FORWARD PRIZES: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
PADRAIG REGAN: I remember my GCSE English teacher (who I loved) printing out The Wasteland from the internet and handing it to me, saying something along the lines of ‘don’t worry about understanding it, just read.’ I had never quite seen language move like that. I think (though I may be wrong) I first started writing bits of text cut up into lines when I was around 17. As a teenager, I was more interested in visual art than in literature, but I wasn’t a particularly good painter, so I decided to study English instead of going to art school. I’m not quite sure how, but I know that by the end of my first year at Queen’s University, I had decided that poetry was the medium I could think inside. Coming across Medbh McGuckian’s work was an important moment; there was something in her endlessly baffling and beautiful poems that enthralled me.
FP: 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.
PR: I remember the first decent poem I wrote: a long-lined, partially rhymed sonnet about waking up slightly hungover in Madrid. It was very much written under the influence of Ciaran Carson, whose work and teaching was formative to my thinking about poetry. I have been very lucky to be part of a wonderful community of writers in Belfast, who have all taught me in some way, whether they were tutors or classmates or friends or (recently) students.
There are certain themes that I seem unable to leave alone: food and appetite, the (queer) penetrability of the body, art and artifice — these have been the ‘material’ of my poems since I started writing. What has changed over time has been my relationship to the lyric mode. While writing my PhD on creative-critical or hybrid texts, I became more and more suspicious of the limitations of the lyric poem and aware of its sometimes troubling inheritances, which lead to a period of a couple of years when the lyric structures I had been using more-or-less unconsciously seemed inadequate. But after submitting the thesis, this tension with the medium became generative and I found myself writing poems that were more formally ad thematically lyrical than anything I had written before. Another big shift has been my approach to the line, which has shortened over time.
FP: 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?
PR: Most of Some Integrity was written between 2018 and 2021, but I think of the moment of the book’s conception as summer 2016, which I write about in the essay included in the book called Glitch City. This essay, written in response to the massacre in Pulse nightclub in Orlando, had existed first as a long poem before I decided that I needed the space afforded by the prose sentence in order to work out the complexities of what I was writing about. I think of the essay as the section of the book that makes explicit certain ideas that are the implicit animating forces of the poems.
I don’t tend to redraft my poems very much, but there was a lot of material cut from the book. The title Some Integrity was a kind of guiding maxim for the creation of the book itself: I would only want to publish a book that had some reason for existing as a book, so the editorial process was mostly one of winnowing extraneous poems from the manuscript. John McAuliffe at Carcanet was a brilliantly kind editor, whose gentle questioning made me able to see the book as a totality in a way I wouldn’t have been able to alone.
Its hard to say which poems ‘are most important’ to me, or at least, I feel like it isn’t proper to have favourites. I do, of course, but I wouldn’t want to impose my own reading of the book on anyone else, so I’ll refrain from naming them.
FP: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
PR: I love poems that resemble the structures of thinking, or that feel like the remains of a mind having worked. Anne Carson (who has discussed poetry as mimetic of thought) is a writer I feel a kind of devotion to, though I would never attempt to sound like her. I love Wallace Stephens, for similar reasons and for his ‘essential gaudiness.’ Ciaran Carson and Medbh McGuckian, as I mentioned, have probably been my more central ‘influences’. For all their differences, what I find in both of their work is a sense of poetry as a site of infinite play, which is not foreclosed by anything as boring as ‘truth’. I have also found Vahni (Anthony Ezekiel) Capildeo to be a guiding ethical example of how to write with openness to the world.
FP: What is next for you as a poet?
PR: After finishing the book, I haven’t felt much need to make myself write poems. I have been writing a few essays, and I have a plan to write a potentially long one about effeminacy. I’ve developed something of an obsession with the figure of Narcissus and how he has been used a vehicle to discuss queer desire and subjectivity (from both homophobic and queer perspectives) though whether anything will come from this, I can’t be sure. I would be wary of writing the same book twice, so I have been playing about with erasure as a way of forcing myself out of my habitual syntactical and formal structures.
FP: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
PR: I wouldn’t want to presume that any advice I may give would be useful, especially to a general ‘anyone’. There are as many ways to go about writing poetry as there are people writing poetry, so I think advice is probably best when it is bespoke.