Finding Out What Makes Kate Ennals Tick: An Interview

Kate Ennals is a prize winning poet, living in Ireland. Aged 7, she was editor of the poetry corner section in the brief appearance of a two page newspaper put together by The Plimpsole Gang. She now runs poetry workshops and before Covid ran regular literary evening, At The Edge in Cavan, Ireland. In between, she worked for forty years in local government and community development in England and Ireland. She loves to cook, read, gossip and current affairs.

Please briefly describe Elsewhere. Is there a theme uniting the collection?

As a child, I was described as a ‘day dreamer’ and, still, to this day, wherever I am, I find I would rather be the place where I am not – elsewhere.

For many years, this sense of elsewhere was exacerbated by my living as an Englishwoman in Ireland. My accent, and my life experience meant that I never felt as if I truly belonged in Ireland but living here, I didn’t feel I belonged in England either. Elsewhere became my home.

The collection is broken into four sections. The first section has poems that relate to my being physically elsewhere from Cavan. In the second section, the poems are mainly set in Cavan, some during lockdown which was a strange place altogether. In the third section, the poems pick up the political landscape that we were living in from 2016 to 2020 (Brexit – the strangest place of all) while the poems in the fourth section take us to the other land of love.

What motivated you to write it?

I often use writing to work out what I think and how I feel. I will put tentative words on a page, and see if they reflect what I’m feeling and I will work at them until they capture the emotion or experience. If I’m travelling, I try to write a poem or a blog which captures my journey, physically and emotionally. In 2018 and 2019 I was often away at festivals, in London visiting family and friends, and on holiday. In 2020, I wrote poems about lockdown.

Are there any poems from the collection that you are particularly proud of?

Gosh, that’s like asking do you have a favourite child? Each comes from this place inside of me so each has its place in the world. I am proud of them all, but will read different poems according to the place I am, and the audience I think I’m reading for.

My poems are all very different. Some are humorous, some political, some have respond to the glory of the world we live in. Some reflect my fears and experiences. I like Teorainn na hÉireann (the Irish Border) because it shows my experience as an English woman living on the Irish border. I like Invitation because it brings me back my father. I like Amuses Bouches because it describes coping with my mother’s Alzheimers and I like What is it about Poetry and I am a Bloody Good Cook because they are humorous. I like my sestinas and pantoums because writing form poems is challenging. I find they are able to frame and structure my strong emotions or opinions.

How has your background influenced your writing? To what extent does your own life influence your writing?

My background has certainly influenced my opinions and much of my poetry expresses my opinions, certainly my politics. I am also a bit of a ‘confessional’ poet and my poems try to express my ‘truth’ as it were, so my experience is crucial to my poetry. Also, as a middle class, white activist who worked for much her life in community development, my experience, and education provided me with the tools and confidence to write.

For you, how many drafts does a typical poem go through?

It varies so much. A poem could take a year and various forms or it could take about ten visitations.

What’s the process of developing a poem from initial idea to a “finished” version like?

I will start a poem by splurging often very early in the morning, as soon as I wake up. I will take little account of sense. Later, I will be able to work out what I am trying to express, then I will look at particular words and structure. Sound in a poem is important to me. I often find that one word sound will lead to another in the first draft and I work with that. The whole process could take a week or month or a year. The poem may never be baked to perfection.

What other books and authors have inspired you?

I am a voracious reader and read widely, mainly novels and poetry. I love the Great Poets: Carol Ann Duffy, Billy Collins, Seamus Heaney, Kavanagh (not Keats). I loved William Blake. I have just finished reading To Paradise by Hanya Yanighara and Assembly by Natasha Brown – both really interesting books.

Which of your books are you most proud of?

At the Edge because it was my first and very exciting. Threads because the poems drew together the different strands of my life. Elsewhere because the poems are more confident and the production is good.

Find out more about Kate Ennals on her blog