Poetry Ireland Introduction Series |5| Julie Morrissy

Julie Morrissy is a poet from Dublin currently living in her home city after spending a number of years living in Canada and the USA. Her manuscript The Foehn Wind is shortlisted for the Melita Hume Poetry Prize 2015 in the UK. She has been selected for Poetry Ireland Introductions 2015 and her work has recently been published or is forthcoming in Cyphers (IE), The Dalhousie Review (CA), Honest Ulsterman (UK), Abridged (UK), and Irish Literary Review (IE) (all 2015).

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in Dublin and lived abroad for the first time at 19 when I worked for a summer in Toronto. I went straight from Toronto to Minneapolis, where I lived for a year. I was very taken with the experience of being elsewhere and so I spent the last ten years on and off elsewhere. I’ve moved by plane, U-Haul, borrowed cars. I have bought so many of the same item from Ikea over and over and over again, it is ridiculous.

I moved back to Dublin last July after finishing my Master’s degree in Literature at Ryerson University, Toronto. At that point I wanted to give writing a very serious shot and I felt Dublin was the right place for me to do that, though my first poems were published in Toronto by The White Wall Review, which I think was an important moment for me.


What made you turn to poetry?

[pullquote] something about poetry just seemed to fit for me. [/pullquote] Before studying Literature, I did my Master’s in Creative Writing at UCD. Poetry is an important part of the programme there and so I had the opportunity to take a poetry module with Paul Perry in the first semester. I had previously been concentrating on fiction and aimed to finish a manuscript for a novel that I had been working on. But something about poetry just seemed to fit for me. I liked it and I was writing good stuff. It felt almost like magic – every week I couldn’t believe that I had managed to pull another poem out of the bag.

I continued with poetry in the second semester even though it was optional. With Paul’s continued encouragement I decided to switch completely to poetry and to write my thesis under his supervision. I wrote more than half of the manuscript for The Foehn Wind during that time.

How long have you been writing and what has the Poetry Introduction Series meant for you?

I think I won the Write-A-Book Project when I was about 7, so a long time! In my early twenties I wrote passages that were neither prose nor poetry nor fiction nor non-fiction. I think learning about poetry allowed me to refine and craft those passages into more substantial pieces, but I see those passages as having been my gateway to poetry.

I was so excited to get the PI Intro that I actually yelped out loud. Luckily I was home alone at the time. The year was going really well anyway – I had a number of poems published and I felt my work was gaining momentum, but I really wanted to do a reading! Especially because I had not been in Ireland much over the past few years, I felt that people here didn’t know my work or me. I was a kind of faceless person who dropped in and out so I was delighted to have a chance to read in the Writer’s Centre with my friends and family.

What do you hope to explore through your poetry?

My poetry explores the transcultural experience, which is different to diasporic writing because I am interested in a transcultural citizen who I see as being more temporary in nature. I focus on the emigrant experience of those who move between English-speaking urban centres that contain all of the familiar tropes of global capitalism. I hope to explore how globalization obscures the transcultural citizen’s relationship to place by presenting uniformity that is merely superficial. Globalisation masks the difficulties of moving between places, and that appearance of familiarity, in my experience, disrupts the transcultural citizen’s ability to construct an identity elsewhere.

Launch of Cyphers 79, Strokestown International Poetry Festival, May 2015
Launch of Cyphers 79, Strokestown International Poetry Festival, May 2015

Are you currently working towards a collection? Can you tell me all about that and what you want to focus on, where you’d like to be published?

My manuscript The Foehn Wind is currently shortlisted for the Melita Hume Poetry Prize in the UK, and that manuscript would be my first collection (hopefully!). Being included on the shortlist for Melita Hume was a massive step for me. It is a fantastic competition and Todd Swift is a true supporter of emerging literary talent.

