Poet Mark Granier, author of 'Ghostlight - New and Selected Poems' and other collections, has contributed to Manchester University's 'Write Where We Are Now' project.
The university and project curator, former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, invited renowned and emerging writers to reflect on the coronavirus pandemic.
Each work reflects on the writer's own personal experiences of the outbreak from all over the world, supporting readers in reflecting on and articulating their own feelings through the power of poetry. The poems are available to read and share at mmu.ac.uk/write.
Mark's pieces include 'Herd Immunity', 'Gorse, Bray Head', 'Apotropaic' and 'Near Earth Objects'.
The initiative is led by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, where Carol Ann Duffy is Creative Director.
'We moved to Bray quite recently, my wife Sam and I and our child,' said Mark. 'He goes to school in Bray, at Educate Together'.
They were formerly in Blackrock, sharing a vast old house with Mark's cousin. 'We all agreed to sell, and moved out here also.'
The aforementioned cousin also got a place in Bray, as did Sam's brother so it's a family diaspora south.
'I've lived in Bray before, I always end up getting propelled here for various reasons!'
Of course, it's less expensive to buy property in Bray than Blackrock.
The trio spent a year in Gorey, at Mark's in-laws home, while working on the Bray house.
'In the 70s I lived in a cottage down on the strand,' said Mark. 'I worked here again in around 1990'. He was among a group of people to found Signal Arts Centre, and knew the late Jim Morrison of Signal very well. Jim passed away in 2017, to the great sorrow of the arts community. 'I was very sorry when he died,' said Mark. 'He knew Bray backwards.
'It's interesting getting used to Bray again,' he said. 'It's an exciting town. It's great to discover places like Killruddery. And of course Bray Head and the Cliff Walk. Before I moved back here recently I don't think I ever walked up Bray Head before. I do it regularly now.'
He walks elsewhere, along the river and the old golf course. 'I've been looking for places to walk where there aren't too many people, where you can keep the socail distance and walk the dogs.'
Those landscapes and walks have been part of the inspiration for the new project with Manchester University. The arts council also gave him an award recently.
Mark is aware that people have been experiencing similar moments in time for the past months. 'You become aware as a writer, and certainly as a poet, or someone who tries to be a poet, that whenever you touch the keyboard there are shadow figures heading for the same keys, grasping for the same ideas and metaphors.'
So people will be writing about masks, distancing, they will be the tropes of the coming years after these months of crisis.
'How do you write something of interest? The archives will be bulging with art work, photography and writings on this situation. It's amazing, a remarkable weird and eerie thing that's happening. This generation has never been through anything like this,' he said. 'It would be very easy to fall into words that will be re-used billions of times, written and re-written.'
Mark's regard for poetry began in the 1970s, in school at St Conleth's, Sanford Park.
'Nowadays it's slightly cooler to do poetry in school,' he said. 'When I was in school in the 70s there was no rap or spoken word around and poetry was decidedly uncool.'
As for reading poems aloud, 'you tried to sound like a bored robot, otherwise people would laugh at you'.
He recalls the conversational and contemporary language of Seamus Heaney, the perhaps mechanical sound of Wordsworth and his daffodils, and the work of Thomas Kinsella, one of the very few contemporary poets on the curriculum. 'I was quite struck by his quite beautiful imagery,' said Mark. 'It hit me at that time in school.'
As well as being a poet, and an award-winning photographer, Mark is a teacher. He has been teaching creative writing with UCD's Lifelong Learning programme for about 12 or 14 years, and was working in the Irish Writers Centre. He worked with Jean O'Brien on the New Irish Communities project for immigrants, and in lock-down he was able to do some Zoom sessions.
'I fell into poetry,' said Mark. 'As Paddy Kavanagh said, "I dabbled in verse and it became my life".
'I dabble and I'm still dabbling.
'You're never sure if your authentic enough, original enough. It's a constant struggle with poetry. It seems so easy to sit down and scribble a few lines - practically everyone has done it.'
But how, he wonders, do you sort the wheat from the chaff?
'How do you take the good stuff out of all you've written? Sometimes it feels as if you're working in the dark, or with too much illumination - there are too many people around doing the same thing.'
He said that poetry comes with a strong element of self-doubt. 'Poems themselves are uniquely self-conscious. Poems are often about poems. The unspoken theme of a lot of contemporary verse is the poem itself.'
He loves giving readings and is confident that he reads his own work quite well. 'Some people are very, very good readers,' he said. 'Some people sound too determined, too anxious to make the poem sound harmless. Other people sound very austere, trying to sound almost like they're an oracle. Both of these modes don't do poetry any justice. They should be conversational, with a sense of the rhythm.'
Nonetheless, he is a 'page poet'.
'I'm not a spoken word poet or a rap artist. My work can be read and probably belongs on the page, although reading aloud does give it another dimension. You get a some sense of the emphasis the writer is putting on each part.
'Every poem, though, belongs to the person who reads it.'