Over the course of the next few days and weeks, I’ll be posting interviews with those writers reading as part of the Poetry Ireland Introductions series 2013. One of this week’s featured writers is Antrim poet Stephanie Conn, who reads on Thursday 30th May.
Philip Cummins: What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?
Stephanie Conn: I have a vivid memory of owning a set of four small poetry books – one for each season. They contained short rhyming poems and bright illustrations. I was about five or six and remember reading them aloud in my bedroom.
I have a number of memories from my final year in primary school – reciting ‘The Eagle’, the description of cars as beetles in a poem about a city, and illustrating onomatopoeic words for a wall display.
PC: Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering rock n’roll for the very first time? Can you describe what it was like?
SC: To be honest, no. For me it was a gradual process. At secondary school I found poetry quite difficult. Poems were typed on pages and surrounded by exam type questions; they weren’t something I could relate to. I studied English at A-Level and at university and liked Larkin and Yeats but I still dreaded practical criticism questions.
In my late teens and early twenties, during a period of grief, poetry suddenly became relevant, in fact it became a lifeline.
I read much more widely when I started writing. I started with anthologies, then moved onto individual collections. One poem led to another, one poet would introduce me to another and so on.
PC: Which poets do you think best characterize the qualities that are found in your own poetry?
SC: That might be easier for my readers to answer.
PC: What was your first “Eureka!” moment in writing and publishing poetry; the moment when you realized “Hey, I’m actually on to something here!” in terms of your work coming together and first getting accepted and published in magazines and journals?
SC: I remember working on articles and stopping again and again to jot down ideas and lines of poetry. In the end I set the articles aside and attended to the poetry.
Joining a writing group was an important step. At school and university we read other people’s poetry; we didn’t write our own. Of course, that has changed, but back then my poetry had never had an audience. Having the confidence to share my work took a while but when I was ready, I joined Ards Writers’ and their feedback and encouragement was invaluable.
Having your first poem published feels good but doubt soon creeps in and you wonder if it was just a fluke. Having single poems accepted and published sporadically results in similar feelings. When the acceptances started coming more regularly, and magazines and journals were keen to publish two or three poems at a time, it felt like things were moving in the right direction.
PC: 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?
SC: That is very difficult. My preferences change all the time and I love discovering new poets. Two collections that have grabbed my attention recently are ‘Night’ by David Harsent and ‘Public Dream’ by Frances Leviston. I’ll say the selected works of Rumi and Yeats, and Sinead Morrissey’s ‘Through the Square Window’.
Stephanie Conn reads as part of the first in a series of three readings as part of the Poetry Ireland Introductions readings series on Thursday 30th May at 6.30pm at the Irish Writers’ Centre, 19 Parnell Square, D1.
Also reading with Stephanie are:
Annemarie Ní Churreáin
Venue: The Irish Writers’ Centre, 19 Parnell Square, D1
Time: Thursday @ 6.30pm
T: (01) 8721302