Trevor Conway is a writer of poetry and fiction from Sligo, and has been based in Galway since 2005. He also works as an author at HeadStuff, and he is a contributing editor for The Galway Review. In 2015 Trevor started up a Poems in Profile website, which has been updated with a new publication once a month, and it features introductions and interviews with the poets. We discussed the format and purpose of this website, and the benefits associated with this platform for poets. We also talked about the topics addressed in his first collection of poetry entitled Evidence of Freewheeling; the novel and the second poetry collection he’s currently working on; the current trends in poetry slams and spoken word events; and the potential to extend the range of showcasing opportunities for poets and poetry publishers in the west of Ireland.
Hi Trevor, can you tell us about the format and purpose of the Poems in Profile website?
Well, the purpose was simply to present poetry in a different way, one that suited modern tastes as regards how people interact with media and/or art. Once I had that in mind, it was clear that things had to be concise, as people tend to cautiously check the length of a text now before going down that rabbit hole. I wanted it to be a 5-8-minute experience. For me, the analysis of poems as part of the Leaving Cert English course was where I first got hooked on poetry, and I always like interviews rather than just straight readings, so an introduction (by me) and a brief interview with the author were always gonna be on the cards. I also wanted to include videos where possible, and it felt right to ask poets to shoot the videos in side “profile” view for the sake of a visual pun if nothing else.
What benefits have poets reaped from the website?
I can’t speak for other people, but I hope they enjoy it, of course. I hope that people who don’t normally buy full issues or anthologies might be drawn to its short format, based around one text per post. Or maybe even someone who never reads poetry might take a chance on it and find something of value there. I’d hope that it has helped some writers in terms of their self-esteem or their careers if they hadn’t published much work previously, and I’d hope it would help some promote their readings, books and whatnot.
Can you tell us more about the elements explored in Evidence of Freewheeling?
Oh, but there’s so many! My approach wasn’t typical of modern trends, I think. I get the impression that most poets feel they should tie similar types of poems together in one collection. And that makes sense, of course. But I gravitate more towards variety, just seeing what poems work well together, mainly because they’re different from each other. We don’t expect musical albums to necessarily be concept albums, and that’s how I’m inclined to approach poetry collections, though it makes sense to put a slant on things after the fact, for the sake of describing the work to people or trying to get the media interested. In Evidence of Freewheeling, the main themes would be nature, death and creativity, I’d say. I also touch on language itself, and I have a few sports poems (Gaelic football and soccer), as well as the fact that sports also get brief mentions in other poems. Science is another big influence. One poem tries to explain why couples’ faces sometimes grow alike as they get older. Another uses the theory of relativity as an analogy for the idea that our opinions or perspectives are relative, affected by various factors, such as comparisons with similar things. One science-y poem came to me way back when I did the Leaving Cert biology course. It’s about the short, precarious life cycle of liver fluke. As regards the approaches to the forms of the poems in the book, they’re also varied. About a quarter rhyme. Most are free verse. There are verses of wildly different lengths and poems that vary from about eight lines to one hundred and thirty or so.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m revising poems for a second collection (due in 2018). I’m also revising a GAA-based novel, a play about Socrates and tinkering at a few chords in the hope that an opening lyric will come soon. But I don’t have much time for writing songs these days. A novel tends to suck the life from other art forms like the first hatchling trying to eject the others from the nest. But poetry will always be able to fight its corner in my nest.
What developments have you noticed in the current trends for poetry slams and spoken word events in the west of Ireland?
Well, these types of events have definitely proliferated in recent years, which is fantastic. Over the Edge is going strong in Galway, as always, and I read recently at Stanzas in Limerick, a great event. They live-streamed the reading on Facebook, which was particularly badass. I’ll be reading in Letterkenny, my birthplace, later this year. It’s called North West Words, and I’ve heard great things about it. As for trends in relation to these events, I really don’t know what to say except that the crowds are possibly getting bigger. More people are seeing the appeal of poetry, and particular spoken word poetry. It would be great if we could grow the audience even more, though.
Today is Poetry Day Ireland – what do you think of the Label-lit: Guerillas event? The aim is to share small works of literature on luggage labels, in public spaces. This event encourages a group of poets to share their work in unexpected places in Ireland, and showcase it to unsuspecting recipients. Do you think that there could be more projects exhibiting the advantages of poetry, as a medium of communication, in the west of Ireland?
Yes, yes, and yes! This is a great idea. There certainly could, and should, be more projects. I have been thinking a lot about how to get poetry out there in new ways (hence the Poems in Profile website). It would be great to see more and more people putting their heads together and coming up with innovative ideas. Maybe Galway 2020 will stir up more ideas, get people thinking in different ways.
Are there any other ways we could widen the spectrum of how poetry is celebrated and received by readers of poetry in the west?
