After reading your bio and website, I think you must be one of the busiest poets around at the moment. You must love what you do, but how do you fit everything in?
Geraldine O’Kane, who co-runs Poetry NI with myself, we both love poetry, and we both love seeing other people grow and develop in their writing and their discovery of poetry. So I guess if you are really passionate about something, you just find the time and energy somehow. Poetry has been very important in helping me deal with my depression: it’s created social circles and new friends, and given me a sense of self-worth, so although at times it might feel busy, it still feels vital.
You champion local poets and co-run Poetry NI. What’s the poetry scene like in Belfast at the moment?
Belfast, for a long time, had very few opportunities for poets outside of the Universities. Purely Poetry, our open mic night, has been running for over six years now, and back when we started, poetry wasn’t really seen as something to do on a night. Now, thankfully, more and more places are seeing poetry as viable, something that audiences want. We still have a long way to go – what Dublin has on in the space of a week would easily outnumber what happens in Belfast in a month. But it’s improving slowly.
As an editor and publisher you must see and read a lot of work. In some cases, you might be the first person to see it. What’s it like discovering new poetry and poets?
I think as an editor, you have to have a responsibility to discover new writers and showcase them. You can’t just publish your mates. It’s amazing to publish someone, perhaps for the very first time, and then a few years down the line, see how they have advanced. We’re fortunate in having our Purely Poetry open mic night, with new readers coming and being able to hear their work. But we are also wary of being too Belfast-centric, and want to push more North West and rural voices moving ahead.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read. Simple as that. You can’t be a writer if you don’t intake words and revel in the output of others. Join your local library. If you’ve a student, definitely read beyond what’s just on your course reading list. Subject yourself indiscriminately to books, read widely with an open mind, and don’t be afraid to try out writers that might be completely different from your own style or what you’ve read before.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to create bad art. Not everything you pen has to be prize-winning. As long as you are engaging with that creative element, and exercising your brain, the really good stuff will come eventually.