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 Galway poet Caoilinn Hughes, who reads on Tuesday 4th June.
Philip Cummins: What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?
Caoilinn Hughes: At home: Dad loosening his collar, squinting out the early evening window, reciting Heaney and Wordsworth and Yeats and Kavanagh and Keats and Auden without any effort of remembering. The language and sentiment had its own muscle memory in his brain. I remember wanting to be old and able to revere more than the rhythms and unconscionable longevity and incoherence of it.
At school: Reading Eavan Boland’s ‘The Famine Road’ when I was in fifth class. That blew the top of my head off more than the blunt knife of Dickenson or the clinical craniectomy of Elizabeth Bishop could. It made me feel patriotic and alienated at once: affiliated and disloyal. It made me glad to be female, I think, for the first time.
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?
CH: I tend to enjoy particular poems or groups of poems rather than the whole body of a writer’s work or even the arc of a collection. I’m a very slow reader, so it comes down to individual poems. There are so many poets who have two or three poems that I could live off more reliably than porridge. Derek Mahon’s ‘A Disused Shed in County Wexford’. Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s ‘The Companion’. Robin Robertson’s ‘At Roane Road’. Louise MacNeice’s ‘Train to Dublin’. Bill Manhire’s ‘Kevin.’ *shivers*
Would that I write a poem one day that will do someone, at least, for porridge.
PC: Which poets do you think best characterise the qualities that are found in your own poetry?
CH: In making comparisons, I can only really think about either formal or tonal similarities. It’s very rare to come across another poet with a very similar tone, focus and style. That’s the beauty of poetry: its variety. But for one or the other aspect, people who have been very influential: Seamus Heaney. James Fenton. Don Patterson. Eavan Boland. Louis MacNeice. Sinéad Morrissey. Jamie McKendrick. Vona Groarke. Paul Farley. A lot of playwrights and fiction writers too. Sentences are sentences. I forget who influenced me ten years ago, but I was reading and writing ten years ago, so I guess all that counts—the phases you go through: the beats (from Whitman to Ferlinghetti), the imagists, the academics, the guy on the street in Frisco who walked backwards with my crumpled dollar and spoke in broken poetry as a second language and blinked in threes, like ellipses.
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?
CH: Eureeeka! I definitely didn’t have a Eureka moment in terms of publishing. I feel like that’s a very long and difficult process, and every time to reach a self-set goal (like a small magazine publication, or write twenty poems before Tuesday), that goal has already become something more unachievable and you never really congratulate yourself. Having said that, the Kavanagh Award was a milestone. But in my experience, it’s not a single moment. It’s a long effort. In terms of writing, I have had various moments. Particular poems that have felt incredibly exciting to write, and in a way you hope those poems will be equally exciting to read. The sense of urgency and exhilaration is what it’s all about. I find that those poems—the good ones—are often the first poems you’ve written in a while.
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??
CH: Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s Collected Poems because my violin teacher gave me his copy when I was a young teenager (because he thought that I was a hopeless violinist but a hopeful writer) and I lost it and Hugh didn’t get mad outwardly but I knew he was disappointed and I knew it was because he really cared about the poems and that helped me to care and I then cared a lot and so Yevtushenko has a certain nostalgia and personal importance.
Sinéad Morrissey’s State of the Prisons because the poems are perfect pre-digital weighing scales for considering human experience. Sinéad was Writer in Residence when I was at Queen’s University—where I spent an amazing and formative four years. Sinéad is a hauntingly good writer. Besides, I love reading poems that I hear in a Northern Irish accent.
Ohgod. Just three? Well, for the sake of as much poetry and variety as possible within the three books, I’d go for Shakepeare’s Collected Verse. But really, I need variety. I might even choose an anthology, in fact. At a push. Even though I much prefer single author books. But if I were limited to three? Kipling? Auden? Who knows? It’s cruel cruel cruel.
Caoilinn Hughes reads as part of the second in a series of three readings as part of the Poetry Ireland Introductions readings series on Thursday 4th June at 6.30pm at the Irish Writers’ Centre, 19 Parnell Square, D1.
Also reading with Caoilinn are:
Venue: The Irish Writers’ Centre, 19 Parnell Square, D1
Time: Thursday @ 6.30pm
T: (01) 8721302