Photo: Greg Bal
Born in Sligo, Martin Dyar grew up in Swinford in County Mayo. A graduate of NUIG and TCD, his poetry has received a number of honours, including the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award in 2009, and the Strokestown International Poetry Award in 2001. In 2010 he was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series. He has also been a writer in residence at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. His debut collection, Maiden Names, published by Arlen House, was shortlisted for the 2014 Piggott Prize. He has received two Arts Council Literature Bursary Awards, the most recent in 2013.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing Maiden Names?
In the end, it was challenging to let go of the desire to add more to Maiden Names, and to arrive at the point of calling the manuscript a book. My publisher likes to remind me that I wanted to postpone the publication for the sake of newer poems. But the freedom to write, to indulge and explore, and simply to work on the writing, courting the rumours of potential poems within oneself more persistently, is the big issue for a poet starting out. It was challenging at times in the years before the book was completed not to be free to write. The Arts Council support I received was a very welcome boost in that respect.
How would you describe your daily writing routine?
The first three or four hours of the day are the most important. The early start is, to borrow a phrase from the playwright Conor McPherson, part of the weaponry.
What has receiving a bursary award meant to you as a writer/for your writing career?
The bursary granted me space and time to write, and ultimately freedom to progress. The award of a bursary comes as a special kind of endorsement, given that the reviewing process is so rigorous. It has the power to bolster your commitment to your creative practice, if not quite the power to remove the difficulty of the work itself. When the good news comes, it also has the power to make you believe that the universe is talking to you. But that sense wears off eventually. Perhaps it's just that your cosmical deafness is restored.
What is the best piece of advice you received as an emerging writer?
The poet Paula Meehan once offered the following capacious words of blessing: 'The path is long.' I like the nod towards detachment in this, and the sense of a questioning of prestige, along with the impression of vocational rootedness. I sometimes repeat it to myself. I recall that Paula repeated the phrase during our conversation that time too, as if she feared that the kernel of her wisdom might be beyond me. She would have been right. It's the kind of nugget that requires chanting.
Another line comes to mind. As a younger man, I can remember somewhat anxiously declaring to my father that I wanted to be a writer. He thought for a moment, and then replied, with characteristic pithiness, 'Well, you have plenty of paper.' Another very particular blessing, but also a kind of handbook.
What book/author has influenced your writing the most?
Wallace Stevens' Collected Poems, and also his Collected Letters were very close at hand for a number of years. I find Paul Durcan to be an enduring touchstone too. But individual poems also come to mind: Stevens' The Owl in the Sarcophagus, Bernard O'Donoghue's Caedmon, Heaney's The Death of a Naturalist. Yeats and John Donne. The older the work, the louder the metrical lesson, it seems. But it is a particular thrill of course to also feel the emotion of a classic. Kavanagh, Dylan Thomas. The stories of John Cheever. John McGahern's story The Country Funeral. Music too: Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Cat Power, Will Oldham, Bill Callahan. It's a difficult question. The plays of Conor McPherson have driven me back to my own writing a number of times. We traded books once, and I kept my inscription simple, but later I regretted not writing: 'To Conor McPherson, my favourite poet.' Which would have been a bit of rhetorical silliness, since he hasn't published any poetry. On a copy of his play The Veil, McPherson wrote: 'To Martin, thanks for believing.' Much cooler.
Perhaps being a fan, in the sense of loving the work of another writer, to the extent that one's life seems enhanced by their output, is a kind of influence, since it reminds you of the potential of what you yourself are trying to do. But there's probably a world of unconscious influence in the strict sense of the term that is too perplexing or too embarrassing to consider, at least at this time, which is supposed to be the beginning.