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The Metaworker Podcast | 015 The Borderland Furies by Oisín Breen

Episode Description:

Matthew, Elena, and Mel talk with Oisín Breen about his poem “The Borderland Furies” and about his new book of poetry, Lillies on the Deathbed of Étaín, published by Beir Bua Press. We discuss how to approach reading poems that we don’t understand on a first read, a reader’s interpretation of a poem vs. the author’s intention, and looking at the world from different angles to find writing inspiration. We ask Oisín how he finds time to write and what his process of writing a book of poetry entails, then the discussion turns philosophical as we discuss the concept of one’s self changing over time, and Plato’s concept of the idealized form of objects.

Author Bio:

Irish poet, doctoral candidate, and journalist, Oisín Breen, a Best of the Net Nominee, is published in 105 journals in 20 countries, including in Agenda, North Dakota Quarterly, Books Ireland, About Place, Door is a Jar, Northern Gravy, Decomp, and The Tahoma Literary Review. Breen’s second collection, Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín has just been released to growing acclaim through Beir Bua Press (2023). It follows his critically well received debut, ‘Flowers, All Sorts, in Blossom…’ (Dreich, 2020).

Referenced in this episode: 

The Borderland Furies by Oisín Breen on The Metaworker website

Mourning by Oisín Breen on The Metaworker website

Lillies on the Deathbed of Étaín, Oisín’s newest book of poetry

Beir Bua Press – Oisín’s publisher, and publisher of post-avant, visual poetry collections

Flowers, all sorts in blossom, figs, berries, and fruits, forgotten – Oisín’s first book of poetry

Dublin & the Loose Footwork of Deity – a poem from Flowers, all sorts in blossom, figs, berries, and fruits, forgotten

Plato and the theory of forms

Book & Author Recommendations:

The Employees by Olga Ravn

Róisín Ní Neachtain, Irish writer and artist (Twitter @orphicreview)

W. Scott Howard, poet (Twitter @wscotth)

Episode Transcript:

Matthew Maichen (00:00):
Hello. This is the Metaworker Podcast, and I am Matthew Maichen, editor-in-chief.

Elena L. Perez (00:08):
Hi, I’m Elena Perez. I’m the managing editor.

Melissa Reynolds (00:13):
And I’m Melissa Reynolds, also an editor.

Matthew Maichen (00:16):
And we are here with Oisín Breen, who is going to read his poem for us, “The Borderland Furies”. Take it away whenever you’re ready.

Oisín Breen (00:31):
Good evening to everyone by the by. It’s a pleasure to take part in this Metaworker podcast. I’m going to read to you my poem, “The Borderland Furies”. So without further ado, “The Borderland Furies”. On questioning circumstance; One must accept that it is often mere collision. That it is neither the (un)holy they, nor a waxwork trinity, at fault for the collusion of the elements and those of happenstance. That it is circumstance, history, and its capital H, that brings humanity to the long and bitter march. It is a cold evening. It is wild and full of possibility. It was, and is, always thus. But on questioning ourselves; We look away. Rudderless and keeling. Unable to answer. It is a cold evening. It is wild and full of possibility. It was, and is, ever thus. But tonight, all that we have left are the embers of life, and we, dexterously, using the poker as masterful shepherd would crook, shift them and the traces of what might have been. And tonight, as we lie before sleep, our toenails digging into our neighbours’ skin, we can but laugh at those who arrived too late, and now sleep beneath us, on cold pavement slab. But tonight, as we rock, and sway, and hear a million others stuff their lungs with gravelled air, we must remember that we end because we are unending. This is the black bleak extant. It is wild and full of possibility. It will ever be thus.

Matthew Maichen (02:13):
Thank you. Thank you so much. That was a performance. Wow. I appreciate that a lot. So, let’s try to unpack this one. This, for me—I will just start out straight away—this is one of those poems. We get poems that are very, very clear and poems that are very straightforward, and we get poems that are not that, and this is very firmly in the category of not that. But I do love the wording so much and the way that it just flows so well. We had some really deep discussions, I remember, about what this might mean, what makes this poem powerful, even when you don’t necessarily understand everything that’s going on in it offhand. So, I’m curious about that. This is a really good question in general. If you do not fully understand a poem, and in this case, this poem, what is it that makes it still impactful and still powerful and still something that you want to accept?

Melissa Reynolds (03:32):
For myself, I tend to focus on the images that the poem brings to me and my own connections that I can make. A lot of times that’s different for each reader, but for any one poem, if I can’t make some type of connection to it, then that’s when I have a little bit more of a difficult time saying, ‘yes, this is absolutely something I would like to publish’. But with this poem, there’s a wildness to it that, having it read aloud, became even more apparent. The way I read it was very different, much more, I guess, low key. So, it was awesome hearing the author read it.

Elena L. Perez (04:20):
What stuck out to me was the repetition. When Oisín was reading it, it kind of felt like a beat. Like a drumbeat, kind of. It’s that kind of chorus, I guess, you know, that you keep returning to that makes it feel like there’s some deeper truth that it’s trying to pull out from the poem. And the words themselves are very vivid and very alive. For example, “using the poker as masterful shepherd would crook” or, you know, “our toenails digging into our neighbor’s skin”. It’s just very visceral. The images, as Mel was saying, that are evoked in this poem and the words that were chosen gave it that impact to kind of clue me into what this was speaking about.

