Poetry Ireland Introduction Series |7| Rosamund Taylor

Rosamund Taylor is from Dublin, but lived and worked in Edinburgh for five years. In 2015 she was chosen to take part in the Poetry Introductions series run by Poetry Ireland, and gave a reading as part of the Dublin International Literature Festival. Her poems have appeared in magazines in both the UK and Ireland, including Crannóg and The SHOp. In 2012, she was short-listed for the Live Canon International Poetry Competition and for the Montreal International Poetry Prize in 2013. Last year her poem ‘Between Cupar and Kirkcaldy’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  She is forthcoming in Agenda.

Can you give us some general background info about you are – where you’re from, age, any interesting tid bits?

I’m 26, currently writing full-time. At the moment I mainly work on poetry, though I’ve also written a fantasy novel for young adults and I hope to submit it for publication soon. I have fibromyalgia so I spend a lot of time resting – but lots of good books have been written in bed! Before I got ill, I worked in animal shelters and veterinary surgeries and those experiences influenced my writing. My two biggest loves have always been nature and poetry.

What made you turn to poetry?


[pullquote] I loved how poems could be so short but so complete [/pullquote] I was 9 years old, and while I loved stories, I didn’t always enjoy reading novels. I found them too long and too dense. Then, in my primary school, I found the poetry anthology ‘I Like This Poem’, edited by Kaye Webb, which was a revelation to me. I loved how poems could be so short but so complete: I felt like each one contained a tiny world. ‘I Like This Poem’ is a wonderful introduction to poetry, wandering as it does from Christina Rosetti to John Betjeman, and covering everything from frog-spawn to ennui. From there, I was completely hooked, and I began writing poems of my own as well as reading them.

What has the Poetry Introduction Series meant for you?

It’s wonderful to have that vote of confidence! From time to time, I end up with so many rejections I start to feel very despondent about my poetry, so it’s a good feeling to have someone select my work, especially for something as well-regarded as the Introductions Series. It was great to meet the other poets, because writing can be so isolating and I like to see what others are doing: I find it especially inspiring to see people who work in very different ways from me. I like hearing other people’s perspectives on poetry, as well as hearing their work. It’s good to be reminded how alive and vibrant the Irish poetry world is.

rosamundinleavesWhat do you hope to explore through your poetry?

At the moment, I think I have two big themes: mental illness and nature. I’ve had depression for a long time and that ends up in my poems. I’ve been working on a series of poems that use names of medications, such as various anti-depressants, to lead into a discussion of different aspects of mental ill-health. Many people feel very isolated when they’re coping with mental illness, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I hope that some of my poems give voice to an experience that can feel impossible to verbalise. Animals and the natural world also seep into most of my poems: I’ve always found solace in spending time with animals, and I’m fascinated with biology and how similar we humans are to other mammals.  I’m also always finding new ideas that interest me – just lately I’ve been writing about the history of women in science – and I hope that as I grow as a poet I learn to write about a wide variety of different ideas and experiences.

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 am working on a first collection. The current title is Notes from an Alien. This is the name of a sestina of mine, and I think sums up my view of the world: I often feel like someone from another planet, observing. That feeling of difference is obvious in my poems about mental illness, but it also appears in my poems on science and nature – my sense of wonder at this strange little planet. I’m really interested in astronomy and biology and women’s role in both, so that’s a theme I want to explore in more depth, and I’ve written a number of poems inspired by mythological creatures, which I’ve really enjoyed and I want to delve into further.

I haven’t yet thought in-depth about where I’d like to be published. I love the Gallery Press and I think Peter Fallon has done amazing work creating and maintaining a poetry press of such a high standard. I’m also impressed with Don Patterson’s work as an editor for Picador, and I’ve really admired all the recent new Picador poets.

