A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Anne Casey

with Anne Casey:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?


I wrote my first poem at the age of eight – it was a terrible thing about spiders. But, it’s no exaggeration to say that that poem changed the course of my life. When my parents read and reacted to it, I had this epiphany – how my idle scribblings could convey an idea from my head into someone else’s. It was a mind-blowing experience and I was immediately hooked! That was the first step on a 30-year career in writing and publishing.

My first influences were definitely dead old white men poets – Yeats, Kavanagh, Keats, Shelley… but that was because theirs is what was presented to me as poetry as a child. It was when I was 11 years old that I had another earth-shaking moment of discovery with poetry… Emily Dickinson: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry“. When I read her poem, ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ for the first time, something exploded inside my head! I felt I had found my spirit-twin. I read everything I could find of hers and still I return to her over and over.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Anne: Ooh that is an incredibly tough question The answer would probably be different if you asked me again tomorrow! I read widely and deeply. I read at least one poem every day, and every poem impacts me… in fact, I would say that all art and artists I’m exposed to influence me to some extent. In terms of my current work, I would say that nature and family are my greatest ‘influences’ – in that these absolutely permeate everything I write, particularly in my latest book, ‘the light we cannot see’ http://www.anne-casey.com/the-light-we-cannot-see-1.html , just out (this week!) from Salmon Poetry in Ireland.

Poets whose work has profoundly affected me include late Irish poets, Eavan Boland (I will never read her poem, ‘Mother Ireland’ without tears) and Seamus Heaney (“To set the darkness echoing”); Maya Angelou (“Caged bird” and “I will rise” after which I wrote a tribute feminist poem); and Australian poet and translator of poetry, Peter Boyle (his work slays me every time!).

I also have to mention musicians whose work is incredibly poetic like Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Australian chart-topping hip hop artist, Tuka (with whom I was very fortunate to do a poetry and music collaboration for his last album ‘Nothing in Common But Us). I’m also very excited that world renowned chamber music composer and harpist, David Yardley is setting one of my poems to music for his new album, ‘The Lost Codex of Avalon’ which is being recorded with the Sydney Chamber Choir for release in December this year. David’s music is extraordinarily inspiring.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work/describe?

Anne: Now there is another absolute zinger of a question David! I come from the wild and breathtakingly beautiful west coast of Ireland. I grew up in a little seaside town called Miltown Malbay. My Mum had a shop there which was a real hub for the local community and my Dad ran a trawler off the coast of Clare, so I grew up between the counter and the sea. My poem, ‘Come and find me’ (recorded here by the Irish Poetry Reading Archive at James Joyce Library, University College Dublin) describes the scene outside my bedroom window growing up.

Maybe it was the sea-wind carrying stories from far away, but I always had itchy feet growing up. I travelled a lot and emigrated to Australia 27 years ago. I love it here. I go for a bush walk every day with our family dog. That daily immersion in nature has certainly influenced a lot of my poetry. My latest book, in particular, includes a lot of ecopoetry inspired by the Australian environment – you can read some of those poems from ‘the light we cannot see’ here.

Q4: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

Anne: When a poem comes to me, it is always instigated by something that has been rolling around inside my head for a while. So, in that sense, everything I write is meaningful to me. My first book, ‘where the lost things go’ was which signified my return to poetry writing after a long absence – was prompted by my mother’s death. That book was my attempt in some way to capture those things I valued most from my growing up years in the west of Ireland, things that I saw as slipping away each time I returned to visit from Australia.

My second book,'out of emptied cups'  while also speaking to my ongoing (mild) obsession with death (...Emily and me!), took a more political stance. It interrogated what it means to be a woman in a world where the female body still preordains so much for the person it contains. What I was really trying to do, I guess, was to weigh up what it means to be human, a consciousness contained within a shell that dictates so much of what our experience of life will be.

So, it should come as no surprise then if I tell you that 'the light we cannot see'... yup... death has its wicked way in there too... from the devastating ecological impacts of the climate crisis to our own family losses during this time of COVID. That's not to say that my work is morbid – quite the contrary really, I'm always striving to find "the light we cannot see, but know lies ahead". 