Matthew Maichen (05:11):
Mm-hmm. For my answer to this question, I really think that it is that there are certain things that clue you in. I’m gonna jump on one of the things that Elena said. I am not 100% confident in what is happening, but I know on a visceral human level that it is meaningful. I know that what I am reading, and in this case, what I am hearing, is something that matters. And I know that it’s something that…where the author is sharing real, important thoughts. In this case, it really is… If I can jump onto the next topic, which is the answer to the question, right? If we are not 100% confident of what it means, what do we think it means? And for me, I’ll start by answering that one because I won’t immediately put everyone else up to that right away. I think that the ‘we’ is everyone, right? That’s the easiest thing to posit, right? The ‘we’ is humanity. And I’m pretty sure that what we are talking about here is fate. I think that it is perhaps at its clearest in the beginning, and then it gets a little bit muddier as it goes on because it says, “on questioning circumstance, one must accept that it is often mere collision”. I think that’s the poem at its absolute clearest. That is, it’s stating its premise as clearly as it’s gonna state it. Then you get, “that it is neither the (un)holy they, nor a waxwork trinity, at fault for the collusion of the elements and those of happenstance”. And that’s obviously where it gets immediately, like, ‘whoa, what?’ I think that though, when you look at it in that context, it becomes clear that what we are talking about is fate and the idea that there is no control over fate. We imagine that there is a control over fate. We imagine that there is some kind of guiding light or guiding hand, and obviously that gets into religious discussions, that gets into theology, because some people very much do believe that. But, the position that this poem is presenting is that we are “rudderless”, to use a direct word from the poem. I’m pretty sure for me that’s what it is. But I’m curious if I have that right or if there is anything that anyone else would want to add.

Elena L. Perez (08:12):
Yeah, that was pretty much my reading as well. And I would add that it’s not just about people, but also about nature in general. You know, nature being both beautiful and harsh at the same time. And like I was saying before, the word choice reinforces that idea because you have these visceral images, the toenails digging into the neighbor’s skin. That kind of put me in mind of, you know, ‘well, we see what’s happening to our neighbors, we see our neighbors fate’, like you were saying, Matthew. And we’re kind of glad sometimes that it’s not happening to us if it’s a bad thing or vice versa, you know, we see the happy fate that our neighbors are experiencing, and we have happy fate as well. So, kind of that balance, I think, of just observing what is happening around us and seeing that in either a good or a bad way. It’s both good and bad, beautiful and harsh. The balance is what I what I liked about this and kind of how I read this as being about.

Melissa Reynolds (09:25):
I kind of see a little bit of both of what you guys are saying, like the stanza about questioning ourselves brings it to a more introspective space. So, I feel like there’s some big event that is related to fate, and then when looking at ourselves, we don’t have the answer. To me, those lines about what is and will always be is kind of that nature- slash-primal part of ourselves that gives us the answer that we can’t sometimes find for ourselves.

Matthew Maichen (10:01):

Melissa Reynolds (10:02):
Yeah. I like that appeal to, I call it the lizard brain, almost. [laughs] So, that’s what it makes me think of.

Elena L. Perez (10:10):
Exactly. Yeah. That’s a good way of putting it. [laughs]

Matthew Maichen (10:14):
And when you look at it in light of that interpretation and in light of Elena’s saying that it is both a good and a bad thing, right? The ending just comes off so strong. The final stanza, “This is the black bleak extant. It is wild and full of possibility. It will ever be thus”. And, you know, possibility is such a neutral, ambiguous term. Possibility is everything. It’s wild. Again, ambiguous term that covers everything. “It is wild and full of possibility”. We can’t condemn it as unfair. We also can’t call it fair. We can’t call it anything. It just is this chaos. So, I really appreciate that.

Elena L. Perez (11:11):
And it’s so exciting, that last stanza, because it’s been repeated two times before. It just drives home the point that there are so many possibilities, and you don’t know if it’s gonna be a good possibility or a bad possibility. And that’s what makes it exciting.

Matthew Maichen (11:29):
Yeah. And just for the record, if there are any freshman English students listening to this, I wanna let you know that when we talk about poetry and appreciating poetry, I think the number one roadblock that a lot of people have is not being comfortable starting from a place of not understanding. Because with this poem, I can 100% guarantee you I started from a place of not understanding at all. Even now, I had to look over it as Oisín was reading it and kind of rediscover it again. I think that a lot of people get hung up on, ‘oh, I don’t understand it’, and then they just stop there. I have learned, definitely over the years, reading a lot of poetry for this lit mag that the key is being comfortable starting with, ‘oh, I don’t understand’. And then being willing to believe that, ‘okay, but I can. I just have to, like, really look at it and maybe read it over like four times or whatever, and, you know, put in that work and then I can understand’.

Melissa Reynolds (12:46):
Well, and I think the whole point of poetry is that both the poet brings their own meaning to it, but the reader also constructs their meaning. So, the poet may intend one thing, but I come up with my own interpretation, which I think in the end, all parties have to be comfortable with both of them being okay. [laughs] You know, like it’s okay that maybe my meaning is different than what’s intended.