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

[pullquote] while I knew I couldn’t emulate him, his work gave me permission to explore strong feelings [/pullquote] My favourite poets are those whose work makes me want to write poetry of my own. The big names have certainly had an impact on me: for example, reading John Donne’s sonnets was one of the first things that gave me confidence to write about emotions, because he writes about them so openly and with such raw passion, and while I knew I couldn’t emulate him, his work gave me permission to explore strong feelings. Rainer Maria Rilke’s work consistently inspires me to look at the natural world in new ways; T.S. Eliot always makes me want to push myself harder, to grasp at big ideas. Modern poets influence me too, of course: Edwin Morgan’s experimentation with form fascinates me, I love how he is not afraid to fail, and how broad his range of themes is. Kay Ryan’s small, perfect poems fill me with awe and have helped me see how to edit my own work.

I’m also a very visual person, and I find paintings have influenced the way I write and look at the world. Edward Degas, Egon Schiele, Franz Marc are all important ones for me, as well as ancient art, such as Greek pottery and the Cycladic sculptures of women, and Ice Age art. I find it amazing to realise how long we have been creating art: seeing how people so far removed from me in time have looked at the world has had a huge impact on how I think about my writing.

Poets are often encouraged, when thinking about their work, to visualise their poems as a series of images, perhaps like the story-board for a film, or a comic-book. I find it helpful to consider my poems in that way, and looking at comics to see how their stories build using a series of pictures to create a narrative has been influential. I love how much comic artists can evoke in a small space, and I think that’s part of what poets do as well – trying to distil experiences to a few words. The work of comic artists such as Bill Sienkiewicz, Phil Noto and Fiona Staples have helped me think about how I structure my poems.

Have you had, or do you have a mentor?

I don’t have one mentor, but I’ve had the opportunity to go to a number of different workshops taught by writers such as Ruth Padel and Mimi Khalvati, and their insight has been invaluable. I’ve also been lucky enough to have a fruitful correspondence with Doireann ní Ghríofa, whose work I hugely admire.  I’ve found the poetry community is very open and welcoming, and I’ve had a variety of different writers help me with my work or encourage me.

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

[pullquote] I think a poem comes to life in a new way when you’re on stage [/pullquote] I plan to keep writing as much as possible! I hope that my work continues to improve and I tackle a range of subjects. I used to use strict form a lot, and I’d like to start writing sonnets and sestinas again. Maybe even write a villanelle, a form that has always eluded me! I’d also really like to become more involved with the Irish poetry community: it’s hard for me to attend readings due to fibromyalgia, but I’d like to be able to go to more and to meet more poets. I also hope to give readings of my own (even though they’re terrifying!), as I think a poem comes to life in a new way when you’re on stage. And of course I’d really like to publish a collection.

What contemporary Irish poets are you impressed by?

There are so many people producing impressive work. I’m absolutely in love with Breda Wall Ryan’s first collection: it’s something I come back to again and again. Her writing is so fresh, and she tackles such difficult subjects, while her language remains controlled and beautiful. I enjoy Sarah Clancy’s work a lot, it’s so insightful, and as I said earlier, I love Doireann ní Ghríofa’s work. Naturally I’m very impressed with Leanne O’Sullivan’s body of work. It always feels so alive and so pertinent to me as a woman. I also love Medbh McGuckian’s poetry: how dense it is, how intricate, and how it does not yield its meaning easily but pushes me to work for it.

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] to view Irish poetry through my own experiences is to view it through a narrow lens [/pullquote] I don’t feel qualified to answer this question! It’s sometimes difficult for me to find touchstones within the writing of Seamus Heaney or John Montague, much as I admire them. A lot of their work is rooted in rural life and religion, which are not experiences I share, as someone who grew up in an atheist household in the middle of Dublin. When I read newer poets, such as Sarah Clancy, I find poems that reflect more of my own social and cultural background. I suppose that’s perhaps part of this movement: the range of subjects we write about has changed to reflect different experiences. However, to view Irish poetry through my own experiences is to view it through a narrow lens. I see writers experimenting with form and with how they use language, and I think that’s also part of poetry’s growth. I think we are doing new things all the time – so many poems I read and hear feel so individual. It may be that we’re finding a new voice.

You can follow Rosamund on twitter @Rosamundtaylor