Hazel Hogan


Hazel Hogan is a poet from Dublin. Her poem ‘Grangegorman’ was on the recommended list to be studied as part of the Junior Cert syllabus.

 

Her poetry was submitted into the Irish Poetry Reading Archive as part of the UCD digital library, and she was selected to take part in the part in the Dublin City of Literature project, Dublin: A Year in Words. She has been published on RTÉ and The Irish Times.

 

She has been awarded the Creative Arts Scholarship and Residency at the Tara Building. She has given many workshops to children and adults across schools and communities in Dublin.


Q: Your poem ‘Grangegorman’ paints a picture of eviction, dereliction, and Garda violence in Dublin, but also broadcasts the message that “it’s okay to disobey”, for people to resist the State and to work for material change in  their communities. Listening to this piece and to your work in general, I wonder if this is where poetry comes from, for you: from the need to express the reality of what life is like in neoliberal Ireland, and maybe even to change it? I also wonder what your opinion is of the arts scene in Ireland, and especially of its relationship (in the mainstream at least) to State institutions. And lastly, what’s your feeling about the Irish poetry scene in particular: does it seem too divided (e.g. between spoken word and printed page poetry), or is there something about the recent explosion of creativity all round that can be praised and admired in its own right?

 

A: I wrote Grangegorman in 2015, a year before the centenary of the 1916 rising. At the time of writing it, I was thinking of how the sacrifice of the signatories changed the course of history in Ireland. Their acts of civil disobedience and rebellion mean that we can now live in a post-colonial Ireland. I think throughout history there have been poems that reflect the realities for the people at any given time, and Grangegorman is expressing some of the reality of the housing crisis we are experiencing in Ireland. I’m not sure what I intend to do when I set out to write, though I always end up writing about what I care about. I remember being at a writing workshop facilitated by Colm Keegan and he told us to write about things that lit a fire in us and struck a chord and I continue to do that. At the time of writing Grangegorman’ I was spending a lot of time in anarchist and D.I.Y. punk spaces and I think my writing then was shaped by that. It would be idealistic to think that poetry can change things – though maybe sometimes it can contribute. I think Seamus Heaney summarised it better than I can when he said: “I cant think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change peoples understanding of whats going on in the world.”

 

Ireland has a thriving art scene with its long history of folklore, storytelling, music and poetry. A lot of these art forms are grassroots-led. There are so many artists in all disciplines working hard on their craft and that is something that is very admirable about us culturally. The mainstream art scene could do a lot to bolster this by providing event spaces, studio space and funding or platforming. It’s unfortunate to see so many art spaces being closed down in the last few years, such as Seomra Spraoi, The Bernard Shaw, The Science Gallery, Ja Ja Studios, Hangar, Chapters (which thankfully re-opened) and The Exchange. If these spaces aren’t being closed down they are being threatened with rising rents or closure to open hotels. The Cobblestone is one example of this. Spaces are increasingly commodified and there is a lot of value in art spaces that resist this. 

 

In terms of State institutions, I’ve only had experience with Poetry Ireland and my experience has only been positive. They’ve done a lot of work to combine both spoken word and page poetry and do a lot to provide opportunities to emerging poets as well as the established. I think both spoken word and page poetry can be praised and admired in their own right whilst learning and being enhanced by each other. The Lingo Spoken Word Festival was a great example of that recent explosion of creativity that you mention and an even better example of how spoken word and page poetry could come together. 

 

Q: In ‘Stories and Strikes’, a poem you wrote for International Women’s Day, you describe listening to “stories of the strikes / That we women have fought” in the past, and of standing with “sisters and friends / Our mouths cracking wide / As we scream for something new”. Is there a relationship between class and poetry in your work  does your engagement with one feed into the way you think about the other? Listening to those lines, I can’t help think of the Repeal the 8th Movement, and of the #StrikeforRepeal marches around the country in the lead-up to the 2018 referendum. Were you involved in the Repeal movement? Did this change the way you thought of your work as a poet (and as a woman in 21st-century Ireland), if so?

 

A: There is definitely a relationship between class and poetry in my work. I am working-class. I want that to be reflected in my work. In saying that, I think it’s important to acknowledge the intersection between class and feminism. The Repeal the 8th Campaign was a civil movement long before it became political and was led by some incredible activists who pushed the movement forward to achieve the Yes vote. That poem was inspired by my Mam and Aunties telling me about The Contraceptive Train of the seventies. Recently, I was at IMMA and a screening of the work done by Artists For Repeal really solidified the fact that this was a civil movement driven by people on the ground long before it was a politically advantageous position. 

 

Thanks for saying that, and you’ve hit the nail on the head. I wrote this poem on the day of the #StrikeforRepeal March that shut down O’Connell Bridge on International Women’s Day 2017. The poem is influenced by that day. That was one way I involved myself in the movement, alongside my work advocating for bodily autonomy and choice. I still wear my Repeal jumper with pride. The day before the referendum, I fundraised six thousand euro in about eight hours thanks to a whole load of incredible people and their kind donations. This money was then divided between two charities, the first being Women on Web and the second was the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. The DRCC is a charity that is close to my heart and has helped me out a lot in the past, so I was chuffed to have been able to do that. 

