Hibernian Writers: Breda Wall Ryan

Breda Wall Ryan

Breda Wall Ryan

BREDA WALL RYAN grew up on a farm in County Waterford and now lives in County Wicklow. She holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from UCC; a Post-graduate Diploma in Teaching English as a Second or Other Language from Trinity College, London; and an M.Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. She was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2014. In 2015,she won the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize; in 2014 she won 2nd place for the Patrick Kavanagh Award; and in 2013, she won the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Competition, Dromineer Poetry Competition, the iYeats Poetry Competition and the Poets Meet Painters Competition. In a Hare’s Eye is Breda Wall Ryan’s first collection of poems.

What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

My mother had a great store of narrative poems by heart, which she recited for us as bedtime stories –  Robert Service’s The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee; Longfellow’s The Wreck of the Hesperus, and Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Some Yeats and Eva Goore-Booth, too. She also read to us from the Old Testament – more adventures in rhythmical language! School knocked all the enjoyment out of poetry for me, until Leaving Cert, when I had an excellent teacher who introduced me to the music in the language of Shakespeare, Milton, Keats and Shelly.

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?

When I first came to work in Dublin, I bought a collection of poems by Dylan Thomas from a barrow on Henry St. The barrow owner recommended it. I  became so absorbed in the poems that I missed my bus stop on the way home, and could hardly wait to read them aloud when I reached home.

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?

Seriously learning my craft, I had written poetry for about a year when I had 2 poems shortlisted for the Mslexia Poetry Prize. That was a huge thrill. Vicki Feaver said some nice things about them in her judge’s comments. It was my first competition, and first publication in a journal, so it was very affirming at that stage in my poetry journey.

What is the most memorable poetry reading that you have attended and why?

I’ve been to amazing readings by Heaney, Longley, Sinead Morrissey, Mark Doty, Gillian Clarke, Don Paterson, Robert Pinsky, Derek Mahon, almost every major poet who has read here in recent years. No-one expects to be wowed with major poets, however. Two wonderful surprises that stand out are: in the early 70’s I was present at a spontaneous outbreak of poetry in Henchy’s pub in St. Luke’s in Cork. John Montague was one of those who recited; that was pretty exciting. A few years ago, I went to hear Margaret Atwood read at Poetry Now in Dun Laoghaire. As one would expect, she was very good, but I came away stunned by the other poet on the bill, Máire Mac An tSaoi, a feminist, subversive and lyrical poet I had not appreciated until that evening.

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?

Oh, that’s such a hard question! Today, I’d choose After Ovid: New Metamorphoses, edited by Michael Hofmann and James Lasdun: Yearling by Lo Kwa Mei-en and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s Selected, because those are the books I’m carrying about and reading right now. But if I had to choose at another time, the list would be different. My desert island selection would be three very fat anthologies because I’d want to bring as many poets and poems as possible.