Matthew Maichen (13:15):
Mm-hmm. And it’s okay to kind of get it, too. It’s okay to be, like, ‘okay, I am 70% sure of this’ and to present that as a point of view. Because there are definitely points where we’ve been discussing poems, and I have realized as we have gotten to the discussion, ‘oh, crap, I actually totally misinterpreted that poem, and other people have it right and I don’t, and that’s just plainly obvious now that I look at it again’. But that’s okay. That just happens sometimes.

Elena L. Perez (13:51):
And that’s the key too, I think, to have somebody to talk about it with. Find someone who has read the same poem, show them the poem, be like, ‘read this. I wanna know what you think’. And then, yeah, have that discussion. We’re really lucky that we get to have that. Just finding that I think is important, too.

Matthew Maichen (14:10):
Mm-hmm. Anyway, I wanna get back to this particular poem. I think that so much of the wording gets that idea across so well. Elena mentioned repetition. I’m gonna admit straight up that normally repetition is such a kiss of death for me. I see repetition and I’m like, ‘oh, you just didn’t think of another phrase here that that’s what this is’. But this does it so purposefully and it’s really such a good example of how in art, even the things that we get annoyed by, our pet peeves, can be done well in a way that serves the piece. Is there anything that we want to say before we open it up and start asking direct questions of Oisín?

Elena L. Perez (15:13):
Actually, I do wanna just say, I really like the distinction between, in the last line of the first stanza, “circumstance, history, and its capital H”. I like that distinction, that there’s a lowercase history and there’s an uppercase history, because those are two distinct things, and I like that that’s acknowledged in this piece.

Matthew Maichen (15:33):
Oh, I really like that you pointed that out because…Yeah, I did just read a book recently about our construction of history [that] was really fascinating. But yeah, you’re right. That is a whole thing that I do not have time to get into, how history is constructed, but this poem fully acknowledges it in so few words, and that is really cool. You’re right.

Elena L. Perez (15:57):

Matthew Maichen (15:59):
Anyway, I want to open it up to Oisín. So, I will ask you the very first traditional question. How does it feel to have your work discussed like this while you’re in this, you know, fly on the wall mode just listening to it?

Oisín Breen (16:21):
Oh, great fun. I love this. I’m—how would I put it? I’m not sure everyone who says they’re a believer in it is a believer in it, but…in fact, I’m certain they’re not. But I am a believer in that when a work is finished, you don’t own it. Your job is to serve it and then release it and to tend it, to garden it, to look after it. So, I mean, I really enjoy it. I think it’s great fun to deconstruct things. It’s great fun to edit things collaboratively. I mean, I work as a journalist, so I’m used to an editor occasionally writing to you and going, ‘that’s just terrible word choice’. And deconstructing everything you just wrote, who wants to—this is for the journalism—you know, wanting to hit you over the head with a hammer. So, I love it. I think it’s great fun to see how other people’s sense of structure and melody and music and sense, comes at work that you’ve had a part in creating.

Matthew Maichen (17:13):
Thank you. I appreciate that. So, the other traditional question we typically ask here is, what was it in particular that brought you to The Metaworker? I think it’s a particularly pertinent question since we published you about four times. So, you came back.

Oisín Breen (17:31):

Matthew Maichen (17:31):
What was it that brought you to us originally and afterward?

Oisín Breen (17:39):
Oof. I suppose originally…I suppose you know yourself, when you’re writing, part, unfortunately, of the literary game is to establish a breadth of places that have published you. It’s an annoying and frustrating part, but it is a part, so you need to look around and see what’s out there. On yourselves, the thing that struck me was that, honestly, first off was just you’re professionally designed. You publish nice poetry. I thought my work would fit. You seem to take care of the work, give it space, give it breath. You didn’t overpublish. You didn’t…I mean, for example, one thing I would never, ever submit to an online literary magazine that published all the poems on one page. There’s a lot of them that do it. I just never would. I think that’s insulting to the writer. So, I think you give the writer the space and kindness they deserve. I think you present it professionally, and I think you deal with them professionally. And I came back cause I just thought you were really nice. I liked how it was done. I liked your presentation, I liked working with you, and I thought it was cool.

Matthew Maichen (18:42):
Thank you. We really appreciate that.

Elena L. Perez (18:45):
That’s really nice to hear. Thank you. Thank you.

Matthew Maichen (18:50):
So, what I’ve noticed about your work, since we’ve had this ability to see the breadth of it, is you cover a lot of different ideas. How would you describe your work to someone who has never read it?

Oisín Breen (19:09):

Matthew Maichen (19:10):
And I know that’s a hard question. What makes something an Oisín Breen poem?

Oisín Breen (19:20):
Oof. Musical, rhythmic, playful, aggressive, but not always certain, sensual, tactile, visceral, and something that tends to deal with the largest and the smallest parts of our lives. Preferably from an angle we don’t always look at. It’s also probably helpful to say what I don’t do and what I don’t do is focus on day-to-day events or my own personal feelings at all. I don’t write about me, ever. Yeah.

Matthew Maichen (20:11):
Yeah. And that is interesting because you’re right. And I think that sometimes when you answer that question, it says a lot about the work itself, just how you answer it. Because I find it really interesting that you started with all these one word responses…

Oisín Breen (20:28):
Mm hmm.

