Writing the Landscape

With Irish poet, Jane Clarke

Featured in Edition One

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An extract from an interview in Edition One with Irish poet Jane Clarke, whose collection The River was shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize in 2016. She is one of only two poets to have been recognised in this way.

We’re hiking up the hill behind Jane’s house. The day is warm and our conversation accompanied by a chorus of skylarks. We climb carefully over fences, the barbed wire hung with caught tufts of wool, we cross fields and pass through empty sheep pens, the hard-trodden ground giving off the distinctive tang of their droppings. On our walk Jane often pauses to appreciate either the detail of a wildflower or the expansive views. ‘Isn’t this gorgeous?’ We’re stood at the top of a field which curves up towards a wood line, looking across the valley towards the peak of Croaghanmoira, one of the Wicklow Mountains. Cloud shadows chase across its peaks and occasional pools of sunlight brighten and fade on the pine plantations and its heathered slopes. From Croaghanmoira, the Fananierin ridge sweeps down towards the Glenmalure valley, where the Avonbeg River traces the valley floor. Downstream it runs into the Avonmore River and at what is known as the Meeting of the Waters, the two become the Avoca River. All around us is green.

We start walking again, our conversation following our observations and we talk about the poem, ‘Who owns the field’. ‘There’s the ownership the deeds give you,’ Jane speaks slowly and deliberately, ‘and then there’s the ownership that loving and knowing and working in a place, and walking in a place, gives you. Noticing the wildflowers and grasses, the bracken – that’s an ownership.’ Her voice is lyrical and her words convey a deep-rooted love and connection to this landscape. ‘You know,’ she continues, ‘I feel like this field is mine whenever I’m here walking through it. But I don’t possess it, that’s the interesting thing, because I realise I don’t need to.’

We climb over a stone stile and stop again at the corner of a field. I ask Jane whether her perception of ownership has changed since she started writing poetry. ‘Growing up on a farm, ownership was very important and inheritance really important,’ she pauses and look out at the field, ‘but I’ve realised, that the inheritance is in you.’ Jane invites me to sit with her, a spot where she often pauses on her walk to appreciate the view. ‘I wouldn’t have had that attitude years ago,’ she says, ‘but the more I walk the land, and love it... It’s part of that direct connection that poetry has given me with place.’ We sit in companionable silence listening to the ‘zip, zip, zip’ of what we think is a meadow pipit and the familiar bleating of a flock lower down in the valley. Jane stretches her arms out in front of her, ‘We moved to the house and look, we got all this as well!’

Printed in full in Edition One of Elementum.