John FitzGerald: 'I don’t have to be walking through the daffodils to be inspired'

The Cork poet has just launched his new collection, and a sample of the Liss Ard man's work is also on display in Ballincollig Regional Park
John FitzGerald: 'I don’t have to be walking through the daffodils to be inspired'

John FitzGerald's new collection is The Time Being.

It was a particularly gratifying moment for John FitzGerald when one of his poems was recently selected for display in Ballincollig Regional Park in Cork as part of the Poetry in the Park initiative, bringing poetry to the wider public.

“Poetry can provide a tremendous release in daily life. Reading a poem and appreciating it might take less than a minute yet it is an instant transportation to another world,” he says. “I think that poetry is part of everyday life, and luckily, in Ireland, people are very open and receptive to the written word.” 

The poem on display in Ballincollig for the summer is Post-Socratic Disorder, which also features in FitzGerald’s first full-length collection, The Time Being, just published by The Gallery Press.

FitzGerald has a full-time job as head of information services and university librarian at UCC, and a busy life on the family farm at Liss Arda, Co Cork, where he grew up and returned to live with his wife and children. He has focused on poetry in earnest in recent years, and his talent was quickly evident — he won the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award in 2014 and was shortlisted for a Hennessy Award in 2015.

“Maybe the fact that I have only really started writing in the last ten years was because there were children to rear, a career to forge, a house to restore, a mortgage to pay. In recent years, as the children have got older, I have had more time to write. But I have never felt constrained. We live a very busy life but I have never felt it has been too busy not to write. It is a question of making time for what is important,” he says.

Landscape, place and nature are some of the themes explored in FitzGerald’s collection, ones which have inspired him for as long as he can recall.

“I remember at a very young age looking out the window here at home. I was down in the dumps for some particular reason, and I was looking out at the trees, it was one of those dismal Irish days. I have no idea what became of the scrap of paper but I do remember following that impulse and instinct to put words down. It was probably a simple but awful rhyme, I’m sure. I found it quite remarkable that I could find expression for how I felt in what I saw and then put that into words,” he says.

John FitzGerald with his poem in Ballincollig Regional Park. Picture: The Gallery Press
John FitzGerald with his poem in Ballincollig Regional Park. Picture: The Gallery Press

FitzGerald’s keen eye for observing the revelatory moments in everyday life is evident throughout the collection. He describes being a poet as an “obsessive” occupation.

“There is a strong awareness in the writer all the time, there is always the desire to express in some way what one is seeing or experiencing in words. That is an undeniable twitch that I have and sometimes I wish I didn’t have — it might be easier if I took up stamp collecting,” he laughs. 

“You are always challenging yourself, and reading other work, conscious of how others have done this. It is part of a conversation with yourself, it is part of a conversation with the world and it is part of a conversation with other writers down through the ages as well. I don’t think that poets are necessarily more sensitive in the sense of feeling or emotion but I do think they are probably lightning conductors.” 

Some of the poems in the collection are also drawn from the small epiphanies of family life, bearing witness to the way our children can give us a new window on life.

“I am a very lucky and happy father of four children. I find them endlessly inspiring. We all think that our children are the best and the most beautiful in the world, which they are. I love being a parent and I also love the element of the unexpected that children bring into your life, it’s wonderful,” he says.

According to FitzGerald, “the ink is still flowing” and whatever the pressures of daily life, he is always ready to indulge the proverbial muse.

“If I get a thought for a poem, I will jot it down and it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to come back to it, maybe in the car park before I go home or in the garage after I’ve filled up with petrol or whatever. I don’t have to be walking through the daffodils to be inspired. I carry a notebook around with me all the time. It is really important to capture the inspiration, the lines, or that opening line when it comes. No matter how much you promise yourself, you won’t always recall it as it was.” 

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