Poetry Guest Interview – Irish writer Kerrie O’Brien

Contemplating the Muse

No. 17

Linda Ibbotson

Thomas Merton. “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

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With the onset of Spring I recall visiting Paris in April 2017 to walk in the footsteps of artists and writers such as Hemingway, Proust and Chagall. I was welcomed by a resplendent palette of color; delicate deep pink cherry blossoms, horse chestnuts and the ancient lilac wisteria clambouring the walls of Aux Vieux Paris d’Arcole, complementing the blue paintwork and purple chairs that tempt you to stay awhile, to sip wine and wait to hear the bells of nearby Notre Dame.

I am delighted to interview the wonderful Irish writer Kerrie O’Brien who has spent much time in Paris, the City of Light. Her collection Illuminate published by Salmon Poetry was chosen among the 2016 Books of the Year by The New Statesman The Irish Times and The Irish Independent. She is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards and is widely published, including; The Irish Times, The Irish Examiner and featured in Irisi, Cara, RTE Arena, Sunday Miscellany and The RTE Bookshow.

I met Kerrie at her poetry reading during the Cork International Poetry Festival 2017. Her skillful, succinct poetic style, her themes, sensitivity and insight of the human condition with its strengths and frailties, her love for Paris and devotion to the arts resonated with me. It is as if she paints words with color.

BIO Kerrie O’ Brien is a poet from Dublin. Her debut collection of poetry Illuminate was published by Salmon Poetry in October 2016 and was made possible by a Literature Bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland. She was the editor of Looking At The Stars, a limited edition anthology of Irish writing which raised over €21,000 for homelessness in Dublin. She holds a BA in History of Art and Classics from Trinity College Dublin.

Website – http://www.kerrieobrien.com/  

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1  Tell us about yourself. 

I’m from Dublin. I was born in Kingswood, Tallaght and went to school in Terenure. I didn’t start writing poetry in a serious way until college and it wasn’t until my final year that I had the courage to submit my work to journals. In 2010 I started volunteering in the Irish Writers’ Centre which meant I could do courses there for free and I began going to the open mic nights in Dublin like Glor Sessions and Nighthawks and discovered the thriving literary scene that still exists here. I brought out a chapbook with Lapwing called Out of the Blueness in 2011 and was lucky enough to win some awards and arts grants but by 2015 I was working full time in Hodges Figgis and had abandoned writing. Then I broke my foot which forced me to be at home for six months and that’s when I finally wrote Illuminate and rediscovered my love of creativity. In 2016 myself and Alice Kinsella created a limited edition anthology of writing called Looking at the Stars which raised over  E21,000 for the Dublin Simon Community.

2  What took you to Paris? 

I spent six weeks in Paris in 2012. I wanted to go somewhere new to live on my own and write and that’s when I properly fell in love with the city. One of my best friends from college lives there so I go over as often as I can. I spent another month there in May 2016 just after I finished Illuminate and in August 2017 I was awarded a language bursary from the Centre Culturel Irlandais and I got to spend five weeks there with an incredible group of people. I think I’ll probably end up living there. I’ve spent more time in Paris that any other city outside of Dublin.

3  Like me you have a penchant for the café culture. What is your favorite café / Parisian haunt?

There are literally hundreds. Shakespeare and Co have a beautiful little cafe that looks onto Notre Dame. It’s a great place to sit and write and watch the world go by. The top floor of the Pompidou has a restaurant with a panoramic view of Paris and it’s magical at night. Every street in Paris will have a beautiful old independent bistro and I find it a much slower way of life – people aren’t on their smartphones as much – it’s why I love spending time there so much. 

4  What motivates you to write and which writer’s have influenced your poetic style.

When I was sixteen I got a book of photography by Nan Goldin and in it was a poem by Sharon Olds called The Promise. I didn’t know poems like that existed. There’s a beauty and vulnerability to her work that I connected to. When I went to Trinity I had access to the library and so I was able to explore poetry in depth. Apart from Olds, Plath and Anne Sexton the accessible but beautiful conversational style of Frank O’ Hara’s Lunch Poems had a huge influence on me as did the stark depictions of grief in Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes. These are two collections that I still go back to again and again.
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Feature in Cara Magazine, June 2017

 
5  I am interested to hear about your writing process both poetry and fiction.

For me they are completely different. I always write my poems by hand. They will usually start with a line or a concept that I want to flesh out and explore and see where it takes me. It can take months and I’ve never been able to force my self sit down and bang out a new poem. It takes a while for the ideas to come together, to discover what voice is trying to emerge in the work. I find poetry extremely difficult because I’m usually writing about something emotional and there’s probably a sort of psychological healing going on. With fiction I always write directly onto a laptop and it’s much more dependent on daily word counts and fictional scenarios – to me my fiction reads in an entirely different tone and pace to my poetry.

