I’ve been tasked at times at NewsFour with writing about poetry and the Dublin Literary scene, insofar as I’m in frequent contact with it. However, the circumstances that lead me to interview Oran were simple and typical for a journalist: the assignment was dropped on me with only a day or two to research and produce the whole piece, from soup to nuts, and deliver it to deadline with pictures and all.
Oran and I are very good friends and I’m always eager to help him promote himself and share his thoughtfulness with the world at large. I think those with the talent to do so have something like a duty to be a voice for their readers’ inner lives. That’s why I write fiction when I can (aside from the journalist day job) and that’s why I think a lot of people are compelled to write fiction and research.They’re articulating not just for themselves but for their kindred spirits, who maybe a little less sure of their words or images. This is a big part of the much-mooted “shamanistic” function of Art, to my mind.
So, long story boring, I knew Oran would be a good subject, I was racing the clock, and I knew he had (has!) a poetry collection in the works.
What follows is the full original text I submitted to the NewsFour offices, which saw print in abridged form, in the June/July 2013 issue.
NewsFour, by the way, is the community newspaper for Dublin 4, covering Donnybrook, Sandymount, Irishtown, Ringsend, Ballsbridge and adjacent areas. We publish an issue every two months or so, of about 40 pages, free of charge, available around the Dublin 4 area and free of depressing garbage. www.newsfour.ie or find us on Facebook
There you go.
Poet’s Place: Oran Ryan
By Ruairi Conneely
It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to the freshly revived NewsFour Poetry Place! I’m Ruairi Conneely, a staff journalist here at your beloved community paper and, in my spare time, something of a jack-of-all-trades writer. Before journalism, I worked in the world of small press publishing, for an agency that specialised in poetry collections. I write poetry and short fiction and the curious among you can find me most months at the monthly Last Wednesday Open Mic where I frequently perform my work.
For my debut Poet’s Place column, I’ve elected to start with an unusual choice of subject. Oran Ryan is predominantly known as a novelist: his third novel ‘One Inch Punch’ was published to much fanfare in October 2012 and was mentioned in the Seanad by Senator David Norris for its hands-on treatment of the topic of bullying. However, Oran is also an extensively published and experienced poet. His work has been published in periodicals like Can Can, Poetry Ireland, the Iota Poetry Quarterly, the International Library of Poetry Journal and Anarchist Angel, to name just a few. He has a collection forthcoming from Seven Towers entitled ‘Portrait of An Atheist Monk At Prayer’. Accompanying his profile as an author, Oran trails behind him an interesting and complex personal biography: he was an ordained monk of the Capuchin Order for much of the 1980s before succumbing to his natural scepticism. He then entered into the study of Philosophy, then Psychology, psychoanalysis and the study of Language. Now he lives near the Docklands, in East Wall, with his wife Sarah and many dogs and cats. But where does poetry enter all this, I wondered?
Oran: “Well, I started to read poetry at a very young age and it was because my father would read poems to us. He was a big fan of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and he would read to me and my sisters the entirety of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which was extraordinary. I would have been about 6 or 7 years old. Imagining what that poem describes was hallucinatory, overwhelming at that age. There was hardly a time after that when I wasn’t reading poetry.”
Where did the productive aspect begin for you? At what point did you begin to write your own?
“I started writing seriously – and getting published – in my teens and early twenties, and it was weird. I thought of myself predominantly as a religious person, not at all as an artist, but I always wrote some poetry. I had the impulse for my youth. After religion, I focussed on psychoanalysis and language and envisioned a career writing on these subject. So non-fiction, I suppose. Scholarly, academic texts.”
Let’s talk about style. Where do you take your cues for the voice and form of a poem?
“I don’t take linguistic cues from poetry itself but from everyday speech and use of language. People hide as much as they display in their everyday words and they often reveal their very deepest feelings unwittingly.”
So you don’t start with a style in mind?
“No, I start with a subject or image that has jumped out at me, and the style and voice, even the length of the poem, is determined from that starting point. I’m not opposed to formalism: sometimes I start with the most precise metre possible but Metre is a tool. Important to know but… well, I always have the Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetics handy. It’s a terrific reference work for formal matters but don’t let it rule your life.”
Is there an overlap between your poetry and your novels?
“Of course. Poets are writers – the bridge between poetry and prose is very short. The idea for my last novel started with a poetic phrase: ‘You’re out of time, Mr Prime, your tiny life’s a thin blue line.’ Mr Prime became Raymond Prime, who became Gordon Brock, the protagonist of what became ‘One Inch Punch’.”
To wrap up, tell us about your forthcoming collection. It’s been a long time coming.
“The collection is called ‘Portrait of An Atheist Monk at Prayer’ and it’s the gathering of many years work, some previously published, some not. I resisted the idea I should do a collection for many years because I didn’t feel it would really be complete. I felt I had more to learn. But recently, last year this started, I had the idea for a poem that became a series focusing in a character called Joe the Astronaut. Joe is a wounded hero for the new age we live in. He’s been to Space, he’s seen Infinity directly and it’s crushed his mind with its vastness. So now, returned to Earth, he writes about his experiences in the third person. He writes about his failures, his dreams, lost and former loves. He is the Atheist Monk of the title. He has seen but he cannot believe.”
Oran Ryan’s novels are available through Seven Towers at seventowers.ie. He blogs at oranryan.com