Ash Wednesday Poetry Series: Laura Cleary – Strandhill Atlantic

“For those of us that don’t have the headspace to create a burning well, poetry can be the reason to keep striking the flint”.


The Ash Wednesday Series takes its name from the following Leonard Cohen quotation:  “Poetry is just the evidence of life.  If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash”.  As a writer, does this ring true for you?

It does, and it doesn’t. For me, poetry almost always originates from a nugget of personal experience, oftentimes it’s downright biographical. But I think it’s a little limiting to consider poetry just to be the ash left after the magnificent burning day to day lives of bohemians like Leonard Cohen. I’m quite a boring person in my day to day, I work full time at a clinical trials company (all that time studying chemistry had to lead to something!) and I find that poetry can be something of a firework display once I can find a detail to light the fuse. For those of us that don’t have the headspace to create a burning well, poetry can be the reason to keep striking the flint.

What makes a poem?

For me a poem consists of an image and music. Neither has to be particularly profound or exotic, it just has to be a moment made real for whomever is reading. The clearer the image and more textured the music the realer that moment becomes. Not that I can do that. But it’s what I’m aiming for!

 Describe your writing ritual.

I don’t quite have a ritual. It seems that over the last few years my days have learned how to rollerblade. On oil slicks. With a jetpack strapped to them. So it’s hard to get the balance of essential oils quite right for a 48 hour scribbling session.  I tend to snatch ten minute chunks during my work day to huddle over a notebook and pretend I’m organizing meeting minutes. Then at home I’ll find an hour between dinner and watching Series 3 of The Sopranos for the fifth time. And it works. Who knew?!

Is writing a compulsion, obsession or something else?

I think it differs from person to person. I’ve always been one for enjoyable obsessions – Glass Painting, She-Ra, Hanson, Final Fantasy 7. But these always tend to peter out after a year or two at the very most. I’ve been writing since I was 17, I guess that makes it the longest relationship I’ve had since I was introduced to the Mint Cornetto. And I’ve become more ruthless with my writing, more eager to edit and improve my work. So I think my relationship with writing has become a genuine love, something to engage with and challenge as opposed to this year’s obsession.

What makes being a writer in Dublin unique (to being a writer anywhere else)?

For me it’s the amount of material that you have to draw on. Dublin has so much character, and so many characters to me it’s a writer’s paradise. For me, among my immediate family and different close friends I’ve known there have been so many clear and different voices and characters, tones and neuroses. It seems a shame I spend so much time writing about myself, I’m not nearly as interesting.

The nose provides a way for understanding the world and its first impressions.  The first smells of people and places, for whatever the nose chooses to capture can become a strong memory for the mind.  Smells have a way of lingering, taking up space as though they were bodies.  What does Dublin smell like to you?

It depends. At this time of year it smells of wet leaves and rain. In a nice way! I love this time of year. In springtime it’s similar, but there’s a lighter, cherry blossom edge to it. Summertime smells of fresh tar and footballs and then winter (proper winter, December and January) smells of coffee and blown light bulbs. There’s something so energetic to how Dublin smells and feels, there’s always a feeling about it that you need to watch where you’re going incase you miss a step. It’s really exciting.

Whose poems are you reading now?

I’m reading Eavan Boland’s collected work. I had been looking for Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems (buy it, read it, cry over the fact that no one ever again will be as subtle and brilliant) and picked up Boland’s Collected Poems in passing. Her work is unbelievable. I remember studying her work for the Leaving Cert and not understanding why anyone would have two words on their own and call it a line in a poem. (Incidentally, I studied Bishop the same year and had a similar reaction). Reading her work again its just astounding. The quality of the imagery, the hugely intelligent use of sound, the subtle music, the care with which each word is chosen, it’s hugely inspiring. Once I had stopped crying in the fetal position under my desk. Jealousy is not a good look.

Describe your coffee ceremony (i.e. everything that goes into a perfect coffee experience)

Oh my, I don’t actually drink that much coffee. I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks and I find that the caffeine can put me a little on edge. I do however, drink green tea around the clock. I’m no health nut, I just can’t drink too much milk without puking all over the shop, and green tea totally filled that huge lactose free hot beverage hole in my life. And as far as ritual goes, my mother says I’m like an old lady with her cigarettes the way I carry my travel cup around the place. But I need it! So the only part of the ritual is that I always have tea with me, like a talisman I guess. Or like the cigarette my grandmother used to smoke while she hung out washing/did crosswords/made dinner.

Laura Cleary reciting her poem can be found here:


Laura Cleary is a 27 year old poet living in Dublin. She has had work published in Ascent Aspirations magazine, bare hands poetry and wordlegs as well as forthcoming editions of can can and The Poetry Bus. Her poem “Breaking Point” was shortlisted for the 2011 iYeats Emerging Talent Award, losing out in a whirl of sexual tension to the magnetic Kerrie O’Brien. She currently lives in Dublin with her partner Colm and an extensive nail polish collection.

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