A Derry born poet who will launch his debut anthology tonight in Belfast has criticized the way poetry is taught in schools - saying current methods “take all the joy” out of the art form.
Eoghan Walls who recently finished a Ph.D. in the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University, Belfast said comprehension exercises left lots of students baffled by poety and feeling stupid that they did not see the hidden meaning in literature.
“There are no hidden meanings,” he said “There is the poem, there to be taken at face value. To be enjoyed and interpreted in the way the reader wishes to interpret it. There are no big secrets to be uncovered.
“The poem has whatever depth or meaning you find in it,” he said, adding that he was frustrated that many people feel they not intelligent enough to enjoy poetry. “Poetry can be honest. It can be fun. It can have shades of dark and light - it tells stories.”
And the Derry man has many stories to tell. His new anthology ‘The Salt Harvest’ was six years in the making and covers a wide variety of topics and life experiences - including dealing with his stint in Rwanda between 1999 and 2001- just five years after the country was devastated by mass genocide.
Eoghan travelled to Rwanda with his girlfirend Leonie, who has since become his wife and he said his decision to visit Rwanda was made out of a decision “to see the world”.
Funded by the British Embassy, Eoghan was involved in building a library and a lab in the still fragile country and also helped stage the first Shakespearean play ever to run in Rwanda.
He decribes the experience as a positive one but said he was always aware that he was “merely a pawn in a post colonial world”.
“Things were still shifting - still moving and we were part of that. But it was a good experience.”
The Salt Harvest has many other influences. Eoghan does not shy away from tackling the matters closest to his heart. Although he no longer lives in his native Derry - his poems often have a Derry influence. And the subject matters are those we can all relate to - cancer, childbirth, death.
In particular Eoghan has written about the death of his beloved mother Eileen, who was a well known Derry figure.
“The book is dedicated to my mother, death is infused all through the book,” he said. But the book is not a sombre tome - combined with his moving reflections on his mother’s passing are stories about aliens, zombies, love, sex and the end of the world.
“It’s a very mixed bag,” he admits stating his believe that “it is the mark of a mature poet to write about death or other serious subjects without descending into melodrama.”
Now living in Laytown, near Drogheda, Eoghan combines writing poetry with being a doting dad to his two child Kaja (two and a half) and Roisin (four months).
He says his life in Laytown is “near perfect” but that he still has a hankering to move back to his native Derry and hopes that the City of Culture title will bring a new dawn for the city’s literary talent.
“It’s a very exciting time for Derry and of course I would love to play an active role in what the City of Culture has to bring.”
The Salt Harvest is available from Amazon or on order from Eason.