When I was thirteen I met a poet for the first time. He was a burly, happy man with a twinkle in his eye and a mouth full of laughter. When he spoke his words flowed with a rich Kerry accent. He stood on the stage at the top of our school hall in Dalkey and told us what he thought writing was all about.
By the time you are ten years old, he said, you will have had enough experiences to last your writing life.
It is an idea that has always stuck with me.
The poet’s name was Brendan Kennelly. By chance, I got to speak to him afterwards and he seemed interested that I was trying to write poems. He gave me his address and for the next few months I wrote to him in Trinity College where he was Professor of English. In tum, every couple of weeks, I would receive a small white envelope with the university stamp on the comer and his scrawling ideas inside.
These letters encouraged me to continue writing and soon I owned several notebooks, filled with scribbles, quotes, half-lines – all the stuff of poetry being made.
Around this time a poem of mine won first place in a poetry competition and was published in the RTE Guide. I was also asked to read the poem on the radio. I was fourteen and very nervous at the prospect of going on the national airwaves. In the studio I met a woman poet, Eavan Boland. She had judged the competition and she greatly inspired me that day to keep writing.
I was growing up now, and beginning to search for other publishing outlets. I decided to send some of my poems to David Marcus, the editor of ‘New Irish Writing’ in The Irish Press, and he published one poem and then more of them throughout my school years.
The poems kept flowing and by the time I left college, poetry was easily the most the most important thing in my life. One evening, I met Dermot Bolger, the publisher of Raven Arts Press, in The Palace Bar on Fleet Street. We got talking and he said, yes, he’d be happy ro read my poems. A few months later 12 Bar Blues, an anthology of poetry from younger poets, was published and a selection of my poems was included. Now my work was between the covers of a real book. I felt excited, anxious to keep writing.
Since those early days, I have published three books of poetry. But I often look back on that school in Dalkey and think of it as the place where poems for me truly began. Because it isn’t the publishing of poetry, but the making of it that is most important. And so, sometimes, I wish I were that teenage girl again, uniform clad, wide-eyed, listening to the poet read on the wooden stage of our school hall; I wish I were there again, waiting for the adventure of writing to start.