The Body Electric; An Interview with writer Jessica Traynor – Part 2
by Marie-Louise Blaney.
Marie-Louise Blaney is the Education Curator at The Model, Sligo.
Jessica Traynor is an award-winning poet, creative writing teacher and dramaturg from Dublin. She has a strong interest in feminism and contemporary human rights. Today I caught up with Jessica about her work in Human Rights.
A contemporary parable
MLB You come back to the story of The Pied Piper of Hamlyn as a parable that has relevance in these contemporary times. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
JT Folk tales are wonderful fodder for poets, because on the surface they are simple, but beneath the surface lies wonderful, rich, human truth. They speak of archetypal hopes and fears. The Pied Piper appeals to me as it’s a dark parable of loss and hopelessness and I see it reflected in our own world today. The fear of the loss of children is universal, hardwired into our psyches, even if we are not parents ourselves. I find this folk tale a useful reminder of shared humanity. In the poem Calais from The Quick I use it to interrogate the idea of which children are valued, and which children aren’t. This concept comes to mind again with the massacre that’s occurring in Gaza at the moment.
MLB You are interested in migrant issues, having collaborated with Stephen Rea on Correspondences, an anthology written in 2019, which called for the end of Direct Provision. What compelled you to collaborate with other creatives and asylum seekers on this work?
JT In a nutshell, myself and Stephen wanted to do something to help raise awareness around the injustice of the current direct provision system in Ireland and spent some time discussing what we, as an actor and a writer, might be able to offer.
MLB What was the aim of the anthology?
JT The aim of the anthology was to raise money for MASI, an organisation run by and for people who have experienced direct provision, so that they could decide where best the money was spent. We didn’t want to speak for anyone, or make decisions on anyone’s behalf. It was also important to us that the writers and artists featured in the book who have experienced direct provision were treated as writers and artists first and foremost, and asylum seekers second – this second thing should not define them, and the reason is does is because of the Irish State’s failure to treat them correctly.
MLB Was their collaboration amongst the contributors?
JT We offered the option for the writers and artists to pair with Irish writers for either mentorship, or for a dialogue on the work with the Irish writer writing a response to the contributor’s work. This was not mandatory, as some of our contributors didn’t have the time or inclination, but the intention was to work against direct provision’s tendency to isolate applicants for international protection from Irish society at large. We didn’t want to ghettoise our contributors further. Finally, we asked MASI to contribute the introduction to the book as we felt that was most appropriate.
MLB What was the process like?
JT It was, of course, an imperfect process, but we’re glad to say that the book raised €15,000 for MASI and facilitated some new friendships which have outlasted the lifespan of the anthology itself.
We would like to thank Jessica Traynor for this insightful interview and look forward to future collaborations.
To find out more about MASI, go to https://www.masi.ie/