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My life in books: Peter Sirr

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Peter Sirr

Peter Sirr

Peter Sirr

Peter Sirr lives in Dublin. The Gallery Press has published his 11 poetry collections since Marginal Zones (1984), most recently The Gravity Wave (2019) which was a Poetry Society Recommendation and winner of the 2020 Farmgate Café National Poetry Award.

In his newly published essays, Intimate City, Peter Sirr takes us wandering through the streets of Dublin, past and present, tracing old routes and discovering new ones, listening for the steps of those who have gone before in a city where people have lived and died for over a thousand years.

The books on your bedside?

Notes from Deep Time: A Journey through our Past and Future Worlds by Helen Gordon, a reminder of what late arrivals we humans are on this ancient planet; The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England by Marc Morris, a comprehensive and fascinating account of the invaders who became the English, and Deer on the High Hills: Selected Poems by Iain Crichton Smith, edited by John Greening, a new selection from the work of a brilliant Scottish poet which is a great introduction to his work.

The first book you remember?

When we left Waterford for Dublin (I was nine), my teacher gave me a copy of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson and I was immediately immersed in the world of Jacobites, Campbells and treacherous uncles. It never quite went away: I think something of it leaked into a children’s book I wrote a few years back called Black Wreath.

Your book of the year?

For the sheer range of work represented – Kevin Young’s African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song, the most ambitious anthology of Black poetry ever published.

Your favourite literary character?

That great put-upon adman and Everyman, Leopold Bloom from Joyce’s Ulysses.

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The book that changed your life?

I spent a summer in hospital as a teenager with a burst appendix. The two things that stick in my mind are that it was a heatwave summer and that I read Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which was like a ticket to the thrilling possibilities of language and form.

If I can cheat I’d also add Robert Lowell’s Day by Day, especially these lines from ‘Epilogue’: “why not say what happened?/Pray for the grace of accuracy/Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination/stealing like the tide across a map/to his girl solid with yearning.”

The book you couldn’t finish?

I’m still struggling with Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle, and I seem to have been on the first chapter of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain for a couple of decades. But I haven’t given up hope.

Your Covid comfort read?

Anything by Val McDermid, also The Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas, full of murderous spiders, definitely not for arachnophobes.

The book you give as a present?

Venice by Jan Morris. One of the best ways to virtually experience this magical city. Or Dublin, 1660-1860: The Shaping of the City by Maurice Craig, one of the best books about Dublin.

The writer who shaped you?

Lots of different writers: Borges, WG Sebald, Jan Morris, Elizabeth Bishop, Edwin Morgan, Seamus Heaney...

The book you would most like to be remembered for?

A poet is lucky to be remembered for a poem, even a line. So anything that survives is fine by me. But I wouldn’t mind if Intimate City snuck in there too, since Dublin itself is the single biggest influence. All writing dices with the void. You build your city of words and hope a couple of buildings survive…


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