Beginnings and endings are funny things; they almost never happen where and when you think they do. Many times I’ve brought a poem to a poetry workshop, only to be told that the first 2 stanzas are me, talking myself into writing the poem, and the last two are superfluous; a kind of literary dismount!
It’s more common than you might think; you have to write first, then find the poem inside.
I began creative writing in 2007, by attending courses at The Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin, run by Nicole Rourke who, along with Claire Hennessy, now heads up the Big Smoke Writing Factory. In that first course, it took me almost 8 weeks to put pen to paper outside the class, I wanted, so bad, to be good at writing that it stopped me from writing at all.
Mine is not the typical literary path. I trained in architecture and design, rather than literature, and my primary skills are visual; creative problem solving and 3-dimensional thinking. The eureka moment came when, faced with yet another blank page, terrified of making a mistake, I realised I already knew how to do this. I knew how to sit down with a piece of paper, test out different ideas, simply as a means of learning about a problem, by drawing different options over and over until I found one that worked. I knew how to let myself make ‘mistakes’, which aren’t really mistakes at all but a fundamental part of the learning process; I just had to transfer that thinking to writing. I let myself off the ‘perfection’ hook and got down to work.
From these initial writing classes, poetry emerged as my natural writing habitat; an early poem won the Fish Micro Fiction Poetry award and a second was short-listed in the Single Poem award at Listowel Writers’ Week, judged by Rita Ann Higgins. I remember receiving the letter informing me my poem had reached the final 5 – I’d spent the day trying to write a press release for a new business, failing spectacularly. When I opened the letter and read its contents, I was aware of two conflicting emotions – overwhelming delight, alongside a baffled, ” Poetry? F**king poetry is what I’m good at? Might as well wean myself off luxuries like food and heating, starting now.”
Instead, I decided to get some help to better understand poetry and signed up for another course at the Irish Writers’ Centre, this time with Irish language poet and writer, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, whose classes had been recommended by another poet. Nuala is the most wonderful teacher, in any language, and her classes were a revelation! The group who attended worked so well together, we continued to meet on a regular basis after the course had finished, listening to and critiquing each other’s writing and providing ongoing support and encouragement.
If you are a writer starting out, I’d recommend finding a good, reputable creative writing or poetry course and an active writers’ group – the act of making a regular commitment to meet and work with others not only guarantees you will write regularly but will help your work grow and develop faster than it might on your own.
But the poetry thing continued to puzzle me. Why poetry? Yes, I’d read it at school, as we all do, and yes, I had a very good English teacher and can still hear his voice in my head when I read certain poems – his hauteur, when reading Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’, was pitch perfect and could knock Alan Rickman into a cocked hat – but still, it niggled at me. Then, another moment of revelation. Between the ages of 4 – 13, I’d attended local Speech & Drama classes in Glasgow, with a lovely lady called Mrs Marlowe. As part of a small group, I read and recited both prose and poetry with an emphasis on language and delivery, memorising pieces, curating and illustrating little collections and, eventually, sitting exams through LAMDA. I had undertaken an apprenticeship in poetry as a child and, although I’d forgotten about it, it had bubbled away, quiet, inside.
At the end of last year, I discovered my first collection of poetry is to be published by Bradshaw Books in 2014; it makes my status as a writer and poet somewhat official. Another beginning, and as I make the shift from amateur to pro, as it were, I wanted to create a space where I could gather together all things writing-related, along with useful information, inspiration, anything that catches my fancy or sparks ideas.
This is it; welcome!