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I believe that two lines of poetry can save a life - Paula Meehan

For decades, former Ireland Professor of Poetry Paula Meehan has used her works as a voice for social justice. Now, ahead of taking to the stage at the Rock Against Homelessness gig, she tells our reporter how a childhood that began in Dublin's tenements taught her that art can be a powerful form of activism

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Poet Paula Meehan. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Poet Paula Meehan. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Paula Meehan at the launch of the 'Dublin: One City One Book' in 2014 with fellow poets at the statue of Patrick Kavanagh on Grand Canal Bank. Photo: Jason Clarke

Paula Meehan at the launch of the 'Dublin: One City One Book' in 2014 with fellow poets at the statue of Patrick Kavanagh on Grand Canal Bank. Photo: Jason Clarke

Esteemed: President Michael D. Higgins announced Paula Meehan as The Ireland Professor of Poetry 2013. Photo: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Esteemed: President Michael D. Higgins announced Paula Meehan as The Ireland Professor of Poetry 2013. Photo: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

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Poet Paula Meehan. Picture: Caroline Quinn

I first met Paula Meehan almost 20 years ago. It was in a hotel ballroom at an evening to celebrate the poet Michael Hartnett who had recently died and I was meant to be doing a quick interview with her for RTÉ's long defunct books programme, Imprint. Young and struggling with camera shyness, I asked her a question but the shake in my voice was beyond my control. Paula Meehan took my hand, looked at me, and began to recite one of Hartnett's poems. Her gesture, so simple, perceptive and kind, dissolved my nerves; I forgot about the camera, the background din faded, and for those few minutes I was alone with her and Hartnett's words.

Fast forward two decades: it's Poetry Day, my voice is no longer shaking and Paula Meehan has just come from the Saol project, an empowerment and recovery programme for women in Dublin's North Inner City. Unsurprisingly, her diary for the day is full. Later, she'll go to a lecture in UCD in honour of Gus Martin who edited the poetry anthology Soundings, part of the old Leaving Cert curriculum for over three decades.


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