Listen Below: Paula Meehan spoke with Arena on RTÉ Radio1 about her most recent poetry collection entitled 'Geomatics, published by The Dedalus Press.  

Paula spoke about these times of commemoration and commemorative acts, and on writing which commemorates the lives of people who endure and make lives of power and stength ‘in the face of what our rulers for want of a better word, do’. And, as the interview was broadcast the day that Irish writer William Trevor had died, Meehan remembered Trevor and his massive contribution to writing. 

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The name of her new collection Geomatics, Paula says, is a word she had been carrying around with her for a few decades. It comes from the Greek and means to read the earth, to read the signs or lines on the earth. 'You read landscapes when you travel, say agriculture - the lines of olives on a hillside, the quarrying of a granite quarry... we read landscapes, our cities, our suburbs.' The idea that you could focus on patterns on the earth interested Paula.  She hopes that ‘each single poem in its shortness captures some sort of moment out of the flux’.

So what inspired the collection?

Going on to explain the motivation behind her approach to the collection, Meehan read her poem The Quilt, which Marie Heaney has also included in her recent anthology of poems, All Through The Night.

The idea of the traditional quilt and the order and shape of its parts was one of the main inspirations behind the collection. As she says, ‘in these years of commemoration - our radical beginnings, and the revolution - there are a lot of commemorative acts, but what inspires me most is an annual event which takes place in Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Seán McDermott Street in Dublin. There, the communities who have buried their children through drug abuse, their adult children or their younger children, gather and then hang their commemorative quilts around the church, it's a multi-denominational ceremony - just to remember them... those acts of commemoration for people who didn't really get a look in, in the State since the revolution, they move me. They were inspiring for the making of this collection which I see as a quilt’.

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Similar to working on a little patch at a time as quilt makers do, she then accumulated her poems into a collection, like completing a quilt. For Meehan, the great thing about having a template was that she didn't have to keep inventing new formal expressions. At a time, as Ireland Professor of Poetry, a pressured time, ‘it was a fantastic liberation to have this template... I could just get the poems out, without having to concern myself with formal expressions…This collection will be the formal testimony of these years’.  She describes how, with the restriction of 9 lines with 9 syllables in each poem, she had to quickly get into the poem, say what she had to say, and get out again. She loved the rigour of it.

On the Commemorative Years

Being a ‘Dublin bolshie woman’ as she describes herself, ‘I had many wonderful offers as many poets did, to respond and to respond in poetry so some of the runs in the book are sequences of poems that respond to certain things that were going on during the commemorative years. So, I couldn’t resist seven of these small poems, which were published by Stoney Road Press and An Post for the commemoration and again, of course, being a Dublin bolshie woman, I had to have a take on it. I have to say it wasn’t completely appreciative of the commemorations’.

Other poems Paula Meehan reads in this interview are The Old Neighbourhood, The Commemoration Takes our Mind off the Now and The Ghost Song.

Listen to the RTÉ Arena interview with Paula Meehan below: 

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