The Monthly interviews Irish poet, Rachel Coventry – Part 2 – Poetry, Academia and working on a collection

You discover poetry at a Kevin Higgins workshop?

I stared writing poetry in that workshop. Within a year or two, I managed to secure funding for another PhD. This one was a structured PhD in the Philosophy of Art and Culture at the University of Galway. I decided to do my thesis on philosophical poetics, especially Heidegger’s account.

Martin Heidegger

When does your first collection get published?

My first collection came about 8 years after the first workshop, so it was published, by Salmon Poetry, in 2018. I just followed a process where my poems were getting published in magazines and journals, then I started looking for a publisher and then I pulled the collection together. I was in a hurry to get that first collection out; I don’t know why now.

What ideas do you interrogate with your work?

The first book deals with a lot of things, but it makes a lot of references to my past in London. The book is dedicated to an ex-boyfriend, who died while I was writing it. There are poems about drug use and the sort of relationships that arise out of trauma. It’s a book about a particular period in my life; a period that I didn’t or couldn’t write about at the time.

Those early poems just arrived rather than being part of a deliberate or specific theme or orientation. In fact, I don’t really think I was even thinking about what poetry is for, what poetry can achieve, how should you approach poetic writing.

The second book is loosely looking at the question of men. And from there, what is to be heterosexual and female, of a certain generation. There are poems are about relationships, some are about men generally, some are about the relationship with my father, who died during the writing of these poems.

I hadn’t seen him for many years so that meant there were explorations of the questions around the absent father, or having \a difficult relationship with a parent. There is also a sense of how all of that impacts your relationships with men in the future after the experience of that relationship. I think that I become generally detached from men as a result of those experiences.

And that material ends up in the new collection, “The Detachable Heart”?

Yes. This collection is dedicated to my father, but it’s about male absence in general. The absence of my father, the absence of a certain type of masculinity that I grew up with, and also the death of the Nietzschean God, the absent father to beat all absent fathers, and the effects of that in this time. There is an ambivalence towards men in the collection, but it also an attempt to understand them. I wanted to write about men as something other. Women were traditionally understood in terms of being something other. But obviously, that’s a question of perspective.

Was there anything you discovered during the writing of this work?

Poetry is a strange process, sometimes I find something in the work that wasn’t fully intended; something that is surprising, some sort of revelation. I always learn something about myself, and this is not always comfortable process; when I write, I am distracted by the writing itself, but after the poem has been there for a while, perhaps when it’s published in a magazine, I see what’s really going in the poem. I wrote about this in an article for The Honest Ulsterman where I discussed how embarrassing it can be to write poetry. There is something hidden in poetry even from the poet.

But even at the conscious level, I have admitted a lot in my poetry. There are poems about heroin use, about abandonment, about hopelessness, depression, about particular lifestyles and I should say that I have struggled sometimes with whether or not to send these poems out into the public realm. I have worried about reputational damage. I have a job and a life, but it’s like, the poetic process does not care about those things. The poems show up and demand their hearing, irrespective of the consequences they may have.

But you do have a lot of layering in your work. Does that not offer some protection?

Poetry is not just an expression of personal experiences. There is a lot of philosophy in my work; though philosophy with a small ‘p.’ My poems are often based on my own experiences, but they also attempt to go beyond that to something shared.

I have a bad experiences with people who cannot relate to some of my subject matter. I find this difficult, and I know that poetry can be uncomfortable, but I guess it not the poets job to make everything comfortable for everyone. I did a reading once and a woman came up to me after to thank me for saying the things that other people can’t say. It’s the best compliment I was ever paid.

Whatever my thoughts are though, the material is now in that public realm and it not truly mine any longer. Of course, I would like it to be well received, but I’ve done with it to some extent. I’m thinking about the next thing.

Where to now?

Bloomsbury will publish my book “Heidegger and Poetry in the Digital Age: New Aesthetics and Technologies” in 2023. This book is based on my doctorate, and it considers contemporary poetry in terms of the technology and commodification.

Philosophy is central to my creative practice. Because I have a background in philosophy, I am interested in the philosophical aspect of poetry; questions like what poetry is and what is the relationship between poetry and language etc. In this book I give an account of contemporary poetry from a philosophical perspective.

I’m also working on an eBook of digital poems that the Arts Council funded; my monograph talks about digital poetry, so I wanted to try it out for myself. I hope to publish that in 2023 also. There are also the first few poems of a new collection starting to appear.

To find out more about Rachel Coventry’s work see the following links below

artist forms link
New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.