A Conversation on Life and Writing with a Young Poet
Born in North Carolina by the Appalachian Mountains, Erin Fornoff now finds home in Ireland. As an author and avid poet who received an M. Phil in Creative Writing with Distinction from Trinity College Dublin, she’s performed at events across Ireland, the UK, and the US, and even co-founded Lingo, the first spoken word festival to appear in Ireland and for which she was Program Director. In the spirit of National Poetry Month, we interviewed Fornoff about her debut collection of poems, Hymn to the Reckless, and more.
1. What was the inspiration behind your collection of poems, Hymn to the Reckless?
The collection doesn’t really have one central theme, though it touches heavily on the path a life takes from a forest-filled childhood to a country across the ocean, and the reckoning of those shifts. It looks at ways we take risks and why and what happens when we do. It’s me trying to make sense.
2. You were born by the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, and now reside in Ireland. How would you say this sense of home you find in multiple countries influences your writing?
It’s a hugely strong influence. I write about home constantly, and grapple with those choices—do I stay or go? Where is home and what does it mean and can it come to mean something different? A poet once told me that new poets write about their childhood until they exhaust it and then they move on to other topics. Perhaps I haven’t exhausted it yet. Identity is an inescapable theme in poetry and I find myself becoming more Irish and differently American, and yet never fully Irish and missing America, and poetry is probably my central vehicle for figuring my own muddled head out.
3. Is there any one thing you hope readers take away with them after reading your poetry, specifically Hymn to the Reckless?
Take a risk now and then. Find home wherever it springs up. And don’t be scared of going to spoken word shows.
4. What was the most rewarding aspect of creating this collection? The most difficult?
I was really touched by the process of having a publisher and editor. I had never had someone take such interest and care in my work, and be invested in making it as good as it could be. I found it really moving to be taken care of that way. I went to a writers retreat in a stone cabin on a cliff in County Kerry and sat, in a storm, with every poem I had written printed out or scrawled, and it was so cool to see them altogether, and turning into something (hopefully) greater than their parts.
5. Tell me about the poets who have influenced your writing.
I love Mary Oliver for her use of nature and the way she manages to pull off that rare trick of saying exactly what she means (sometimes) and it not coming across as heavy-handed or twee. I try and fail at this – I’m forever getting edited with people saying ‘You don’t have to draw a neon sign blinking HERE IS MY POETIC POINT.’ Others I love are Philip Levine, Danez Smith, Colm Keegan and Kate Tempest. Kate is a rapper, spoken word poet, playwright, and novelist, and her honesty and fierceness just bowl me over, every time.
6. Do you ever do spoken word? If so, what is it like to read your work aloud?
I started with spoken word and still feel most comfortable and energized by that space. I do around 60-80 gigs a year and it’s such a privilege. I love that communion between performer and audience. As a writer I get to explore the poems in a new way (and improve them over time) and I think they are experienced in a much different way by the audience. I love spoken word – and there is a great culture for it in Ireland. It’s the only place in the world I’ve been where a random person can stand up in a bar and start reciting a poem and the entire bar falls silent.
7. You’ve also written a novel. How was this different than writing poetry? Any advice for writers who find it difficult to switch between forms?
Ooooh it is so much harder. So much harder! You can dip in and out of poems and thus they kind of suit a small attention span, but a novel is a slog. You feel a bit like a crazy person, living in an imaginary world in your own mind. I would love advice for writers who find it difficult to switch between forms, because I am finding it difficult to switch between forms!
8. Where is your favorite spot to write?
I have a little desk in an art studio with a window and a blank white wall. Other people share the room, so there’s hubbub but not too much, and the desk is clear and ready.
9. What was one of the first poems or books you read as a child that you fell in love with?
I loved Shel Silverstein and used to be able to recite ‘The Perfect High’ from memory. All little kids books are essentially poems – so I guess I could say ‘The Runaway Bunny’? My favorite longer books were The Phantom Tollbooth and The Secret Garden, which I read until they fell apart.
10. What’s on your nightstand now?
Right now I’m reading Poet X by Elizabeth Agevedo, a cool melding of spoken word poetry and novel, as well as ‘Land of Lost Borders’ by my friend Kate Harris, about biking across the Silk Road. For poetry it’s ‘Flights Over Finglas’ by Rachel Hegarty.