My poetry has been published in Cyphers, the White Wall Review, the Irish Literary Review, the Honest Ulsterman, Abridged, the Eyewear Poetry Blog, and is forthcoming in The Dalhousie Review, Canthius and some mark made. The publication in Cyphers was a big deal for me as I have such immense respect for Eilean Ni Chuilleanan and Macdara Woods. I send work out all the time and I’m thrilled any time I get an acceptance.

Do you think poetry is for a niche audience or do you think social media is opening it up to new possibilities?

Yes, I think poetry has more a nuanced audience than say, fiction. As C.D. Wright said in an interview, poetry isn’t a “stadium-filler”. That said, I think many art forms have a niche audience and I don’t think that takes away from it. [pullquote] poets like Wright endeavour to make poetry more relevant to the ways in which we encounter and interact with the world around us. [/pullquote]

Social media certainly makes it easier to keep informed about developments in the poetry world but whether social media opens poetry up to new audiences, I’m not sure. It definitely broadens the perspectives of those who already have an interest.

I wrote my Master’s thesis on Wright’s One With Others and how Wright opens the poem up to a news-consumer audience, as well as a traditional poetic audience, through her incorporation of newspaper fragments. Given the manner in which we now consume information, i.e. in short bursts of texts or images, perhaps the use of such fragments by poets like Wright endeavour to make poetry more relevant to the ways in which we encounter and interact with the world around us.

What would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing? or who has been? or both?

I write because I can’t let things go and because I want to hang around in certain moments forever, so I’d say I’m predisposed to writing by personality. My biggest influence is probably the interest I took in reading during childhood, and all my life really. Reading is key.

In terms of artists who have influenced the way that I write – I work with a picture of Paula Meehan above my desk. Eavan Boland is hugely influential, as well as Sara Berkeley, Eleanor Hooker, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Louise Gluck.

Have you had, or do you have a mentor?

I do! Without Paul Perry I never would have become interested in poetry or continued to write it. His teaching and supervision has had a very significant impact on me, and his continued support and friendship is something that I value greatly.

Other poets like Harry Clifton, Todd Swift, Dale Smith and Hoa Nguyen have also encouraged and supported me and my writing. Sometimes the smallest thing can make such a big difference and I really appreciate anyone who takes an interest in my work.

What do you hope to have done with your poetry in the next five to ten years?

I hope to get The Foehn Wind published as my first collection. I will be starting my PhD in Poetry at the University of Ulster this coming September, which will be practice-based. My PhD project will be a book-length poem further exploring the transcultural/transborder experience but with a more feminist perspective than in my previous work.

Do you think Ireland is starting to move away from the “typical Irish Poetry” and move towards something more contemporary? Where do you see yourself in terms of that movement?

[pullquote] the Intro series showcased a wide variety of poetic forms, perspectives and approaches, and definitely none of the poets could fit neatly in the category of “typical Irish poetry”. [/pullquote] I struggle with this because the category of “typical Irish poetry”, as I understand it, includes poets like Seamus Heaney. I often hear criticism of the so-called “Heaney School of Writing”. But I love Seamus Heaney’s work, and I think it speaks to a particular time and place and experience. Every generation should have their own artists and writers who speak to and from an experience or relevant cultural moment.

Walt Hunter notes an “obsession with language and place” in traditional Irish poetics, and I must admit that I myself remain obsessed with both those things! I’m always trying to talk to Heaney and Boland in my work, but I’m also talking to Wright and NourbeSe Philip.

I think what has changed and will continue to change is the way in which Irish poets express those obsessions, or indeed other ones. There is a lot of dynamicism in contemporary Irish poetry. Rob Buchanan’s reading at the Poetry Ireland Introductions is a perfect example of that. His poetry confronts current issues in Irish society with energy and vigour. In my view, the Intro series showcased a wide variety of poetic forms, perspectives and approaches, and definitely none of the poets could fit neatly in the category of “typical Irish poetry”.

You can find out more about Julie and her work on her website. You can also tweet her @juliemoiaussi