Our new Q&A series with facilitators at and friends of Big Smoke continues with Kate Quigley, who works with us on events and our Inverse programme.
What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever got in a writing workshop?
I think that workshops are very progressive things & you need to go in with the attitude that all advice is valid. My favourite teacher of poetry is still Gerry Hanberry, & he had some great lines that have stuck with me, including, ‘when you write a poem, you always have to be aware of the verisimilitude of it. You have to think, “would I buy a used car from this poet?”, & if the answer to that is “yes”, then you’re on to something’.
I don’t think I’ve gotten anything I’d call ‘the worst’ advice… Very occasionally there will be people who just don’t connect with what you’re doing or don’t really know how to respond to it, so they’ll say things like ‘maybe it should be longer?’, which I don’t think is very useful for poetry, or any kind of writing. Also there’s this thing that happens when you bring poetry into a general workshop, where people feel the need to preface any comment they make about the work with ‘I don’t really read poetry, but…’. That kills me. Firstly, everyone should be reading poetry & secondly, poetry is still just words on a page, there’s nothing mystical about it. I think that notion of poetry being something ‘other’ in terms of writing generally needs to be shot down. I don’t think it’s helpful to anyone.
What are your own favourite and least favourite things about writing?
My first collection of poetry has been a work in progress for the last while. It’s a lot of stopping & starting. Writing a little, reading a little, agonising over a single word or punctuation mark a little… I’m hoping I’ll have something semi-concrete by the end of the year though. Any publication or reading I get offered is a little victory & then almost right away I’m hungry for the next one. I suppose it’s that frustration of never really being satisfied, never really knowing if or when something’s going to be finished that’s my least favourite thing, but at the same time, that’s the drive that keeps you going.
In terms of a favourite thing, I think it’s when people approach you after a reading or workshop to tell you they really enjoyed whatever piece or part of a piece, that they connected with your work on a personal level. I think that’s one of the main reasons we all write: to put it all out there & hope for some kind of echo back.
What writing project are you working on at the moment?
As I said, my first collection is happening, slowly…! I try to do a little every day & not to panic too much about forcing it on the days when it’s just not happening, though it’s basically ticking around my brain 24/7 right now. People talk about living with characters but writing poetry, I feel like I’m living with metaphors. There are fieldmice & ponies no-one else wanted everywhere. It’s chronic.
I’m also involved in the running of a new open mic event around the theme of mental health. Dublin has a great spoken word scene, but sometimes it seems a little one-note so we’re trying to open that up & welcome all genres; to take back ‘spoken word’ in a very literal sense, not just slam poetry, but anything that people want to express in words. Obviously mental health is a huge issue in this country & I think it’s really important to open up avenues for people to be able to express & share their experiences of it, both negative & positive. More dialogue, less statistics. To bring it back to a very human level. So that’s sort of the aim of this. Please come!
What are you reading right now?
‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed: the basis of the film with Reese Witherspoon. It’s a really, really beautifully written book & I think a far superior feminist biography, if you’re into that sort of thing, than the likes of ‘Not that Kind of Girl’, [by Lena Dunham] or similar that’s been published recently. In a lot of ways I think it’s sort of a shame that Nick Hornby got that screenplay. He took a lot of the grit out of, a lot of the honesty. The book so far has been cause for a lot of, ‘Kate, you can’t cry at work/on public transport/around this other group of people you don’t really know’, which honestly I feel is a ringing endorsement for any work of art, because that never happens.
What was the last poem you read that stuck with you?
I try to read a lot of poetry, kindling & all that, but one that’s been in my brain again recently is ‘The Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver. It’s simple & gorgeous & permanently relevant.