I think fear gets a bad rap. True, it affects us in negative ways. It causes us to worry, to get stressed. It coats our palms in salty sweat, shoots adrenaline into our blood. Not to mention its potential effect on our bowels (in order to lighten our weight and enable us to run quicker from danger, in case you were wondering). We’re afraid of what others may think of us, of being perceived as foolish or inferior. Many of us fear speaking in public, confronting violence or performing some other important act. And then there’s what might be considered the two classic sources of anxiety: death and ageing.
But I think fear is the greatest motivator we have. It spurs us on to react. We’re afraid of being alone, so we make the effort to go out and meet people, get beyond our comfort zone. We fret over our children, so we’re extra-vigilant about keeping them safe.
Personally, an awareness of death has always been a big motivator. I link it with the fact that my mother had cancer at a young age – about the age I’m at now, actually. I was only ten at the time, but such overwhelming fears can hit people in their very core and shape them, I think. Even more so when we’re children. I began writing within a few years of that event, keenly aware that being alive wasn’t a guarantee from day to day. I suppose I viewed writing as a way of leaving some part of myself after I’m gone, a reaction to the idea of being forgotten or having no meaning. Pretty morbid for a fifteen-year-old, but that’s the person I was then.
Nowadays, my main motivation for writing is simply the pleasure I get from it, the joy of making things. It’s the same satisfaction a carpenter gets from shaping a piece of wood to fit a certain purpose, I imagine. And a writer’s purpose is surely to express or describe, to work out a thought and give others something to think about.
The poems in this collection tackle the theme of fear in its many forms. There’s some lighter material: anxiety that clothes on the line will get soaked in a downpour; the fear of a footballer that he/she’ll be shown up as inadequate in front of his/her fans. But sickness, injury and getting older feature, too. Having recently become a father, I’ve acquired a new source of fear – for the welfare of my daughter. This is dealt with in the poem “Seven Fears of an Imminent Father”.
The last poem describes the anxiety of a woman jogging through a city, constantly aware she could be attacked at any moment. This is unfortunately a very common fear. Men are aware of it, of course, but I don’t think we fully feel it. What has particularly shocked me is the number of women who’ve revealed to me, after hearing this poem, that they’ve been attacked or intimidated numerous times, and even raped.
There are writers who can strike fear into leaders, but I don’t pretend to be one of those. While I’ve written a number of political poems, I think most of them just haven’t worked, so they haven’t been included in this collection. They’ll most likely remain on my computer, never to be published, unless I can improve them a hell of a lot. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll feel I can write political poetry to a decent standard, but not just yet.
As a writer, I’m always afraid of running out of ideas, or the means to express them. I think it’s a feeling all writers share. Every morning, I look at my desk and worry that I won’t be able to write anything, or at least anything good. I wonder if I’ll look back at the end of the day and feel it was all a waste. One day, I might decide it’d be better to spend my time on other things, especially as I see my daughter grow older. The days are getting more precious.
For now, I’m learning to conquer that fear as I stare at the desk. I overcome it in new ways each day. Each new poem is a separate entity, with its own character, its own flaws. It doesn’t matter if I decide a poem I’ve written isn’t worth sharing. Such petite failures are worthwhile, because they’re an essential part of me, having identified as a writer from a young age. A greater concern is not writing at all. I hope this collection gives a sense of my own fears, along with the vibrancy that fear can bring to anyone’s life.
(c) Trevor Conway
Trevor Conway writes mainly poems, stories, and songs. His work has been published in Ireland, Austria, the UK, the US, and Mexico, where his poems were translated into Spanish. He has been interviewed for RTÉ Radio 1’s Arena arts show, and his first collection of poems, Evidence of Freewheeling, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2015. He posts to his website/blog occasionally.
Author photograph (c) Stephen Pearse Conway
About Breeding Monsters:
In Breeding Monsters, Trevor Conway explores the idea of fear. These poems reach deep into the recesses of the human mind. They tackle uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, revealing how fear can act as a motivator, as inspiration.
The poet examines a writer’s fear, a father’s fear, the anxiety of a woman jogging alone on a dark street. The events of World War II inspire a number of poems, while perennial themes such as ageing, sickness and death also feature. The poet confides that fear led him to discover the power of writing as a young man.
By exploring these concerns in verse, he emasculates them, denying them the control they once had. This collection glorifies an emotion rarely viewed with optimism. One conclusion is clear after reading it: fear is an essential element of human experience, one from which we can’t hide.
Order your copy online here.
Trevor will launch Breeding Monsters in The Crane Bar, Galway, at 6pm on Saturday December 1st. Apart from the obligatory wine, there’ll be sandwiches, cookies and music by Sandra Coffey and Gregory Prendergast.