The Bright Doorway
There are snatched moments
that bloom for us like poppies:
when the door opened on sunshine
and the hall flooded with darkness –
you became solid shadow,
your words stolen by birdsong
and then all I could see was you,
the bright doorway
and all the world behind you.
Describe your style (this could be limited to your writing style, or style, in whatever sense of the word you’d like to conceive it in, and how that relates to you as a writer).
I find it quite difficult to describe my own style, but I’ll tell you what I aim for: I like poems that tell a good story, but leave a lot to the reader’s imagination. I suppose I’m trying to achieve that air of mystery that I experienced when reading poems in Primary School. Poems like Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and The Listeners by Walter de la Mare painted such vivid pictures, while holding something back. I think a poem is an unfinished story that invites a new ending from every reader. When writing more personal poems I try to create bold and lasting images which suggest a framework, but to leave space within the poem for the reader to create their own narrative. I enjoy conceptual poems and those which strike a balance between a certain amount of abstraction and the emotional clarity necessary for a reader to access the poem.
What do you feel makes a poem ready for consumption by others?
Ruthless cutting. I think many young poets (myself included) tend to err on the side of verbosity and repetition. I try to cut as much as I can while still retaining that spark that keeps the poem alive and allows it to communicate to the reader. Of course, it’s easy to go too far, but also easy to backtrack.
A good cup of coffee has the power to seduce. What role does seduction play in your writing (i.e. – is it a theme in your work? Do you seduce yourself into the act of writing? Or does the seduction come when someone is drawn to your work – are you out to seduce poetry readers? Does seduction have some other role entirely vis-à-vis your work, or, does it have no role at all?)
In my own work, I often try to filter my own experience through a number of different voices or personae; the poetic ‘I’ is not always me. I think there’s something intensely seductive in reading a poem that tells a story in a voice that is not the poets own; it forces the reader to look for clues. Which part of the poem pertains to the poet’s own life? What’s their relationship with the speaker in the poem? Again, this comes back to the idea of story in a poem; I want to tell stories that are universal on some level, that appeal to a level of experience that might be broader than my own. The idea that poetry serves as an intimate window onto a wide, unknowable world appeals to me.
At this moment in poems and writing, who’s writing the poems you like to read?
I’ve just finished reading Michael Symmons Roberts’ new collection, Drysalter. I’m in awe of these poems: he manages to achieve both a sense of scope and real intimacy within a strict formal framework. I’ve also flown through Fiona Sampson’s Coleshill which I’ve really enjoyed – I think it’s her most accessible work yet. I had a list of other poets whose work I enjoy, but cut it because it was getting unwieldy. I read a lot of history books and find myself regularly going back to Patrick Kavanagh and Louis MacNeice.
Where do you do your writing? How important is ‘place’ and a sense of ‘space’ for a writer?
My poetry notebooks are beside my bed and my laptop is in my living room. Between the two spaces, poems get cobbled together. They also end up on receipts and scraps of paper in my handbag, because, like most writers, I have this superstitious fear that the poem you don’t write down will be the one that would have won you the Nobel Prize. I can write a poem with the TV on in the background; if there are no distractions for me to battle I’ll create them for myself. I’ve been planning to set up a computer desk in my spare room, but it looks out over our back garden and I can see myself mowing the lawn on a daily basis and installing a water feature instead of writing. Having a space can prove as distracting as it is inspiring.
I’m also part of a small writers group (five of us) who meet once monthly to workshop poems. This is a hugely invaluable part of my writing process and I couldn’t do without it.
Stevie Smith once said that “poetry never has any kindness at all”. How true do you think this is?
I have myself in knots over this one. What is kindness? Is it generosity (good) – or sentimentality (bad)? I’d love to be brutal and say that I agree entirely with the quote, but I don’t. I don’t think that poetry is objective. I think it’s entirely subjective, but when it’s functioning properly, it makes room for our various experiences. It’s communal, many-voiced and yes, I think it is generous. It’s accommodating, to some extent – there’s a kindness in that.
When it comes to writing poems, and how events are captured on the page, do you think it is better for the poet to suffer from excruciatingly good memory, or excruciatingly bad? (i.e. what role does the truth have in writing a ‘good’ poem?)
To return to the last point, I don’t think poetry is objective in any way, although it should aim to achieve a sense of universality. So I think a bad memory is preferable, or at least a memory that has the ability to fill in the gaps in a creative manner. It’s dangerous to assume that we can tell the truth through poetry, or tell any truth other than our own. However, emotional truth and sincerity is paramount in poetry – it gives a poem its beating heart – but of course this is completely subjective and specific only to the person whose experience is being communicated.
Describe the last time you had a really stunning cup of coffee (or tea).
Recently after a long night at a music festival in Barcelona, a friend pulled out a bag full of Barry’s tea that she’d brought from home. I’m pretty sure I owe her my life.
Black, Strong, or Sweet?
Jessica Traynor is the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year 2013. She has work forthcoming in Burning Bush II and in the New Planet Cabaret Anthology edited by Dave Lordan, which will be published by New Island. Poems have appeared in Southword, the SHOp, Wordlegs, New Irish Writing in the Irish Independent (2009, 2010 and 2012), the Stinging Fly, the Moth, the Listowel Writers Week Winners Anthology, A Modest Review and Poetry 24 (2012 and 2013).
She won the 2011 Listowel Single Poem Prize and was shortlisted for the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Listowel First Collecton Prize, the UCD Anthology Award and the Strokestown Poetry Prize in 2012. She has twice been longlisted for the Fish Poetry Prize (2010 and 2013) and was highly commended in the 2009 iYeats Competition.
She was the 2010 recipient of a Literature Bursary from Dublin City Council and was featured in the 2009 Poetry Ireland Introduction Series. She is currently working on her first collection.