The Monthly speaks to Linda McKenna, CAP Poetry Facilitator, winner of the 2018 Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing and winner of the Listowel Writers’ Week Irish Poem of the Year Award 2020 – Part 2

Part one of this interview is here

How does your writing develop and what influences your development?

I have always read a lot of poetry, in youth and adulthood, mainly quite traditional poetry. My favourite poets were probably John Dunne, George Herbert and Christina Rosetti.  I did an MA in Victorian Studies, so read a lot of nineteenth century poetry as well. I didn’t read a lot of modern poetry apart from Eliot and hardly any contemporary poetry until about ten years ago! I was probably more influenced by narrative based poetry, poetry with a story to tell.

Poet – Christina Rosetti

When I started writing more seriously I tended to want to write about my childhood and my own history. I think there has been a huge change between my life and my child’s life compared to the difference between my grandmother’s life and my life. There has been a sea change in the way we live now compared to the much slower pace of change a few decade s before and I wanted to explore that and I suppose we all start off writing about our childhoods.

I then moved towards using historical documents as the basis for some of the work I was doing. I work in a museum, I love reading historical documents. I do find that there is a strange familiarity with historical documents which lends itself to narrative based poetry. I was used to reading these type of documents and that I suppose allowed me to again stumble in a particular direction.

What about developing your craft and technique?

The workshops that I attended concentrated on craft and on technique. I was taught to work on a poem, to edit the work, to polish the poem. There is also the question of how the words sound together. I spend a lot of time working on the sound of the words. Do they sound right together? Is there a good rhythm to the poem?

I do think that comes from how I was taught about poetry at school. While I might not have enjoyed creative writing at school I was taught the canonical poets from Chaucer to Patrick Kavanagh. There has been something useful from that period which has stayed with me over time.

Poet – Geoffrey Chaucer


Would craft and technique feature in your writing more than writing instinctively?

I think sometimes people say that they write purely from instinct and that craft and technique don’t come into play at all. But I think when people say that they have forgotten what they learned at school or through reading poetry so that when they are writing they are working with long forgotten processes that were established many years before.

I know that there are some people who are almost opposed to polishing and editing material. I very much doubt that raw unedited drafts are going to sound very good. I don’t think there is any substitute for working on a poem, from editing, from searching for the words that best illuminate the narrative.

In the Museum of Misremembered Things

by Linda McKenna

the keeper writes a slanted hand;

fine nibbed copperplate tracking

imagined lines of pink and blue.

In lemon juice; this archive

of unprovenanced vows, misheard

names, missed cues. Some day

she may rip out the pages, lay

them flat, heat up the iron. For now,

invisible; the lover picking out

her name on snow so white,

it looked like truth; unbending

wedding lilies, pearls for sorrow,

tangled lace. She leaves space

for days and dates; mislaid,

or folded small, in drawers

of long sold, white-lined boxes.

You won the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing and most recently the Listowel Writers’ Week Irish Poem of the Year Award in 2020. Where to now?

Winning these awards has been amazing! Both of these awards and the Red Line Festival award I won in 2018 were very unexpected!  It is a huge honour to have other poets like your work and to be shortlisted alongside poets you admire yourself!

At the moment, I am working on my second collection which at the moment has a number of themes including the notion of how we fit into both real, actual places and social spaces or categories. I  am following the history of a woman, Elizabeth Dunham, who in 1819 stole a huge amount of keys including keys which opened a number of very important public buildings, the House of Commons and The Bank of England, and so on. Some of the poems will be looking at her life.

I think it is important to mention that I have been given a lot of support from my publisher, Doire Press, and I have also had support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to publish my first collection. And of course, the poetry scene in Northern Ireland is very welcome and supportive.

Linda McKenna’s Collection  – THe Museum of Misremembered Things can be found here:

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