Around Ireland: Poems in Profile

Our Around Ireland series looks at literary publications and websites across Ireland, celebrating the great work being produced across the country, and the contribution being made by the editors. This month, we speak with Trevor Conway about his site, Poems In Profile.

The format of Poems In Profile is very unique: one poem from one poet, with one interview. What made you decide to choose this approach?

I just wanted an intense focus, as well as good value for the time I’m asking the reader to put in. Whenever I go through a full issue of an anthology / magazine / website, I often find that there’s plenty of material that I haven’t really engaged with. It’s just a matter of taste, I suppose. With Poems in Profile, I wanted something that would very much reflect the modern age, in an attempt to merge the experience of poetry with that. Hence, I try to include a picture and a video where possible. Many people would probably say the modern age is defined by bite-size consumption, and I guess that’s what Poems in Profile is – a quick snack for the brain.

What do you look for when you are electing a singular poem to discuss?

I don’t think I could confine it to very narrow parameters, as my taste is very broad, I think. If I find myself so excited by a poem that I want to share it with others, Poems in Profile is the perfect place to do that. I suppose your question is also a roundabout way of asking what I think are the characteristics of great poetry; I’d have to cite vivid imagery, originality/freshness and interesting language as the hallmarks of poetry that gets me excited.

Rarely, as a person submitting, will a poet get a chance to receive such an in-depth look at one of their poems. Often, they are used to getting pieces published without comment. Do you feel poets are daunted a little regarding such analysis, or do they relish the opportunity?

I get the impression that they’re excited about the whole thing. Most writers love talking about writing, don’t they? I know I do. It’s a bit like discussing your favourite holiday destination. Maybe some writers have been a little daunted by the open-ended, broad nature of some of my questions. But writers need to sweat under pressure every now and then.

Poetry stuck its hooks into me through such analysis, when I studied the Leaving Cert English poetry syllabus. The book we had, Soundings, is a bit of a sacred text for me. Every poem has a bunch of questions after it, and that, along with the analysis of my English teacher, branded poetry onto my brain (in a good way) from a relatively young age. Similarly, I prefer to hear a bit of an interview with the author(s) whenever I go to an event, rather than just a reading. While I love reading poems on my own, an interview always adds to the reading experience in the same way that commentary and punditry add to the experience of a football match. Have you ever tried to watch a match without listening to the commentary or punditry? Not very exciting.

Regarding submissions, the site mentioned that some are requested based on poems you’ve come across. Are some of these discovered by happy accident, or as an editor, are you always looking out for the next potentially interesting poem to feature?

A lot of them are by happy accident, in anthologies or books of poetry. Luckily, I read lots of poetry on a daily basis. When I open a new book / anthology / magazine, I do hope to find at least one poem that would be suitable, though that doesn’t always happen. Recently, I’ve found a few from reading Skylight 47, a Galway-based, paper-format anthology that comes out a few times a year. I’m a picky fucker, so I don’t accept all that many through submissions to the website.

What do you enjoy more as an interviewer: writing the introductory critique to a poem, or conducting an interview?

Hmmmmmm. Maybe the intro, though I also like the interview (particularly the answers the poets give). I suppose the intro feels like a neat little package in itself, kinda like a poem, so I do like that aspect of it.

Your interview questions are very perceptive, penetrating to the heart of the poem in question. As a consequence, has running Poems In Profile aided your own reading and enjoyment of poetry?

Yes as regards the enjoyment of the particular poems I’ve chosen, anyway. I don’t know if it’s aided my reading of poetry, to be honest, except for the fact that I analyse some poems in greater depth to consider whether they’d be suitable for the website.

Given the chance, what poet – dead or alive – and poem of theirs would you most like to feature and interview?

Maybe TS Eliot and “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”. There’s just so much there to ask and talk about. It’s such a rich poem. I’d be so interested to hear him talk of the process of writing it. If lyrics can be considered poetry as well (I think it’s fair enough to do so), I’d love to see Bob Dylan answer some questions on “Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, “Visions of Johanna” or “Like a Rolling Stone”. (“So, Bob, please enlighten me about ‘magazine husbands’, ‘mercury mouth’, ‘Napoleon in rags’ and ‘infinity goes up on trial’.) And I’d love to pick Sylvia Plath’s brain over some of her early poems.

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