'My biggest challenge in life so far has been keeping optimistic', says poet Pat Boran

'My biggest challenge in life so far has been keeping optimistic', says poet Pat Boran

Poet Pat Boran in conversation with Hilary Fennell.

I often think that writing is about striking a balance between inner and outer worlds.

It helps to be an introvert in an extrovert’s clothing.

As a child I was fairly comfortable among others but was always happy on my own. 

I started off wanting to be a musician. But life (maybe wisely) plugged the plug on my guitar career, leaving me with words.

One of my earliest ‘writing’ memories is of revising pop song lyrics so that they depicted events as if they had happened in Portlaoise! 

“Good poets borrow, great poets steal,” as TS Eliot is supposed to have said (but didn’t).

Poems can take a long time to finish, the shorter ones taking the longest. 

That leaves time for other things. Actually I think it’s healthy for poets to do something other than write poems all day. 

Apart from anything else, it stops poetry from degenerating into a kind of glorified shoptalk about butterflies and sunsets and bee-loud glades.

I write or read or edit every day; it’s a kind of blur of all three, really. But when you work on your own, as I do, you have to be disciplined. 

That said, sometimes the hardest work is done while out with the dog or buying milk in the local shop, and a problem that has bugged me all day suddenly untangles itself, as if by magic.

One of the best pieces of advice I received was from the late poet and novelist Dermot Healy. 

He told me to always try to get to the end of a first draft of whatever you’re writing before breaking off. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s not great – or even if it’s not particularly good. 

By persevering when you’re a bit lost, you often stumble over into something you didn’t realise you knew or felt or sensed. 

Then you have something to build on the next day. I suspect this is true of many enterprises, not just writing.

The things we admire in others change as we get older. I find myself very impressed by humour. 

Humour allows us to communicate the things that would otherwise choke or swallow us whole. It’s the Kryptonite for the human condition.

My main fault – or so I am told by ‘some’ of those close to me – is stubbornness. I prefer to think of it as persistence, tenacity, resolve.

Happiness for me is ‘down time’, dead time, the doldrums. Having nothing to do and too long to do it in. 

A wet Bank Holiday Monday, and new strings on the guitar. 

Or if it isn’t raining: heading out for a long walk on Bull Island or over Howth Head, stopping now and then (the dog doesn’t complain) to take photos and tap Notes on my phone as if I’m the first explored of an uncharted world.

If money wasn’t an issue, I’d probably still be doing what I’m doing now. I dream of more free time, but would I become a better writer? Probably not. 

Between jigs and reels I’ve always just about managed to get by. ‘There’s no money in poetry,’ said Robert Graves, ‘but then there’s no poetry in money either.’

My biggest challenge in life so far has been keeping optimistic about a world where all the evidence supports the alternative.

The thing I didn’t but wish I had mastered in school is Irish. I wish I’d learned not to be so awkward around it, so tongue-tied in its presence, like a self-conscious teenage boy when a beautiful woman walks into the room. 

I speak bad Italian to my Italian wife with no great anxiety or reluctance, and (more or less) I get by. 

'My biggest challenge in life so far has been keeping optimistic', says poet Pat Boran

When did Irish change from being a language to being a subject. The answer to that would explain a lot about our State.

Twenty years ago I was a real night owl, playing music, debating, acting the maggot with friends, sometimes sitting alone and actually writing in my room. 

Parenthood put a stop to that particular gallop, but I like to believe it would have found its natural ending anyway. 

We cannot live our whole lives in top gear. These days I’m early to bed and early (ahem) to rise.

On the subject of life after death, I believe in other people’s lives going on after I’ve followed Elvis out of the building. 

That’s all that’s necessary to orient yourself in the world.

So far life has taught me, em, not to give up? (Whispers: to persevere.) 

Oh, and to learn a musical instrument: sometimes the words are not enough.

Pat Boran is one of the contributors to the 3rd edition of The Cormorant magazine which will be published during Sligo’s Tread Softly (July 25 - August 3).

See www.treadsoftly.ie for more details.

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