Martin Dyar

Award winning poet whose collection 'Maiden Names' is currently in the shops

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

Martin Dyar

Martin Dyar award winning poet

From the very beginning I was interested in writing, but perhaps looking back, the inner writing self, that these days I try to persuade and protect, seems to have been looking for an outlet.

Back then, I was also a goalkeeper, which is traditionally the only sporting position a poet is expected to enjoy. A dozen moves in ninety minutes seals his glory. For the rest of the time he is a muck-splattered telescope disguised as a general.

In secondary school I had began to write poems, and discovered that I had a passion for analysing them.

Song lyrics and song writing were another serious preoccupation. More publicly, I had a lead role in the school musical, and also had some success as a debater. I went to Scoil Muire agus Pádraig in Swinford, in Co Mayo, where there is still an annual debating competition called the O’Connor Cup. I can recall arguing in front of a packed hall for the motion; ‘Money is the key to happiness’. It was an impossible angle, though it received big laughs. I focussed on the perils of searching for love. My team did not win that day but I remember one of the school hard men coming-up to me afterwards and thanking me heartily for saying things that, in his opinion, had ruffled the feathers of some of the teachers. It was like a kind of payment for words, considered entertaining and subversive by a boy who was known for stealing cars.

The basic laws of revision were discovered through my debating experiences.

For example, the way that uninspired and unfocussed material can be transformed by maintaining a faith in repeated sittings at your desk. The magic of stepping away to prepare a pair of fresh eyes, and the magic of persistence, are always important. A certain allergic and perhaps neurotic intolerance of the look and sound of a wonky sentence is also an advantage. On ‘Poetry Day’ this year I will be presenting a debating award to a team of secondary school students in the public library in Kildare town. I will be encouraging them to think in terms of a life-boost that can lead to broader creative possibilities over time, when they choose to go gladiatorial with their words.

In my mid-twenties, I told my father that I wanted to be a writer, but this confession was not made lightly.

Indeed, I fully understood that this idea held a promise of trouble. It most likely did too, though his answer was ultimately a kind of extreme blessing: ‘Well,’ he said, after a long pause, ‘You have no shortage of paper.’ My first adventures in the craft were at third level in Galway. I did a BA in Philosophy and English, and an MA in English (with a thesis on American poetry) at the National University of Ireland in Galway (NUIG). Following this, I taught for one year at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. That’s where I did my first public poetry readings. Carbondale is a big-hearted creative writing and Irish studies village, with historical NUIG connections. In fact, our now President, Michael D. Higgins, taught there in the mid-seventies.

Just back from Illinois I worked as a special needs teacher with the Brothers of Charity in Galway and then went to Dublin where I did a PhD in English at Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

My thesis was on the poet Wallace Stevens. I subsequently taught for ten years in the School of Medicine at TCD, in ethics and literature. That exposure to the language of medical education, the privilege of teaching medical students, and the experience of hunting for the poetry of science with them, has branded my writing mind entirely. More recently, I spent a year at the University of Iowa, and am presently a writer-in-residence for the Washington Ireland Programme.

Currently, I am completing a novel and a collection of poems. The former concerns a religious cult and is set in Co Mayo.

I have, also, recently accepted a commission to write a song cycle with the composer, Ryan Molloy. There will be a premiere of that work in the spring in Switzerland, with the soprano, Francesca Placanica, and a group called ‘Cochlea Duo’, followed by Irish performances. A recently announced Arts Council award has come as a fabulous injection into that project. In conjunction with the publisher, Alan Hayes, myself and the novelist, Donal Ryan, have, also, been developing a project called ‘Hearts and Minds’, over the past couple of years. In this, we read from our own and other writers’ work. Indeed, last month we read together at the Limerick Literary Festival. In fact, we recently agreed to stage ‘Hearts and Minds’ at the Kildare Readers Festival.

I have heard Donal Ryan read my poems many times, and heard them extended, changed and clarified, in his terrifically honest actor’s voice.

In turn, I have dwelt on his prose in order to present it to audiences, mapping out alternative ways to catch and pace the power. At first, I viewed this undertaking as an ideal diet. However, I have come to accept that I cannot learn very much from Donal Ryan, despite having a unique opportunity to be immersed in his words. His books, for example ‘The Passion’, are rooted in the author’s personality. Their wondrous quality involves a riddle of pure energy, a riddle of talent, which cannot be grasped and therefore cannot be stolen.

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