There probably are, yes. In terms of the mainstream perception of poetry, it would be great if we could get people thinking of it, or looking towards it, beyond those moments such as deaths/funerals, when people find it profound or whatever. I‘d like to see it become more of an obvious presence. If we can have football matches on TVs in so many pubs, for instance, why not poems on walls or coming from speakers? This applies across the board, of course, not necessarily to the west. It’s up to poets to come up with ways to make people see the value of poetry.
Do you think that viral videos of poetry performances on social media ultimately help or hinder the artists? Does this process of building a buzz sometimes compromise the tone and integrity of the poems?
I’m not sure how they could hinder them, but surely they can help, in terms of boosting someone’s profile, promoting a book/reading or just connecting with someone at the other end of the computer screen. It’s possible that the build-up could compromise a person’s experience of a poem, but it’s the reaction that’s the issue there, not the method of delivery in general. Anyone can ruin any format by being pretentious, snobbish, boring or whatever. Football fans can ruin matches by fighting in the terraces.
What poets/novelists have inspired you and influenced your work? When did you start writing poetry and fiction?
Yeats, Kavanagh and Keats. Shakespeare’s sonnets and Emily Dickinson’s poems are very neat encapsulations of ideas, which I find very appealing in a craftsperson kind of way (the simple joy of making things, working hard to make them well). Sylvia Plath and Bob Dylan have taught me the value of obscure, unusual connections which can be harnessed to describe things in incredibly beautiful and intriguing ways. As regards fiction, Flannery O’Connor is a master short story writer. I also love Frank O’Connor’s stories, though his overuse of adverbs serves almost like a cautionary tale. Novelists: Dostoevsky and Orwell would be my biggest inspirations. Dostoevsky has taught me how important it is to show how characters try to hide thoughts, opinions and motivations from each other. Orwell taught me the value of creating a certain alternative world in a novel.
I started writing at about age 14 or 15, mainly short stories and rap lyrics, then poems. A few years later, I wrote a play, a novel, some film scripts. None of those got published or produced, but it’s the writing process that’s the jewel for me. Over the years that followed, I wrote more novels, stories and poems. I learned guitar when I came to Galway about 11 years ago, then started writing songs on said guitar. I was fairly serious about writing poems and fiction even at age 15, but it became a daily obsession by about age 20.
You also write songs, drama and film scripts. How do you divide your time between all of the different writing projects and your editing jobs?
In a very scattered fashion! On non-work days, however, I have a fairly set schedule incorporating poetry, fiction, songwriting, exercise and a casual effort to learn Spanish. When I have a lot of editing work on that involves deadlines, that has to take priority. But I enjoy the editing work as well, and I probably learn unconsciously as I edit others’ work. I enjoy considering how someone could improve a piece both by polishing what’s there and by adding new elements, especially with the benefit of my fresh eyes looking over it.
You wrote a piece called Lyre and Lyric: The Curious Cousinhood of Poetry and Song, for writing.ie, on the relationship between poetry and song. Could you tell us more about that?
Yeah, I was just interested in the fact that poetry and song are so intertwined, in a more curious way than, say, film and theatre, I think. When I was writing the article, news of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize came through, and then everyone was talking about the differences and similarities between poetry and song, funnily enough.
Will you be attending any events at Cúirt this week?
Yes. Approximately 10. There’s some interesting talks. I particularly enjoyed a recent reading I saw involving Martina Evans, Mary O’Malley and Vona Groarke. Tasty poems.
If readers would like to get in contact with you about sending submissions, where can they reach you?
For both Poems in Profile and submitting work for me to edit, people can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love to see new poems and stories ping through my inbox. Also, for the day that’s in it, you can find my poem Play below.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Trevor.
No problem. I enjoyed it, and thanks for the opportunity. Keep up the good work.
An Áit Eile presents Trevor’s poem Play below. Happy Poetry Day to all!
I could never escape goalposts:
Between the pillars of brick walls,
The shadows of bridges built for trains,
The wooden frames of a house-in-progress.
Like a dog distracted,
I became Marco van Basten,
Eyeing a long ball, assessing my angle.
I was Cantona once, my school collar turned up.
Freed by the confines of tar and lines,
I’d sweat at the sight of a metal frame
Designed to keep caravans from car parks.
One time, I was tackled by a puddle.
It’s dangerous for me to drive through towns
Where pitches flaunt their green allure.
Gaelic posts strike above dull walls,
Thin as stalagmites.
There’s pain in my knees, my hips.
All this for just a bit of play.
With a pen, I find new fantasies,
Days devoted to rainbowed worlds.
A ragged web shivers by my window,
As though a ball had burst the net.
At the desk, I play, someone else for a while.
The book closes – I’m me again.
Trevor’s first collection of poetry, Evidence of Freewheeling:
Poems in Profile:
Trevor Conway Editing & Writing Classes on Facebook: