Q&A: Jessica Traynor

Welcome to our new Q&A series, where we’ll be talking to facilitators at and friends of Big Smoke to find out what they’re up to. First up is Jessica Traynor.

What do you like best about teaching creative writing?
I love those moments in which you feel what you’re trying to impart is really landing with the class. Those moments where you feel the penny drop – for yourself as much as for everyone else in the room. The sense of a communal experience, which is so rare in writing. Language in general is such a tricky thing and we all struggle with it constantly. When you find an entire room of people breaking in to simultaneous nods and furiously scribbling notes to try and record a piece of information that speaks to their experience, it’s a very special thing.

What are your own favourite and least favourite things about writing?
My favourite thing is that experience of feeling outside yourself, when you’re working in a flush of creativity. It’s like you become a conduit, or you open the door for a second on the smarter, better self you’ve always hoped was lurking inside you. It’s a momentary experience, but it makes all the slog worthwhile.
My least favourite thing about writing are those moments when that door feels slammed shut, or where you feel that you’re somehow blocking yourself. When you just can’t find an answer to the problems your own work poses. All of these things need time in order to work themselves out, and we rarely feel that we have the luxury of time.

What writing project are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I’m playing with the idea of a sequence, or a number of sequences, which might form a central part of my second book. The next time around, I want to write something that feels very thematically coherent, but ambitious in its scope. I want to challenge myself in this regard, as many of the poems I write are very short and I’ve taken a bit of a magpie approach to my subject matter to date. So expect some sequence poems, or extracts from sequences, in the near future.

What are you reading right now?
I’m in the process of finishing John Burnside’s latest book All One Breath, which I found very impressive. In fact I’ve been reading it very slowly for that reason. It’s elegiac and moving, but also quite muscular and honest. His approach is in no way rose-tinted, but there’s a palpable sadness in the poems for things lost.

What was the last poem you read that stuck with you?
At the moment, Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib is floating around in my head for a few reasons. The first is all the discussion in the news about ISIS’s destruction of Assyrian monuments and artefacts. The second is that after my dad ended up in hospital a few years ago after a minor stroke, the poem came back to him in its entirety. He’d learned it as a schoolboy, and he recited it for us in the hospital, even though he’s never been one to have great recall in terms of things like poems or songs. It’s a poem that everyone should read now, much like Yeats’s The Second Coming, as an important reminder of the fact that history is something living and breathing, not just a name for what’s past.

Jessica Traynor is Literary Manager at the Abbey Theatre. Her debut collection of poetry, Liffey Swim, is published by Dedalus Press and shortlisted for the 2015 Strong/Shine Award. She will be co-facilitating the Poetry workshop at Big Smoke starting from April 11th, and co-runs the Double Shot poetry reading series (next one taking place Wednesday March 18th, 6.30pm Books Upstairs, featuring Eleanor Hooker, Angela Carr & Ciaran O’Rourke).

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