Category Archives: On Poetry

Irish Review: Radically Necessary Heaney

Because I am at an age when I can no longer like poetry, or an aspect of poetry, as I please, Seamus Heaney’s work is important to me in its entirety. By this I mean, I suppose, his oeuvre and … More

Speech at AWB Vincent Award Ceremony

My last book, Profit and Loss, contained a poem written partly in response to the financial crisis of 2008, and when it was nominated for a poetry award from which two of the other contenders withdrew because the award ceremony … More

Dublin Writers Festival: On Writing

As a poet, in a way, I have very little to say on the subject of ‘writing’ – because I don’t really think of poems as things I write so much as, if I think about it at all, as things I think of. While I cannot quite bring myself to talk about ‘composing’ poems, the word suggests the form’s affinity with the creation of music, and the importance, to poetry, of music and sound over written content. More

We must use what transport we can: Louis MacNeice and the train journey.

My first encounter with Louis MacNeice was reading ‘The Sunlight on the Garden’ and ‘Meeting Point’ in anthologies of Irish poetry – beautiful, prismatic lyrics which I came to think were not entirely characteristic of the poet. Later, MacNeice became the Godfather of a Northern Irish poetry I’d only been dimly aware existed. More


The hazards of a one-to-one relationship between poems and photographs, Paul Muldoon suggests in his introduction to Plan B, can be seen in ‘Monty Python’s spoof news broadcast in which a voice-over refers to ‘the Lord Privy seal’ while we’re given, in quick succession, shots of Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross, a toilet bowl and a shiny seal balancing a shiny ball on its nose’. More

What do I know? (Or, why I need to give up post-modernism and live an irony-free life)

One theory holds that Northern Irish poets ‘share elements of an outlook – ironic, stylish, suspicious of obvious sincerity’ (Martin Mooney In the Chair), but in fact when I was growing up, all the best culture was like this: ironic, referential and – God help me – ludic. In the 1990s, the films of the Cohen brothers and Quentino Tarantino played in multiplexes as well as art house cinemas, and I can’t have been the only one who was too young to appreciate their references and flirtation with pastiche, but enjoyed them anyway. More

Essay for BBC Radio 3

When the Victoria Centre, a symbol of Belfast’s confident new future, was opened last year, I heard a young woman in a shop tell her friend: ‘Go. It’s brilliant. It’s not like being in Belfast at all!’. And this is true. On a recent visit I stood in one of the shops that radiates out from the main building, with its elaborate dome, into the nearby streets of the town’s older commercial district, and watched my fellow shoppers. More

Poetry Readings

There are few things in this world I hate more than poetry readings. On the frequent occasions I have to endure them, I sit with a polite smile fixed to my face and my mind wandering like a gap-year student with an American Express card. In between wondering when it will all end and remembering, periodically, to renew my facial expression, a few thoughts repeat themselves with the regularity of on an old record: What is everyone else doing here? More

Poetry and Personal History

One of the first poems I wrote that I liked and I kept, ‘Naming It’ was written, or rather made up, partly in a flat above a chip shop on Broughton Street in Edinburgh, where I was sleeping on the couch, and partly the following night – at about four or five in the morning – in a car, going to the airport to Newcastle-on-Tyne, to pick up a friend. More

Hugo Williams Collected Poems

  Hugo Williams: Collected Poems. ISBN: 0-571-21233-6 ‘ “Write a novel!” Said my father./ “Put everything in! Sell the film rights for a fortune!”’. The advice, in ‘Tipping My Chair’ from Hugo Williams’ 1985 collection Writing Home, seems to have … More