Molly Twomey holds an MA in Creative Writing from University College Cork where she received the title of College Scholar.
She has been published in Poetry Ireland Review, Banshee, the Irish Times, Crannóg, Mslexia, Cyphers, The Stinging Fly, and elsewhere.
In 2019, she won the Padraic Colum Poetry Prize. In 2020, Ó Bhéal published her co-authored chapbook Spoken Worlds, Southern Syllables. The same year, she won the Waterford Poetry Prize and was featured on RTÉ's Arena. In 2021, she won the Eavan Boland Mentorship Award and was chosen for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series.
Recently awarded an Arts Council Literature Bursary, she is working on her debut collection.
Q: It may be a truism, but I think most writers are also avid readers, with the result that their own work can speak in a highly personal way to other texts and authors. For whatever reason, the tone and angle of approach in some of your poetry seems, to me, to rhyme with contemporaneous work by people like Róisín Kelly or Victoria Kennefick, while your piece, ‘Twenty-one Questions’, seems to have an echo of Seamus Heaney’s ‘Postscript’ at the close. What do you make of these suggestions? In your estimate, which writers (or other artists) have had the strongest influence on your development as a poet?
A: I’m laughing at how apt your comparisons are. I was obsessed with ‘Postscript’ for months before writing ‘Twenty One Questions.’ I am a huge reader, I have read Kennefick and Kelly and greatly admire both of their works. I’m not sure I can be a good writer without that addiction to reading. I read more than I write and I used to feel guilty about that but I’ve grown to accept that my writing is better because of it. It’s like anything, it takes time and patience and a lot of paying attention. Mostly though, I just love reading for the sake of reading, I love how someone else’s words can build a whole world in my head and I’m always searching for that pang of feeling after reading something powerful and true.
Q: My first impression of your poetry is that it balances formal elegance and emotional depth to an unusual degree. Could you comment on this interpretation? ‘The Dishwasher’ is technically intricate, for example, but it also has a very natural (and colloquial) flow. Likewise, the long, sculpted lines in quite a different piece, ‘Bábóg’, sustain a kind of intimacy and close focus throughout, which feels completely controlled, but also visceral and instinctive. It opens:
In class, I use you to teach súile, lámh, ceann.
They grasp for your tiny arms, the red heart
I stitched on your chest. They pass you around
so gently as if a tight grip might make you slip away.
A: Form is very important to me, mostly to do with line breaks, I love how they can help a writer to play with meaning and add greater or less emphasis. ‘The Dishwasher’ was one of my first attempts at a villanelle, I’m not sure it worked but it was important for me to write at the time. Both of the poems you’ve mentioned have grief at their core and maybe form helped me to get through the process of writing them. I can become really entrenched in the editing process, trying to get the poem as tight and precise as I can. In a way, I think that process allows me to distance myself from the heaviness of some of my poems. It’s not unusual for me to spend months working on a poem and to feel nothing about it until I have to read it out in front of someone else and I realise, Jesus, that’s a bit intense.
Q: Your inclusion of “súile, lámh, ceann” in the poem above (not to mention its title) make me wonder whether Irish, as a language or a general situation in the world, feeds into your poetry at all. Is it important to you? Has it shaped your work in a way that mightn’t have been true if you’d grown up elsewhere or in different circumstances?
A: I have written a poem before, a terrible poem but a poem nonetheless about that loss of the Irish language. It’s a lament for who I might be if I were able to speak in my native tongue. I’ve read before that people have different personalities in different languages and I believe it. I downloaded Duolingo to learn Irish but quickly gave up on it. It’s difficult when life gets in the way. I was so enamoured with Siobhán Ní Dhomhnaill’s performance at Smock Alley for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series this year and I love Ciara Ní É. They both do a brilliant job of making Irish attractive and cool whereas in school it was all modh coinníollach and urús. I suppose it’s a start to include a few words as Gaeilge. If I had grown up somewhere else, who knows what kind of person I might be, I think being Irish for me anyway means always carrying a sense of longing and a pang of guilt for letting my true self down.
Q: Are you a feminist poet? Or might this be a reductive label? I ask because part of the freshness of your poems (to me) is how they dramatise hunger and physical discomfort. Your work also examines, on occasion, how women in particular can be pressurised to conform to certain images and stereotypes. There’s a strong political resonance to both of those concerns, I think. (I have in mind poems like ‘Callisto’, ‘Prane’, and ‘Eat Yourself Beautiful’ here.)
A: If you were to ask me if I were a feminist in general, I’d say yes. I suppose I just write about issues that affect me, my friends and the people around me and those issues mostly concern women. Some of my earliest poems were solely about my uncles, my grandfather, my dad, I didn’t notice until I was in a week-long workshop with Doireann Ní Ghríofa at the West Cork Literary Festival. It took until the end of the week to write a poem about a girl that was called ‘Nourish.’ It was an awful poem but there was this sense that I was finally seeing my own self and preoccupations as important and worth writing about. I don’t think it’s a reductive label, it would be awful if someone were to see a description of my work as ‘feminist,’ and then to decide not to read it but that’s probably more their problem than mine.
Q: I understand you’re currently working towards a first collection. Can you give us an insight into that process, and how it’s going? The moment of poetic inspiration and the labours of editing a manuscript are quite different activities, I think, but I’d be interested to hear your about your experience of the whole enterprise.
A: Yes, I’ve been quiet about it but I have signed a contract with Gallery, which is a real honour. It’s going well, I think, there is work to do on things like refinement and the structure of the overall book. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that I have had mentors like Grace Wells, Thomas McCarthy and Dorianne Laux, thanks to Words Ireland, The Munster Literature Centre and Jacar Press. Mentorship has made the process much less daunting. I’ve found that trying to edit a manuscript doesn’t mean new poems stop coming. I was frustrated about this originally but once I let go and allowed them to come, I realised some of them were better than pre-existing ones. The goal has always remained the same in my work, whether I’m entering a competition or trying to sequence poems for my book, all I’m ever trying to do is to get the poems as effective and powerful as I can. I am also conscious that I am lucky to be doing this work and to be writing in such a fruitful and exciting time in Irish literature.