A year of living, breathing poetry
The judges of this year’s Poetry Now competition reflect on this year’s entries, and find that although Ireland ‘is coming down with moans’, our literary culture is thriving. The competition’s winner will be announced tomorrow, writes ARMINTA WALLACE
Was it a good year?
Gerald Dawe:I loved reading the books. It gives you a chance to see what’s going on, to sample the different kinds of writing throughout the country. To sit down and read 30-plus books of poetry – a huge number of poems – and to see that it’s not a burden, is quite an achievement in itself. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Mary Shine Thompson:I certainly had a great deal of difficulty in winnowing down the 31 books to the final five – so a number of books were omitted from the shortlist that could easily have made it.
There was also quite a spread of publishers from Ireland and England, which suggests a considerable amount of interest in poetry – so yes, it certainly was.
James Harpur:I haven’t been keeping track of the other years, so it’s hard to compare them. But each of the poets on the shortlist was very strong – and it was just the tip of a varied and fascinating iceberg, really.
What themes, if any, emerged from the collections?
Gerald Dawe:There was a very strong sense of time passing, in the shortlisted selection at any rate. People were looking back at friends who were gone, or family members who had died.
Mary Shine Thompson:In the five shortlisted collections there was a sense of elegy, of celebrating lost lives, but there were undertones and overtones that distinguished the five books from each other. So a sense of redemption – of hard-won optimism and belief in life – came through as well.
James Harpur:In poetry competitions with single poems, you can see dominant themes. With books of poetry I find that poets tend to have their own obsessions, which are followed throughout their career.
Obviously they write in a time and place, so there are echoes of what’s happening in the outside world – but overall I felt there weren’t over-riding themes that were common to the 31 poets. Apart from the human condition; the veil of soul-making, as Keats put it.
Did you get a sense of where Irish poetry sits in a wider international context?
Gerald Dawe:I think it’s true to say that contemporary Irish poetry has a great confidence about it, and a great sense of its own importance.
Another thing struck me this year, too: the ability to move outside and be relaxed in other cultures and countries. A sense of mobility, not just geographical but historical. So you’ll have a poet writing a version of an old English poem, or a translation of a classical poem, or a contemporary French or Italian poem. They don’t have to justify it.