Author of three collections published by Doire Press, in 2016 - 2018 Susan's poems have appeared, among elsewhere, in: The Cafe Review, Oregan, USA - Gather In, in a Special Irish Edition; Bosom Pals,Ed Marie Cadden (Doire Press, 2017) an anthology entirely in aid of Breast Cancer Research in the National UniveristyHospital, Galway and When They've Grown Another Me in Poetry Ireland Review, Dec 2018. January 2018 has seen her poems Commended in the Gregory O'Donoghue Poetry Competition.

She has been an invited reader of her poems at local readings in Galway, Cork and Dublin and at festivals, including the Belfast Book Festival, Cuirt International Festival of Literature and Clifden Arts Festival. Her poems have been read on radio.

Susan completed her degree in social science and qualified as a professional social worker in Trinity College, Dublin 1975. She was a psychotherapist, trainer, facilitator and occasional consultant to organisations for over thirty years until her retirement in 2012. Drawing together her writing with her earlier skills she has written interviews and facilitated conversations mediated by poetry. She continues to work on a manuscript relating the story of starting out in poetry and a mid-life move West along with occasional other creative non-fiction pieces.

Her workshop Having a New Conversation: About Dreaming was listed on the The Cuirt International Festival of Literature Programme (2015) and she facilitates similar workshops on a variety of themes, discussed through the medium of poetry, regularly and occasionally in local community settings.

While a founding editor of Skylight 47 Susan interviewed: then Ireland Professor of Poetry, Harry Clifton; Kay Ryan, former US Poet Laureate invited to Ireland by Dromineer Literature Festival and Dani Gill who talks about curating The Cuirt International Literature Festival. Her most recent interview, of Maeve O'Sullivan, appears in The Honest Ulsterman February, 2018.

Monday, 27 April 2015

I Have My Ass Kicked at the Thirtieth Cuirt International Festival of Literature, Galway Ireland, 2015. Notes from an Apprentice Verse-Maker (2).

Mattie kisses me on both cheeks. There’s a jazz band playing. The boathouse doors open onto the terrace where people are talking their heads off in summer dresses and flowery tee shirts and a team of rowers are sculling the river behind them. We’re at the launch party for the thirtieth Cuirt International Festival of Literature. Perhaps the warmth of his greeting is in honour of the workshops I have on offer in the Cuirt Programme this year. While moving the black box that served as a stage, the year I read for Doire Press at the Cuirt Literary Brunch, Mattie told me that everyone contributing to Cuirt gets the same treatment from him. This is whether they are Seamus Heaney or are undertaking their first reading ever. It is ten years since I saw Mattie welcome Mr Heaney to Cuirt, on the steps of the Galway Town Hall theatre. That handshake made a lasting impression. It was the first time I’d seen the Nobel Laureate for literature, the first time I attended a literature festival. For five years of my move west to Galway I’d gauge my progress through greetings: first I knew no-one; then I could recognise people; then they’d recognise me. When I found myself being greeted on the street by people I didn’t yet know, I knew I’d finally arrived.

The Agency I’d set my sights on for my Memoir, the one that didn’t get short-listed for the competition - the deadline for which  I’d aimed it at last year, has written to say that although they like what I’ve written they just can’t see a large enough audience for it. They think it would appeal in particular to women in later life. But they do sweeten the pill with a comment that ‘this is nicer than that’ (a best-selling memoir I’d mentioned) and suggest submitting it to one particular publisher, giving me his e-mail address. That’s generous consideration. I push away the thought they are just letting me down gently. I am grateful.

Yet, what bigger audience could there be than women in later life? These are the women who fill book-clubs, provide theatres with at least sixty per cent of their audiences, who have always read – as distinct from surfed – books. They are keen to know about people of their age trying new things and to have a go at writing themselves - and they actually have a little more time now to read. Almost weekly, someone proclaims -in print or on air - that the ageing population is the fastest growing population in the Western world.  But, no doubt the Agent is right. The publishers they pitch to may be keen to target a younger audience, dare I say a more masculine audience? That last is unlikely. Does targeting a younger audience mean they have to neglect their long-term paying customers? It shouldn’t, but it may well be what’s happening. I’m glad I received the rejection notice while I can be distracted by the buzz of Cuirt and my big opportunity in this year’s festival – the chance to transfer skills from my former profession to augment my poetry writing by facilitating two workshops, Having a new Conversation – About Dreaming. The workshops use poetry as a springboard and container for conversations about particular topics.

The first workshop Conversation goes well. Returned questionnaires evaluating the event give further details – a few participants expected more on working with their dreams, either therapeutically or as writers. I’ve given up therapeutic work but I’ll include a poem likely to have been inspired by a dream in my Sunday workshop. How much time it gets will depend on the group. Regardless of having wished for a bit more of this or that, it seems the Tuesday participants at GMIT overall enjoyed their experience greatly. Inspired by encouraging questionnaire evidence I search my online documents, start editing and save the brochure I draft onto a memory stick I bring to the printers. As with so many requests printers suffer from receiving: I want copies yesterday. I’ve woken up to the value of designers though, so I pay the extra bit to have them work their magic. I place copies of the resultant flyers beside the till in Charlie Byrne’s bookstand at the Town Hall theatre.

Naomi Shihab Nye and Kay Ryan – both of whom have won myriad prestigious awards, while Kay Ryan was also United States Poet Laureate 2008-2010 - blow me away with their poems. I leave the theatre full – and inspired. I wish now that I hadn’t done anything as crass as having put out leaflets for possible festival organisers to pick up in the hope they might consider me for future events but I haven’t the courage to go and retrieve them.

I attend the workshop on Journalism -with a particular focus on interviewing - led by Olaf Tyaransen of Hotpress fame. It seems that the fact that a poet I interviewed for the poetry broadsheet Skylight 47 allowed me longer than the time ordained by her press agent was a good omen. Tyaransen says this can happen if you are lucky enough to be getting along with your interviewee, so it’s important to allow extra time for an interview in case you get lucky. Similarly, Sinead Gleeson, leading the Friday workshop, ‘A Guide to Working Freelance in Arts Media’ encourages me, with the news that the fact an editor of a newspaper gave me the word count he would want for a feature while turning down one of my submissions means he considered my work sufficiently promising to want more. She goes on to point out I should consistently follow up with offers of further submissions and ‘doggedly’ persist. His mail was received well over a year ago! However I have been getting the vital practice she urges us to get by continuing to write whether or not I submit or post the resultant articles. She believes that, contrary to pessimistic proclamations, there is still work for Freelance writers. A lot of pages have to be filled daily and editors are keen for new voices. She included radio in this. Turned down by an Agent? She suggests a particular London Agent for the next try ‘…and try publishers at the same time.’ She proffers the name of another one. We should write daily, ‘you’ll get better’, be blogging regularly. It’s no good having someone look at your blog and see that you haven’t written anything for a while. Ouch!

By dinnertime I’ve written the first draft of this blog to allow it a couple of days’ further consideration. I have been reminded that the real writing is the re-writing that will have to happen before I post it. As one participant said to two of us as we left the freelance writing workshop, ‘I’ve had my ass (usefully) kicked’. 

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