stories read to me so many times that I’d managed to memorise them. I think a lot of people have their introduction to poetry like this, at a very young age, all of these picture books that are like little poems, written in verse, written to rhyme. School, then, suddenly makes poetry something more obscure & highbrow, which puts a lot of people off. I still love picture books – people like AA Milne, Beatrix Potter, they’re genius.

Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering a new planet? Can you describe what it was like?

I think anyone who knows me is probably sick of hearing me talk about how much I love Billy Collins, but I really do. I was doing a BA in creative writing in NUIG & we had to take these modules – fiction, non-fiction, screenwriting, that kind of thing – & I never thought that poetry was something I was going to write, but I thought, ok, I’ll do this & learn something from it that I can apply elsewhere. And then Gerry Hanberry, who I owe so much to, who is basically the main reason I am where I am today, arrives in to give the workshop with this sheaf of poems for everyone to look at. They were all great poems, Gerry is such a brilliant teacher & Billy Collins was in there, I think it was ‘Litany’, & that was just a revelation to me. I think, for me, he brought poetry back to that same excitement as with the picture books & that is not to slight Billy Collins or the picture books in any way. He did all the things that made me excited about writing as a child – he was just so against the status quo of what they tell you about poetry is in school – his work is funny, it’s full of these wild ideas slotted in to the most mundane scenarios & it’s completely accessible without ever feeling like it’s talking down to you or lessening itself in any way. That’s the kind of poetry I think they should teach in schools.

Which poets do you think best characterise the qualities that are found in your own poetry?

I don’t know if this is a great question for me personally. I admire & take things from a lot of different poets, I could fill pages with names, but I don’t feel that they’re characterising me or I’m trying to emulate them in a direct way. Any writing workshop I’ve ever been in always comes back to this conversation about finding ‘the voice’, finding ‘your’ voice. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what that means, we’re all just a patchwork of our various influences, but I suppose as a young poet it’s something I’m very aware of, to try & only write like myself, or at least to try & figure out what that sounds like.

What was your first breakthrough moment in writing and publishing poetry, in terms of your work coming together and getting work accepted and published in magazines and journals?

As I said before, I’m young, I’m (hopefully) ‘emerging’, so everything that happens in terms of publishing or reading or even someone saying, ‘hey, I read this thing you wrote & I like it’, is immense for me. Everything is a little victory in itself and, then, it’s done & you’re hungry for the next one. Honestly, that Double Shot offered me this slot and that someone wants me to answer these questions about myself and my writing is a pretty surreal experience. I’m pretty sure I’m under-qualified for all this. Again I’m going to say that having Gerry [Hanberry] as a mentor was huge for me, the rest would not have happened if it wasn’t for that & the guidance he gave me. The first poem I ever published was in ‘The Stinging Fly’ and that was huge for me; to have the first poem in that level of journal and to actually be paid for something I had made.

What’s been the most memorable and inspiring poetry reading / workshop that you’ve ever attended, and why?

I go to a lot of readings & I really enjoy them. I think it’s sad when poetry becomes this thing only for ‘the page’. People sometimes forget about the origins of poetry as an oral tradition & I suppose, again, going back to the pleasure of being read to as a child. It’s a very innate thing, I think. It’s always good to hear things out loud. I don’t know if I can boil it down to just one… I did a workshop with Simon Armitage as part of Cúirt a few years ago & he was great, just really insightful, things nobody else in the room would have thought about. You have to be so meticulous like that. I also heard the American poet Brian Turner read at the same festival. He’s immense, in every way. His poems are gorgeous & terrifying & even more so when they’re coming from his mouth. I remember speaking to him afterwards & basically telling him how unstable he had made me feel. I mean it as a compliment & I’m pretty sure he took it that way. He’s a very nice guy, he wrote me a very nice inscription in a collection of his I bought after Gerry [Hanberry], in the queue behind me, shouted something about me being a poet too across everyone. Being able to make those kind of connections with established poets, & how supportive they often are, is amazing & still surreal.

Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, your own- which collections would they be and why?

I think three is an unfair number! I love the Bloodaxe anthologies, ‘Being Alive/Staying Alive/Being Human’, they just don’t have a bad poem in them & a very diverse range of poets & voices, I’ve stolen a lot of ideas from them over the years. I suppose if I had to pick just two more they would be Billy Collins’ collected works, for obvious reasons, & Pablo Neruda’s ‘Twenty Love Poems & a  Song of Despair’. I love the way he uses language & his consistent astonishment at the world. I think that’s an important thing to have if you’re going to write good poetry. But then that leaves out Plath, Hughes, Dickinson, Armitage… Too many names!

Kate Quigley

Kate Quigley

Kate Quigley, is a graduate of NUI Galway’s BA with Creative Writing programme. Her poems have appeared in several Irish & UK journals, including The Stinging Fly, Revival, The Shop, Orbis & The Moth. Prose writing & photography have appeared in The Jerome Hynes One Act Play Series & ROPES. She has read her work at events in Dublin & in Galway and recently spent a year living in a forest in Poland volunteering, working on poems and other creative pursuits. She is currently involved with The Big Smoke Writing Factory & LINGO Spoken Word Festival is working towards a first collection of poetry.

 

 

 

Double Shot is a series of poetry readings at the new Books Upstairs premises on D’Olier Street, providing a platform for one emerging and one established poet to share their work. A special emphasis is placed on poets from outside Dublin who have fewer opportunities to read in the Irish capital.
The first line up in series on the 25th February @7pm features Jess Traynor, Graham Allen and Kate Quigley. Tickets available here.

Mnemosyne Lay in Dust: A reading of Austin Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust at St. Patrick’s Hospital, Wed 7th January 2015 @7pm

First Fortnight: Ireland’s Mental Health Arts Festival

Mnemosyne Lay in Dust

A reading of Austin Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust at St. Patrick’s Hospital, Wed 7th January 2015 @7pm

First published in 1966, Austin Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust is an intensely personal and haunting narrative poem about memory, detailing the fictional Maurice Devane’s “nervous breakdown” and subsequent recovery. Mnemosyne Lay in Dust is based strongly on Clarke’s own experiences as a patient in St. Patrick’s from March 1919-1920. In reading Clarke’s great poem in St. Patrick’s, the poem is, in a sense, brought back to its roots.

Poets Peter Sirr, Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Gerard Smyth will read Clarke’s Mnemosyne Lay in Dust, in full, in the Lecture Theatre of St. Patrick’s Swift Centre. The reading will be introduced by way of Stephen Bean’s short film Mnemosyne Lay in Dust: Memories of Austin Clarke and concluded with a post-reading discussion facilitated by John Saunders, director of Shine and author of two collections of poems.

Poets Peter Sirr, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, John Saunders and Gerard Smyth (clockwise from top left)

Poets Peter Sirr, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, John Saunders and Gerard Smyth (clockwise from top left)

Tickets priced €5 (ex. booking fee)

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Lit News: Poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin to host Where One Starts From: An Introduction to Writing Poetry workshop in Dublin during National Heritage Week

Poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin hosts a workshop as part of National Heritage Week in Dublin on 23rd August.

Poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin hosts a workshop as part of National Heritage Week in Dublin on 23rd August.

STUTTGART- based Donegal poet Annemarie Ní Chuirreáin, due to take up an Autumn residency at the Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida, will host a poetry workshop as part of National Heritage Week from 1pm – 3pm on Saturday 23rd August at Dublin’s Inspire Galerie. Currently, Ní Churreáin is Literature Fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgard, Germany.

I interviewed Ní Churreáin prior to her reading as part of the 2013 Poetry Ireland Introductions series; read here.

New Poems in Cyphers 77

Poems ‘Bite’ and ‘Aurora’ appear in Cyphers 77, along with new work by John Kinsella, Michael Farry, Clare McCotter, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Peter Sheehan, Gabriel Rosenstock and many, many more.

