FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
Ron Carey: As a young boy I wrote songs and verse. There was a tradition of storytelling and reciting in the family and in the community. We had a few old poetry books in the house, in particular I remember a red, gold-edged book by Longfellow, but, money was tight and there was little chance of getting new poetry books. That is why, in the summer, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the English books for the new school year. I loved the stories but devoured the poetry. I could recite most of the poems by heart before the start of school.
FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
RC: I began to write poetry when I was a teenager with a very romantic view of the world. However, this view succumbed to the pressure of holding down a job through tough recessionary times, paying a mortgage and bringing up four children. I did write some poetry, poems of celebration or of consolation for friends and family at times of birth, marriages and death. Writing these poems, with all the honesty and directness I could manage, became the basis for the way I write today. But I really only started to write seriously, I mean to seriously consider my life in terms of poetry, and begin to call myself a poet, about five years ago when I began an MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of South Wales.
FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection mean for you?
RC: To be shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize means acceptance of my work and me as a poet at the very highest level. It has given me a confidence in my poetry that no one can take away.
FAF: Please tell us about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Which poems in the collection are most important to you?
RC: No one writes a poem with the idea of how it might fit into a collection – at least I don’t. But when I came to see how some poems might make a collection, I noticed how they centred on relationships between people in Time and Space. In Time because we are connected to those who have already gone before us and to those who come after us. And in Space because of the changes that physical distance brings about. I called it Distance because I felt it covered both of these themes. I use memory in my poetry to build bridges and connect to places and individuals. The poems that mean the most to me are those that connect me to my family, poems like ‘Upstairs, Fathers and Sons’ and ‘My Father Built England’. With these poems I try to use detail to, as Patrick Kavanagh said, ‘recover the time.’ The poems that give me the most satisfaction as a poet are the ‘Amelia’ series of poems in the section ‘New Oceans.’ This was my attempt to connect to somewhere different, where the culture and the people were exotic and new to me (Belize). But where I was sure I would find the same problems that that we all face.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
RC: My boyhood hero was W.B Yeats. What was important to me was not only his wonderful verse, recited with the same reverence as Shakespeare’s, but that he was an Irish poet recognised and spoken of internationally. For me, Yeats was a bridge between the Victorian poets and the first modernists. However, for my MPhil I took Patrick Kavanagh’s continuing influence on Irish poetry, not only because he has been a great influence on my poetry but I felt we have a lot in common and found myself empathising with his situation and attitudes. I love Seamus Heaney’s work, it is both accessible and scholarly. Although Heaney has become the face of modern Irish poetry, I still need the outsider view of poets like Kavanagh. But most of the time I just want to read good poetry. If I’m in a bookshop today I’m on the lookout for works by John. F Deane, Sinead Morrissey, Philip Gross, Gillian Clarke, Mark Doty and Carol Ann Duffy to name a very few.
FAF: What is next for you as a poet?
RC: I am always writing poetry and at the moment I am working towards my next collection. The poems I’m writing now tend to be more lyrical and less confrontational, but that could change at any moment. In any case, I’ll always try to be writing myself into the heart of the subject. Hopefully, I will be in a position to teach creative writing sometime in the future.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
RC: A poet does not have to come fully formed out of the workshop. Try a hundred different things, try everything, that is the wonderful thing about poetry, it is infinite. And, whatever the theme, let the structure of the poem be obvious and the poem itself found inside. In the same way we look at a building; we know that bricks and mortar hold everything together but that’s not what we see when we see our home. A good poem should be like that.