Finding My Voice on the Emerald Isle
While juggling options for MFA programs, I was gutted from a failed relationship, battling depression head-on, and feeling burned out from a job I had no passion for. That’s why I had decided to return to the thing I first felt passionate about: writing.
The opportunity to learn from award-winning authors in the very heart of Dublin was one of the main reasons I chose to study poetry in the low-residency Creative Writing Program at Carlow University. Already an avid lover of travel, I knew the experience of immersing myself fully into a place with such rich literary history would be life changing. And those two weeks at Trinity College in Dublin (in both June 2018 and June 2019) were nothing short of that.
So where do I begin? How do I explain what transpired during both of those beautiful, intense residencies? Ireland had been a dream destination of mine for years, and now my MFA program was giving me the opportunity to not only travel there, but also to work with brilliant Irish writers and mentors.
Inspiration was on every cobblestoned street, every corner of campus, and in every café on the Emerald Isle.
Since I’d never been to Ireland before, I decided to start my journey early and travel before the work of residency began. I flew into Dublin with my friend Jaclyn (a fiction student) and we rented a car to drive to Cork. Here’s where our whirlwind weekend started: charming Cork to the Blarney Castle, lively Galway to the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, booming Belfast to the amazing Giant’s Causeway, and at last back to bustling Dublin, where we would make our home for two weeks studying at prestigious Trinity College. Already, I had fallen completely in love with the Emerald Isle, and my time here had only just begun.
The residency schedule was packed with workshops, lectures, readings, and various outings. As a graduate program, it was meant to be intense, and it was. In each genre, students were divided among mentors. In my particular group, along with three other poets and our mentor, we would have discussion and workshop in the morning before lunch, and then lectures or readings from visiting writers in the afternoon.
Sometimes, I would scarf down a quick meal at the cafeteria on campus and take the rest of the break sitting in St. Stephen’s Green with my notebook, or people watch while sitting on a bench in College Park at the end of campus. Inspiration was on every cobblestoned street, every corner of campus, and in every café.
During my first residency in June 2018, I worked with the wonderful Irish poet Enda Wyley. I have never met a more passionate reader and writer. She reawakened my excitement for the written word and its endless possibilities, and how it can be so nourishing to the soul. In June of 2019, I was lucky to work with another fantastic Irish poet, the fierce Jean O’Brien. Jean taught me to survive my grief, and to “kill the ruddy doves!”
Each session was opulent in its content, every writer was captivating in their craft. There were way too many pints between classes, laughs shared, friendships formed, and words written to count, but it all helped frame those wonderful memories, and of course, made its way into my work.
This past December, I defended and graduated from the MFA program, having completed my full-length manuscript, currently titled Ember. From my defense statement:
My collection, Ember, explores these connections in the layered heat of imagery. Merriam-Webster defines an ember as ‘a glowing fragment from a fire.’ But embers are also described as slowly dying or fading emotions, memories, ideas, or responses still capable of being revived. Like metaphor, embers can ‘transfer’ or ‘carry over’ multiple sparks, flames of insight, conflagrations.
It is true that my poetry manuscript started with poems about loss and grief, but it isn’t solely about that. The themes in this collection embody travel beyond borders, family relationships and complications, exploration of the self, sexual assault, mental illness, the human body and its capabilities and failures, the journey from childhood to womanhood, and how we always linger in the in-between.
Place is essential to this manuscript: foundations of some of these poems have been cemented across oceans, from Ireland to America, and in childhood bedrooms and back alleys. There are poems of the natural world and its creatures, of shopping and driving, of defining and redefining womanhood.”
Without my time in Ireland, I don’t know that my heart would have healed the same, or that my voice as a writer would find its own light again.
There is a part of Ireland, and particularly Dublin, with its gritty streets, its green plazas, its rolling and quiet beauty that roars on—a song cemented in my heart. I am forever grateful for the experiences I had there, shared among friends and mentors, and the opportunity to connect with these incredible writers, learning from them and their history, as I write my own.