Author Journey: Arthur Broomfield in conversation with Zara Browne

ZARA: When did you start on your writing journey?

AB: In my younger days I was secretary of a local Athletic club, the Ballyfin club. I always had a fascination with writing and language, so this gave me the opportunity to write club reports, send PR pieces to local newspapers etc

ZARA: Who inspired you to write? What was it about them that inspired your writings?

AB: My first experience of the magic of poetry came, not from school, but from listening to Dylan Thomas reading ‘Do not go Gentle into that Good Night’ on the old BBC Third Programme, the morning after President Kennedy was assassinated. That stayed with me ever since, but I did not think about writing poetry till ten or so years later when I wrote a couple of poems which are best forgotten. Around 1977 I heard Paul Durcan reading ‘Nessa’ on RTE’s Sunday Miscellany. That was another wow! moment. I think the effect of hearing beautiful poetry being read aloud by beautiful voices got to me in both cases.

ZARA: Are there certain places you visit that help the energy behind your writings? If so, what is it about those places that are so influential?

AB: The place that inspires me most is the landscape around where I live, in Ballyfin, County Laois. I have written poems set there that have been driven by certain energy drawn from the place. It is more about the feelings I get when I am there than the actual landscape. People appear frequently in my poems, especially in Ireland Calling, my current collection. The characters I meet, the originality of their language and ideas, their ways of negotiating, and even their gentle roguery, inspire me too. What inspires me most is the will to be free. This is most obvious in poems like ‘We too have our Martyrs,’ a poem that recalls the Paris massacre, and some anti-IRA poems I have written but it drives most of my work in both the struggle for the liberation of language from fixed meaning and the fear of lapsing into a counter truth, what Jacques Derrida calls ‘negative theology.’ I do believe, to paraphrase Yeats, that the best poets quarrel with their preconceptions. So, I don't much go for identity poetry which accentuates the poet’s victimhood. Of course, this may be well justified, politically, and it is ‘all the rage’ these days, but I do not think it makes for good poetry


Zara: I have heard you say that writing is a craft as well as an art. Could you elaborate?

AB: In my case, a poem usually begins with a charge of energy that has, somewhere within it, an idea. It can torment and even frighten me for days or more. I suppose that is the art bit. Where does it come from, the Muse, the Gods? Eventually, I am forced to sit down with pen and paper and try to put this chaos into words which may be the craft part but is never all, or fully craft. The creative process is active, involved in the craft work e.g., in prompting new images, naming, ideas, and words themselves, in the ‘vision and revision ‘of the poem. Paul Durcan told me that sometimes the Gods will give you a finished poem, one you can write down immediately. If you do not, the Gods will not look kindly on you. It happened to me a few times [ that I wrote it]. Auden says a poem is never finished; it is ‘abandoned’! It is still a great feeling to finish a poem.


Zara: You often speak of form versus content. What is the distinction and why is form so important in poetry?

AB: This is a significant question which has been debated by scholars over the decades, notably by Paul de Man in The Resistance to Theory. I can only offer my simplified, and simplistic, understanding of the question. When we speak of content, we mean the message inherent in the poem, what the poem presumes to say e.g., an aspect of the state of the world, a viewpoint, or an ideological approach. The form would be how the poem is structured, how the language of the poem, its rhythm and rhyme scheme, choice, and arrangement of words, etc, appear on the page [or through a reading] Usually the form will enhance the content through language, the approach of the poem, and images that aspire to aesthetic beauty. In good poetry form will question and challenge the grammatical, the logic, intended in the message or content of the poem -  through a rhetorical question  - [as Yeats does in the final line of ‘Among School Children’]  - or powerful image that will raise it to an imaginative reading above what is grammatically understood, that will infuse the work with magic that invokes feelings that cannot be satisfactorily said through logically accurate language. Ezra Pound argues that the presence of the concrete image ‘gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.’  The challenge of the grammatical reading of the poem will still be there, to be read as such, but, if it is good, the image will raise and liberate the poem from the influence of logic. Contemplation of the arts will free us from the pain of becoming involved in the affairs of the world. Arthur Schopenhauer says much that is interesting about this. If, when we are writing poetry, we can view the miseries of the world from a distance, so to speak, and be above the conflicts, see them, without judgement, as a lot of misguided humanity and locate ourselves at a remove from ‘the warring mice in the morgue’ we will, even if momentarily, experience that sense of ‘sudden liberation’ and, hopefully, work that approach into our poetry. Classical music may be the purest form of art as its form prevails over the content. When we talk of poetry aspiring to music, we mean in this, not necessarily the musical, sense.


ZARA: In your opinion what qualities are in Samuel Beckett’s works that sets his writings apart from others?

AB:  Beckett is so far ahead of his time that, even now, his works are not fully understood. Essentially, Beckett sees existence as a transitory affliction, where the corporeal is mired in extremes of misery. Often, wrongly, seen as pessimistic, Beckett’s greatest works, his novels Worstward Ho! and How It Is, and his dramas, especially Waiting for Godot and Endgame, see the notion of misery as a passing state that must be endured before the body is freed to enjoy the infinite, the permanence of pure, empty, language, that is language as a pure form that loses all association to content, or representation of transitory, material things whose existence cannot be definitively proved.  Worstward Ho! brings the reader on an exhaustive argument to prove the infinity of pure language and its dislocation from the material. Beckett is both an artist and a philosopher whose thinking on language exceeds anything that has been written heretofore. I have written a study of his works, The Empty Too: language and philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett, Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2014, in which these questions are discussed.

ZARA: What advice would you give to young writers starting?

AB: ‘To thine own self be true.’ You are writing because you want to put into your words some moment or event that has touched you. This moment is yours alone, only you can translate it into the words that, for you, fit. So, essentially, writing poetry is a self-centred, though not a selfish, act. You will not write for others, for an audience, or acclaim. You will dislocate yourself from your ego. Of course, it will be nice to get your work published or to meet people who will say how they like your work, this is natural, humans are social beings. Read the good poets, the ones that you like, not all of them, or even all of their poems, but read them well, over, and over, to enjoy and to see how they did it. Try to find your voice, which is a form of words with which you are comfortable, that come naturally to you. Remember Wordsworth ‘A good poem is a man [sic] speaking to men.’ Never be afraid to be different.

(Dr Arthur Broomfield is a poet, short story writer, essayist and Beckett scholar from County Laois, Ireland.)


  1. Fabulous observations and commentary.

  2. Fabulous questions fabulous answers


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