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, 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.