Cyphers 77: New poems by yours truly appear in the latest issue of Cyphers

Cyphers 77: New poems by yours truly appear in the latest issue of Cyphers

HAVING spent more than my fair share of time wallpapering my home, twice over, with rejection slips,  I felt relieved when an acceptance email from Cyphers arrived in my email inbox, some weeks ago.

Undoubtedly one of the most prestigious poetry magazines / journals in English language poetry and certainly one which has a colourful history, Cyphers is the magazine that all writers of poems hope to see their work published, its reputation sealed by the reliable judgement of the editors as shown by the consistency of the work that Cyphers publishes from issue to issue.

Founded in 1975 by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Macdara Woods, Leland Bardwell and the late Pearse Hutchinson, the editors founded Cyphers- named so after a black cat owned by Eiléan and Macdara which, in turn, Eiléan and Macdara named after a series of poems by Macdara- during a particularly harsh time in our social history. By all accounts, the seventies in Ireland was a harsh, grim time of economic recession in Ireland, making the funding of Cyphers a daunting challenge. On-line publishing wasn’t an option; print was (and is still) costly; quiet, generous spaces in Dublin city centre where the spoken word could be heard faultlessly were hard to find. 

In an excellent piece written for Poetry Ireland’s newsletter, ahead of the launch of Cyphers 71 at the 2011 Strokestown International Poetry festival, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin reflected on how far Cyphers had travelled since 1975:

In 1975 the four editors, Leland Bardwell, Pearse Hutchinson, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Macdara Woods, produced the first number.  When we started up, The Dublin Magazine had closed and The Lace Curtain’s penultimate issue had appeared.  We wanted to be as regular as the first and as open to the wide world as the second.  People assumed we wanted to encourage new writers – nothing was further from our thoughts, though in fact we were to assist with several emergences.  We did want to keep faith with the poets we admired, who might not be, or might not stay, in fashion: we felt strong enough to back our own judgement. Our first Cyphers contained only poetry.  In the second we included fiction (a piece by the late Jimmy Brennan, followed in No. 3 by one from Adrian Kenny who also has a story in No. 70), and for a long time we were the only magazine in Ireland publishing literary fiction.

Our first Cyphers felt like quite an achievement, after struggles to raise funds in a recession, much wondering about the title, and long enjoyable meetings discussing the content.  That was the easy bit – we wrote to our friends, and to the contacts we had made when we had run a series of poetry readings in Sinnott’s pub in South King Street, abetted by the late Justin O’Mahony.  We had admitted defeat there when the price of drink rose, so that the audience came later; also, the noise of a hostile regular inhabitant of the pub and the crash of the cash register combined to make some voices inaudible; also, Pearse left for a stint as Gregory Fellow in the University of Leeds.  His return was the signal for the new project.

I asked the Arts Council for money.  They gave us half of what we wanted for the first two issues.  Some friends, John Buckley, Benedict Ryan and Katherine Kavanagh, helped out, and we decided to go ahead and try our luck.  For years afterwards we depended on the patience and good humour of our printer, Pat Funge of Elo Press, as we struggled to pay off the bills for those first issues. But the Arts Council was impressed with our determination and funded us, so that in the end we got out of debt.  Pat’s old letterpress machines were damaged by vandals, and he used the insurance money to shift to the newer offset litho technology, so we learned about paste-ups and light-boxes; nowadays I make pdfs using Open Office.  After Pat’s death when Elo closed, Christy, Mark and Richard, who had all worked there, started a new firm, and they are our printers today.

More important than the six pounds that Patrick Kavanagh’s widow could afford to donate to the founding, she taught me to keep accounts properly.  It was the beginning of my long career as amateur bookkeeper and administrator.  For fourteen years I took care of the business end of Cyphers, haunted by bundles of invoices, dead chequebooks, and stacks of back numbers and unpublished submissions waiting to be returned.  All four editors would gather for ameitheal of writing rejection letters. I had card-indexes of subscribers and battered concertina files of stamped envelopes.  Then FÁS came to the rescue, with a lovely worker, and we got our first second-hand Amstrad computer (it came with a flowery oilskin dust-cover).  All of the succession of nice clever people who worked for us through FÁS schemes, and the later equally nice and clever ones whom the Arts Council helped us to employ, were frightened by accounts, so I still do that part.  But they were willing to log and list and copy and post the manuscripts and look after subscribers and see that the writers were eventually paid their fees.

