1. As well as a poet you are a lecturer at Cardiff University. That role has surely been on your mind recently with the university strikes in the UK. How connected are your poetry and your academic work for you? Has your creative writing been affected by teaching creative writing classes, for example?
I haven’t been teaching creative writing for long, so I’m still figuring it out. So far, it’s been illuminating. I’ve had to make my writing practice explicit to myself, so that I can make it explicit to my students. I’ve found that much of what I believed about poetry writing is just that: belief. Superstition, magical thinking, intuition and habit. I think that reading and talking about writing – which, at its best, is what creative writing in the university comes down to – will, with time, make me a better writer.
I’ve also been lucky to land myself with passionate and inspiring colleagues. For instance, the poet Robert Walton is here, and on a recent morning he stood in my office giving me a lecture about doing more poetry readings. I was supposed to be preparing the class I would teach in twenty minutes, but how could I dispatch him? He’d given twenty-five poetry readings in the last six months, he said. “You can sell all those books,” he said (gesturing at the big box of copies of my new book, hot off the press, lurking under my desk), “but that doesn’t mean anyone will read them!” And: “It’s in performance that the poetry lives!” It’s a gift to have colleagues who come and yell at me at 9 o’clockin the morning about poetry. I’ve worked in a few different jobs – bars, a bookshop, a tax institute, a supermarket, a student’s union, the marketing department of a magazine – and there was a certain amount of yelling in all of them, but never about poetry.
Having said all that, I had to go on strike for weeks this year, to protect my pension. And there’s still no guarantee that anything was achieved by it. On the picket line, there was time to raise my consciousness about just how bad things are in British universities. I’m short of money and long on anxiety as a result. The (inept) marketisation of higher education threatens everything positive about academic work, and poetry is no exception.
2. You are from Dublin but you have lived abroad for a number of years now. How has your experience as an expat changed with time? Has the notion of nationality gotten more or less important for you?
These are very difficult questions! I never used to think of myself as Irish – or, more accurately, I never used to think of Ireland as a real entity. Nations were unconvincing inventions. I thought / think of myself as a Dubliner, which is different. It’s Dublin I look for everywhere I go, not Ireland, it’s Dublin that I miss, and it’s because of Dublin that I’m comfortable in Cardiff – they’re very similar, from the glimpses of mountain and sea to the warmth of strangers to the gorgeous presence of a language not English.
But, of course, the longer you live away from a place, the more it hardens into an idea. This has been particularly true for me since coming to Britain. Maybe Ireland exists for me now. Brexit has made me hanker for a country which, at least in my nostalgic view of it, knows history and takes history seriously. Last year during the Eurovision, a Tory tweeted, “thanks Ireland, you can keep your f’king gypsies!” and I felt it as a personal affront. I get carried away, in my newfound nationalist fervor. Today I learned that my son’s primary school is going to have a picnic to celebrate the Royal wedding, and I’m afraid I was very rude about the Queen.
3. In your essay “The Authority to Say Anything At All” you express mixed feelings about giving public readings of your poetry. What are your favourite and least favourite things about public poetry readings? Do you ever desire alternative ways of sharing your poems?
There’s a video called ‘Thanks for Coming’ which answers this question with greater hilarity than I can: https://vimeo.com/
I do want to find other ways of connecting through writing, though, and for that reason I recently sent out a call for submissions to a zine, to be edited in collaboration with my partner, John Harvey. We have no plan for what form this zine will take or how it will be distributed; we only know that we want it to be a vehicle for small-scale, organic, offline connections. There’s information on how to submit on my blog at https://ailbhedarcyblog.
4. Finally – the referendum concerning reproductive rights is fast approaching in Ireland. What have your feelings been in the run up to it? Are you confident that the 8th amendment will be repealed? And has it inspired you poetically in any way?
Whatever your views on the morality of abortion, any knowledge of Irish history prompts recognition that the 8th amendment to the constitution was misconceived — indeed, conceived out of systematic misogyny — has had a terrible effect on the lives of Irish women; and should be repealed. I wish I could be confident that it will be repealed. I’m worried that people with beautiful souls might find it too easy to frame the question as a choice between some murder and no murder. We’ll see. I was wrong about the gay marriage referendum, wrong about Brexit, wrong about Trump, and wrong about the British general election. So I don’t make predictions these days, even quietly to myself.
As for the referendum inspiring me poetically, I’m a slow poet, slow as treacle in subzero temperatures, so it’s too soon to really say.