Back in 2008 when Dermot Bolger published my first poem in an anthology he edited for New Island, he said to me at the launch: “That’s it, Brian, now you’re a poet”. It’s a peculiar designation, poet, but now, nine years later on the cusp of launching my first collection After The Fall with Salmon Poetry, I can accept the appellation a little more readily.
Back then I had no plans to write a collection. I’d always been very interested in writing in general and poetry in particular. As a nineteen year old I’d read some poems on stage supporting noisy bands in The Underground on Dame Street, filled with the kind of self-belief that only youth can sustain. As I got older I stopped writing poems; I succumbed to the pull of the working world and a growing sense of self-consciousness. I admit I was embarrassed by my lingering interest in poetry, in the way Adam and Eve must have been when they first saw their own nakedness in Eden.
But I went back to poetry after a while, as I always knew I would, after I completed a degree in English Literature as a mature student in London. My first attempts were awful but they weren’t for anyone else’s eyes at that stage, so it didn’t matter. I think you need to work alone for a while, to write the unreadable and destroy the evidence before anyone else sees it, and then start over again and again until you begin to find a subject and a voice. Like everything else it takes time, but that first published poem was a milestone for me. After that more poems were written and published, more each year, until the sheer number of them set me wondering if there could be a collection in there somewhere.
By this time I’d made some very good friends who shared my interest, all working poets and very intelligent readers too. I began to send poems out to journals and to enter competitions in a structured way. I was building a profile even if I didn’t realise that was what I was doing. Here I must make a confession. If you look at my website I appear to be publishing poems regularly or being placed in competitions (occasionally winning), and this is true. But what my website doesn’t tell you is that for every success there are many failures and rejections. This is a fact of life for all writers and poets, so if you’re determined to be a poet, a published poet, then you must grow a thick skin.
Three years ago I joined the Hibernian Poetry Workshop which is comprised of a supremely talented bunch of published poets who possess razor sharp critical faculties. We meet each month at the Teachers Club on Parnell Square. The quality of the work is such that one is compelled to push oneself with each new poem before you bring it to the workshop. Here I learned how to improve my work from listening to others dissect my poems, but I also learned an awful lot from hearing the other poets read their work and talk about it. Perhaps most beneficial to my understanding of the practise was the confidence it gave me to speak about poetry, my own and others.
So, two years ago I had a sizeable body of work, some published, some not, and I began to consider the idea of publishing a full collection. Of course I’d been reading a lot of poetry over the years and I’d become very familiar with poetry collections by poets from many different backgrounds. My own poems are a mix of formal and free verse lyrics that deal with family, memory, religion, politics and relationships; a broad enough range of subjects and themes, and as I read the poems I began to despair of ever being able to present them in any thematic fashion that made sense.
Again I looked to fellow poets for help and what stayed with me most was the advice of poet, Michael O’Loughlin, to just relax. A first collection is like a greatest hits to some degree, he said, a showcase for your best work to date. Typically when I stopped looking for connections I began to find them. The phrase “after the fall” appears in three of the poems and fall as a season predominates. When I was at college studying English Literature the two poems that stayed with me most were Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. The idea of Free Will is at the root of both these works. Some very complex ideas lie behind the idea of Original Sin and its consequences for mankind. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we are told that, having been expelled from Eden, mankind was forced to live and die in an imperfect world. But the argument can also be made that the so-called fall of man was the key to mankind’s future freedom and that, despite the flawed nature of existence, our lives are made all the sweeter by the opening up to us of the life of the senses.
I was delighted when Salmon Poetry agreed to publish my collection. It’s been a long time coming, but if you’re a poet that’s okay. Poetry is a long game. It keeps. Be patient and keep working, building your profile, publishing poems, reading at events, reading and listening to other poets, meeting other poets, getting and giving advice. Use the resources that are out there (Kate Dempsey’s Emerging Writer and Angela Carr’s A Dreaming Skin blogs were indispensable). And find some time somehow to keep writing regularly. Be organised. Take your work seriously – if you don’t, nobody else will. If you do all that you will become a poet, even if you’re not sure you want to be called by that name.
(c) Brian Kirk
Order your copy of After the Fall here.