An interview with Irish Poet, Enda Wyley, 2010
by Angela Gardner
I am sure that many Australian poets are aware of the opportunities
provided by the Vincent Buckley Prize which sends Australian poets to
Ireland, but they may not be so aware that Irish poets also get to
visit Australia. As the inaugural Irish poet selected for the Vincent
Buckley Prize could you tell me a little about that visit to Australia?
I left Dublin in July 1996 to spend some weeks in Melbourne University as the inaugural Irish winner of The Vincent Buckley Prize for Poetry. I had actually won the prize a year previously but due to personal circumstances, had been unable to travel and The Australian Centre had kindly held the position open for me until I was ready to go. This kindness was one of the first of many that Rhyll Nance at the Centre, and others involved, showed me during my stay in Melbourne.
I was lucky enough to be given accommodation in the University and in this way made many great friends during my time there from a variety of fields – astrophysics, zoology, literature – all adding to the richness of my stay there.
As regards writing time and space, I was given a room in The Australian Centre just outside The University. It was a beautiful old house with rooms filled with interesting people – the writer Paul Carter, the academic and thinker Michael Cathcart. All of these people, along with an enthusiastic and supportive administrator Luisa Abuiso, made my time in Melbourne feel real – as if I had quite naturally become part of the fabric of the city that with its soft rain and easy going ambience, reminded me in many ways of Dublin.
To be honest, though poems did later come from my visit to Australia, I used my time there to explore and enjoy the new world I had landed in. I met many poets – John Forbes, Chris Wallace Crabbe, Grant Caldwell, Lisa Jacobson – gave readings, travelled a bit and filled my notebooks with scribbles. It was also touching to meet Vincent Buckley’s widow and I felt sad but honoured when she revealed after a reading I gave that her husband would have been very much in favour of my receiving the first prize given to an Irish poet in his name.
Overall, my visit to Melbourne was a wonderful experience and I am not surprised, that years later, writing in response to this question about The Vincent Buckley Prize, I can still remember acutely that short but exciting period in my life.
At what stage of your writing career were you when you won and
what has happened since?
A the time, when I received The Vincent Buckley Scholarship, I had published my first collection Eating Baby Jesus. Some of the poems in that book were inspired by a time I spent living in Sydney in the late 1980’s. I was based in Balmain for about 18 months,and while there, among other things, wrote poems and even had some published in The Sydney Morning Herald under the heading New Australian Writing.
So, some years later, when I received the award, I was more than delighted to return to Australia – to write and travel there and embrace the culture. When I got back to Dublin in 1996 after staying at Melbourne University I was working on my second collection Socrates in the Garden and was saddened to hear of the death of John Forbes whom I had befriended there. I dedicated the book to him when it came out with a beautiful quote from the Irish poet Derek Mahon’s poem Leaves.
Somewhere in the heaven
of lost futures
the lives we might have lived
have found their own fulfillment.
Since then, I have published two more collections of poetry, Poems for Breakfast ( 2004 )and my most recent, To Wake to This ( 2009 ). They are all published by Dedalus Press here in Dublin. I have also in recent years, begun writing for children. I have a novel for 10-12 year olds called The Silver Notebook, a book for younger children, Boo and Bear, and recently brought out I Won’t Go to China! a storybook for 6-8 year olds. I am also always very busy teaching, visiting schools and festivals and giving readings and workshops – all of which I enjoy enormously.
We met at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre where we were both on a
residency – do you need to get-away to write? How important is
that time and space to your writing and are there minuses as well
as pluses to be thought about?
My life as a mother of a four year old and a teacher can be very busy. Recently I began working part-time as a teacher which has simplified my life and given me more time to write. Teaching and motherhood aside though, I write as I have always done - not so much whenever I can, but when I feel an urge to do it. Of course this can mean that whole weeks go by without anything substantial being written but I tend not to worry as I know that I am gathering ideas in my notebooks or head, for when the time is right to knuckle down to work. Walt Whitman advised all writers should indulge in loafing - free time to collect thoughts, images, be inspired, to dream. I love those free times when I am just enjoying life - my little girl, the books I'm reading, the company of friends. But once the need to begin writing seriously again kicks in, I commit myself wholeheartedly to the poem or story in question and become obsessed, excited by where it will lead me to.
Tell me something about what motivates your writing, how you work
and/or what your current writing projects?
I have been writing since a child - stories and poems - but mostly poems. When I hit my teen years I began to take poetry, the reading and writing of it, more seriously.
I began to publish my poems in newspapers and anthologies and in my early twenties, to work towards a collection. I suppose my first love is poetry - the thrill and challenge of it both as reader of other people's work and as a maker of it myself. But I also love writing for younger readers and don't see writing for children as a diversion in anyway. I derive as much pleasure from it as I do from writing poetry and view writing for children as a serious genre in its own right. I fell in love with writing in the first place because of the many books I adored as a young reader and I would feel very honoured if children were to derive as much satisfaction from the stories I write for them as I did from the powerful books of my childhood.
With regards to my poetry writing, I wouldn't say there is any conscious forming of a poem in my head. I would never force a poem to be made. Mostly my poems start naturally. It might be a line that keeps repeating itself in my mind, a memory, a smell, the weather, or something somebody says that gets me going. Then I usually find myself dreaming the feel of that poem through to the stage where the real forming of it happens - the scribbles on the page, the playing with lines and ideas, the working through of several drafts - until at last I feel confident enough to start typing it up on my computer. There are however the very rare times when the gift of a complete poem can just fall on the page so easily that no real changes are needed at all. Then I feel delighted but a little in awe of the poem, as if it were something far removed from me and I was merely a reader of it and had nothing to do with how it got there.
I am currently busy writing new poems and I have just completed a new novel for children. I can’t ever see writing not being a huge part of my life. I know I write because it is something I love to do. If my writing does turn out to inspire people too, then of course, that is a bonus. But primarily I write out of a need to write and a love of doing it. I think it is a mistake for writers to get caught up with the idea of 'duty' to the reader. Their primary duty should be to the poem, the story, the word.
Thank you Enda; it's good to hear you have so many writing projects on the go.