 
6  As an artist do you find the process of painting similar to that of writing?
 

Again for me they are completely different forms of expression! I find painting much more spontaneous and enjoyable – I feel happy and energetic after a day of painting where as writing exhausts me. I find the same thrill with photography which is perhaps because I’m looking outwards rather than inwards. But I ultimately find poetry the most fulfilling art form. I spent a lot of last year touring and reading Illuminate. I felt proud of the work and found that the poems really do resonate with people on an emotional level. Some of my poems have been used at weddings and funerals. The fact that my words can touch other peoples lives like that is incredibly rewarding. At the moment I’m more focussed on my photography and exhibitions but I can already feel the second collection of poems coming to the surface. I’ve been lucky enough to get recent commissions for both my photography and writing which is almost miraculous so I look forward to seeing where the year ahead will take me.

 7  What are your favorite lines from one of your poems?
illuminate_orig

 

Probably the last lines of Illuminate –

 

I want my spirit to go out

Like a laughing child

Running though the fields

And all along the white sands of the sea

Ready for anything

 

 

Three poems from Illuminate :-

Rothko

 

They found him

Hunched over a

White sink

All his beauty let out.

 

I think of him in his studio

East Hampton 1964

Wooden beams

Stained,

Concrete floor

 

Sitting back in a dark green chair

Head tilted, cigarette in hand

Peering at his creation

Layers and pain

Towering before him

Lost to it,

 

One mere man

What he gave

 

I see him with wings

 

Immersed in his

Low lit hush

Portals expanding

Crimson lilac

Burnt orange, greys

 

Weighted hum

Solemn yet violent

 

Fire, heart

Bloodsweat

Spilling out

 

So close and strange

People weep

 

Sacred –

 

What we do to each other

And give

Without knowing.

 

 

Morning Sun

 

The bed faced the window

 

So I would wake to brightness

Stretch in its warmth

 

And contemplate the rooftops

Of the city.

 

I felt like one of Hopper’s

Solitary women

Rose pale, dappled gold

 

Made of light and shadow.

 

Miss you, try not to

Know you felt it

 

Same mind, blue threads

The red tether

The hunger.

 

Shiver in the memory

Then bathe

 

Gentle with my body

 

Watch the steam

Rise and swirl

 

And float

Swanlike

My heart softly

Expanding –

 

The room

Full of bright cloud.

 

 

 

Turner

 

For one month only
To keep tradition

Every January
His bluegreen waters,
And apricot skies

A whole life chasing light

You wonder
Will they still do this
A thousand years from now

Or will everything eventually
Be forgotten.

And once –
A different presence in the room

A figure
Thin and distracting

Elegant as a heron
Lilac and grey

It was Le Brocquy

Standing otherworldly
In a Venice sunset

The last time he would see them
And I wonder did he sense it

Gazing
Transfixed by their glow

As when they first discovered
Fire gold fire oh

How they must have trembled
At the beauty

Many thanks Kerrie for a inspirational insight into your artistic and literary life.
May we all strive to weave color into the backbone of our lives, to find and lose ourselves in the beauty of the arts, to contemplate rather than procrastinate, to experiment, to flourish and create our own masterpiece.
Thank you to all the readers for joining me here and look forward to next time.
Linda at Cobh Railway station 2
Links – Poetry video’s of Kerrie reading two of her poems.

‘Dublin’  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l2pNBwuqrA

 

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1 Response to Poetry Guest Interview – Irish writer Kerrie O’Brien

  1. Dr Niamh says:

    Reblogged this on Dr Niamh's Children's Books and commented:
    Althogh I focus mainly on children’s books, I love other good writers and have often featured poets on this blog. What an interesting interview from a wonderful Irish poet. Thank you Linda Ibbotson for bringing this wonderful poet to our attention.

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