Out of the Ordinary with Moya Roddy

'I always wrote poetry, but I suppose I didn’t see myself as a poet'

Moya Roddy. Photos by Mike Shaughnessy

Moya Roddy. Photos by Mike Shaughnessy

AMONG THE feast of events at next week’s Cúirt International Festival of Literature is the launch of the debut book of poems by well-known Galway writer Moya Roddy - Out Of The Ordinary, published by Salmon Poetry.

Moya has been a successful, prize-winning, author in the fields of TV, film, drama and fiction Her film, Que Sera Sera, which she wrote and directed, won a Sony Award in 1983 and the British Film Institute commissioned a full-length feature, I Prefer Freesias, in 1985. Her novel, The Long Way Home, was described as ‘simply brilliant' by The Irish Times, while her stories have been widely published.

While she has long written poetry, it is only in the past few years that she has begun to publish her verse. “The very first thing I ever published was a poem and I always wrote poetry,” Moya tells me when we meet, "but I suppose I didn’t see myself as a poet, but some years ago I became part of a writer’s group whose members had published books of poetry and they encouraged me and also the few things I had read my poetry in Galway, even though I always felt more exposed reading my poems, compared to reading my stories.”

Out Of The Ordinary is dedicated to Moya’s mother and a number of the poems in the collection vividly describe her, such as ‘The Knife’: "Each day she wielded it/to peel potatoes,/back straight,/face towards the light/the kitchen trembling as she sang 'O Solo Mio' or an aria from Butterfly/La Scala for an hour.’

Moya Roddy black and white

Moya tells me what she was like as a person: “As the poem ‘Curtain Call’ says, she passed unnoticed for most of her life. She was a very ordinary mother and housewife who didn’t work outside of the family. She had difficult health; she had eight pregnancies, but lost three. She was very loving, she was a singer and if she had been born in a different generation she might well have been a professional singer, she had a beautiful voice.

"We rubbed up against each other in ways but she was quite content in her life, and it wasn’t easy, we were poor and my father was a difficult man, and she had ill health. But she was very religious and went to Mass every day. She loved flowers and gardening, she’d carry scissors in her purse and snip flowers, our sink was always surrounded by jamjars with cuttings. She was a good woman and very kind with people. In the poem ‘Miracle’ that starts the book, she is buried beneath my dad’s coats and there is that theme of women being under men in the collection also.”

While the book’s title is Out Of The Ordinary, many of the poems delve into the ordinary of family life and evoke both the warm and painful intimacies arising from that. Moya’s parents were from Inishowen and the book vividly evokes the awkwardness of country people trying to adapt to city life. ‘Bogtrotter’ says "Don’t speak like Dublin children,/my parents warned, terrified/something alien might leach in –/missing g’s, th’s pronounced d,/would undo all the things/they’d skivvied for." ‘Family Matters’ concludes, "Years on that early shame sowed fruitful seeds/an ear for sound, a body tensed to write."

Moya Roddy close up

“I grew up in a working class road and how we spoke was very important and noticeable,” she recalls. “We were told not to speak like Dublin kids, so not to say ma and da but mammy and daddy and other kids on my road used to say they couldn’t understand my dad’s accent. I got called names at school. It wasn’t easy growing up; I came home in tears often. So I was very conscious of how people spoke, and we spoke differently, and my ears became attuned to those nuances so later when I began to write, I was always good at writing dialogue because I listened a lot so it did have a positive influence.”

A fleeting glance of Seamus Heaney on a bus gives rise to the poem ‘Crossing the River’: "I saw you once on the top/of a double-decker/stalled on O’Connell Bridge,/your well-known face against the window.”

“My father went to St Columbs in Derry, the same school Heaney went to, and had the same accent,” Moya tells me. “I met Seamus Heaney when I was chair of Galway Arts Centre and he read here for Cúirt and it was like talking to my father. I was crossing O’Connell Bridge one day and looked up and a bus was stopped and Heaney was there looking down so a poem was born.”

Out Of The Ordinary will be launched on Wednesday April 25 at 4pm, in Charlie Byrne’s along with books by Anne Casey and Paul Kingsnorth. See www.cuirt.ie

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