Interview with Belinda McKeon, new author and curator of Poetry Now
Belinda McKeon has curated the dlr Poetry Now Festival since 2008. She is a writer and arts journalist.
Hi Belinda. Welcome to writing.ie. Could you introduce yourself to the readers please?
I’m a writer and journalist, and also the current curator of the dlr Poetry Now festival in Dun Laoghaire.
How did you get into writing?
The teachers at my primary school, which was Stonepark in Co. Longford, really encouraged us to read and to write stories, and something addictive kicked in for me from a very early age; even at eight or so, I was clear that this thing, of creating worlds, was what I most wanted to do. Somewhere in my parents’ house is the book I started (but, already true to form, didn’t finish) around then – The Mitchelstown Mice, which probably would have gotten me sued if it had somehow found a publisher, since it concerned several families of mice living – thriving – in the Mitchelstown cheese factory in Cork.
Delicious! What do you consider your highlights so far?
Last year I was fortunate enough to find a publisher for my first novel, Solace, which was obviously a huge thing for me, but really, just the fact that I’m somehow allowed to do this – the whole lot of it, writing and journalism and curation – is one ongoing highlight for me.
Congratulations. Looking forward to reading it. How did you get to curate the Poetry Now festival at first?
John McAuliffe, who did a terrific job curating the festival from 2003-2007, had finished his term, and I was approached by the Arts Office in Dun Laoghaire to become his successor. I can still remember opening that email – it was an utter surprise, and made me very, very happy, because I really admired the festival and its audience, and could immediately think of several really fine poets I wanted to bring to that audience.
It must be an interesting though challenging job. What sticks in your mind particularly?
Seamus Heaney is a true friend of the festival – he lives locally and is a constant, generous presence not just on the weekend but throughout the year as we put the festival together – so it was really special to be able to honour him on the occasion of his 70th birthday in 2009. We had 16 visiting poets, some of whom were friends of Seamus, some of whom were just huge admirers, each read one of his poems, and then Seamus himself spoke and raed a new poem, “In The Attic”, which we’d also printed up as a special signed broadsheet for everyone in the audience.
We’d also asked the painter Hughie O’Donoghue to create a work especially for Seamus, which was unveiled and presented to him on the day – a beautiful piece called The Inheritance. For Seamus, I think that was a year of 70ths – he had more than one birthday party! – but for us, that was a really special, warm occasion, and I think it meant a lot to the participating poets and to the audience as well.
Which poet or poets were you happiest to land at the festival and who are you still holding out for in a perfect world?
All of them, quite honestly. The wonder of this job has been the freedom to curate those poets I wanted to be part of the festival. There have, of course, been poets who haven’t been able to come – great poets who are quite elderly now, and can’t travel for health reasons – but for the most part, I’ve been lucky enough, usually, to open the reply to my invitation and see that it’s an enthusiastic “yes”.
Other than Poetry Now, what have you got coming up?
Shortly after the festival, my novel, Solace, will be published in the US by Scribner, with UK/Ireland publication by Picador following in the summer. I’m also curating a number of literary events in the US as part of Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland programme there. And also on the horizon are various deadlines for other pieces of writing. Including a second novel. I may just dig out the novel about the mice and make that my offering.
Which Irish writers, living or dead, do you recommend people search out and read?
The Anglo-Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth is much more interesting, and much more fun, than she’s usually given credit for. I think she’s well due something of a revival.
Thanks a million for agreeing to do this
KATE DEMPSEY runs writing.ie's Poetic License blog and is our poetry guru. She is a writer and a blogger living in Maynooth. She writes fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry and is widely published in Ireland and abroad, in magazines, anthologies and on the radio. She fits this around her family and a full time job, writing on the sofa, on the train and in that little coffeeshop on the corner.
Poetry can be a solitary activity and she appreciates the support she received from the online community, particularly when starting out. She is excited about continuing the dialogue with her blog here.