We kick off our final week of interviews with Cork poet, Doireann Ní Ghríofa. You can read some of Doireann’s poems in issue #3 & issue #5.
How long have you been writing? I’ve been writing since I was little, but I began to focus seriously on writing poetry about 5 years ago. Tháinig an bhé chugam ag labhairt as Gaeilge ar dtús ach is léir go bhfuil sí dátheangach- táim i mbun pinn i mo mháthair teanga chomh maith anois. I can no longer imagine my life without poetry; it’s strange to think that I only began this journey in earnest in 2008. To me, poetry is like when you look away from a firework display and the colours seep into everything else you see. It becomes part of your life, you begin to see things more vividly.
What was your first publication? As a child, I was a winner in a writing competition with a short piece based on a story my grandfather used to tell. Bhí gliondar ar mo Dhaideo dar ndóigh! The prize involved publication in the anthology The Cat’s Pyjamas, a £5 voucher for McDonalds and a cheque for £25. I got a glimpse of how writers live, high on the fumes of Big Macs & royalty cheques. Imagine my confusion when my first collection was published & I did not receive any whiff of McDonalds! My first published poem was in the Irish language journal Feasta. Bhí gliondar orm nuair a ghlacadh leis & táim an-bhuíoch don eagarthóir Pádraig mac Fhearghasa as ucht an dán sin a fhoilsiú agus mé a thosú ar an mbóthar seo. It was a great lift to see that first poem in print. (no McDonalds from them either though).
What have been the most significant developments, negative and positive if you like, in poetry in Ireland over the last 10 years or so? The most positive development has to be the advent of the internet; I feel that for my generation, there’s no question. I am equally passionate about reading poetry as writing it, and the web is a portal for me into the work of others. So many of the contemporary poets writing in English whose work I admire I first encountered online. I’m thinking Kate Clanchy, Natalie Diaz, Eleanor Hooker, Joshua Mehigan, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Sarah Clancy, Ilya Kaminsky, Traci Brimhall, Rachel Zucker, Julianna Baggott… (this list could go on for days!) their poems are exhilarating & nourish me as a writer. Were it not for the internet, I might never have had the good luck to happen upon their work. There are so many poetry websites that I use frequently… I find the Poetry Foundation website amazing. I love that it’s easily searchable – I’ve been experimenting with form of late so I like to see how others work within various structures. Poetry International Web is a great resource to read work of writers from Ireland & work in translation. I also enjoy the Scottish Poetry Library, their annual anthologies are published online free of charge & it’s interesting to me to see how Gaelic & Scots languages are held in such esteem there – alongside English rather than below it. Poemeleon is another favourite online journal of mine. Ireland is doing well in terms of poetry content online too – Southword(rannóg speisialta Gaeilge anseo), Wordlegs, Burning Bush 2 & Bare Hands all have different takes on subject & tone, but each reflects the beating pulse of modern Irish poetry in a way that more staid print journals may be slower to pick up on. The internet is an amazing resource for a gluttonous reader of poetry like myself.
What do you think needs to happen, and what would you like to see happen, in Irish poetry over the next few years? I really want to see the emergence of a diversity in poetic voices. Ireland is slowly becoming more diverse and I am excited to see that filter into our poetry. Dedalus Press published an interesting anthology some time ago called Landing Places: Immigrant Voices in Ireland. I really enjoyed this collection. I look forward to a time in Irish society when a certain parity is achieved and we no longer need anthologies to give voice to minority groups or women. Sadly, that time has not come yet. I love the glimpse poetry gives through someone else’s eyes, and I look forward to reading more new, diverse voices in the future. Ba bhreá liom níos mó spéise a fheiceáil i bhfilíocht na Gaeilge i measc an phobail chomh maith… Feictear dom go bhfuil athrú ag teacht ar ár dteanga & go bhfeictear é sin i bhfilíocht an ghlúin úr. Taitníonn an splanc i bhfilíocht Ailbhe Ní Ghearrbhuigh, Gearóid Mac Lochlainn, Simon Ó Faoláin & Dairena Ní Chinnéide go mór liom. Bíonn suim agam i gconaí sa mhéid a bhíonn idir lámha ag Ceaití Ní Bhéildúin, file nach mbíonn faitíos uirthi roimh dúshlán san fhilíocht ná san ealaíon. Is spreagúil liom an fís aici ina bhfeiceann sí an fhilíocht, an damhsa, and ealaíon fite-fuatie lena chéile. I dtaobh na todhchaí, tá súil agam go dtiocfaidh guthanna nua cróga ar nós Séamas Barra Ó Suilleabháin chun chinn le cic sa tóin a thabhairt don sean-regime. Ba bhreá liom infheistíocht láidir a fheiceáil i scéimeanna ar nós IMRAM, feile litríochta a nascann ealaíon, ceol agus litríocht. Laoch liom é Liam Carson & tá an-mheas agam ar an bhfís a chuireann sé ós comhair an phobail. Tá litríocht na Gaeilge á stiúradh aige i dtreo suimiúil, spreagúil atá oscailte dóibh siúd atá líofa agus iad siúd ar bheagán Ghaeilge araon. Ba dheas liom dá gcuirfear tuilleadh airgead ar fáil d’IMRAM lena gcuid imeachtaí a thabhairt timpeall na tíre ar bhonn níos leithne.
We often hear in Ireland of the pull from either Boston or Berlin: what do you think, are we European writers in the English language or are we wholly steeped in the Anglosphere? Bhuel is cinnte go mbeidh dearcadh difriúl ag scríbhneoir dátheangach ar a leithéad de cheist! I could never answer on behalf of Irish writers in general, I can only speak for myself. To me, this question speaks volumes on our post-colonial insecurities. Why should we need to define ourselves with such labels? I am inspired by reading the poetry of writers on both sides of the Atlantic, but I refuse to be defined by polarities. Why should I define myself as either Anglo or European? Why should I break my spine to squeeze myself into a neat box of definition? I am me. I am Irish. That should be enough.
Finally, if you had to recommend one regular poetry event in Ireland to someone, what would it be? We are so lucky in Ireland that there are vibrant poetry events running regularly all over the country. The Cork Spring Poetry Festival is my personal favourite. It is curated by the team at the Munster Literature Centre, who organise an amazing line-up of readings (as Gaeilge & as Béarla araon) and workshops, often with internationally renowned poets. There’s a lively, enthusiastic vibe, it’s really worth attending. I would also recommend Ó Bhéal, a weekly poetry session in the heart of Cork City. Each week, there is a reading from a guest poet, a 5 word challenge and an open mic. Cuirtear fáilte roimh filí na Gaeilge ann chomh maith & is deas liom é sin a fheiceáil. It’s great craic!
Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s poems have appeared in many literary journals in Ireland and internationally, most recently in France, Mexico, USA, Scotland and England. She was a winner of Wigtown Gaelic poetry contest, the Scottish National Poetry Prize in 2012, shortlisted for the Jonathan Swift Award and Comórtas Uí Néill both in 2011 and 2012. She has been selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series (2012). Doireann’s Irish collections Résheoid and Dúlasair are both published by Coiscéim. Her pamphlet of English poems Ouroboros has recently been selected for the longlist of The Venture Award (UK). Her website is www.doireannnighriofa.com