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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 from?
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
clipe a large lump/slice of something
cramptions a big tasteless meal
a lash a great amount
fut-the-gutter untidy walker
a goberloo a ‘mouth’ – someone talking nonsense
flooster to fuss/pet round someone
yammer to cry
clipped getting a haircut
He was also a great man for expressions like;
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?
Have you been involved in any 26 projects?
26 Armistice – Stitches In Time
26 Memory Maps – Changing Views
26 Steps – P to Q – From Pirry Park to Queen’s – Past
26 Writers in Residences – East Belfast Mission – in collaboration with Sinead McNulty
(yeah, I know, I’m waiting for the restraining order.)
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 ago.
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 down.
We grew small, small, smaller; played statues;
joined the black dots of our widening eyes.
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