Ron Carey is a gifted poet born in Limerick and living in Dublin. His current collection Distance has been nominated for the Forward Prize, Best First Collection UK and Ireland.
When did you first realise that words were important to you?
My Mum brought a mixture of silence and awe to every wedding or birthday party when she sang. It wasn’t that she was a great singer, though she had a sweet voice, but she sang with such conviction that everybody felt it. As a small boy, I began to realise what words could do. I and my brother Greg, who is also a poet, had a facility for learning songs and poems very quickly. I couldn’t wait to get my new English books for school. I spent many a summer’s day devouring poetry and learning poems by heart. The first time I got a real reaction to something I wrote – real in the sense of unexpected and outside the circle of family and friends – was an essay on fishing for a secondary school’s competition that I had to read to the class. When I finished, there was a spontaneous round of applause that took me and our English teacher by surprise. Naturally, this spurred me on in my writing.
You seem to have very quickly chosen poetry over prose although I imagine, like most poets, you appreciate the music in both. How do you think about sound when you are writing?
As a poet, I hold the strong suspicion that the universe is in tune. We know the stars have their own notes but I think that everything must have a God-given note, if only we could play it. I’ve always been interested in our response to rhythm and sound. Music seems to bypass the logical filters in the brain and go straight to the emotional centre – how else can one explain being moved by an aria in a language one does not understand. Some poetry has so much musicality the it floods the poem. In good poetry, as in good music, we wait for the provoked expectation to be satisfied. I think Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening’ does this brilliantly, filling up the poem with falling words until we are also full –
‘The woods are lovely dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.’
At the moment I am reading ‘All the Pretty Horses’ by Cormac McCarthy, which is a love story on so many levels. Though it’s called a novella, it’s really a prose poem. McCarthy is able to carry it off but when I write prose it is the language of explanation and not of love.
Do you write prose?
It’s a question that hasn’t come up in any other interviews but the answer is yes, but less and less as my poetry has had more recognition. I even tried to write a novel a few years back but please don’t tell anyone. I like to write short stories with quirky endings. I wrote a lot of flash fiction when I was on the Open University Creative Writing Course, which, by the way, I highly recommend.
Take me back to when you were putting together your new collection, Distance. What were your thoughts about what you wanted to include?
If someone had told me, Distance, was going to be on the Forward Prize shortlist, I might still be trying to decide which ones to put in. But because I was only picking what I thought were the best poems, irrespective of how they would come together, it actually worked out. As I reread the poems, I began to see some themes emerging – themes like the passing of time and how we are all connected to those who have gone before and to those who come after us. And the distance we are from each other, both physically and psychologically. I put the poems together under these different sections and hoped people would see the same connections.
It’s often easier to see themes in retrospect, we look back over a shoulder and see the rivers of thought and not the flood. Which poets grew you? When exploring words we find those kindred spirits who drive us on. Can you name yours?
My first love was the language and imagination of the Romantic Poets, especially Keats. They seemed to have such high ideals and to be enthralled with life. But when it came to recitation, which involves one to the greatest extent, with musicality and story-telling to the fore, Tennyson and Longfellow had the best lines. As I got a little older, the Irish poets spoke to me directly – Padric Colum and Francis Ledwidge and the poets of the 1916 revolution – with Yeats striding over all. Later, I began to recognise Patrick Kavanagh’s influence in Irish poetry and on my own and to find some poetic kinship there.
What are you working on at the moment?
The standard answer is that I am working on my second collection. And I am – just not all the time and by no means with a central theme in mind. Though nomination for the Best First Collection has put some pressure on me, at the moment I am writing poetry just for the sake it, free from expectations, including my own. I am near to having enough poems to form the basis of a collection but I don’t want to think about finishing because I enjoy discovering new poems within myself.
Ron Carey can be found:
or on Twitter @RonCarey49