Acclaimed poet Frank Ormsby, a native of Irvinestown, was awarded the prestigious position of Ireland Professor of Poetry 2019 by the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins at a reception in Queen’s University, Belfast last Friday (September 6).

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, Mr. Ormsby commented that receiving the award means a lot to him.

“I’ve been shortlisted twice before so there has always been the possibility of winning the prize.”

He continued: “It’s a very high profile prize in Irish poetry. I think it gets presented first of all as a kind of reward for what you have done already in the way of publishing books, editing magazines, editing anthologies of poetry and so on.”

“It’s partly a recognition of all that general contribution to poetry in Ireland,” he added.

Explaining that the position of Ireland Professor of Poetry “opens up the opportunity of living in different places” Mr. Ormsby added: “My first year would be at Queen’s, the second year would be at Trinity in Dublin and the third year would be at UCD in Dublin, so it is an opportunity to meet young emerging poets from other parts of the island of Ireland.”

Mr. Ormsby commented that this opportunity of meeting poets reminds him of his time editing the magazine ‘Honest Ulsterman’.

He added: “Also it reminds me to a certain extent of putting together anthologies, where you’re looking at the poetry available and you’re trying to select what you think is the best of it.”

He continued: “Those were things that kept your finger on the pulse of what was happening. You knew what was appearing in magazines, you knew about poets before they ever appeared in book form and there’s a part of me that’s going to enjoy being in that position again.”

When asked what poetry means to him, Mr. Ormsby said: “It means a lot to me, it’s one of the most important things in my life and has been since I was 11 or 12, when I was first bitten by the poetry bug.”

He shared that poetry has been part of his life ever since, adding that it was one of the reasons why he went into teaching: “I felt that the ideal job for a poet was one in which he was in contact with poetry every day of his working life and teaching of course gave me that opportunity.”

Mr. Ormsby added: “As for what it means to me in other ways, that is terrifically hard to answer. I think that I respond to the music of poetry, the music of word. One of the harmonies in my life has been poetry.”

Talking about the power of poetry and how it is “a very important expression of the individual’s view of the world”.

Mr. Ormsby said: “So many of the poems that you read are first person poems. The word ‘I’ is very prominent and they tend to express the attitude of one particular person to the world around him or her.”

He continued: “I also thought that that was particularly important during a time of war. I think it was particularly important during The Troubles in that poetry existed and it made you hear the sound of the human voice and reminded you of the importance of human beings.”

When asked how he would promote poetry to people who don’t respond to it naturally or tend to shy away from it, Mr. Ormsby said: “I would encourage people to read accessible poetry. I’ve always written accessible poetry, it’s poetry that can go straight through to the reader, it doesn’t have to have a scholarly work written to explain it or it isn’t so obscure that people are simply scratching their heads and saying well this isn’t doing me any good because I can’t understand it to begin with.”

“Obviously it takes a bit of work and the work begins with reading as much poetry as you can and absorbing it and in those circumstances you stand a better chance of a piece of poetry becoming one of the most important things in your life,” Mr. Ormsby added.

Highlighting how he finds it interesting that people often turn to poetry when they are experiencing “great emotions,” Mr. Ormsby elaborated: “Whether it’s joy and jubilation or grief and unhappiness, they very often turn to poetry.

“People who wouldn’t otherwise think of reading a poem find themselves turning to poetry and use lyric poetry to express their feelings.”

“The musicality of poetry, especially poetry which rhymes does have a very powerful kind of effect on people,” he concluded.