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Each year the International Institute of Modern Letters invites leading international writers across a range of genres to teach masterclasses for current students of the MA in Creative Writing, and appear in public events in Wellington. A sample of previous international guests includes Guillermo Arriaga, Santo Cilauro, Teju Cole, Richard Ford, Janice Galloway, Lee Gutkind, Jen Hadfield, Joy Harjo, Michael Hofmann, Michael Hulse, Ben Lewin, Kei Miller, Andrew Motion, Mal Peet, Ron Rash, Mary Ruefle, Michael Schmidt, Robert Shearman, Karen Solie, and Scarlett Thomas.
Our first guest for 2015 was the Irish poet Vona Groarke.
The acclaimed Irish poet Vona Groarke has published six collections with Gallery Press, the latest being X, (2014), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Others include Spindrift (2010), Flight (2002), and her translation from Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s eighteenth-century Irish, Lament for Art O'Leary (2008), which is currently being adapted as an opera by Irish composer, Irene Buckley. In the U.S., she publishes with Wake Forest University Press.
Her work has been recognised with many prizes, including the Brendan Behan Memorial Award, the Hennessy Award, the Michael Hartnett Award, the Forward Prize, and the Strokestown International Poetry Award. Her poems have recently appeared in Yale Review, The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Boston Review, The Guardian, The Times and Poetry Review.
In 2010, Groarke was elected to Aosdána: the Irish arts collective. She has been a co-holder of the Heimbold Chair of Irish Studies at Villanova University in Philadelphia and has taught at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
She now teaches poetry in the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester in the UK and is the editor of Poetry Ireland Review. In 2015 she will be on the judging panel for New Zealand's Sarah Broom Poetry Prize.
Following her appearance at the Readers and Writers Festivals in Dunedin and Auckland, Groarke was in Wellington for a week hosted by the IIML.
On Thursday, May 21st, she gave a lively lunchtime reading at the City Gallery, chaired by Cliff Fell. Along with her own poems, she read from her translation of EibhlÍn Dubh NÍ Chonnaill's 'Lament for Art O'Leary', a poem extemporised in the Irish keening tradition, which was very much the preserve of women. The poem is considered one of the greatest 18th century Irish poems. Groarke's translation is the first by a woman.
Her masterclass at the IIML on the 22nd was in two parts. The morning session, open to all our MA in Creative Writing students, focused on metaphor, with students working through examples of metaphoric language from the Exeter Book, Emily Dickinson and Seamus Heaney, before doing a couple of limbering up exercises and then producing their own poem; an extended metaphor that transferred concrete images to an abstract noun.
In the afternoon, Groake worked with students from the Poetry and Nonfiction MA group, workshopping their responses to an exercise on the five senses that she'd set a couple of weeks before.
(Biographical details courtesy of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize site. Image courtesy of Gallery Press.)