From copywriters to poets and
everything in between – 26’s members are a varied bunch. This month, I caught
up with Therese Kieran to find out more about her life as a
self-proclaimed ‘closet poet’ (she’s brilliant, by the way, and very modest),
what drew her to 26, and what exactly a ‘goberloo’ is.
This is the first in a new series,
meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate
another member, drop me a line at email@example.com. Don’t be shy.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where
are you from and what do you do?
I live in Belfast, but originally, I’m
from south Armagh. I was raised less than two miles from the southern Irish
border. The question about what I do depends very much on who’s asking. My
extended family think I’m a full-time mum, but really, I’m a closet poet, still
in training, but living each day in full pursuit of creative fulfilment. I
joined a creative writing class 8 years ago and bingo – I caught the bug.
Writing has become my day job, my night shift, my day dreams, my nightmares, my
holidays, my sick days…
Before, I worked as a freelance
textile designer – a fun fact from this era is that one of my tea-towels
appeared in several episodes of Coronation Street. I sniffed out another in a
gift shop in Venice. Proper paid employment came from part-time teaching at FE
colleges and the Ulster University and latterly as a design advisor with a
government agency, Invest Northern Ireland.
Where did your love of words come
My grandfather was one of my earliest
influences. Paddy McCreesh lived to be 96 and visited us most Sundays. He loved
to quote poetry, and often professed that he could
‘drink learning’. He spoke in a quaint
and old-fashioned way; his hat was a ‘sky-piece’, his scarf, a ‘muffler,’ and
he amused us with many unusual words – here’s a few:
brightify make brighter
large lump/slice of something
cramptions a big tasteless meal
a lash a
fut-the-gutter untidy walker
a goberloo a ‘mouth’ – someone talking nonsense
flooster to fuss/pet round someone
clipped getting a haircut
He was also a great man for
She’ll sit on an egg less someone who has
airs and graces
Many a good cow had a bad calf disappointing son/daughter
Legs that wouldn’t stop a pig in a gap bandy legs
My mother suspected he coined many
words and phrases himself, such as ‘the sugar house’ for the lavatory. And if
he wanted a small amount of tea, he’d say, “just the full of your lug and a
morsel of bread.” I think it’s fair to say, my love of words is in my DNA.
What made you join 26? And how long
have you been a member?
I joined 26 in 2014, immediately after
my first residential writing course with
Dark Angels at Moniack Mhor,
Inverness. In fact, Sophie, you showed me a beautiful project booklet and I was
immediately keen to find out more. There’s much to admire: open to writers of
all abilities; affordable; opportunities for collaboration with other writers
and artists; AMAZING projects; global reach; attracts lovely, down-to-earth
people – what’s not to love?
(yeah, I know, I’m waiting for the
What’s your ideal scenario for
writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do
to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)
Okay, full disclosure. A few years ago
I wore ‘The Patron’ down into building me a writing shed. I convinced him this
would be the Holy Grail of creative spaces. The first year I
burrowed in, then back in the house I
moved the table up against a wall in the study, and voilà – another writing
space opened up. And for about a year now, I’ve discovered the unadulterated
pleasure of writing from my beloved ‘leaba’, although, I do have to be in it on
my own. I’m slowly colonising every potential space in the house to be honest.
I need a shut door between me and my family and can never listen to music while
reading or writing. I don’t particularly do anything to get myself into the
right frame of mind to work, other than turn up. Whether it’s reading,
automatic writing, researching, editing, thinking, or simply acting on a moment’s
inspiration, I’ve reached a stage where I’m making an
investment in writing most days now.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m on the bill for a poetry reading
in Belfast to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 in March. It’s quite a
big deal as the other two poets are well established and used to public
speaking. I keep checking the event’s page on the Linen Hall Library’s website,
expecting to find my name erased but
it’s still there! So currently, I’m trying to pull my set together. I’m drawing
on research from a programme I recently participated in about Women in the
Archives, and also find myself returning to the story of Belgian refugees, and
the De Neve sisters, who fled to Ireland during WW1 and were the subject of my
26 Armistice poem.
I have several pieces on the go
simultaneously. Nothing ever arrives complete and fully-formed. Every poem must
spend some time in the proving drawer. I’ve
recently had a poem short-listed in a competition that I began about 2-3 years
Could you tell us about a piece of
writing you’re particularly proud of?
Oh… I find this difficult. What am I particularly proud of…?
I once wrote a poem in memory of a
young man who died. His parents, lifelong family friends, loved it so much,
they framed it.
In 2017, the following poem was long
listed for the Seamus Heaney New Writer’s Award and I was invited to read at
The Homeplace in Bellaghy. It’s dedicated to my
father, also ‘the Master’ in the poem.
I don’t know if he’s ever read it, but that’s okay.
for my father
When the bullets played chasey
round Ballynaclosha school
we scattered like marbles.
Then in a high pitched scrum
we scrambled steps
tumbled into the Master’s arms
and with eagle wings he flapped us
We grew small, small, smaller; played
joined the black dots of our widening
The world map swung
and under desks we studied hard gum,
listened intently to the ticking clock
interrupted by the rat-a-tat-tat,
the snap, crack, pop,
the tick tock, the tick tock,
then my father’s voice like caramel,
was both blanket and pillow and
steadied on a story:
one day, summer, good guy, bad guy.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Other writers – dead and alive;
another disclosure – I haven’t read ‘The Canon’ and that causes such deep
consternation at times. However, like wine, I’d rather enjoy most of the
writing I consume, so my practice is to read as much and as widely as possible.
Otherwise: inspiration comes from being hyper-vigilant to the natural world,
place, people, the ordinariness of life – it’s challenges, it’s struggles,
memories, art, colour, life, death, love, heartache – there is no end to
potential sources of inspiration. Even boredom has its uses.
Patrick Kavanagh famously said, ‘I
dabbled in verse and it became my life.’ Well, I believe I meddle in verse and
it’s become my curse. Poetry picked me. Perhaps it’s got something to do with
providing a vast canvas on which to experiment. It’s also impossible to get
bored because you can write a poem about virtually anything. I’ve always
enjoyed making things, ever since the Child Craft book on Make & Do fell
into my eight-year-old hands, and Blue Peter became my favourite TV show – how
I longed for my own sticky-back plastic and double-sided tape. I always knew I
was driven to make things, and began that process in my working life painting
floral motifs and playing around with colour, layout, shapes and techniques –
contentedly, methodically and diligently delivering what the brief required.
Now I try to make poems in a similar way, but there’s no brief per se, and I can apply the rules or not. I am the first client and then, if I’m lucky there are others – who pay me in publishing space or by offering a spot at the podium or by encouraging me to keep going.
– Sophie Gordon, Therese Kieran
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