Stephanie Conn

Stephanie Conn is a former primary school teacher from Northern Ireland. She is a graduate of the MA programme at the Seamus Heaney Centre and a recipient of an Arts Council NI Career Enhancement Award. Her work has been widely published. In the last year she was highly commended in the Gregory O’Donoghue Poetry Competition and won the Yeovil Poetry Prize, the Funeral Services NI Poetry Competition and the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. Her first collection The Woman on the Other Side was recently published by Doire Press. Find out more at www.stephanieconn.org

 

Stephanie's pamphlet, Copeland's Daughter was one of the winners of the 2015/16 Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, judged by Billy Collins. 


'This collection deserves a high place in the tradition of the poet as naturalist. Precise description rendered in physical language lifts these poems off the page and into the sensory ken of the reader.  One poem, "The First Lighthouse" should be read in every classroom.' 

– Billy Collins 

 

'Stephanie Conn’s poems are exact and precise and beautifully crafted. I love that you can feel the care that was taken over each poem, the nurturing of an idea, a story, an image, into a finished satisfying coherent whole. Close observation and emotional power, held in perfect balance.'      

– Moyra Donaldson

'These tense poems narrate a search by a poet on a familial quest for lost intimate territory focused on a small landmass off the east coast of Ireland, but in reality buried deep in an interior elusive, layered and salty. But though the crossing is wanted, there is nothing expected about the discoveries: the search offers genuine surprises, not least for the poet herself, over and over again, as each poem unfolds: "The skull of a small bird,/stripped bare, reveals teeth at the end of the beak". From Voyager 2 to a butter churn, from fin whales to the naming of storms, Stephanie Conn is a gifted and astonished guide to an extraordinary island life, at once naturally familiar and psychically and irresistibly appalling.'

– Damian Smyth, Head of Literature, Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Copeland's Daughter

 

Queen ants unhook their wings, post-flight,

to find a permanent nest.

 

Lifting her tightly-stitched skirts,

she stepped on board her father's boat,

glancing back at a pair of arctic tern.

 

As kids they knew the call of every Copeland bird.

In the schoolroom they'd longed to be knee-deep

in some rock-pool or skimming stones on the shore.

 

They learned each inch of land by heart

and from his house on the hill they'd watched

the others leave, rolling their eyes in secret.

 

She crossed the Sound in silence, listening

to the waves, until the noise of feet and voices

announced dry land. Strangers congregated

 

 on the streets of Donaghadee to see them pass.

She looked to the hills. On the road to Ards

the wheels caught, spluttering dirt and dust,

 

and she glimpsed the path her brothers took.

Green fields stretched in every direction;

here, blue was reserved for sky.

 

In the windowless room forget-me-nots

drooped in the August heat. A puddle sat

in the pit of a small well, black and thick.

 

She took his hand, for this was what she knew;

before speech or sense of home, she knew this face,

this look. They signed their names in ink.

 

 

 

How did you start writing?

Poetry suddenly became relevant through grief. My mother died when I was nineteen. I was at University and surrounded by young people spreading their wings, enjoying new found freedoms and having fun – not much concerned with life and death. I felt terribly isolated and poetry provided comfort.

 

Initially, I wrote when I was deeply moved or inspired and felt driven to create some sort of written record of the experience. Needless to say, working full-time as a teacher, running a home and looking after two babies, didn’t allow all that much time for inspiration.

 

I stopped working full-time when the children were small and was determined to spend more time writing. I signed up for a distance writing course and, when the children went to bed, busied myself with writing articles and completing assignments. However, as I worked, I kept jotting down lines of poetry in a notebook. In the end, I set the articles aside and attended to the poetry.

 

I wrote in total isolation for a few years then joined a writers group and this was a big turning point. I wrote more consistently, received constructive feedback and started taking part in readings with the group and submitting work to journals and magazines.

  

I grew up in the market town of Newtownards, County Down, with my parents and younger sister and attended the local grammar school. I went on to complete a B. Ed. Hons at Stranmillis University College, Belfast, and worked as a Primary School Teacher.

 

What are your favourite poets and poems? 

What I am looking for at any given time will depend on my mood and I love discovering new poets. Rumi’s words can be simple yet so powerful; I love how Mary Oliver and Naomi Shihab Nye write tenderly about what it is to be human; Elizabeth Bishop’s attention to detail. I am a fan of Sinead Morrissey, Frances Leviston, David Harsent, Esther Morgan, Louise Gluck – I could go on and on.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver

 

Where do you mostly write? What do you do instead of writing?

I mostly write at home in my small study. My children are out at school most of the day so the house is peaceful. The downside is the distraction of things that need done in the house. I’m trying to be more disciplined in this regard.

 

When the opportunity arises to get away from it all and focus fully on my writing, I grab it with both hands. In the past I’ve been lucky enough to secure a bursary to spend several short breaks at Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Monaghan, Ireland. It’s a special place and I always get lots of work done there. Whilst writing the Copeland Poems I took myself to a small cottage on Rathlin Island, off the Antrim Coast, to write for a week. It was pure bliss.

 

When I’m not writing I am looking after the family or resting. I have fibromyalgia and the condition dictates how much I can or can’t do. I find it easier to stick the pain but the fatigue is extremely debilitating.

 

Occasionally, I facilitate writing workshops for adults and children, which I always enjoy.

 

The first collection developed one poem at a time. I didn’t set out to write a book. One poem led to another and sequences emerged. As the volume of work grew, I entered a few chapbook and pamphlet competitions. Having my poetry shortlisted and highly commended, encouraged me to keep developing the work.

In many ways the poems ordered themselves – there seemed to be a natural trajectory  when looking at the work as a whole. I moved a few pieces when there seemed to be a better fit and dropped work that felt shoe-horned in.

‘The Woman on the Other Side’ contains poems inspired by the life of Marina Tsvetayeva, ekphrastic poems and others set in the Netherlands and Tasmania.

Poet, Moyra Donaldson thinks the collection is ‘wonderfully wide ranging yet still retaining a sense of cohesion’. The reader is taken on a geographical journey but it is the emotional landscape I am most concerned with. The notion of who we are ‘on the other side’ of our experiences and our relationships.

What are you currently working on?

By the time Doire Press decided to publish ‘The Woman on the Other Side’ I was already busy with new work. I received an Artists Career Enhancement Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to research and begin writing my second collection.

 

The poems in ‘Copeland’s Daughter’ are taken from this developing collection which  its starting point as family history based on the Copeland Islands, which are off the coast of Donaghadee, where my family lived for hundreds of years. 

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