Poetry Judge 2018-19

Padraig Rooney was born in Ireland and has spent most of his adult life abroad, teaching in schools in Paris, Japan, Thailand, Rome and Budapest.

He began writing short stories in his late teens, published in New Irish Writing (Irish Press) and in Best Irish Short Stories (Paul Elek). He was awarded two Irish Arts Council bursaries. Three collections of poems have appeared intermittently, the latest The Fever Wards (2010, Salt) and a bilingual selection in German and English, Angelandet (2017, Wolfbach).

Author Padraig Rooney, Swiss Creative Writing Prize, Poetry Judge
Padraig Rooney, Poetry Judge

His poems have won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Strokestown Poetry Award and the Listowel Single Poem Prize, and have been anthologised in Scanning the Century: the Penguin Book of Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Dancing With Kitty Stobling: the Patrick Kavanagh Award Winners 1971-2003, The Backyards of Heaven: Contemporary Poetry from Ireland and Newfoundland & Labrador and Our Shared Japan.

The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland (2015, Nicholas Brealey), a travel book about writers in Switzerland, was described by the Times Literary Supplement as “Brilliant. Thoroughly absorbing.” Rooney has recently been translating the 1930s American journalism of Swiss writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach. He has lived in Switzerland for sixteen years and teaches at International School Basel. His website is www.padraigrooney.com

Theme for the competition

2018-2019 Poetry Judge Padraig Rooney chose the theme: Water

“Lakes, rivers, sea, a glass of water, the sensation of thirst, the water table, the rising seas, the Dead Sea, a cool swim, the tap in the morning, H2O, wave energy, a hot bath, ice, giant hailstones, water-borne bacteria, an Alpine stream, flow …”
What Padraig Rooney looked for in a poem

“I like clarity and ordinary language. If the language is pseudo-poetic or over-fancy or showing off too much, it makes me distrust what is written. Sometimes young poets think they have to adopt a poetic manner and diction – that turns me off. Keep it clear, in language that doesn’t draw too much attention to itself. I much prefer teenage spirit to teenage romance, concrete language to abstract terms, and understatement to shouting from the rooftops.

I dislike cliches, of thought or language. With expanded media, we are swamped by cliches: pop psychology cliches (“I hear you, I’m reaching out to you…”), management cliches (We’re moving forward, striving for profit, team-building…”). Cliches are dead language, and language in a poem should be fresh and alive. One of my favourite pieces of advice is from the American poet William Carlos Williams: “No ideas but in things”.

I like narrative: the poem telling a story, which needn’t be a true or a real story. Be playful with narrative. Let it spill over the end of the line into the next line. Be playful with history, with geography, with the facts. You’re not writing a textbook or a fact-based essay but a piece of imaginative writing.

If there is surprise for the writer, there will be surprise for the reader. Privilege the imagination and what the Irish poet Matthew Sweeney calls “wierdness”.

I like a formal arrangement but also free verse. Think of a poem as a Rubik cube, a jig-saw, as a game console. Think in terms of the line, and of groups of lines: give them shape. A poem should have some rhythm; if it doesn’t have rhythm then it’s prose.

If you’re unsure of the correctness of your English, have the poem checked by someone whose English you trust. Be humble enough to take on board a second, a third view.”