Matthew Maichen (20:28):
…that were very well chosen words that got across a lot of distinct ideas that are combined in these interesting ways.

Oisín Breen (20:44):
Mm hmm.

Matthew Maichen (20:44):
I do find it really interesting, ’cause I would back you up on saying that, ‘yes, you are right.’ Obviously, you’re the authority on your own work, but…

Oisín Breen (20:52):

Matthew Maichen (20:52):
…you are right. There is something that I find really interesting about the writing of very large things beyond yourself and being very playful about it. But also there is this…I would say there’s this dualistic playfulness and mournfulness sometimes that I see. Like I do see mourning…

Oisín Breen (21:19):

Matthew Maichen (21:19):
…sometimes. I really appreciate that you can do both those things.

Melissa Reynolds (21:25):
I would also like to point out how impressive it is that you are able to come up with all of that on the spot.

Oisin Breen and Matthew Maichen (21:31):

Melissa Reynolds (21:33):
Because if someone were to ask me the same question about my writing, I would be like, ‘I’ll get back to you in a couple days’.

Oisin Breen and Matthew Maichen (21:40):

Matthew Maichen (21:43):
So, I think that’s a really natural segue into the next thing I was gonna ask you, ’cause you say you never write about yourself. It’s true that I’ve noticed these topics about nature, our relationship to reality and fate in this case…

Oisín Breen (22:01):

Matthew Maichen (22:02):
…grief, mourning, these existential concepts. Wha is it that inspires you to write?

Oisín Breen (22:13):
Oh, sure. I mean, I think the honest answer for almost anyone who’s a writer is they may have originally been inspired—maybe when they were 16, maybe under 21—but after a while, you write because if you don’t write, you feel rubbish that you are not writing. You just sort of have to do it because it is what you do. [laughs] It’s just become an integral process of you. So what inspires me? I think I can be inspired now to play with certain forms or towards certain ideas to write about, but what inspires me to write is that if I don’t write, I feel bad. I know that’s a very strangely mundane answer.

Matthew Maichen (22:56):

Oisín Breen (22:56):
But that’s why I write. ‘Cause I have to now. [laughs]

Elena L. Perez (23:03):
No, we, we all feel the same. We actually had that exact conversation in one of our previous podcasts. So, right there with you. [laughs]

Oisín Breen (23:12):
Yeah. I guess more specifically—and that is a great answer—at what point does something hit you, a topic hit you, the right way, where you just think, ‘okay, I’m writing a poem about this’? Because you’re right, a lot of people do write about themselves and you admitted that you don’t. A lot of people write, I think poetry especially because they’re overcome by this really deep emotion that they have to get out.

Oisín Breen (23:42):

Matthew Maichen (23:42):
And you’re writing about these really big concepts. So, at what point does that hit you in a certain way where it’s just like, ‘okay, I’m writing a poem about this, I’m doing it’. How does that happen for you?

Oisín Breen (23:54):
Okay. Um, let’s see. I suppose there’s three different ways. Way one would be, kind of, I suppose for some of the work I do that’s often more naturalistic, but not always, which I kind of tentatively in my brain call ‘still lives’. Usually that’s a nugget of information or seeing something from a slightly different angle and going, ‘oh, holy, I never thought about that’. So, for example, I’ve got a strange poem that is about four traumatized ducks. It’s…yeah, I know, right?

Matthew Maichen (24:27):

Oisín Breen (24:27):
I was looking at a picture of these four ducks—two kind of teenage ducks and, you know, two mama ducks—kind of looking at them and I’m like, ‘hang on, how many ducks are in the average duck brood’? So, I looked it up and, you know, it’s like something like twelve. Twelve is in an average duck brood. And I’m like, ‘holy shit. At the end of…you know, autumn hitting, how many of those ducks survive?’.

Matthew Maichen (24:50):

Oisín Breen (24:50):
So, I started looking into it and, you know, you have like this mass duck death. Every year, millions of little baby ducks die. So, I wanted to research that and then research the causes, from pike to seagulls to….just a million little reasons ducklings don’t make it. I saw that as fascinating to consider that by the end of the year, the term, you’re gonna have a mother duck, a couple of ducks, and they’ve literally experienced the entire slaughter of a family over six months. And we never look at them that way. So I thought, the moment I realized that, that became a poem, that became something I had to write because it’s an unusual and new take and it had me sit up on my chair. So, if it makes me sit up on my chair, I suppose I feel like I have to write it. The other ones are if I’m literally just having a conversation with someone, and again, there’s that kind of ‘aha, this is a way I haven’t thought about something before’, then I’ll make a note of it, send a text message to myself, usually, then when I get time I’ll go with that. So, I always have a list of things that are what I wanna work on. But sometimes when I don’t, I use a file I keep, ’cause I do believe in ‘Kill Your Darlings’. So, even if there’s phrases I really like in work that I’m writing, removing it makes the work better, even if I like it, so I’ll rip it out and I put it in this file. So, sometimes I’ll just make collages. I take a couple of lines out of these things, twist them around, play with them, and you know, that’s just, I’ll sit down for five or six hours and see what shape comes out of smashing things against each other until there’s a moment where there’s a song and then I’ll just go with it.