In 1975 we swore that we would always pay a fee, however miserable.  Quite often the cheque has arrived so late as to surprise the recipient, but we reckon that, small as it is, a fee is never an unpleasant surprise.  It is also a marker of our opinion of the pieces we publish, that we have considered and weighed them carefully and think them worth money.  (But what of the writers we didn’t publish?  Some of them too have made it, but not all. Our archive is rich with pompous letters of self-introduction from people who wrote a poem about their holiday in Ireland; these contrast with the admirable brevity of the man who began his letter ‘Dear Shits’ …)

The early issues had a masthead with lettering by the late Ruth Brandt.  It was the arrival in early 1975 of her husband, Michael Kane, to get the details for the cover, that pushed us to decide on the title.  We had thought of Landrail, The Blackbird, Waterhouse Clock … Michael liked cats and asked us what our black cat’s name was.  She was called (after a series of poems by Macdara) Cypher, a name derived from, among other things, the Arabic word for zero, but it also means a code.  We thought that would do, though we were annoyed later when some critic thought we were being modest, taking the sense ‘nonentities’ – which it hadn’t occurred to us is one of its meanings too.

When we saw that first issue it was clear we’d got some things wrong.  The card for the cover was a paleish yellow, the format looked like a child’s copybook, and so we realised we must make changes, and a long evolution began.  From the second issue onward we used a stronger, cleaner colour, from the fourth we put the contributors’ names on the cover (all of them – we refused to pick out the bigger names); we moved to glossy card and acquired a spine at issue 5.  The black cat is in her grave in the back garden of Selskar Terrace, but her name lives on.

And live on it does.

Launch of issue 77 at Strokestown International Poetry Festival

Last weekend, at the 2014 Strokestown International Poetry festivalEiléan and Macdara were, again, launching a new issue of Cyphers, featuring a cover designed by Dedalus Press publisher Pat Boran. During the launch, I read the two poems included in the current issue: ‘Bite’ and ‘Aurora’.

Also reading at Strokestown were Doireann Ní Ghríofa, who featured on the Strokestown competition short-list and is due to publish her first collection of poems, in English, with Dedalus Press, next year; Trim based poet and former Boyne Berries editor Michael Farry; Quantum Sofa organiser and QS Press editor Peter Sheehan; Macdara Woods, co- editor and founder of Cyphers.

What became apparent to me at Strokestown is that the DIY ethic and charm of Cyphers is still very much in tact as it is in all small-scale production publications: lugging the boxes into the car; lugging the boxes out of the car; setting up glasses and bottles of prosecco ( juices for designated drivers and teetotallers) ; writing the price of the publication on a folded A4 page next to the stack of freshly pressed copies…

The only comparison that I can make that might make any sense is that the charm of such a publication is on a par with my affection for vinyl records and local record shops over digital downloads and on- line stores such as iTunes and Amazon; there’s a social component to print publications and their accompanying launches that feels as vital as that of vinyl records and local record stores. When you attend a book / magazine launch, as when you attend a Record Store Day event, the audience comprises of people who care as much as you do about the art form and, crucially, its format.  To your surprise, you meet other people out there who feel the same way about it all as you do. You are not alone.

Cyphers is available from the following bookshops:

Dublin

Books Upstairs
Hodges Figgis
The Winding Stair
Ranelagh Arts Centre

Cork

Munster Literature Centre

Galway

Charlie Byrne’s
Kenny’s

For a subscription to Cyphers, contact the editors:

3 Selskar Terrace,
Ranelagh,
Dublin 6

Email: letters@cyphers.ie