Amanda Bell is a freelance editor living in Dublin. She completed a Masters in Poetry Studies in DCU in 2012, which proved a catalyst for her own writing, and since that time her work has appeared in The Stinging Fly, The Burning Bush 2, Crannóg, The Ofi Press Literary Magazine, Skylight 47, The Clearing online, and in haiku journals Presence, Blithe Spirit, shamrock, cattails, and haibun today. In 2014 her work was shortlisted for the Cúirt New Writing Prize and the Strokestown International Poetry Competition, and in 2015 she was shortlisted for the Fish Memoir Prize, and longlisted for the Rialto/RSPB Poetry Competition. Her critical writing has appeared in journals and essay collections. She has a research interest in ecocriticism, and particularly the work of Kathleen Jamie. She reviews regularly for Children’s Books Ireland’s publication Inis. Amanda is a member of the Hibernian Writers’ Group, and is editor of their forthcoming collection The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work.
What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?
My parents read to me from babyhood, and from an eclectic range of texts. I particularly remember my mother reading ‘The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens’ in her best Scottish sailor’s accent. Another favourite was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Child’s Garland of Verse. Whenever my brother and I were confined to bed with childhood ailments, ‘The Land of Counterpane’ was an example of how your immediate surroundings and circumstances can be transformed by the power of imagination. There was obviously a strong Scottish influence in the poetry of my early childhood, which may explain why I gravitated towards Kathleen Jamie’s work in recent years.
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?
Because my early exposure to poetry had been quite classical, even Victorian, it was a revelation in my teens to discover contemporary Irish poets like Paul Durcan, Rita Ann Higgins and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. The immediacy of The Berlin Wall Café (1985) marked a turning point in how I experienced poetry, and seeing Paul Durcan, dressed in black from head to foot, read to a packed lecture theatre in TCD, c. 1986, was my first experience of poetry in performance. He was a rock star.
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?
I was shortlisted for the Strokestown International Poetry Competition last year and, like all shortlistees, invited to give a 20-minute reading. When I sat down to put the reading together I was pleasantly surprised (‘hugely relieved’ might be a more apt description…) that I had plenty of material to choose from, much of which had been published in journals. The reading was well-received, as were the numerous rehearsals I put my family and friends through, which in itself was a way of ‘outing’ myself as a writer.
What is the most memorable poetry reading that you have attended and why?
I saw Jackie Kay and Liz Lochhead reading in Glasgow last summer, at the First World Congress of Scottish Literatures. Kay has an immensely attractive stage presence, and an ability to convey layers of meaning and emotion with deceptive simplicity. Her perfectly modulated reading of ‘Brendon Gallacher’, to my mind one of the most moving poems ever written, had me undone for the rest of the conference, so much so that I bunked off some of the evening sessions to sit in the Botanic Gardens and absorb it. It was worth the trip to Glasgow to hear that poem alone.
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?
Assuming we’re talking about poetry collections in terms of their contents rather than their desirability as art objects, a question such as this highlights the importance of anthologies, as they operate on both horizontal and vertical axes, with each poem relating thematically or chronologically to its neighbour, and simultaneously operating as a portal to an entirely other body of work. With that in mind, I would select An Duanaire and The Norton Anthology of Poetry, in the hopes that any individual poem therein would work as a key to the memory repository. For the third, I don’t think I would ever tire of Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems.
In terms of poetry collections as objets d’art, I would choose a first edition of The Tower which my husband gave me after the birth of our first daughter; Anne Carson’s Nox – an extraordinary feat of physical book-crafting; and an anthology that my younger daughter compiled and illustrated herself for a primary school project.