Elena L. Perez (26:40):
I like that. That’s a good way of putting it. Yeah. The [laughs] the ducks. You’re right. We don’t think of that. Well, we always see the cute little fluffy baby ducklings. I like that take on it. I mean, that’s why a lot of students get the advice, you know, go to museums and expand your horizon. Look at different forms of art because it makes you look at the world in a different way, exactly like you’re doing. So yeah, I appreciate that. That’s great.

Matthew Maichen (27:08):
I do have a follow up question. That dead baby duck poem, was that “Mourning”?

Oisín Breen (27:14):
No. No, no, no. That’s in my new book. The title is a joke based on, you know, witticism to Flann O’Brien. It’s called, “At Swim, Two Pair”. But no, it’s in my new collection. It’s one of the shorter works.

Matthew Maichen (27:27):
Interesting. Because we actually did publish a piece by you called “Mourning” that had a lot to do with dead birds.

Oisín Breen (27:37):

Matthew Maichen (27:38):
In this case, it was gulls not ducks. So, I was curious about that.

Oisín Breen (27:43):
That’s a true story.

Matthew Maichen (27:43):

Oisín Breen (27:45):

Matthew Maichen (27:45):
Ooh, that’s a sad story.

Oisín Breen (27:48):
[laughs] Yeah.

Matthew Maichen (27:49):
I’m glad that we’re talking about it so vaguely ’cause that inspires people to go to the site and look at “Mourning” by Oisín Breen.

All (27:57):

Matthew Maichen (27:57):
Anyway, you mentioned your book.

Oisín Breen (28:00):

Matthew Maichen (28:00):
So, you have an upcoming book, I believe.

Oisín Breen (28:03):
Just out.

Matthew Maichen (28:04):
Oh, just out. And by the time the podcast comes out, probably out for a bit, but do you wanna talk about it?

Oisín Breen (28:10):
Yeah, I’d love to. It’s called “Lillies on the Deathbed of Etain”. It’s a collection by a really cool little Irish press that, I suppose if any of your listeners do write avant garde work, you should check them out. Beir Bua—b-e-i-r b-u-a. It’s Irish for, um—God, I should remember this, but I can’t. Part of it’s victory. Bua is victory. And the book, it’s—how would I put it? It’s two long pieces, one of which is very experimental, and four shorter pieces, one of which is the duck poem. Actually, two of the four, one of them is about puffins. It’s a romp. It’s extraordinarily musical. The first piece is what inspired the book and it’s quite experimental and unusual and it’s actually strangely inspired by going to…my oldest friend’s mother died and I went to the funeral, of course, being my oldest friend. He was a standup guy about it. Like, the way he dealt with it, the way he chaperoned everyone else, the way he looked after everyone. He was joking. You know, it was amazing how together it was, not in a repression way, but just really held together. But then at the actual committal…so, when you’re bringing someone in for cremation, when the curtain, the final curtain, is pulled once and then twice. When the second curtain was pulled, it was like all the sadness he’d been carrying with him for several years, ’cause she’d been ill, all just broke onto his face and sort of almost like it was bursting out of his skin. Not just in tears, but it just felt like almost—God, Christ—almost like body horror from a terrible horror movie, you know? It literally felt like it was just blowing out of him. But at the same time, part of me wanted to just embrace him. Part of me also saw that it was really, really beautiful. Again, I said sometimes a little word [inspires me] and the word that stuck with me was ‘Godstruck’. And I kind of took that and sort of nursed it for a while in my head, back and forth. And the whole story, that whole piece, then blended into a kind of…it has about three or four different ways of perspective. You can decide who the narrator is, I think. One of them is an ancient Irish mythological tragedy that’s woven into it. And one of those, I gave him the ability, which I don’t think anyone will pick up, so I’ll just say it, to split off parts of his soul throughout time to watch the grief of others. Another one of it is the mother figure herself, but much younger and discussing sexuality because when we talk about mother figures, we often forget their sexuality, which is a shame. I know it’s all kind of odd for you when it’s your mother, but, you know, mothers are women with drives and wants and desires and lusts and it’s important to remember that. So, that’s something else I wanted to bring up through that poem. And I think that sort of became the driving force. Essentially the poem is about love, it’s about loss, it’s about grief, but it’s also about how we construct meaning. It also, to be honest with you, is about a belief I have about selfhood. I don’t believe in the idea of a singular person, that I’m the same Oisín today as I always will be. I believe in us as communities of ourself, including various instantiations of ourselves through time. Moments that were vitally important for us, they linger. And we are a continuous discourse that iterates, at times, into discussion, but it isn’t essentially a singular being. So, that’s a huge part of it. And that flows into the second major piece of the book, which is a sonic love song, full of chanting and incantation and it’s extremely unusual. So, what I’d said about the book is…there’s only been two or three reviews so far, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what people think. I think it’s a hoot. I don’t think people will read something quite like it, at least from the last few years.

Matthew Maichen (32:28):
Hmm. So, since it’s already out, where is the best place to buy it?

Oisín Breen (32:34):
I mean, it is listed on, you know, Amazon and all that, but the best place to buy it is directly from the publisher as always, because then the publisher doesn’t have to pay cuts to people. So it’s, Beir Bua Press, b-e-i-r b-u-a press, and if you type that into Google, you’ll get their website and that’s the best place to buy it so that Michelle doesn’t end up having to, you know, fork out, I don’t know what it is, 30% or whatever to Amazon.

