The Monthly talks with Jen Herron winner of the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2022

Why did you decide to enter the competition?

This is my third year contributing to the CAP Anthology. I’d always hoped one day I might win it. I’ve been working hard year on year to improve, attending a lot of workshops, including those offered by CAP. These have been invaluable to my progress as a writer.

The main factor in my improvement has been feedback and advice offered from other writers. Unfortunately, unless you pay for it, or complete a Creative Writing MA/Phd, professional, detailed feedback is almost impossible to get. Thank goodness for organisations like CAP who can assist with this.

Why this poem?

I’ve avoided writing about bigger issues and stuck to ‘safe’ subjects. I’ve written about self-censoring and holding back in my articles for the Irish Times. However, I think the moment has come when I need to challenge myself and stop shying away from complicated topics. My problem is, I worry too much about what other people think.

How do you feel about winning?

Obviously, I’m very happy but it comes with a certain amount of melancholy. It’s a poem that shouldn’t have to be written. It seems strange that I’ve won a competition with such sad subject matter. But, I suppose, that’s the nature of poetry. It searches for meaning in chaos, often with no answer.

What are you working on now?

Too much. With very little time to do it. I’m writing on the fringes of my working life as an English teacher. Novels, short stories, poetry, non-fiction – I’ve attempted it all in a quest to find my voice. I feel it’s only beginning to come out now. Recently, I’ve felt a little creative snap inside me and everything is becoming clearer. I hope this means I get something substantial actually published!

For starters, I’m going to have another crack at publishing my second novel (the first was atrocious, now dead and buried). I wrote a coming-of-age novel a few summers back and it didn’t go anywhere. I’ve got a course coming up with the Irish Writer’s Centre in April which will hopefully get it ready to pitch to a literary agent. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to work on my poetry and ghost story collection in those rare, blissful moments when I’m not exhausted after a 50+ hour work week. I should probably focus on one thing at a time, but the problem is I want to do it all!

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