 

My writing is definitely informed by the fact that I am a woman in 21st-century Ireland, it’s impossible for it not to be. Eavan Boland comes to mind when thinking of the role of the woman in Irish writing. There are so many incredible contemporary women poets in Ireland that I look up to such as Annemarie Ní Chuireáin, Jessica Traynor and Molly Twomey. In Contemporary Literary Fiction Irish female authors are having a moment and I am so here for it. Ive been enjoying reading Sally Rooney, Megan Nolan, Emily Pine, Eimear Ryan, Niamh Campbell, to name but just a few of the many. I’m really excited to see this happen.

 

Q: You were a member of the Outstraight poetry and graffiti collective, and also helped to found the Words in the Warehouse series in Grangegorman. Can you talk to me about why you got involved in those groups, and how they affected the way you approach your own work as a writer? I’ve often thought that ‘collective’ arts especially can offer an opportunity for people to confront social issues and difficulties that otherwise wouldn’t get a lot of airtime or attention, and that this is often what makes that scene so radical (when it is radical). Do you agree with this, or is it too simplistic? Who are the poets you learn from, the ones inspire you as a writer and activist?

 

A: Simply put, Words in the Warehouse started because I wasn’t aware of the poetry community in Ireland up to that point. I wanted to share poetry with people and I had access to a collection of massive warehouses where I could stage events. It’s only in hindsight that I realise how political Words in the Warehouse was. 

 

I got involved with Outstraight through Lewis Kenny, who I met through Words in the Warehouse. Writing can often be a solitary practice. So I think, for me, a collective of writers and artists can offer respite from that. It was a chance to meet great people such as Alicia Byrne Keane, Paul Curran and Cormac Fitz who were also part of the collective. Sharing art with people at these events is much more craic than sitting at home reading your poems to your dog. (They’re big fans.) My writing was affected by these events and collectives as I was being inspired and influenced by seeing what others were doing. It was a great way to push myself and my writing in different ways and to try new things. 

 

I think it is too simplistic to say that collectives offer an opportunity to confront social issues. I think its more nuanced than that. Let’s just say, collectives work great when the focus remains on the issue at hand, and perhaps not so much when they manifest as a place to perform a political position. It goes back to the idea that civil movements begin primarily with people on the ground who come together to affect change. It’s worth keeping in mind it’s regular working-class people that begin social movements, think of the civil rights movement in the States or up North. 

 

There are so many poets who I’ve learnt from or who inspire me, where to begin? I have always thought that Patti Smith is an incredible writer, poet and activist. I find I regularly return to her writing.

 

You can’t mention poetry and activism without speaking of Audre Lorde. Her essay collection The Masters Tool Will Never Dismantle The Masters House was a seminal piece of writing for me, particularly the essay Poetry is Not A Luxury. Other poets who inspire me and who I hope to learn from are Kae Tempest, Rafeef Ziadah and Saul Williams. I’ve been lucky enough to see Kae Tempest perform live and the experience feels like a re-centering and reminds me why I do this. Their work is exceptional. Closer to home, activists and poets who come to mind are Sorcha Fox and Sarah Clancy. I also love the work of poets such as Colm Keegan, Paula Meehan and Doireann Ní Ghríofa, amongst many others that I’d be here forever naming. 

 

Q: Speaking of activism (again!), I know you’ve spoken out in your work about animal rights and the importance of making ethical choices in that area. Can you tell me more about this? When did you become involved in animal rights activism, and what sparked this decision? It would seem to me that empathy is one of the emotions that links great poetry with progressive politics  neither of them can really exist without some kind of identification with the experience of others. Can you comment on this, either in relation to your own poems or more generally? 

 

A: I think animal rights are really important. I’ve always loved animals and had always wanted to work with them in some capacity. This led me to researching the ethics around animal welfare and animal rights. The decision to go vegetarian was sparked for me when I was sixteen, when I made the connection between the animal products I was eating and the animals being harmed as a result. A big part of this was due to some incredible activism done by NARA who campaigned for animal rights across Ireland. For a time, I was very involved in AR activism and gave talks and facilitated discussions about Speciesism.

 

I think you are right in saying that some of the great poetry is informed by empathy and progressive politics. Great poetry distills and captures emotion that can then be conveyed to others. Great works of art capture something of the human experience and perhaps empathy plays an important part in doing so. Though, I think its important not to dissolve empathy and the making of art into each other. There are some important poets who were infamously problematic or who had questionable morals. Ezra Pound, I’m looking at you. In  regards to my own work, all I can say is that  I try to navigate my day-to-day life with as much empathy as possible.

 

What does the rest of the year look like for you? Do you have any specific plans or a projects as in your writing?

 

Before I wrap this up, let me just take a second to thank you for taking the space and time to interview me. I really appreciate your thoughtful and insightful questions. I look forward to seeing whatever poetry has in store for you, in the future and reading the many other interviews by other brilliant poets on this website. 

 

The rest of the year will be full of writing and reading and getting involved in the arts. I went back to college as a mature student and I’m currently studying English and Creative Writing in UCD with the aim of throwing myself fully into writing again. Over the last few years and for a few different reasons, I gave less time to poetry and writing than I would have liked and this year I’d like to build that momentum in myself again. The degree has been a great opportunity to learn and to fail and a great way to demystify the academic world for myself. Other than that, I am really loving facilitating creative writing workshops for adults and kids in classrooms. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share my love and knowledge of poetry with people who may not have had the chance to write poetry before or to help change peoples’ ideas of what poetry is and can be. So with those two things in mind, I’ll keep going, learning and teaching and writing as much as I can and hopefully publishing more work.


Hazel Hogan // June 2022