Matthew Maichen (33:02):
Mm-hmm. Oh. And the title is…

Oisín Breen (33:04):
“Lillies on the Deathbed of Etain”. “Etain” is e-t-a-i-n. It’s an old Irish mythological figure from a mythcycle called Tochmarc Etaine, which is a great tragic love story.

Matthew Maichen (33:18):
Wow. Okay. Thank you so much.

Elena L. Perez (33:20):
Well, that sounds amazing. It sounds beautiful the way you describe it, and I’m excited to read it.

Oisín Breen (33:26):
Thank you.

Melissa Reynolds (33:27):
Yeah. I love your theory on how people are not the same and they’re more like a discussion over time. So, that gets me excited for checking out your work. I’ll definitely do that.

Matthew Maichen (33:41):
Yeah. I actually read something about that. There was a book about autobiographies, I forget what the name of the book was. It’s something about authenticity in the name, but they mentioned people with episodic identity as opposed to continuous identity. And I think that’s what you’re talking about. It’s the idea that there are people who genuinely self conceive of having, you know, not being the same person that they were…

Oisín Breen (34:15):

Matthew Maichen (34:16):
…a year ago or whatever. And it is…

Oisín Breen (34:20):

Matthew Maichen (34:20):
It has in the past almost been seen as a mental illness, as a dissociation.

Oisín Breen (34:26):

Matthew Maichen (34:26):
But people are coming to recognize, like, ‘well, people can feel that way and still 100% function’, you know? It is not harming themselves or anyone else to have that kind of identity. So, I find it really interesting that you’ve mentioned that, ’cause I’ve read about it before.

Oisín Breen (34:45):
Hmm. Yeah. My lady actually works…she’s doing a doctorate in, I suppose, conceptions of reality, consensus reality, and psychosis. So, I do often talk about this sort of thing with her. It’s interesting though because I personally would—it’s probably quite similar to what that is—but I don’t think anyone is actually a different person in the sense [that] I would never say I’m a different person today than I was ten years ago. In a sense, I would say yes, of course there’s continuity. There is still an “I”. I would just say that the wording we…if I unpack what an “I” is, and I think this is…I would argue it’s true for everyone. I would say that who I am is a discourse between myself and everything I have been. I mean, we have all had conversations with ourselves when we think, ‘what would thirteen year old me think about what I’m doing today’? Or you can have a moment which was important or so trivial that it somehow etched itself inside your brain as a seminal moment. And I think those moments of instantiation of “I” negotiate with the moment of “I” that is now, which is a continuum, and that reassembles itself as a constant iteration. But I would say that is still a continuous “I” that is unchanging, but that what constitutes it is ourselves through time and thought rather than just a static form.

Matthew Maichen (36:21):
Wow. You know, what I love about doing these interviews is that even when we’re talking to someone who literally says, ‘I typically don’t write about myself’, we always, we always learn so much about the, the artist and who they are. And it’s always interesting.

Oisín Breen (36:46):

Elena L. Perez (36:47):
Yeah. Going back to that though, it’s kind of like that old saying or that old question like, you know, you have a ship or a car and you know, over the years you repair parts of it and you replace pieces.

Oisín Breen (37:01):

Elena L. Perez (37:01):
At the end, is it the same car or ship that you had at the beginning when you first bought it, or is it a new ship or car because of all the pieces you’ve replaced at the end? So,I like that. It’s kind of that same argument, which is really interesting.

Oisín Breen (37:18):
Well, it’s also kind of Platonic in that sense, as well. Like idealized forms, you know? If perhaps I’d say that the “I” is like a Platonic idealized form, and that the car you’re talking about is the idealized form of that particular car.

Elena L. Perez (37:31):
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Matthew Maichen (37:32):
So, those who are not familiar with Platonism, what he means is that Plato put out a theory that when we imagine an object, we imagine the idealized form of that object, and that idealized form does not actually exist. Or actually he would argue, because he’s Plato, he would argue that it is the purest form of existence, that idealized form that we think of. But I think the average sane person would say that, it in our modern day, would say that it doesn’t exist. It’s like how, if you think of a cow, you’re gonna come up with this perfect whit and black spotted cow in your mind, but a real cow might be missing a leg or something.

Oisín Breen (38:21):
I think that’s well put. I just wanna say that, funnily enough, just a little overlap there. At the very start of this podcast, there was the correct notion that, you know, a poem is what you bring to it. You know, a reader writes a poem, and it may have nothing to do…understanding the intent or the idea of the poet at the beginning is actually irrelevant to your appreciation of poetry because, and it goes into academic writing, into the work of Stanley Fish and the whole, the text itself is unreachable because you cannot be the person who wrote it at the time they were writing it. All of it is only ascertainable from a non-idealized position. So, it goes…there’s a direct loop back to what we were saying about how to understand poetry.

Matthew Maichen (39:04):
Hmm. I understand. I’m not sure everyone…

Oisín Breen (39:09):

Matthew Maichen (39:09):
…going to understand.

All (39:11):

Matthew Maichen (39:11):
But I, right now, here, do understand. [laughs]

All (39:16):

Elena L. Perez (39:16):
Very meta. [laughs].

