Q & A with Mark Granier, Director of Poetry – Getting Started Workshop

Ever since Bryan MacMahon introduced the concept of the Literary Workshop way back in 1972, they have become a core ingredient of Listowel Writers’ Week. This year, we have a total of 12 Workshops, including Short Fiction, Poetry, Novel, Travel Writing and Writing for Theatre, so there’s something for everyone, regardless of your area of interest and expertise.

Each three-day Workshop will run from 9.00am to 12.30am on Thursday 29th, Friday 30th and Saturday 31st May, 2014. For full details click Workshops

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be introducing our Workshop Directors to you. First up is Mark Granier, who will direct POETRY – Getting Started.  Mark has an MA in Poetry/Creative Writing from Lancaster University and has been teaching creative writing for UCD’s Adult Education Department for several years. He has published three collections, Airborne, The Sky Road & Fade Street. His awards include the 1997 New Writer Prize, two Arts Council Bursaries, First Prize (three times) in the Féile Filíochta, The Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize and a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in 2011.

Mark-Granier Q. What motivates you to write?

A. Anything really: a long drive, a dream, something read or overheard on the radio… the  surprise of finding myself here, alive in the universe.

Q. Were you interested in poetry at a young age?

A. I began to discover the pleasure of rhyming when I was thirteen, as a homesick boarder in Ring College in Waterford, where I spent one year.  I used to write jingly little verses and stitch them into handmade books.  When I returned home I largely forgot about the rhyming and might never have taken it further it weren’t for a few guys I knew in UCD who started publishing a student poetry magazine called Niamh when I was about sixteen.  They asked me for something and that’s really what got me going.  The magazine folded after about three issues but I had caught the bug by then.

Q. Why have you chosen to express yourself through poetry as opposed to the novel or short story?

A. The simple answer is that I don’t know. Kavanagh said  ‘I dabbled in verse and it became my life.’ I am attracted to the shorter, imagistic lyric forms, what I call suitcase poems or portmanteaus, that open to give the reader something strange, sensual and lingering: sensations and images that hopefully stay in the head like the air of a good song, something musical that can be grasped and carried and is ready for travel. Next to poetry, the short story is probably my favourite literary genre and I have written a few (though I haven’t published any yet). I am also a photographer so you could say that I am fascinated by what the great photographer Henri-Cartier-Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’.

Q. Where does your initial idea for a poem come from?

A. As with motivation, anywhere and everywhere. But it isn’t always anything as concrete as an idea. It may be just a phrase or image or even a single word bouncing about like an echo inside your head. There is really no great mystery to this. Longley said that if he knew where poems came from he’d go there, a wonderful answer. On the other hand, one could also say that all poems ultimately come from the same place, the unconscious, which is somewhere everyone visits regularly, if only in their dreams.

Q. Do you have a favourite poet? Who and why?

A. My favourite poets and poems don’t stay still. Keats one moment, Kavanagh another, or Larkin, Milosz, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. At present it might be the contemporary American poet Albert Goldbarth, if only because I’ve just read a fantastic little sonnet sequence called ‘Cheese’ which manages to be precisely, pedantically (even forensically) about cheese, while also being an absurdly moving, always surprising exploration of what we are too often reduced to calling the human condition.

Q. What, for you, are the highlights of Listowel Writers’ Week?

A. Actually, the workshops are usually the highlight for me.  When the poet Joan McBreen attended one of my courses in 2004 I was initially taken aback; she had published more books than I.  But she turned out to be a terrific participant, encouraging the others with her enthusiasm and excellent feedback.  I have also loved driving around the beautiful countryside and of course I’ve enjoyed the readings and talks by other marvellous writers, including Paul Durcan, Howard Jacobson, etc.

Q. Briefly, what will you be covering in the Poetry – Getting Started Workshop?

A. Apart from what you might call the basics (learning how to break into the blank page with triggering exercises etc.), sessions will involve discussion of a number of poems by established poets whose methods and techniques will be examined. Topics covered will include riddles, parallelism, the sonnet, imagery, metaphor, haiku (‘traditional’ and otherwise) and the ‘prose poem’. Advice will also be given on publishing and a short bibliography of useful books/anthologies. But the emphasis will be on producing something new and surprising, having an adventure with language.

For more information and/or to book this Workshop click Poetry Getting Started with Mark Granier

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