A cast of Irish and Australian artists are coming together on Saturday, February 8 (2pm to 3.30pm) at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre to celebrate the creativity of women through music and the spoken word at a cultural event to mark St Brigid's Day. The free event is being presented by the Consulate General of Ireland.
The Champion caught up with Sydney-based Irish poet Anne Casey who will read a selection of her poetry during the 90-minute event.
How has the mythology surrounding Brigid and Irish culture influenced your work?
I'm an Irish poet and writer, living in Australia for the past 25 years. Having grown up in the rural west of Ireland in a seaside village in County Clare, my work is steeped in the traditions and heritage of those formative years. Although my writing voice is very 'Irish', I am influenced by Australian literature also, particularly contemporary poets. I find myself drawn to indigenous voices particularly - I feel a kindred spirit there with the ancient Celtic ways. In light of our current climate crisis, I think there is a lot to be gained from reflecting back and taking new purpose from the respect and connection to earth that you find in both cultures.
When I received ine de Paor's very kind invitation to be involved in the Brigid 2020 show, I was immediately brought back to my childhood years. It was a small community, rich with ritual, surrounded by crumbling stone relics dating back to ancient Celtic and neo-Christian times, and the omnipotent presence of the Catholic Church. In early February every year, children all over the country would head out into the fields to collect grasslike rushes. We would weave them into crosses to honour St Brigid, the ancient pagan goddess of fertility and protector of Earth, who had been so readily adopted by the Christian hierarchy.
In Ireland, this was early spring, a time of renewal and burning off. Our crosses would be hung from wells and doorways - harking back to pagan days when doll-like effigies and dried fruit offerings were made, and milk was poured into earth, to seek Brigid's protection. As I set my mind to what I might present for Brigid 2020, in the context of these past months of crisis as we in Australia have faced into our own season of fire, I was inspired to write a new piece for the opening half of the show. It is a lyrical incantation invoking the ancient pagan goddess, Brigid, to aid us in this burning Land Down Under. In keeping with tradition I wove the words into interlinking crosses
For the second half of the show, I have selected poems from my two collections - Out of emptied cups and Where the lost things go, both published by Salmon Poetry in Ireland - to celebrate the Irish-Australian immigrant experience in poetry. One of those pieces looks at the superstitions, 'pisreogs' and credos from my growing up years in the west of Ireland
I'll also be reading a poem called In memoriam II: The draper. It is a tribute from this prodigal daughter to my beloved late mother. After this poem was published in The Irish Times in 2016, it went a bit viral and from all the responses from around the globe, I realised it is the universal story of immigrants the world over. The experience taught me the power of poetry to connect from one human heart to another, regardless of distance, culture or background.
How important is it to celebrate the creativity of women?
I think it's extremely important to celebrate the creativity of women. There is still a marked under-representation of women in literature. This is a universal problem. And of course it is the same in other walks of life. Although there are great efforts in many quarters - within literary journals and publishing presses, for example - to redress the imbalance in the representation of female voices, there is still a long way to go. This is just one of the many reasons that I'm so grateful to our wonderful producer, ine de Paor, for putting this Brigid 2020 show together - with such a tremendous representation of strong female voices. Sincere thanks to the Consulate General of Ireland, Owen Feeney and Rory Conaty, also for their fantastic support of this and other initiatives supporting women.
On the broader question of backing female creativity, women represent 50 per cent of the world's population, and according to a report published by Goodreads, women read twice as many books as men. The same report showed that both male and female readers preferred books written by women... so let's give the readers what they want.
It's all very well to use statistics, but the reality is that I think women bring different perspectives to the bookshelf. And having a balanced reading experience will benefit us all in the long run - it may even help to close that 'Mars and Venus' gap.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Last year I was fortunate enough to co-write a piece on writing for The Irish Times with renowned American poet and essayist, Maggie Smith. I think her advice to me - which she in turn was passing on - is true gold when it comes to writing: "write what scares you". It may sound crazy, but I have to say it really rings true for me.
I tend to write about what is weighing on me - grief over the loss of my mother, worries over the state of this one precious planet under our feet and what we are leaving for our children, women's issues and humanitarian rights. All of these topics featured strongly in my second book, Out of emptied cups. That Irish Times article with Maggie Smith came out just before the book was published and I openly admitted in print that I was having panic attacks about it. There were poems in there that I never thought I would or could write.
To me, the best poetry casts a light in the world that you don't know is missing until you read it.Anne Casey
But I think writing is a form of processing our own selves, our experiences, our relationships and particularly our relationship to the world around us. I've found that as a published writer, it is a two-way street - and that really surprised me! As soon as you put something out there in print, it is no longer yours. It has its own presence in the world; people respond to it, and to you, in different ways. And so you find your work coming back to you in ways you may not have anticipated.
Very often I find the writing that has been most troubling to me to reveal is the work that finds other people with similar experiences. And through that revelation, we find ourselves to be not entirely alone in the world. It makes you wonder if that was what all those cave paintings were about.
So I would say to anyone who feels a desire to write: just do it. Don't overthink it. Write what you cannot leave unsaid. You never know who is waiting out there in the world to hear those words, and what they will mean to them.
What's the secret to writing good poetry?
Oh my goodness, now if I could tell you that, I would be a very happy poet indeed! For me, as I said, poetry is about processing things. I always write from the heart. I read a lot of poetry - in my work as an editor, in seeking to be a better poet and for the pure enjoyment of it. To me, the best poetry casts a light in the world that you don't know is missing until you read it.