This month Trasna is featuring writers participating in Words Ireland National Mentoring Programme. Every year, 22 emerging writers are selected for the program in the areas of literary fiction, creative non-fiction, children’s/YA fiction, and poetry. Each are paired with mentors.
Featured this week is poet Mark Roper, who acted as a mentor in the 2019 Words Ireland National Mentoring Programme. Here is how he understands his role as a mentor to writers:
I have worked as a teacher of creative writing for some 30 years. I worked mainly with adult education classes, but I have worked in many different settings, with many different age groups. Indeed my joke was that the only people I didn’t work with were the unborn and the dead, and that was only a matter of time!
For some 10 year I worked as a mentor with the Carlow College, Pittsburgh, MFA in Creative Writing, which involved more intensive one-to-one work with students. Lately I have done similar work for Words Ireland.
I’m often asked can Creative Writing be ‘taught’. My standard answer would be No, it can’t actually be taught as such – but it can be encouraged. I saw myself essentially as an Encourager. My role was to create the conditions for students to write. When they had written something and shared it with me, that’s where I could really help. By encouragement I mean showing a student what works in their poem or story, praising that carefully, showing how to develop it. It’s a two-way process, you work with what the student brings you.
Showing someone what you’ve written always takes courage. I always regard it as a great privilege when someone trusts me with something they’re written, especially if it’s the first thing they’ve written.
My view of creative writing is that it’s a very natural human activity. People write for all sorts of reasons, but I think it usually involves, in some way, what Philip Larkin called, in his poem ‘Church Going’, “a hunger to be more serious.”
My favourite poem on the subject is from the New Zealand poet Bill Manhire – widely regarded as an inspiring creative writing teacher! Mark Roper
by Bill Manhire
I tick the death of Angela’s father.
I query the way Fitch fell in love.
Ken has too many sisters; maybe he
needs a stronger mother.
Craft, we say. Life. How can we
make this better.
Sleeping with the Kingfisher
Its appearance in the bed wasn’t surprising.
Giraldus said a dead one kept linen fresh.
No, what surprised was the size of the thing
and the way it hugged me close to its breast.
To feel its bill run the rule down my spine.
To be enfolded in sapphire wings. Surprising.
How much more so to wake and find myself ablaze,
my heart the blue seed in a blossom of flame.
Where Does It Hurt
River hidden in the wood,
do you mean us harm or good.
Cicada, without your song,
days are colder, nights long.
Why, Aspen Leaf, do you tremble
when there’s no wind at all.
Your flight, Swallow, cannot mend
this torn world it seems to mend.
O Mother put on the kettle –
I am certain of so little.
Bell you strike the hour of eight.
We all know it’s getting late.
Open, Beetle, your lovely back,
try to show us what we lack.
Loving scarf of Atmosphere
we pluck your threads, we interfere.
Grass prepare your sharpest blade.
They say it’s time our debts were paid.
Third planet from the sun,
what have we done, what have we done.
More Than Ever
Now more than ever, swallow,
is the time to come, up the river
and over the field.
Now, rook, the time to know
your ramshackle basket of twig
holds its fragile trove.
Blackcap, this moment more than ever
we need your hidden delivery,
sudden mad burst of song.
Gorse, your rich and delicate perfume.
Dandelion, your cloth of gold.
Thrush, do not fail us now, sling
your fervent prayer into the wind,
into the driving rain.
Primrose, please, keep sketching your soft circles.
Above a still lake of bluebell,
unfurl, beech tree, your tender leaf.
More than ever, moon, your shining example.
More than ever, pebble, your patience.
Mark Roper’s latest poetry collection Bindweed, Dedalus Press (2017), was shortlisted for The Irish Times Poetry Now Award. A Gather of Shadow (2012) was also shortlisted for that Award and won the Michael Hartnett Award in 2014. With photographer Paddy Dwan, he has published The River Book, The Backstrand, and Comeragh. He has written 2 librettos for operas composed by Eric Sweeney.
‘Sleeping with the Kingfisher’ is collected in Even So: New and Selected Poems.
‘Where Does It Hurt’ and ‘More Than Ever’ are new poems.
Poetry collections Even So, 2008, A Gather of Shadow, 2012, and Bindweed, 2017, are available from Dedalus Press: https://www.dedaluspress.com/bookshop/
The River Book, The Backstrand and Comeragh are available from: