Julie Morrissy has lived in Montréal, Toronto, Minnesota, San Francisco and Dublin. In 2015 she was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series, and shortlisted for the Melita Hume Poetry Prize. She has read at the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, the International Literature Festival Dublin, and for RTE Radio One, and her work has been published internationally. Her debut poetry pamphlet is forthcoming with Eyewear Publishing in November 2015.
1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook I am Where will be released on November 1st, 2015 with Eyewear Publishing (UK). It is a collection of 20 poems, some of which are the first poems I ever wrote, others a lot more recent. I find myself moving away from more traditional forms of poetry as I develop, and I have become more interested in conceptual, and socially oriented poetry.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I didn’t come to poetry first! When I went back to school to do my MA in Creative Writing I was working on a manuscript for a novel. I was pretty far in but I was having all sorts of trouble with it. I had a fantastic teacher for my poetry modules, Irish poet, Paul Perry, and it was really his style of teaching and his enthusiasm for poetry that sparked my interest. I found poetry to be much more liberating as a form than fiction, and it quickly became the form I felt best reflected what I was trying to express. I don’t feel restricted by “rules” in poetry in the same way I did when I was trying to write a novel. I also feel that I can focus on language in a more effective way when I am writing poems.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
My writing pretty much goes straight from my head to the page. I edit the work lightly afterwards – usually agonising over semicolons and the like, but most of the time I get the lines onto the page, I spend some time tricking around with line length, stanza length, order, etc., and I get it to a point where I think it is very close to being done. I will usually revisit it in the following days but only to make small changes. If a poem doesn’t really work the first time I get it down, it usually ends up not being a poem.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
The poems in I am Where and those in my manuscript for my first full collection were written for the most part for my thesis project in my MA, so in that sense those poems were part of “whole”. I started to see very strong themes emerging in my work around that time, and noticed that many of poems were in conversation with each other so that led me a better understanding of what I was actually writing about, which is the transcultural being. I suppose I didn’t really set out to write on that subject but having moved so frequently between Ireland and North America, particularly Canada, in the last decade, that sense of dislocation tends to emerge strongly in the work.
I have recently began working on a book-length poem that combines my grandmother’s experience as a transborder being in mid-century Ireland and my own experience as a transcultural citizen in the 21st century. The new project requires me to consider the form of the work as a whole in a more cohesive way than I had been doing before.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love doing readings! For me, it’s when I really get to enjoy the work in a relaxed setting with my peers and friends.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I am quite invested in theory for my new project. I am investigating various formulations of conceptual poetry and the reasons it is termed as such. I’m most intrigued by the relationship between poetry and forms of “action”, whether poetry contributes to modes of thought or provides new strategies for thinking. In that regard, I read theory by people like Carolyn Forché, Lyn Hejinian, Dale Smith. I am also interested in the contemporary book-length poem as a form that has frequently been taken up by female poets in challenging historical narratives, or indeed retelling personal narratives. I enjoy research and critical writing, and I think it helps me to position my own work and deepen my understanding of its relevance and importance.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I’m not sure if writers “should” have a role in larger culture, but I think many writers take up that role – and I am glad that they do. Carolyn Forché discusses the tendency to separate the “personal” and the “political” in poetry but suggests that in fact there are very few writers who would consider themselves to be without a politics. I think that poetry and other creative work has power to disrupt larger cultural and politic narratives, and to burrow into what Forché calls the third space of “the social”. I don’t think every writer has a responsibility to do so but I certainly believe that poetry can provoke preparatory and deliberative thought, perhaps even leading to material action.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think it’s important to be comfortable with the process of editing. Sometimes I can be a little resistant initially but it is crucial to be able to understand your own choices as a writer. I have been very fortunate with the editors I have worked with. Les Robinson edited my forthcoming chapbook. He was fantastic to work with and his editorial insight certainly improved my work.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I recently read an interview with Bill Berkson in which he talks about one of his mentors looking at his early work and saying something like “okay, so you’ll be a poet,” as though that was a perfectly acceptable and ordinary thing to decide, like becoming a mailman or something. I think Paul Perry did the same for me – opened my mind to a possibility that I would have thought was outrageous before I started working with him. Seeing poetry as a reasonable and possible career choice allowed me to pursue it unapologetically.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I feel good about my critical writing. I find it difficult to write the more in-between form of say a book review, for example. I am reasonably confident in the realm of academic writing, and confident in the realm of creative writing but I am still unsure about intellectual writing or critique that is not research-based.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have a reading list of both critical, and creative texts so I usually start working from that each day. I read and take notes and often will get the urge to write poetry while I’m reading. I’ve never been a morning person so I start work around 10am and work through til 6. That work is a mixture of reading, note taking, writing, applying for literary festivals or conferences, and submitting creative work. Some days are more productive than others – it usually depends on how much coffee I drink! I am currently doing my PhD in Poetry (practice-based) at University of Ulster so I have the privilege of writing full time.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read. Usually once I am reading, I want to start writing again.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I think my memory is more connected to sight and sound. I’m not sure if there is any particular fragrance that reminds me of Ireland or Dublin, nothing that I would feel attached to anyway.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
There is something about being in the cinema that I find really inspiring. I often write after I’ve come out of the cinema. I think it’s something to do with the cinematic experience being so big. The whole thing is such an event and it feels empowering in a weird way.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
For my current project I’m reading a lot of book-length poetry. C.D. Wright is immensely important to me as well as M. NourbeSe Philip, Claudia Rankine, Lyn Hejinian, and Natasha Trethewey. Irish writing is vital too – I love Eavan Boland, and Paula Meehan. Aside from writers, Serena and Venus Williams are my role models for life. I’ve been watching Venus and Serena since I was a teenager so I feel like I grew up with them. I think they are two of the most powerful role models for women in the world today.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to do more work with other poets and collaboration on projects. I have also been getting into some activism in relation to reproductive rights for women in Ireland. I’d like to keep going with that.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I think if I were to anything else it would be to teach. I taught kid’s tennis for a long time and I loved it. Teaching anything makes me pretty content.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I have done other things. I started out in law and spent many years working in law practices alongside writing and studying. I have always been writing though since I was a kid. I tried painting and drawing but my best ideas come out in language.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m reading My Life by Lyn Hejinian right now. It’s wonderful. The last film that inspired me to write a poem was Diary of a Teenage Girl. I’m not sure if it’s a “great film” but it is definitely refreshing to see a story that focuses on the life of a teenage girl, and I really liked it.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Right now I am researching and writing for my book-length poem. I just finished up editing my forthcoming pamphlet, and in the coming weeks I’ll be preparing for the launch. I’m in living in Dublin at the moment and strangely missing the onset of Canadian winter. I think those winters are a good time to get work done though that might be nostalgia talking.