Sligo-born but Galway-based, Elaine Cosgrove already boasts an impressive list of published works, in such journals as Spontaneity, Icarus, The Bohemyth, wordlegs and The New Binary Press. Her interest in writing began, as it does with most writers, in reading; she had worked her way through most of Sligo Community Library’s poetry section before trying her hand at it herself. She didn’t share her work with anyone until her school magazine printed a piece anonymously, when Elaine was in Fifth Year. While studying English and Sociology in NUI Galway she focused on honing her poetic craft, and thereafter began sending out pieces. She says, “There was a lot of leg work involved, finding out who is out there, learning what people take/don’t take. It takes a long time and requires going to readings, talking to people and through that you get more of a sense of where to send things, and whether or not the work is ready to send.”
After a step back from writing after graduating college in 2007, 2009/2010 marked a serious return to writing and Elaine’s first big success, with one of her flash fictions being shortlisted for the Fish Publishing One-Page Story prize. Elaine followed this by entering into an MPhil. in Creative Writing in Trinity College Dublin which she completed two years ago. Since 2009, she has also been working in the community and voluntary sector (part-time) and she continues to work in Community Development in Galway. She divides her week equally between her work in Family Support and her writing, showing a dedication which is already paying off; she was named in the ‘Commended’ category of the Gregory O’ Donoghue International Poetry Prize 2014.
The year spent studying Creative Writing afforded Elaine the luxury to focus specifically on her work, developing her approach to form and structure. Poetry has always been Elaine’s predominant focus but short fiction also peppers her résumé; “It’s good for flexing your muscles,” according to Elaine. She took part in a poetry workshop with Paula Meehan which also proved very helpful and ultimately her time at Trinity provided her with a group of trusted readers with whom she can share her work and receive valuable advice.
Elaine counts Billy Ramsell among her influences but also admits that in much of her earlier work she was trying to emulate the Beat poets. “I’m influenced by the rhythm of Beat poetry; I think it matches the modern mindset.” Fascinatingly, and unexpectedly, she draws inspiration from Doom Metal, finding that the tone and beat of the music is something she wishes to recreate in poetry. The Scottish poet Robin Robertson comes closest to achieving this in Elaine’s opinion, with “the heavy delivery, and sludgy, clunky” sentences being something she greatly admires.
As to Elaine’s own work, she is concerned with introducing something new to poetry about where she lives. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading about digital poetics. There’s a tradition of it in the US and Latin America and over here it’s bubbling up through the surface. It’s about trying to write for a digital platform and writing more for the imagination and your audio / visual senses.” Collage poetry is another of Elaine’s interests, taking John Ashbery as an influence. “It’s a personal project to link information with the visual and audio.” Elaine takes photographs and adds short sentences which trigger the viewer’s imagination and lead to an array of different responses beyond the aesthetic.
Given my own focus on Gender and Sexuality within my Masters, I was keen to find out what Elaine thought about being a ‘female’ writer; admittedly, I approached the topic with caution: “It’s frustrating to look back at the history of Irish writing and the lack of recognition. I can gladly say I’ve never been described as a female writer, there is definitely a stronger recognition of female writers now, but sexism is still regular. I was in a bookshop in Kinsale, and saw a window display of Irish writers, not one of which was a woman. It’s not that they didn’t exist, they’re just written out.”
In terms of themes, Elaine looks to newspapers for inspiration, examining current events but ultimately dealing with them from a personal perspective, although not directly confessional either. “It has been pointed out to me that I write a lot about transport, but I didn’t realise that myself. I’m also fascinated with psychology, new archaeology and infrastructures. I’m starting to see psycho-geography everywhere.” Elaine cites Thomas Kinsella’s ‘Nightwalker’ (1967) as a particularly interesting description: “It describes people watching television, a blue light cast on their faces. Today, that could be laptops. There’s a comfort in what hasn’t changed and what has. There are shared experiences. I see images as portals which we can go into and I’m interested in exploring that idea.”
Another activity Elaine is involved in is Wordhaus, an informal event she created in order to bring together people from all disciplines and “to share their passions, processes and stories.” There have been appearances from people such as Mike McCormack from NUI Galway. Elaine praises the “good sense of community amongst writers in Ireland, everyone is very supportive and there’s no need to be intimidated by it.”
The best writing advice Elaine has heard was given to her by the poet and TCD professor Gerald Dawe: “Be brazen.” Elaine brought up the issue of the constant self-consciousness and worry about people’s perceptions, and how this self-editing can be paralysing. In the face of that impediment, “be brazen” is the mantra that avoids it.
When asked what is the worst advice Elaine has ever received about writing, she’s quick to respond: “When people ask you have you thought about writing a novel. You wouldn’t ask an electrician have you thought about being a plumber? I have no appetite for writing long form.” Considering the excellent short story writer Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize without ever having published a novel, why should she?
She is currently working on a manuscript which is provisionally title ‘Greening’. There is also the possibility of a PhD and it’s clear Elaine is dedicated to finding a space for her voice.
Cosgrove, Elaine. “Interview with Elaine Cosgrove.” Personal interview. 16 Jan. 2015.