Poetry Ireland Introduction Series |4| Rob Buchanan

Rob Buchanan is a 33 year old drinker, with a poetry and journalism problem, looking to publish his first collection of poems. By day, he works in an insurance company but by night he reads in open mic nights across Dublin, trying out my new material in the scariest and most rewarding way possible and trying not to get barred in the process. He has had work published in The Stinging Fly, his verse narrative poem “Beds” was given a live reading in Draoicht Theatre and he has had several poems and short stories published in local newspapers and websites. He also writes a regular current affairs and arts column for several magazines and websites like The Outmost.Com, The Journal , GCN and EILE. 

Can you tell us a bit about you?

I’m your standard thirty something wage slave for a large insurance company. I live on Dublin’s Northside. I actually enjoy my day job because it keeps me in books and pints and provides a lot of inspiration and drama. My real passion though is writing and Dublin.

What made you turn to poetry?


My late father was a huge poetry fan. He got me interested in reading the classics and Irish poets from a young age. Not that I could understand them! I found the lives of poets like Kavanagh and Kinsella and Boland to be as interesting as their work itself. Poetry started to make sense as a natural reaction to living.

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

[pullquote] I think we all have that special pile of cringe worthy derivative juvenilia hidden away somewhere in the attic [/pullquote] I’ve been writing poetry for as long as I can remember, I think we all have that special pile of cringe worthy derivative juvenilia hidden away somewhere in the attic that’s testament to how poets are probably born and not made. It took a lot of encouragement from my mates to start seriously submitting my work and getting out and doing the open mic nights around Dublin. When I got chosen for the Poetry Introduction Series I was speechless. I remember dancing around my desk in work. I’d followed the Introduction series the last few years with admiration and more than a little barefaced jealousy.

It was an incredible honour to be picked to take part. Ayoma and all the guys at Poetry Ireland really nurtured us and gave us the perfect environment to develop. Above all they gave us this most magic of feelings that yes, actually, you are a poet! The talent of the other guys in the series was truly intimidating though I’m happy to say the personalities were not. We had great craic together at the two master classes with Alan Jude Moore and Theo Dorgan and of course at the reading in the Irish Writers’ Centre. I’ve made some good friends and was exposed to a lot of new poetry which shows Ireland is still punching well above its weight in the arts.

What do you hope to explore through your poetry?

Anyone who says their poetry isn’t in some sense autobiographical is a liar. If you’re writing about something you haven’t experienced or don’t believe then you’re writing fiction. So I suppose a lot of what I write is confessional. It’s stuff which happened to me or I want to happen or I’m afraid of happening. And over all it’s about possibilities, that even an ordinary bloke living in a little city in a tiny country can find big answers and questions in mundane life. That’s the kind of poetry I like to read too. I think Kavanagh nailed it in Epic but the rest of us can enjoy writing the footnotes. Previous generations found their purpose through military revolution or sexual revolution. Being a part of this far luckier generation, I’m trying to explore my purpose by seeing if this relative peace, cheap booze and blue collar work our forefathers fought for is as fulfilling as they hoped.

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?

I’ve finished two collections, both unpublished. I think new poetry in print is a bit of a casualty of the current economic climate. It’s easier to have a front page article published in a national newspaper than to have a short poem on the back page of a regional rag. The harsh reality of how difficult it is to publish a first collection is a major deal breaker for most emerging poets. It’s disheartening so you really need to love poetry, you need to have an uncontrollable compulsion to document how you feel about your life and what you see in the world. And even if nobody wants to publish it you still need to want to enter in to that communication with a stranger who might read your work and see themselves in it. And don’t even think about money. Sure if you were wealthy or even comfortable you’d have nothing to write about. So if there’s any publishers out there get in touch!

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

Lots of people from my community have a knee jerk reaction to the word poetry. They imagine it’s not for them, about them or worse still that it has to rhyme. Beyond the superficial exclusion I think there’s always going to be an elitist element to any genre of expression. For a modern audience when it comes to poetry the emperor is definitely naked though. Good poetry should appeal to almost everyone, otherwise it’s self indulgent nonsense for it’s own sake. I’m not saying an audience should be pandered to or that substance should be sacrificed for accessibility. Who is to say that the next Beat generation won’t be inspired by the superficial restrictions of the new mediums instead of being hindered? Social media has levelled the playing field for a lot of people. And if we can have citizen journalists then why not citizen poets?

