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 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.