What is the situation of poetry in your country?
Poetry is in a very healthy state in Ireland. If you tell someone you write poetry they are not surprised because so many people do it. There are poetry festivals all over Ireland. Poetry Ireland is the chief organisation which supports poetry and poets in Ireland. The Arts Council supports poetry publishers. The Irish Writers’ Centre holds poetry workshops, as do many other organisations in many of our towns and cities. Culture Ireland sponsored my travel to this festival. There are many residential centres, such as the Tyrone Guthrie Centre where writers and poets can spend time developing their skills. The Irish writers’ Union holds poetry events and can give advice to poets and other writers regarding publishing contracts and disputes that may arise with publishers. Culture Ireland supports poets and other writers by contributing to the cost of their travels to festivals abroad.
Do you think poetry is an instrument that can bring different cultures and religions nearer?
In poetry we express our thoughts and feelings. That is the surest way for us to get to know ourselves and for others to get to know us. How can someone know us if they do not know what we are thinking or feeling? In poetry we are honest. So those who listen to or read poetry can sense that we are expressing our true feelings and thoughts. You can't fake honesty! Then they can understand us, get to know us, and realise that we are not so different from them. We all have hopes and dreams, we all suffer losses and we all try to recover. This is the same in every culture, in every religion. When we realise how much we share, and how much we have in common, we can realise that we have more similarities than differences. This knowledge can build a bridge between any two cultures, no matter how different they may seem.
Today language is becoming impoverished: can poetry return value to words?
That's a difficult question. To expect poetry to return value to words is asking a lot.
However, without poetry I think language will become further devalued. Just think of young people growing up today in a world of text message slang. Where will they find beautiful phrases, evocative words, heartfelt expression, if not in poetry?
Poetry in the world of young people. Does it have a future?
Yes! I interview many young poets on my radio program Rhyme and Reason
on Dublin South FM. They are passionate about their work and eager to share it with the world. I think the future of poetry is safe in their hands.
Poetry on social networks: quality or rubbish?
Both, I think. As there is no definition of poetry, that I can find, any group of words can be called a poem. And some poems on social networks, I suggest, are no more then a group of words. But if the writing of them gave the poet some satisfaction, and if listening to them or reading them gives satisfaction to others, then what harm?
There will always be variations in the quality of poetry. And we will always be able to find poetry that we believe is good. So let's allow everyone to enjoy their own taste in poetry.
It's often said that the Irish have a profound sense of melancholy - a commonplace observation, that might be agreed with as well as not. Your poems do, however, carry through a striking sense of loss. Do you think your personal history contributed to develop this particular sensibility or has it always been a privileged perspective for you?
I actually can't agree that the Irish have a profound sense of melancholy. I know many people who have chosen to live in Ireland because they consider us to be warm, friendly and happy people. They tell me the Irish smile much more than the people in their own country.
I think we may have gained the reputation of being melancholy because we express our sadness in song and poetry. That doesn't mean that we are more sad than any other race. I believe other races carry on as if nothing had happened when they are struck by a loss. Perhaps they think that ignoring emotional pain is a sign of strength.
In Ireland, we would probably write a song or a poem when we are in emotional pain.
When we are very happy we don't feel the need to write about it. We just enjoy it!
Yes, many of my poems have been inspired by loss. Reviewers have told me that my poems transcend loss. They have certainly helped me to transcend loss.
At a time of loss, what can one do? One can cry, one can become depressed and lose hope or one can write and transcend the pain. It's not an instant solution. The poems will not come to you until you have moved along a little in your journey through grief. Then the poems will come and help you to finish the journey.
I don't think my personal history has contributed to my sensitivity to loss.
I think I always had that sensitivity but I was lucky because I always had a way of coping with it too, by writing poetry.