All of that is my very long-winded way of telling you that the thing I find most meaningful, and what I strive for most in my work, is to find the beauty, the sacred, the eternal in the everyday, even in those everyday parts that might otherwise drag us down.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer/poet?

Anne: Definitely that epiphany moment I mentioned at age eight! I knew then that all I wanted to do was write. When I was leaving school, Ireland was in deep recession, so I knew that being a creative writer wasn't going to pay the rent and put food on the table. So, for the past 30 years, I've earned my crust as a journalist, editor, legal author and media communications director. 

In recent years, I've been able to find more of a balance between those aspects of the writing world and my creative side. This was greatly helped last year when I was awarded an Australian Government Research Training Scholarship to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. It's been an incredibly rewarding experience so far – full of many more epiphanies, particularly thanks to people like my extraordinary supervisor, acclaimed Australian author, Gabrielle Carey and truly inspiring and generous-spirited scholars such as Bhuva Narayan at the university.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Anne: Is it terrible if I say I love reading poetry?! My guilty secret is that I also love to read crime and conspiracy thrillers – I think I have everything ever written by Dean Koontz! I also love Irish crime writer, Dervla McTiernan's work. These days I'm consuming a vast amount of historical writing – for my thesis, which is on 'the second-wave impact in Australia of the Great Irish Famine'. I've previously written essays for leading national daily newspaper, The Irish Times, around this topic: The Lock Up and Baby Eliza.  

I also love bush walking, beach walking and snorkelling – you just have to pick up my most recent book to realise that when I don't have my nose stuck in a book or a computer screen, I'm revelling in nature. It's not hard to figure out why – having grown up in one of the most beautiful places on earth and now living on the edge of the stunning, but sadly endangered, Flat Rock Gully Reserve in Sydney. Here' an ecopoem I wrote about that issue last year. 

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you'd like to promote?

Anne: Thank you so much David – as I mentioned above, my latest book has just come out from Salmon Poetry in Ireland: 'the light we cannot see'. I'd love to hear what people think!

My website is anne-casey.com
Social media: @1annecasey (please do say hi!)

Q8: What is a favorite line from one of your poems?

Anne: In these half-shattered times in the world, I think a little wisdom from Tom Waits wouldn't go astray: "'Cause the dreams ain't broken down here now, they're walking with a limp".

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Anne: Honestly, there are too many people to mention – I owe a huge debt of gratitude to every family member, friend, editor, teacher, mentor, writer/poet/artist who has inspired and encouraged me. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has purchased, read, and taken the time to respond to my poetry, or indeed poetry anywhere. You'll never know the value of a kind word at the right time.

Anne Casey is an internationally award-winning Sydney-based Irish poet and writer. A journalist, magazine editor, legal author and media communications director for 30 years, her work is widely published internationally, ranking in The Irish Times' Most Read. Author of the critically acclaimed books, out of emptied cups and where the lost things go, the light we cannot see is her third collection of poetry published by Salmon Poetry. Anne has won poetry awards in Ireland, the UK, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. She is the recipient of an Australian Government Scholarship for her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney.    anne-casey.com   @1annecasey

Poetry from “The Light We Cannot See” by Anne Casey : Portrait of a funeral arrangement (for Denise)

Portrait of a funeral arrangement

for Denise
Dark stars pierce the luminous heart
a shrouded mouth fallen open, 
a delicate central cross.

         Daubs of captured sunlight
         loll among the upright
         congregated throng.

Burdened others cast out
and down; a huddled cluster
bows off to one side.

       Each with green wings
       flung upwards-as if
       in silent supplication.

Swanlike, cheek to cheek,
a pair intertwine at the neck -
tied for the span of their brief life.
       Your spray of luminous hearted kindness
        to pierce the dark star
        of our grief.

Poem from the book "the light we cannot see" by Anne Casey 
from Salmon Poetry 40 

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Anne Casey

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Nathanael O’Reilly 

Before the Bridges Fell #12: Radio Ghosts by David L O’Nan – Poetry