Poet McBreen shares Irish luck, legacy and literature


On Monday, Oct. 7, Irish poet Joan McBreen visited Samford’s campus as part of the BACHE Visiting Writers Series. McBreen dedicated the reading to Seamus Heaney, another renowned Irish poet who died suddenly in August.

McBreen has been writing poetry for decades, publishing her first collection, “The Wind Beyond the Wall,” in 1990.

Since then she has published three more collections and coedited two anthologies. Her most recent collection, titled “Heather Island,” was reprinted in 2013.

Born in Sligo, Ireland, McBreen fills her poems with magnificent vistas and everyday details of her home country, as well as stories from her own life and family. Her heritage impacts her writing.

“My primary influences in terms of Irish poetry … have been W.B. Yeats, Louis MacNeice, and of course followed by [Seamus] Heaney,” McBreen said.

McBreen sees evolution in her work: “As I moved on over the next three or four collections I could see there was a change, and as things in my life changed I could see I was writing more about life … rather than about the autobiographical aspect of things.”

McBreen combines poetry with music, as heard on her albums, which feature her poems accompanied by traditional Irish music.

“I think that if we don’t manage to achieve something of the actual instrumental song music in our attempts to put language on our lives and on the events of our lives, then I don’t believe we as poets have really achieved very much. The music is essential,” McBreen said.

McBreen said that she recognizes that in the technological age, many people consider poetry to be either irrelevant or trite, but disagrees, arguing, “Poetry does matter, but I think it has to transcend boundaries and this is where I think translation comes in.”

“I also think the Internet now has played a huge part in the dissemination of poetry across all cultures and across all borders and languages,” she said.

In her home country, McBreen believes poetry is still relevant.

“In Ireland, I think we’re a particular case in point, in that everybody will sit on a train or sit on a bus or sit together somewhere else in a pub or whatever, and invariably a poem is part of the exchange, someone will pull a poem out of their pockets and read … in Ireland it’s very much a living force.”

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