DBF Interviews: Kate Dempsey

Kate DempseyHennessy shortlistFebruary 2006Pic: Mark CondrenKate Dempsey tells us all about her debut poetry collection, The Space Between (Doire Press), and being one of the Poetry Divas. Kate will appear as part of our RTÉ Radio 1 Arena Live Show.


Q: How long have you been writing and was it always poetry towards which you were drawn?

I started writing as a New Year’s resolution for 1999 and haven’t stopped. After struggling on my own for a while with stories, I joined an evening class in Lucan where the writer Stuart Lane, led us, not always gently, into the unchartered territory of character creation, plays and poetry.

So I have had some fiction and non-fiction published and broadcast on RTE Radio. I also had a short play performed by Red Kettle theatre at the Waterford Royal Theatre. A couple of years ago I had a piece of satire included in the “New Planet Cabaret” Anthology that started on RTE Arena but in the last few years, 95{81d1184065c7f9cfaf23e8b3f52f53664bbbabdb8ac3ae7b4d9dfca466b9b382} of my writing has been poetry.

Partly I think because it’s the poetry muscle I am exercising, so that’s how my brain is working but partly because I went back to working outside the home full time around then and found poetry easier to fit into the spaces between working and family life. I write on the train commuting in and out of Dublin and in the evening and at weekends, I rewrite.


Q: The Space Between (Doire Press), your debut full-length collection, has just been published: how long have you been working on the poems that make up the collection? Were they written with a collection in mind?

The collection changed its title umpteen times in the last few years. The Space Between is a line from one of my poems, “Reaching Agreement”

Your lips move but I’m hearing
the way you taste the space between your words,
phrasing so there’s something more than silence,
an emphasis pregnant with promise.

Once I’d settled on that, I realised that there are lots of spaces of different kinds that are touched on, in one way or another in the poems. There is a space between a poet and the reader or listener, and also a space between the voice of the poet and the person who is the poet. So between the ‘I’ in a poem and the ‘I’ of the poet, which are not the same. That’s what I wanted to show with the picture of a Venetian plague doctor mask I chose as the cover, a mixture of performance, laughter and death. I think it’s a striking image but I also like that it indicates the performer and the audience and the space between them.

I’m from Coventry but I’ve been living in Ireland for more than 20 years now but I still see a space between Ireland and Britain, between Irish and British people. Between people, friends, family. I have a Physics degree and have been working in IT for years so inevitably my love and fascination for Science shows through in some poems. I like to think of The Space Between stars and galaxies as well on the smaller scale, between sub-atomic particles. I’ve read at the Science Gallery before and I’m going to be Poet in Residence at Science Hack Day Dublin this month, which is a first.

In the collection, the oldest poem is from 2000, my first published poem from Poetry Ireland review. It’s about changing the toilet roll, among other things, and it has been used as an example in creative writing workshops that you can write a poem about anything! The most recent poem is from 2014, a love poem set on summer holidays called “Two Almond Granitas in Soller”. Every year I write a poem for my husband for Valentines Day, a self imposed deadline is great for getting words on paper. I often go back and work on them again after and this is one that I have let out into the wild.

Actually I think the poem “Unintentional Installation” may have been more recent. It’s a riff on the William Carlos Williams poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.” I was in Dingle last year with good friends and fellow poets Triona Walsh and Maeve O’Sullivan who together with Barbara Smith make up The Poetry Divas. We had a gig at Feile na Bealtaine there. (Brilliant festival and fantastic destination) Triona and I went for a walk in the rain to at Art Exhibition and there was this wheelbarrow…


Q: Tell us a little about the Poetry Divas. What inspired it?

The Poetry Divas are a collective of women poets. We read our own poems at events and festivals all over Ireland, blurring the wobbly boundary between page and stage. We tailor each show to the occasion and audience and aim to give a deliciously infectious show that’s bound to touch a nerve. Events have included Dromineer Literary Festival, Dundalk Book Festival, Electric Picnic, Caca Milis Cabaret, Flat Lake, Leonard Cohen festival, Kildare Readers Festival and Allingham Festival.

What inspired it was that I wanted to go to Electric Picnic but the tickets were too expensive so I applied to be a wandering troupe of poets in Body and Soul. And they said yes, what are you called?, so I had to think up a name on the spot.

Divas have a reputation for being temperamental but I prefer the definition that implies glamorous, successful, confident and independent women. Some spoken word and literary events can be unbalanced, not only for gender but also for generation so we like to tip the scales a little. We get a great kick out of performing for audiences who rarely come across poetry and the best feedback is when someone comes up after and says “I don’t like poetry but I like yours.”