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

Apart from the standard tragedies and triumphant Dublin pub crawls! You head out with a few of your lads, or even to do the standard writers’ solo binge, hit half a dozen pubs and soak up the humanity along the route.  Telling stories, swapping lies and getting jarred. If you don’t feel like you’ve been on a conversational and emotional rollercoaster after going on a Dublin pub crawl then you’re not doing it right. I usually ended up with a full note pad by the end of the night and feeling like the passion of the Christ in the morning. I suppose the fact that I’m queer and I found growing up that the LGBT identity was seldom dealt with explicitly or honestly by poets beyond the nod and the wink or the suicidal fatalism. But I’ve found my sexuality to be a deep reservoir for inspiration, perhaps all the more so because in literature it’s still quite the unexplored dark continent.

Have you had, or do you have a mentor?

My late father encouraged me a lot. I grew up in a fairly tough working class estate, where I still live , and poetry isn’t a popular hobby. So to get a kid excited about reading and writing poetry was quite a feat. Also I suppose some of my favourite poets have been surrogate mentors also. Over the last ten years I’ve started to fall in love with poets like James Dickey, Sharon Olds and poets like Rupert Brooke. They might be very different types of poet and have very different personalities but the core honesty and fearlessness in their work is something I would lean on.

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

I’m going to keep scribbling and trying to get my work published, to share it with as many people as I can. Apart from the standard poet’s narcissism it’s also an adventure to put a bit of yourself out there, usually your most private honest self. As I said I know it’s very difficult to get your break, but I won’t give up. The poems keep coming, so I’ll keep on scribbling and be the weirdo handing out hand written poetry on Grafton Street if I have to.

What contemporary Irish poets are you impressed by?

Colm Keegan blew me away when I first heard him. Raw, spare verse and a sincerity that smacks you in the face. Theo Dorgan is incredible and he’s managed to keep flying the flag for the type of eerie wonder that late great Heaney illustrated so beautifully. Had the pleasure of drinking with him once and he is as spellbinding a speaker as he is in print. I suppose a bit of a wild card choice also, as they are technically rappers and not poets , are the Irish rap group Class Az. They deal with the realities of working class life in modern Dublin with humour and more than a bit of righteous anger.  And they’ve a fantastic ear for syntax and imagery.

Do you think Ireland is starting to move away from the “typical Irish Poetry” and move towards something more contemporary?

Ireland is definitely moving towards more contemporary expressions and tastes as poetry gets more democratised. Social media and a lively open mic scene in Dublin hugely contributes. [pullquote] We’ve seen the baton shift from the more traditional and sombre academically minded Poets, with a capital “P,”  to the Poetry that is alive and well in Dublin city [/pullquote] But I also think that working class men and women are seeing poetry as a medium of expression that they can use to talk about social issues and sexuality. It’s not just the farmyard oil painting or the swooning romance of the Leaving Cert.

There’s far more enthusiasm to break away from the cliché that Irish poetry had descended into. I suppose it’s really more of a natural evolution than a mutation, as many times before in the history of Irish poetry, we’ve seen the baton shift from the more traditional and sombre academically minded Poets, with a capital “P,”  to the Poetry that is alive and well in Dublin city. There’s a vibrant spoken word scene. Sadly, it doesn’t always translate to people buying and reading poetry. I personally I think it is in the reading, or the rereading, of a work that it finds it’s clearest expression.

Where do you see yourself in terms of that movement?

I’d love to think I was part of that new renaissance, I think it’s not a movement isolated to poetry , it seems to be literary expression in general. I’m privileged just to be around to see it. We’re living at an extremely exciting time in Irish history and you’d have to be blind not to be inspired to write poetry in a world like this. [pullquote] You don’t have to be doing a Bachelors in trinity or be an English teacher to mix in literary circles. [/pullquote] Our country is evolving in to the type of diverse liberal society our recent ancestors would never have dreamed of and technology is letting us feel familiar with the fate of strangers half the world away. It’s very stimulating for writers.  Ironically instead of making your own experiences seem small it almost magnifies them by the larger context. You don’t have to be doing a Bachelors in Trinity or be an English teacher to mix in literary circles. You can find an open mic poetry night or a book club or a rap battle most nights of the week in Dublin. Poets are getting out from behind their keyboards and getting back in to the pubs and the community centres. They’re hybridising the written word and the spoken word and it’s blowing off the dust and making poetry relevant again.

Rob Buchanan has a blog on culture, science and some of his ramblings and poems at  this link.  He likes to annoy as many people as he can on Twitter  @RobLooseCannon