Irish poet Anne Casey has lived in Australia for 25 years. With a background in journalism, business publishing and government communications, Anne’s poetry output has grown exponentially in the last 2 and a half years in Ireland, Australia and internationally. She recently read at the Cuirt International Festival of Literature, Galway. Anne has just been awarded 1st Prize in the Henry Lawson Verse & Short Story Competition 2018 - Traditional Verse. She also received 3rd Place in the Women's National Book Association Poetry Competition 2018 (USA) for her poem 'Still I Rise' (after Maya Angelou) which is also one of three poems featured in the Autonomy anthology, edited by Kathy D’Arcy and published by New Binary Press, 2018. Anne’s début collection Where the Lost Things Go was published by Salmon Poetry in 2017.
When asked what brought Anne to writing and publishing poetry in 2016, she explains;
“I’ve been in publishing for 27 years - 25 of which have been in Australia, but my background is in legal and business publishing as a journalist in media communications for Government and corporate. I also ran the Enterprise Ireland office in Australia as well. I wrote and published poetry as a child, but only returned to it in the last two and a half years. ‘The Draper’ was my first published poem as an adult was in 2016 in the Irish Times. I think it was my mum’s death nearly ten years ago and having two children caused me to have this major shift in how I felt about life and prompted me to start writing poetry again. It was a way of processing what’s important. I was blown away by the response to ‘The Draper’: The Irish Times comments section online filled up and then people began contacting me Facebook. All I kept hearing was “I never cried after my own Mum died until I read that poem and then the floodgates opened.” This was a profound experience for me - I saw the power of poetry and I knew that this is what I want to do; I want to keep bringing that connection to people.”
Her poem ‘The Draper’ was the foundation for what would become the collection Where the Lost Things Go.
“Publishing ‘The Draper’ in The Irish Times connected my heart to hearts all over the world. It made me think about what I had done in that poem, recording sacred moments from your life. As an emigrant, every time I came home something had changed. I noticed all the lost things and I wanted to gather them somewhere I could keep them and possibly have this connection with readers so they can think about what their sacred memories are. That’s where the ‘In Memoriam’ sequence came from.”
Although based permanently in Australia, it was important for Anne to work with Salmon Poetry on her début collection. She explains the journey to working with them:
“I started sending work out to other countries. I wasn’t being published in Australia: I was being published in Ireland, UK, and in the USA a bit. I realised why – the voice I was writing in at that point was very Irish. That’s changed a lot now and my work has been published quite a bit in Australia and elsewhere. Because of that focus on the Irish emigrant experience the gathering of lost things I thought an Irish publisher would be the most appropriate. I’ve been aware of Salmon Poetry for a long time and what the editor Jessie Lendennie was doing: Salmon is a powerhouse for women and I knew that if anyone is going to publish me, it’s Jessie and Salmon. She’s two minutes down the road from my hometown, Milltown Malbay. I wrote her a submission letter that was almost like a poem and it was the genesis the poem ‘Seagull Dreaming’. I sent her a couple of poems including the ‘In Memorium’ sequence. I met Jessie in June 2016 which was an extraordinary experience; I went to the Salmon bookshop thinking this was an introductory meeting. I gave her another sixteen poems and she started reading them, gasping and rubbing tears from her eyes – I thought this is going well! We went up to her office where she printed out something and handed it to me: it was a ten-year publishing contract. I was beside myself, I never expected that. I signed it there and then. For such a small company Salmon support so many writers. You become part of the family and never walk away after one book. I’m already working on the next book which is scheduled for publication in 2019 which will show more of my strong political vein. There are a couple of political poems already out there, including an anti-Trump poem in Where the Lost Things Go called ‘Metaphoric Rise’ and another one which was published in The Irish Times in January this year entitled ‘The Emperor’s New Nose’ [i]. I’m very grateful to Martin Doyle, the Books Editor at The Irish Times for that. There has been another one in an Australian journal called Not Very Quiet entitled ‘In One Hundred Days’[ii]. It’s about all the amazing things that can happen in one hundred days and all the terrible and frightening things that can happen; like how many animal species are dying. The last lines are:
an old man scrawls his name seventy-nine time sand smiles
Anne doesn’t write about Australian party–politics, rather she addresses wider global issues including humanitarian crises, women’s rights, refugee rights and ecological issues. She currently has a poem in an anthology published by Plumwood Mountain to protest plans for the Adani mine[iii]. Anne explains, “This proposed mine in Queensland would be somewhere between the first and third biggest mine in the world. It would have massive devastating effects.”
Anne’s interest in humanitarian issues extends to her role of journal editor for Swinburne University’s two literary journals. The theme for the June issues is Migration and the artists’ perspective. [iv] It aims to reflect the global crisis as well as Australia’s track record of migration and refugees. Her grounding in editing and journalism, Anne feels, has affected her writing: “I really do feel the clarity and wanting to leave the reader with something comes from those. My poem 'Thank You for Shopping with Us' in the journal Corrugated Wave [v] is very journalistic. ‘In One Hundred Days’ presents a lot of facts and it’s interesting to experiment with that. I’m interested in how poetry can present a huge amount of information in shorthand – it’s so powerful to juxtapose ten or twelve really extraordinary facts in poetry. If you’re writing an article about the same facts over the space of 1000 – 2000 words you lose people but in a poem you can connect with the reader really quickly.”
