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Alvy Carragher: ‘Poetry seems to pull out and piece together the heart of the matter’

What Remains the Same is published by the Gallery Press

Alvy Carragher: 'Truth is impossible, and silence is inescapable'

Tell me about your collection, What Remains the Same.

It’s a selection of poems that touch on grief, family estrangement, and the aftermath of growing up in an abusive environment. The book as a whole reaches for wonder and some of the ways we can find solace in the world.

Does poetry help you speak about things you’ve been silent about before, a form of truth-telling like your mother’s unpublished poems, turning something broken into something beautiful, using a gift for finding unsolicited meaning in everything?

Truth is impossible, and silence is inescapable. I like the Annie Ernaux quote: “Then the silence breaks, little by little, or suddenly one day, and words burst forth, recognised at last, while underneath other silences start to form.”

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The most complicated, haunting experiences seem to lose all sense of accuracy in memory and can become lost in the structure of a story. Poetry seems to pull out and piece together the heart of the matter.

The collection is in four parts. How did you structure it and decide on the running order?

Intuition.

How does it differ from your previous collections The men I keep under my bed (2021) and Falling in love with broken things (2016) in theme and style?

They’re all pretty different books. My voice is perhaps consistent, if older now. What the poems are trying to speak about is inevitably connected.

You had a national schoolteacher nearing retirement who had lost any interest in teaching but loved to hear children recite poetry.

It would be fairer to say that I only paid attention when we did poetry.

You wrote a blog, With All the Finesse of a Badger, on the nature of growing up in rural Ireland (Galway and Tipperary) and considered yourself a writer “long before it was appropriate”. How so?

I was seven.

Elizabeth Reapy’s Wordlegs first published you and a host of other young writers. How important was it?

It wasn’t just Wordlegs, there was a whole ecosystem of support where you could find your feet. Just a few that helped me to persist by providing space or encouragement: Over the Edge (Kevin Higgins and Susan Millar DuMars), The Monday Echo (Aidan Murphy) and The Dublin Writers’ Forum (Anne Tannam and Fiona Bolger).

New poetry: All Souls; Into the Night that Flies So Fast; We Go On; Baby SchemaOpens in new window ]

You wrote a poem, Unsolicited Advice from a Failed Male Poet, hitting back at online trolls after you wrote Numb, a poem about your experience of being raped.

I was young and furious. I knew I was not alone.

You wrote a children’s book, The Cantankerous Molly Darling. Tell us about it.

One of the main characters is a rooster called Lady Macbeth.

Have you ever had a more unhelpful rejection note than: “Have you ever considered giving one of the main characters cancer?”

“You may find this website helpful in seeking other Irish publishers” with a link to Publishing Ireland.

You’ve lived in Louisiana, South Korea and Vancouver and only recently moved home. Describe these places and how they have influenced you?

That would be impossible, each is its own place with its own history and people. Overall, I grew up a bit and hopefully got some perspective. It also made me appreciate Ireland and what we have here. It goes deep.

Which projects are you working on?

I go poem by poem and page by page. I’ve never been much of a project person.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?

Not intentionally.

What is the best writing advice you have heard?

Jane Hirshfield’s: “Everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention”.

Who do you admire the most?

People who are both kind and courageous.

You are supreme ruler for a day. Which law do you pass or abolish?

I would abolish supreme rulers.

Which current book, film and podcast would you recommend?

I’m not very current, but I will do my best: The Solace of Artemis by Paula Meehan; Aftersun by Charlotte Wells; and Poetry Unbound by Pádraig Ó Tuama.

Which public event affected you most?

The referendum for same-sex marriage. What a day.

The most remarkable place you have visited?

A toss-up between Sorokdo in South Korea and Inishturk off the coast of Mayo.

Your most treasured possession?

A brown teddy bear from my first Christmas.

What is the most beautiful book that you own?

Visually, a book of Kandinsky paintings.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

I simply wouldn’t. The actual stress.

The best and worst things about where you live?

The best is that it was built in the 1830s. The worst is remembering to switch off the immersion.

What is your favourite quotation?

There’s a book-length poem by Mary Oliver called The Leaf and the Cloud, the section named Flare is incredible and available in its entirety online. I can’t quote the whole thing, so here are just two lines where she speaks about her parents: “But I will not give them the kiss of complicity. / I will not give them the responsibility for my life.”

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Martha Quest from Doris Lessing’s five-volume, semi-autobiographical Children of Violence series.

A book to make me laugh?

Humour is very subjective. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet never fails to make me smile. Relatable.

A book that might move me to tears?

Perhaps not tears, but certainly awe: What the Living Do by Marie Howe.

What Remains the Same is published by the Gallery Press