Dermot Bolger’s Magical World of Words

Poet, playwright and novelist, Dermot Bolger, will be joining us on Friday 31 May at 4.30pm at St John’s Theatre & Arts Centre.  Born in Dublin in 1959, Dermot is one of Ireland’s best known writers and is a regular contributor to a number of Irish and overseas newspapers.

Dermot BolgerJM.  You are a prolific writer.  How do you manage your busy work schedule?

DB.  Behind every prolific writer there is at least two major motivations: mine are  premature baldness and poverty, I keep grinding away towards the bestseller that will pay for the toupee.

JM.  The Venice Suite is a deeply personal and at times heartbreaking account of the death of your wife, Bernie.  Did you consciously decide to write about this very difficult time through the medium of poetry and if so why?

DB.  The Venice Suite was a sequence of poems that no poet would wish to write. Its memories are unique to me, yet its voyage of loss is undertaken by thousands – sometimes with huge support, like I was privileged to receive – but often in  isolation. In 2010 my wife, Bernie, collapsed while swimming with one of our sons. She had no symptoms of ill health and no thoughts of death before death cruelly thought of her. I was beside her when she died from an undiagnosed ruptured aneurysm on a trolley in Dublin’s Mater Hospital. Numb with grief, I had no recollection of writing poems. But sorting through drawers, eighteen months on, I foundThe Venice Suite multiple scraps of paper tucked away: barely legible lines scribbled on envelopes that were not poems, but notes left to myself during the first dark year of mourning. Reshaping them into poems allowed me to confront that initial grieving process and try to imagine myself into the different life I now lead. These memories are unique to me, but their underlying emotions are not. Thousands of people articulate the emotions expressed here with greater eloquence in the silence of their hearts than I managed by reconstructing thoughts first scribbled down on whatever scrap of paper came to hand.

JM.  Your most recent novella, The Fall of Ireland explores what aspects of the human condition change and what remains enduring. Why did you set it in China?

DB.   I suspect that there will be lots of very large books about the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. But the Greek poet Cavafy said that a poet should stand at a peculiar angle to the universe and I liked the idea of exploring that collapse (and the generation of civil servants, Gardai and teachers who imagined they had another decade of work but were herded into early retirement by financial necessity) through a really quiet story, entirely set in an anonymous Chinese hotel bedroom and concerning an encounter from a seemingly rich man from a bankrupt nation and a poor woman from a booming economic power trying to connect on a human level but being separated by being unable to truly understand each other’s worlds.

Tea Chests and DreamsJG.  For your play, Tea Chests and Dreams, you invited a different woman from the audience to share the stage each night and add their own story to the mosaic of stories being played out on the stage. How did this work out, and what was the idea behind it?

DB. This short play that I would love to see done by amateur groups as it has great parts for women, is a celebration of what unites successive generations of women, from all backgrounds and walks of life, on their first nights in new lives, women for ‘moving in’ must also mean ‘moving on’. It involves five women moving into houses in the same street over half a century. I thought that as part of its celebratory nature, I would invite women from the audience to share the stage and add their own real-life stories to the mosaic of lives being portrayed. Therefore before each performance there was a once off public reading of one such text by an audience member describing their own first night in their own home. This meant that each night of this play about first nights was truly a first night, with a new voice heard on the Irish  stage, a new story added to the celebratory mosaic that is Tea Chests and Dreams.

 JG.  Your work crosses the genres of novels, plays, poetry and short fiction. Do you have a preference for any particular form?

 DB.  I am just a story teller and certain stories are told best in certain mediums.

 JG.   Can you tell us a little about the innovative In Context 3 projects and your part in it?

 DB.   My last poetry book before The Venice Suite was called External Affairs. The major sequence in it, Night and Day,The Fall of Ireland were poems about contemporary Dublin life that I first published as poster poems displayed across South County Dublin, inviting writers in the community there to respond with poems of their own. Having been first published as posters, my poems were then interlaced with poems by other writers who live or work in South Dublin County to form a separate illustrated anthology Night & Day: Twenty Four Hours in the Life of Dublin City, which is published by New Island/South Dublin County Council. The original poster poems by myself can be viewed and downloaded free from

JG.   What writers do you particularly admire, historical and contemporary?

DB.   I admire all writers who strive to make a living with just the thin sliver of their imagination.

JG.    What projects do you have planned over the next year?

DB.  My stage adaptation of Ulysses, which was premiered in Glasgow by the Tron last year, is going to the Edinburgh Festival this summer and I think I have a couple of books coming out in different languages here and there.

 For more information or to book this event please click on the following link Dermot Bolger

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