Victoria Kennefick is a writer based in Co Kerry. Her first collection, Eat or We Both Starve (Carcanet Press, 2021) is shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and the Costa Poetry Award. The TS Eliot shortlist readings take place in London at the Royal Festival Hall this evening. The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony tomorrow.
The books on your bedside?
I bought my first copy of The Norton Anthology of Poetry as an undergrad studying English at UCC. I was smitten by its size, breadth and particularly by its sexy, transparent, Bible-thin pages. They made it feel sacred, something to swear on, and the pages were just so smooth. I kept it next to my bed and would randomly flip it open for guidance or to try and predict the future. Sometimes it helped, more often it served to further complicate matters. Either way, I was inspired to write new poems. During lockdown, overcome with nostalgia, I plonked it on my beside locker once more. I still flick it open to get a sneak preview of the coming years – it has marked so many already passed.
The first book you remember?
The first book I remember is Dean’s Gold Medal Book of Rhymes No. 3 belonging to my older sisters. It had a lavender-blue cover and the most wonderful illustrations – all the characters had exaggerated and elongated foxy eyes, long looping hair and very elaborate costumes. It was very formative to both my visual and linguistic sensibilities.
Your book of the year so far?
Last year brought two poetry books that I particularly loved, John McAuliffe’s Selected Poems (Gallery Press) and Martina Evans’ American Mules (Carcanet Press). Sarah Gilmartin’s novel, Dinner Party: A Tragedy (Pushkin Press, 2021) is compulsive, as are novels by Fíona Scarlett, Eimear Ryan and Rónán Hession. This year I am looking forward to Padraig Regan’s Some Integrity (Carcanet Press), Jessica Traynor’s Pit Lullabies (Bloodaxe) and Rosamund Taylor’s long-awaited debut, In Her Jaws (Banshee Press). Emily Berry and Warsan Shire have collections on the way too.
Your favourite literary character?
Set in Harvard in the mid-to-late 1990s, Elif Batuman’s The Idiot follows a freshman named Selin as she navigates the uncertain territory of university, young love and finding a direction in life. She is infuriating, original and very funny. Ideally, I’d like to meet her again in the company of Anne Shirley, Esther Greenwood, Becky Sharp, Elizabeth Bennet, and Frankenstein’s monster. What a time we’d have!
A book that changed your life?
Ariel by Sylvia Plath, which I read as a teenager. I haven’t been the same since.
The book you couldn’t finish?
I cannot divulge that kind of information. I usually finish books, I swear.
Your Covid comfort read?
Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss is hilarious and brilliantly original. I was glad too of my copy of Carcanet Press’s New Poetries Anthology VIII. Colm Tóibín’s poems are a revelation.
The book you give as a present?
Poetry books. I’ve gifted quite a few from the TS Eliot Shortlist this year. I also love to gift copies of the always-brilliant Winter Papers at Christmas time.
The writer who shaped you?
There are so many, but as a child, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and later, Emily Dickinson.
The book you would most like to be remembered for?
I have published a pamphlet, White Whale (Southword Editions, 2015) and a poetry collection, Eat or We Both Starve (Carcanet, 2021). I’m working on new material which hopefully will see the light of day soon, so let’s say my next book.