Sinéad Morrissey, A Giant of Poetry

Receiving the Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has allowed the poet time to dream

Sinéad Morrissey is that rarest of creatures – a poet who makes a living from poetry.

In addition to writing – Morrissey won the British National Poetry Competition in 2007 with her poem 'Through the Square Window' and the Poetry Now Award in 2010 for her collection of the same name – Morrissey also teaches Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre in Queen’s University.

It is difficult for any artist who works a full-time job to find the gaps, the silence, the critical moment in which to create, but it seems that Morrissey – who at times appears breathless, and for good reason – has managed to develop a schedule that works for her.

‘There’s never enough time to write during semester,' she explains. 'It is really full-on, and what I’ve learned is that it isn’t enough to just have time. You need the right kind of time, and you need it consistently.’

That time is what Morrissey’s £15,000 Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland will be buying. Morrissey will be taking the second half of 2012 off – ‘until the end of January’ – to write.

It will be all pencils to the pump come the new year, but there is plenty of time in which to dream before then. £15,000... If she wasn’t going to be artistically and fiscally responsible with it, where it go?

‘I would get my husband and children and take a cruise from Seattle up the west coast of Alaska,’ Morrisey jokes, adding with a laugh, 'but that isn't happening, of course. Put that in, in case the Arts Council thinks I am running off!’

Morrissey is getting a head-start on the sabbatical and is already hard at work on her fifth poetry collection. This interview, in fact, interrupts mid-poem creation, with the orderly march of verses filling the monitor behind Morrissey. Although the collection is still untitled, the unifying theme has ‘recently coalesced’.

‘I just write each poem individually and then, about halfway through, the theme emerges,’ she explains. In her forthcoming collection the theme is ‘visual media from the Victorian and Edwardian era’, particularly photography and cinematography. ‘Not every poem is about that, but many of them are.’

Morrissey notes that finding the theme helps to fire her imagination. Despite the popular stereotype of the free-spirited, free-wheeling (and often free-drinking) poet, structure seems to be an integral part of Morrissey’s poetic process. The strucuture is something internally imposed.

Recently, however, Morrissey experienced working with an imposed structure. She has written a series of ‘little plots’ for the ensemble narrative of the upcoming Land of Giants spectacular, part of the forthcoming London 2012 Festival. 

Morrisey's contribution includes text that will be set to a massive choral piece, and eight imaginary biographies set at key moments in modern Northern Irish history, from Charles Dickens' visit to Belfast in 1860 to a shipyard worker's life in 1912.

‘I’ve never done anything like this before,' Morrisey admits. 'I’ve never written to someone else's vision, for performance instead of for a collection, to such a specific brief. It was really exciting and a lot of fun working with other people.’

Land of Giants is scheduled for Titanic Slipways in Belfast on June 30 and the performance is still coming together. Morrissey’s part in it ended at Christmas, after four months' work, and she is looking forward to seeing the final show. ‘I can’t get over Belfast at the minute,’ she says happily. ‘There’s so much happening. It’s just amazing.’

Tickets to Land of Giants on June 30 are available on the Lands of Giants website now.