Director of Poetry Ireland eyes up new abode for bards
A national centre in Dublin that ‘poets would see as their home’ is top of the agenda for Maureen Kennelly
Maureen Kennelly, the director of Poetry Ireland: ‘I think the Irish public might be misled into thinking that some poets are earning vast amounts of money.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The Poetry Ireland offices on Kildare Street are opposite the Dáil; conveniently located for any politician who may wish to drop in. So far, none have, but given that our President, Michael D Higgins, is a published poet, it may only be a matter of time.
“I want to create a vigorous presence for poetry,” she says. “I think the Irish public might be misled into thinking that because some poets have a prominent place in the media, that they’re earning vast amounts of money.”
Poetry Ireland is the all- island organisation for poetry, and receives funding from Arts Councils on both sides of the Border. Its website states that it is “committed to creating performance and publication opportunities for poets at all stages of their careers. Through four core activities – publications; readings; education; and the provision of an information and resource service – we seek to promote access and excellence . . .”
For Kennelly, this commitment includes supporting poets in a number of practical ways. “Our role is to nurture, cultivate and develop poets. We can focus on the living and working conditions of writers and see how we can improve them,” she says.
National poetry centre
One of the things Kennelly would like to do in her new role is “build a bridge between artists and the public”. To this end, the significant priority project for this year is the establishment of a national poetry centre in Dublin, which Poetry Ireland is involved with.
“In the ideal version, it will have a library, a performance space, a bookshop, a place to display donations, an archive, a listening room, workshop areas, and a cafe,” she says. “It might have a writers’ studio, and in the super de-luxe version it would have an apartment for writers visiting from abroad. I’d like it to be a drop-in centre for poets, where they would see it as their home.”
There is no site earmarked yet, but Kennelly is keen that whatever location is eventually chosen, when enough funds have been raised, that it will be in central Dublin. While they don’t have an exact figure yet, she thinks it will cost €1 million-€2 million, and she is hopeful it will receive the support of a benefactor. “We want to have it in the best spot in Dublin so people can’t avoid it,” she says. “Poetry is still seen as a very niche art form. We want to normalise it in everyday life.”
One of the roles of Poetry Ireland is to organise readings around the country by poets. The current fee for a reading is €250. “One practical step I want to do is to increase the reading fee for poets from €250 to €300,” she says.
In 2013, Poetry Ireland received €325,000 from the Arts Council of Ireland, and €49,000 from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Its education department “gets other funding of about €150,000”. It also receives money from Trócaire and Concern for projects in its Writers in Schools scheme. Last year, there were 195 visits to schools.
“Our overall budget is €600,000,” she says. For Poetry Ireland’s 2014 annual funding application to the Arts Council, it has asked to be restored to funding of €360,000. The annual funding results to arts organisations will be announced by the Arts Council at the end of the month. Poetry Ireland employs five full-time staff members, and two part-time.
The organisation also publishes Poetry Ireland Review three times a year, at a print run of 1,000. “I’d like to increase rates of pay for contributors. And the Irish language is something I’d like to focus on too. For instance, I’d like to see more of the Irish language represented in the Review.”
Is there anyone in the community of poets whom she thinks Poetry Ireland is not representing as well as it might? “There’s something very exciting happening in the performance poet area,” she says. “They’re capturing the attention of a younger audience, and so we should be looking more at them.”
As for the place of poetry in the broader arts sector, she is very clear on what needs to be done to benefit everyone. “We trade on our literary heritage. There needs to be a joined-up strategy around literature.”