Anne recently wrote a journalistic piece with a poem embedded within it for the Australian journal Verity La [vi] which was then published in The Irish Times. [vii] Anne has utilised this journalism / poetry hybrid previously in The Irish Times on the subject of being an emigrant disconnected from home. Her most recent article / poem piece, ‘Marked Women and Unmarked Graces’, addresses the pattern of how Irish women have been treated and represented, from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home scandal in Ireland to the International #MeToo Movement. It includes the poem ‘Still I Rise (After Maya Angelou, 1928-2014)’, which is also published in the Autonomy anthology, edited by Kathy D’Arcy and published by New Binary Press. Anne is extremely proud to be included in Autonomy: “I have three poems in that. I felt compelled to add my voice to the voices of women. I think there’s a potential pendulum swing backwards: look at what’s happening worldwide, there’s a real traction happening and there could be a right wing swing if we’re not careful. I hope there will be a downfall for Trump but I do worry that it’s just going to drag on and on and people will just tire and get bored of it. He has a great ability to fuzz the facts and distract. Since Trump has been in office he’s moved the line of acceptability so far right. Some people in America and around the world feel that it’s ok to come out with racist or sexist comments and actions because he’s changed the parameters of acceptability.”
Anne has also collaborated with artists in different forms. She recently worked with curator Anne Kempton and artist-curator Jane Theau on the fibre and textile exhibition Stitched Up at the Lock-Up in Newcastle, Australia, which featured work by 25 artists and an audio piece by the poet which was played throughout the space. She created twenty pieces of writing which Swinburne University has re-published as a mini collection [viii]. The exhibition told the story of the 193 girls aged between two and a half to 18 years old incarcerated in the Newcastle Industrial School between 1867 and 1871. Anne spent two months researching databases and records from Newcastle Jail, Newcastle Industrial School for Girls and newspaper articles. She found that the Industrial School was a place of massive abuses and horrendous, brutal living conditions. A lot of girls were daughters of families fleeing the Famine in Ireland and girls from other migrant backgrounds. The research showed that many of the inmates were child prostitutes, with the story of a 9 year old Irish girl with advanced gonorrhea developed in Anne’s poetry and also Jane Theau’s work in the exhibition. It was the reclaiming of voice and identity on behalf of these girls that directed Anne’s approach to this work: “I knew it had to be narrative: I really wanted to very much capture the girls’ experiences, give them a voice, recognising these girls and what happened to them, because they were lost. They themselves disappeared deliberately, changing their names over and over to evade capture, disappearing into the bush or appearing again under different names in psychiatric institutions or poor houses.” The process of installing the exhibition alongside the curators and artist gave Anne further insight into the stories of the girls: “We hung one of Jane Theau’s works in a cell and lit it. Suddenly one of the girls I had researched, a 13 year old who was in solitary confinement, Bridget McElroy from Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, was projected onto the wall. It was quite an extraordinary experience to see that and try to understand what it must have been like for her; a 13 year old being alone in that dark cell. At one stage the girls broke every window in the place because they felt they were being mistreated and they had to rebel. There were many infamous escapes as well. The industrial school was eventually closed as a result of all the trouble they were causing: it was notorious and was reported in the papers all the time. Unfortunately it meant that the girls got sent to women’s’ prisons which was more than likely an even worse outcome.”
Anne will develop this work further: “I want to take that set of 20 works and develop it into a book as well and I also want conduct further research into the ‘Irish Famine brides’. There’s quite a fascinating story there as to the place of Irish female immigrants in colonial Australia and the economy and commodification of women.”
As with the Newcastle girls and women, Anne is interested in moving between facts and personal stories and consequences of brutality on the individuals concerned. She has begun looking through archives of women who landed in Australia from Ireland as Famine Brides and were kept in a barracks in Paddington, Sydney. Between 1848 and 1850, the ‘Earl Grey Famine Orphan scheme’, called after Secretary of State for the Colonies Earl Grey, sent girls aged 14 to 20 from Ireland’s workhouses to Australia to become brides for convicts. “When they arrived they were these innocent girls with all these hopes and dreams,” Anne says. “The reality was that they were brought into a ‘cattle mart’ set-up every Friday and men would come and pick them. These men were a lot older.” Anne is careful to consider the wider context of the situation, however cruel and inhumane it was: “It was a slave market but it was also an escape from the Famine. One in five people who made the 80-day journey to Australia at that time died and one in four people died in quarantine after they arrived. The odds of making it to Australia alive and then having a ‘happily-ever-after’ marriage to an ex-convict were immense. Of the 200 girls whose stories I’ve read so far, there was maybe one that seemed to be happy in her marriage and even at that for her story was really brutal.”
Another collaboration Anne recently worked on was ‘Monologue Adventure’[ix], devised by Australian Director Lliane Clarke. Anne’s monologue was one of 12 monologues by different writers selected for production and performance on stage by professional actresses. The brief was to write a monologue in a woman’s voice under one the themes of Triumphs, Secrets, Longings and Endings. Anne’s work for this, in particularly the final monologue, ‘Cup in hand’ ties in with the working theme for her next collection. Anne sums up: “I would see it as being a core part of the next book, which will look at human – in particularly female - relationships and what it means to be female. Of course I will meander into politics as well - because that’s who I am.”
Where the Lost Things Go can be purchased here: