His debut pamphlet Gopagilla was published in 2012 by Crystal Clear and a full-length collection The Sun Bathers in 2013 by Shoestring Press, which was subsequently nominated for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize.
Hi Roy. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Your debut full-length collection The Sun Bathers was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize last year. I imagine that must have been a real boost both for yourself and Shoestring Press to be recognised in this way?
Thanks for having me. The shortlisting was a lovely surprise and I know John Lucas was pleased too. Shoestring is a small independent press with a very low key approach to publicity. It relies on its good reputation to sell books, so it was particularly pleasing to see my publisher on a list with the likes of Faber and Faber and Bloodaxe. And of course it was nice for me to be in the company of excellent poets like Hannah Lowe, whose book won the award.
I enjoy reading your blog which has lots of great articles and musings about poetry. Your most recent posts have been discussing your experience of constructive critcism from a personal viewpoint and also offering practical advice to readers. Just how crucial do you consider this process to be when writers are developing their poems?
Thanks, I enjoy writing the blog. I think all writers are too close to their own work to see it clearly, so constructive criticism is vital to improving. There has to be mutual respect and empathetic understanding between the parties involved. The writer needs to develop the ability to listen to advice offered.
Even if one rejects advice, it is good to understand why you are rejecting it, to be able to argue for your work. Most people are naturally defensive and sensitive so delivering criticism constructively is a skill that takes into account not only what is being said, but also about how it is said.
Constructive criticism should be a positive experience aimed at improving the work. Ideally, it should affirm what is working and give the writer suggestions for changes or ideas to try.
Another activity you dabble in is reviewing poetry collections (which can be an art form in itself). What was it that attracted you to start doing this initially and do you feel it has benefited you in any way in being able to look at your own writing more objectively and critically?
Reviewing is a way of giving something back to the small poetry magazine world.
I started after being asked by a magazine editor and other offers came after the first review. It is time consuming so I don’t accept if I’m too busy or if the work doesn’t interest me. If I like the work I enjoy the challenge of trying to articulate and share my enthusiasm.
Obviously, not everything I write will be positive and so it’s also a challenge to explain why I don’t think something works as well as it might. I’m not sure how reviewing affects my own poems, but maybe careful reading of others work has a positive influence.
Following on from this, are your writing practices any different now than when you first started penning poems or do you tend to work in much the same way?
My writing practice hasn’t changed much. If I feel I’m onto something worthwhile then time tends to go out of the window until I’m at a stage where it seems to be finished or almost finished. Then I know I need to put it away until I can see it more clearly.
I re-write much more quickly than I used to and can make decisions more immediately and decisively. Poems still come when they want to. I don’t attend workshops or use prompts but I suppose I encourage new poems by doing something poetry related every day, whether it be reading, reviewing, re-drafting existing work. I’ve been addicted for about a decade.
What does the rest of the year hold for you in the world of poetry? Are there any dates in the diary you are especially looking forward to or goals you have set yourself?
I’ve written enough poems for a new book so I’m re-writing, deciding what to put in and what to leave out and how it might all fit together. It should be published in 2017. Apart from this, I’m lucky enough to have been invited to read at a few events, which I enjoy, not least because I can travel to new places and meet people.
I’m also giving a workshop and judging a competition at the Ashbourne Festival so that should all be fun and interesting. I don’t really set writing goals but I like to have fairly regular publications in good magazines so I’ll be hoping to keep things ticking along.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
I used to be a nurse in coronary care and one of the things we did was attend cardiac arrest calls around the hospital. This poem is one of a sequence I’ve written about that time. I got some lovely personal responses to the poem when it was first published, one from some nurses in a coronary care unit that had pinned it up in their staff room. I’d been trying to write about nursing for a while, and this was one of those poems that arrived when I wasn’t expecting it.
Carrying the Arrest Bleep
It’s cool, at first, to feel it
weighting my pocket, to be wired to a voice
swathed in static,
to run through empty corridors
past a gallery of night-blacked windows,
to fly down stairwells
that smell of the dust
drifting in the hospital’s
concrete heart. To be joined
by junior doctors, going hell for leather
over walkways, the city below
sunk in 3am quiet, our feet
skidding in corners, bursting through doors
into the light of a ward
where I’ll slap pads
to a chest, get busy with compressions
and the drawing up of drugs.
The buzz wears off
with each heart pumped or shocked;
paper thin skin over prominent ribs,
grey chest hair and deflated breasts
all our futures laid bare
in a strip-lit bay, the whole scene
lasting far too long
and when the registrar asks
if we agree to stop, I meet
his eye, and nod.
(first published in The Rialto)