Matthew Maichen (39:20):

Oisín Breen (39:21):

Matthew Maichen (39:22):
I think we are also answering the question of where you get these ideas, because it is very, very obvious that you think about this stuff a lot.

Oisín Breen (39:33):
[laughs] Yeah.

Matthew Maichen (39:37):
So, I am going to ask you the hardest question. And I know I’ve not been throwing softballs at you.

Oisín Breen (39:44):
I love ’em.

Matthew Maichen (39:44):
This is gonna be the hard one. What do you think is your favorite thing that you’ve written?

Oisín Breen (39:54):
Ooh. Well…

Matthew Maichen (39:56):
[laughs] I warned you.

Oisín Breen (39:59):
No, no. I mean, to be honest with you, the favorite thing I’ve ever written is the thing that I’m currently writing. And that may be a pop-out answer. If you said something that I’ve already written and published, then I’ll say it’s probably, in terms of quality, it’d be the first poem of my new book, which is “Lillies on the Deathbed of Etain”. In terms of content, it will be the lead poem of my first collection, which is “Dublin and the Loose Footwork of Deity” ’cause that’s so dirty and whisky soaked. And I love that. In terms of experimentation, it will be the second poem in my new collection. But, in terms of what I actually like most, and I don’t just mean in a ‘I like most what I’m writing now,’ I mean, I have a very long form work I’m working on and I love it just because it’s—oof. It’ss crazy. It’s extremely experimental. It’s trying a lot of new things and it’s also…I think in its bones, it’s extraordinarily controversial.

Matthew Maichen (40:59):
Interesting. Okay. So, I wanted to ask you, with a lot of us being writers and in the writing and editing community, I’m curious how you find time to be a poet because it is a day job for almost no one.

Oisín Breen (41:16):

Matthew Maichen (41:16):
How do you find the time to write and what is your method for that?

Oisín Breen (41:25):
I just try to have an evening or two where I just get work done and instead of, I don’t know, instead of reading a book or instead of, you know, watching whatever mediocre TV series we watch to switch our brains off occasionally. I just put aside a couple of evenings a week. And then normally I’ll put aside…what I don’t do, I think the best truth of this is what I don’t really do is meet people for any particular reason on Saturdays or Sundays. You know, once or twice a month I’ll go for a long walk with my lady on a Saturday or a Sunday. But most of the time on Saturday or Sunday I’m sitting in cafes working on poetry, so I’m only available after six.

Matthew Maichen (42:09):
That’s actually a refreshingly simple answer.

Oisín Breen (42:14):

Matthew Maichen (42:14):
We’ve had all kinds of answers to questions like that.

Melissa Reynolds (42:17):
It’s a tough question, especially if you have other responsibilities aside from just work because then it becomes a matter of you are ignoring one thing in order to write. And that can bring on a lot of guilt, especially if you’re ignoring something you know you should be doing, like laundry or dishes or whatever it is.

Oisín Breen (42:43):
Mm hm. Yeah.

Melissa Reynolds (42:44):
So, I like that you just designate the weekend as ‘that’s my writing day’. And it seems like you don’t have those feelings of ‘I’m neglecting other things in order to do this’.

Oisín Breen (43:00):

Melissa Reynolds (43:01):
Yeah. So that’s…

Oisín Breen (43:02):
Well, I don’t have children, so that’s probably the big one where I would probably have guilt. Beyond that, no, I don’t really have any guilt. I suppose. I think part of it is, I know it’s sounds a strange thing, but I like me. So ,yeah, I don’t mind if things get a bit sloppy here or there or whatever, ’cause yeah. No, I like me.

Elena L. Perez (43:26):
Nice. Good. That’s nice to hear. [laughs] I do have another question for you, Oisín, about your book. So, what is the process like of putting together a book? ‘Cause you have this new one that you have out and you said you had another one that you have published already. So, how do you choose the pieces that you include in it? Or are they pieces that you’ve already written that you just combine? Or do you write pieces specifically envisioning that they’ll be in a book?

Oisín Breen (43:55):
Okay. Working backwards. Do I write pieces that I envision won’t be in a book? Yes, absolutely. ‘Cause my favorite way of writing is long form. And when I say long form, I mean works that are a minimum of about thirty pages that, you know, explore and dance and develop.

Matthew Maichen (44:18):
To be clear before you go on. That’s poetry, right?

Oisín Breen (44:21):
Yeah. Yeah.

Matthew Maichen (44:22):
Wow. Okay. Wow. Okay. Sorry.

Elena L. Perez (44:24):
That’s amazing.

Matthew Maichen (44:25):
Wow. Keep going.

