2016 – The Literary Year That Was In It

Publication of second collection

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While 2016 was a rocky year globally, for me, personally, it was exciting. My second collection, Ghost of the Fisher Cat, was launched at the Cork International Poetry Festival, received positive reviews in prestigious journals, including the Dublin Review of Books, Pedestal (USA), Orbis (UK),  and Southword, and was nominated for the Forward Prize for best collection, for the Poetry Now award and for the Pigott prize.

Irish readings in 2016                                                                                                                         Readings took me around the country to several festivals, including the Cork International Poetry Festival, Cúirt Festival, Galway, Stanzas Festival in Limerick, the West Cork Literary Festival and the Allingham Festival in Ballyshannon. As well as that, I did readings at the Irish Writers’ Centre, at Facebook HQ for World Poetry Day, and at Staccato (Toner’s Pub) in Dublin, the Roundy and Alchemy in Cork, and also at O’Bhéal, for a special reading for American students, the Italian Institute in Dublin, the White House in Limerick, the pSoken Wrod (de Barra’s) in Clonakilty, in Castletownbere, and at North West Words, in Letterkenny. I was also interviewed on the RTE radio show, Arena, and on the Poetry Programme.

International readings

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As if it wasn’t thrilling enough with my second collection, my début collection, The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, was translated by Lorenzo Mari and published in Italy by L’Arcolaio in 2016 too! I was invited to Bologna to give readings and talks at two schools and in a well-respected, independent bookstore, Libreria Trame:

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The book was also reviewed and discussed at Bologna university. I have Raphael D’Abdon, an Italian poet and lecturer based in Johannesburg, to thank for introducing my work to Lorenzo. I met Raphael at the Poetry Africa festival in Durban in 2013, when I was one of a collective of four Irish poets invited to the festival. (The other major event of my poetry life).

I had previously been to Italy and to Bologna, when I was sent there by the Irish Writers Centre as part of an Italo-Irish Literary Exchange in 2014, so I already had connections and an affection for that beautiful city. While in Bologna, I was treated royally by Lorenzo, who introduced me to other poets, who exchanged collections with me. Now I’m aspiring to try my hand at translating too!

The Iowa Book Festival                                                                                                                         Another break came when Vona Groarke, editor of Poetry Ireland Review, selected me as one of Ireland’s rising poets for a special issue. Spin-offs from that included being featured on The Poetry Programme with Ailbhe Darcy and Vona Groarke, and also being invited by Poetry Ireland to take part in the Iowa Book Festival, along with Nell Regan and Jim Maguire. That was very exciting. I had previously undertaken an online poetry course with the Iowa Creative Writing Program and already felt an affinity with the place. I was thrilled to meet Christopher Merrill, and to present him with my collection.

Not least of the pleasures was the opportunity to get to know and to read with, Nell and Jim, both of whom I admire and whose collections I already owned. Ah, some great memories with them – especially the walk along the railway tracks!

One of the highlights was the reading by Suki Kim, the brave author of Without You, There is No Us, who went undercover to write a book about North Korea. Another was being invited by Mary Swander, the Poet Laureate of Iowa, to her home for a meal. She lives in an Amish community, so that was a glimpse at an unusual community and way of life. A third was seeing our books on display in the fabulous Prairie Lights bookshop, where several events took place. I came away with quite a haul from there.  There was a reception to meet other writers, and I am in email exchange with one or two. One of them asked me to offer an endorsement for the back of his new collection.  A group of us, including Marc Nieson, author of the memoir, Schoolhouse, went off to watch a play together, and have a late supper.  The pretty, small city was dominated by the Book Festival, with book stalls lining the sunny streets. Abiding memories are of a young guy playing an actual piano in the square, a child with a helium balloon watching, Wayne, the ebullient waiter at the hotel who told me his life story, and visiting the university  where a protest about the Dakota pipeline was taking place, with Native American speakers and hordes of supporters – with helicopters circling ominously overhead.

There was a lovely moment of serendipity too. I was reading The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, another of the programmed writers, in a Korean restaurant (as I was thinking about Suki Kim) when a Korean woman passed and asked if I’d like company. I was about to decline politely (maybe she thought I was a saddo, sitting alone!) when she told me she had spotted the book I was reading and knew the author! So I invited her to join me, and we ended up going upstate to a Russian art exhibition! She also invited me back to her home to meet her family and have supper with them. I was only in Iowa for four days, but it was definitely memorable.

Irish Composers Collective

And that wasn’t even the end of my exciting year! As a finale, I was asked to collaborate with two composers from the Irish Composers Collective, along with Victoria Kennefick and Nessa O’Mahoney. Each of us wrote a poem, and two composers wrote responses to each of the poems. Shell Dooley and Roisin Hayes were the two composers who responded to my poem. In November, we were invited to 45 Merrion Square (the Architectural Archive) to experience soundscapes in each of the beautiful rooms. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of the year for me. The wine and canapés were a bonus too.

Can’t imagine how a year like that could be repeated. But here we go – into a PhD at UCC!

As the late, great Desmond O’Grady said: ‘Live a life. Leave a record.’ This time, I’ll try to keep a record as I’m going along. Watch this space!

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