Teaching regularly has made me an even more adept reader, I think. The kind of teaching I do is more like editing than anything else. The kind of editing book editors used to do before lunch. The kind of editing I used to do as a radio documentary maker.
I suppose for whatever reason I actively welcome being put down, something which perhaps goes back to my upbringing – that accusation of not being worthy which could be laid at one's door.
I was reared on American TV and films. There was a huge sense of occasion about going to the cinema in Moy in the late 1950s and early '60s, and I absolutely loved those Hollywood sword-and-sandal movies like Ben-Hur and the dime-a-dozen cowboy-and-Indian films, as we then referred to them.
I spent about five years stuck in a room between the ages of 16 and 20 while I wrote the first book, which came out when I was 21. I should have been out playing tennis.
I think poetry, rather than suffering, is more and more sufficient to the needs of our society. It's one of the reasons so much of it is, for want of a better term, 'surreal.'
Believe it or not, one of the first poets I was aware of was Yeats. I recited 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' at a verse speaking competition when I was eight or nine.
I don't shape trends, I'd say. I merely reflect them. I think the emphasis is on 'them.' I like variety in poetry. I love how it comes in so many guises. As rock lyric, as rap, as note on a fridge.
I was born in Northern Ireland in 1951. I lived most of my life there until 1986 or 1987.
I do believe that we've a responsibility to try to acknowledge the range, both geographic and graphic, of what's happening in poetry in English. I'm interested in poems that are first-rate. After that, I'm not too concerned if they come from Queens or Queensland.
Frost isn't exactly despised but not enough people have worked out what a brilliant poet he was.
At high school, instead of the weekly essay, I would write a poem, and the teacher accepted that. The impulse was one of laziness, I'm certain. Poems were shorter than essays.
For whatever reason, people, including very well-educated people or people otherwise interested in reading, do not read poetry.
I read a lot of nineteenth-century French poetry. And Irish poetry from the ninth century on.
What I try to do is to go into a poem – and one writes them, of course, poem by poem – to go into each poem, first of all without having any sense whatsoever of where it's going to end up.
That's one of the great things about poetry; one realises that one does one's little turn – that you're just part of the great crop, as it were.
The ground swell is what's going to sink you as well as being what buoys you up. These are cliches also, of course, and I'm sometimes interested in how much one can get away with.
One is constantly trying to figure out what came together in one's childhood. Lots of people spend significant portions of their lives in therapy – especially in the States – trying to work out who they are. I'm certain there is a little of that in the business of writing. That would explain why certain images and themes recur.
I live in New Jersey now, which always gets a bad rap here and there, but I must say, I enjoy living here too.
Poetry is as vital as ever. The teaching of poetry reading, however, is sluggish and, often, slovenly. It needs to be expanded in the school curriculum and be more a feature of society at large. The newspapers should all be carrying a daily poem. It should be as natural as reading a novel.
The other side of it is that, despite all that, people reach out to poetry at the key moments in their lives.
Your average pop song or film is a very sophisticated item, with very sophisticated ways of listening and viewing that we have not really consciously developed over the years – because we were having such a good time.
I met Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley on the same day in 1968. I was sixteen at the time. Very exciting. They were reading at Armagh. One of my teachers brought me to meet them, introduced me, and I became friends with them.
The best thing anybody has ever done is to advise me against publishing a poem that shows me at less than my best, such as it is. That's the kind of advice most of us resist but really should relish.
On the other hand, at some level the mass of unresolved issues in Northern Ireland does influence the fact that there are so many good writers in the place.
Obviously one of the things that poets from Northern Ireland and beyond – had to try to make sense of was what was happening on a day-to-day political level.
I believe that these devices like repetition and rhyme are not artificial, that they're not imposed, somehow, on the language.
Living at that pitch, on that edge, is something which many poets engage in to some extent.
The best poems come from the world, go through the poet, and go back in to the world.
One will never again look at a birch tree, after the Robert Frost poem, in exactly the same way.