Oisín Breen (44:26):
Yeah. So, I love long form work, but that’s really only publishable in book form. So, I definitely have that in mind when I’m writing them. I have it in mind with my work in progress and so on. So, that’s a part of it. How do I assemble them? Do I write specifically for a book as in, you know, do I think of a publisher or a kind of genre of publishers? Ooh, avant garde…no. I definitely just write whatever the poem is and kind of just hope that I think it’s good enough and they think it’s good enough. But I mean, half of the time is, if you do believe it’s good enough, you’re still gonna have to spend nine months, you know, harassing fifty different people in fifty different presses before one of them even looks at it, so persistence is a big aspect of that. And how do I assemble them? To be honest, it’s a case of, when you are preparing something to send to a publisher, it’s a case of looking at what they like, thinking what works together. Generally speaking, I think they just sort of coalesce. With the first book, it was three pieces and there was kind of…I’d written them over about three years and it just…so I had about maybe seven to eight pieces that I thought could go in a book, but those three were the ones that just felt natural companions. I knew that the publisher really liked one of the pieces, so that had to go in. That’s actually how we met. He caught me doing a twenty-five minute reading one day in a late night bar. With the second one, again, it’s, I think thematics. I try and keep them at least on the same sort of general theme so that you can… I believe the poetry should haunt so that you can be haunted by the feeling and the sensors that they give you as a whole, so that the book itself has a meaning, but one that you assemble, if that makes sense.

Elena L. Perez (46:29):
That does, yeah. Yeah. That’s really interesting.

Matthew Maichen (46:32):
Thank you.

Elena L. Perez (46:33):
Yeah, I was wondering because I know a lot of poets do tend to group their poetry themes into the same book.

Oisín Breen (46:42):

Elena L. Perez (46:42):
But then I’ve seen others with the opinion that, ‘oh, they should just go together’. You know, the author is just the common theme. They don’t necessarily have to have, you know, like a theme of love or death or grief or whatever. So, yeah. That’s really interesting.

Oisín Breen (46:58):
I’d say I probably think they do need theme because I do have a collected work with the first publisher that’s gonna come out at some point. But that, too, it’s grouped into, say, I think it’s something like twenty sections of seven poems each. But yeah, no, I curated, I picked pieces based on an overarching theme and then divided [inaudible] pair thing, so pair section. So yeah, I do think there has to be some construction, some artifice in the composition of a book. I kind of think that just respects the reader a little. If you’re asking them to trust you, and you’re asking them to take a chance, I think you have to respect them on at least having a, I suppose, a rhythm to why you’re doing things.

Elena L. Perez (47:35):

Matthew Maichen (47:36):
Yeah. That is so interesting to think about because it is true when you think about it from the reader’s perspective. We were talking about Neil Gaiman a few podcasts ago, and you know, he has a few short story collections where it is just a Neil Gaiman collection, but you know, people are buying that because they are fans of, specifically, Neil Gaiman. So, it’s a really good point that, if someone’s going to buy an Oisín Breen collection, that the only thing is just, it’s Oisín Breen, you’re counting on people being fans of you.

Oisín Breen (48:25):

Matthew Maichen (48:25):
And that’s a pretty pretty tall ask, you know? For anyone.

Oisín Breen (48:31):
Yeah, it is.

Elena L. Perez (48:31):
Yeah. That’s true. Name recognition [laughs] is important.

Matthew Maichen (48:37):
So, anyway, I’m curious, do you have any shout-outs or people…with something you’ve read recently that you feel just needs more attention? Someone else’s work that you’ve read—a poem, a story—something you’ve read that you think deserves more attention right now?

Oisín Breen (49:02):
Yeah, I mean, probably loads. I’ll give you three. That’s a nice little slice. Something that’s published and already getting a lot of attention, but I think deserves more is, there was a science fiction poetry book—very experimental—that I read recently by a Scandinavian author called Olga Ravn. I think she does…it’s the kind of poetry book that you can eat, like you were eating a flower. But it’s also very original and it’s called “The Employees” and I think it’s wonderful. In terms of publishers, I just restate, the publisher of my second collection Beir Bua, b-e-i-r b-u-a. She is on an absolute roll in terms of just picking up really interesting experimental writers. I’ve bought several of the books and just kind of gone, ‘holy shit, this woman has an eye’. I’m not quite sure how she’s managing to pick up this many in a row, but she is, and it’s definitely worth checking out someone on a roll. So, I would say that. I mean there’s a few people I often shout-out as really good poets. You could find her on Twitter, she writes some very good stuff, there’s a woman called ROisín Ni Neachtain. She does poetry and art. She’s definitely worth looking at. And I was in conversation with a man called Scott Howard, as well. So, he’s on @wscotth and she’s under Orphic—o-r-p-h-i-c—Review. And the two of those are really interesting modern poets that are definitely worth checking out.

Matthew Maichen (50:42):
Thank you. That is some great new stuff.

Elena L. Perez (50:47):
Awesome. Well ,thank you for those. I’m excited to look ’em up.

Matthew Maichen (50:51):
So, with that said, I want to thank you a lot, Oisín, for being with us today. I think this was a great interview and we covered a lot of really interesting topics and we are looking forward to your book. It is, again, “Lillies on the Deathbed of Etain” from the publisher Beir Bua Publishing Press. And if we’re going off of what you have published with us, it is no doubt a great collection of poetry. So, thank you so much.

Oisín Breen (51:29):
Thank you.

Elena L. Perez (51:29):
Yeah, thank you for being here today. It was wonderful talking with you.

Oisín Breen (51:34):
And you.

Melissa Reynolds (51:34):
And I will third that sentiment.

Oisín Breen (51:36):
And you.

Matthew Maichen (51:38):
Well, and in that case, have an excellent day. Thank you so much.

Oisín Breen (51:44):
Thank you.

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