Contributor Spotlight: Judy Ireland

Judy Ireland’s poems, “Bowls of Rocks, Bowls of Stones;” “Holding Hands for Fifteen Hundred Years;” and “Sea Heart, Water Vine,” appeared in our Summer ’16 issue and can be read here.

JIreland_BW_Photo.jpgTell us a little about “Bowls of Rock, Bowls of Stone.”

I was working in my kitchen one day when I realized I was the inheritor of a number of bowls that belonged to women who had died, but who come alive again to me, each time I touch their bowls.  As I wrote “Bowls of Rock, Bowls of Stone,” I understood how much I inherited from these women – their alchemic creativity, their ability to conjure sustenance for themselves and others.  The poem became a tribute to them.  The bowl is such an ancient symbol, evocative of the womb, of the breast, of medicine, even.  All those meanings are held fast by the rocks and stones, the hardness and strength with which we must meet the challenges of our short, and often brutal, lives.

What was most difficult about writing these poems?

I am in love with and terrified of blank pages.  I’m curious and frightened by what might appear on them as I write or type.  If I write something on the page, I can never un-think it; it will be there, and I’ll have to deal with it.  Encountering that first draft is the hard part.  Revision is difficult, but happens at a greater distance, and others can help me with it.  That initial encounter has to be done alone, in solitude, at great cost.  At least, that’s how the best poems arrive, in my experience.

Recommend a book for us which was published within the last decade.

Marilyn Nelson’s Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 is a treasure trove of work by one of our nation’s foremost poets.  She is a brilliant storyteller, a truth-teller who goes for the details of life upon which joy, sorrow, injustice, and strength hinge.  I was fortunate to attend a workshop led by Marilyn Nelson at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in 2006, shortly after her book, A Wreath for Emmet Till was published.  Her poems brought new life to the sonnet form for me, and I am still – nine years later – in awe of her abilities.

If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be?

I’d like to have a drink with Kim Addonizio.  She’s fierce and funny and awesome, and I’d love to hear about her experiences in the poetry and publishing worlds.  Her book, Ordinary Genius, is like a shot of creative “vitamin B12,” with exercises that go beyond the usual writing prompts.  She also released a book of short stories last year, The Palace of Illusions, and I’d love to know more about her transition from verse to fiction.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

I’m working on a second poetry manuscript, to include poems written after the poems in my first book, Cement Shoes, published in 2014.  That book dealt with the things that weigh us down and try to hold us back (as well as those things that spur us forward) as we traverse our growing years, work lives, loves, and losses.  It also had to do with internalized landscapes, how landscapes imprint themselves and continue on within us, even years after we’ve changed our geography.  The second collection will revisit some of those topics, but I hope to bring a new voice and a new wisdom to bear on them.  And there are new things happening every day that require poetry.  I’m doing the work, and I hope to share it soon.

Our thanks to Judy for taking the time to answer a few questions and share her work. Read her three stunning poems here:


Born and raised in the Midwest, Judy Ireland’s poetry benefits from the verdancy and barefaced authenticity of that working class culture which keeps her work grounded and focused in the ordinary world where extraordinary ideas reside with great subtlety and power. Her first book, Cement Shoes, won the 2013 Sinclair Poetry Prize from Evening Street Press. Her poems have been published in Hotel Amerika, Calyx, Saranac Review, Cold Mountain, and Folio.