Victoria Kennefick and Declan Ryan at Blackwell’s

Sarah-Clare Conlon, Literature Editor
Victoria Kennefick / Carcanet Press
Victoria Kennefick / Carcanet Press

LITERATURE LIVE! Victoria Kennefick and Declan Ryan in conversation at Blackwell’s Manchester, Manchester 8 April 2024 Tickets from £3.00 — Book now

The University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing’s Literature Live series continues apace, here welcoming Victoria Kennefick and Declan Ryan to Blackwell’s Bookshop to read from their new poetry collections Egg/Shell and Crisis Actor, and talk about them with CfNW’s John McAuliffe.

Victoria Kennefick grew up in Cork and lives in Kerry. Her debut collection, Eat or We Both Starve (Carcanet Press, 2021), won the Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry Prize and the Dalkey Book Festival Emerging Writer of the Year Award. It was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize, the Costa Poetry Book Award, the Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry and the Butler Literary Prize. She was the UCD/Arts Council of Ireland Writer-in-Residence 2023 and Poet-in-Residence at the Yeats Society Sligo 2022-2024. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, New England Review, PN Review, The Poetry Review, Poetry London, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, and elsewhere.

Crisis Actor is Declan Ryan’s first collection, and it was published by Faber & Faber in 2023. His reviews and essays have appeared in journals including New York Review of Books, The Baffler, Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Observer and New Statesman.

Crisis Actor are poems awash with rueful self-accusation and laconic scepticism, chronicling failures and farewells, and peopled by watchers, not players, faded heroes and deferential devotees – from a hanged donkey and a bloated rat, to solitary bachelors and disillusioned youths. Here’s the bookshop’s description: “There are touching elegies, reportage and bruised, wary replayings. A blistering sequence about boxers and their fates weaves through the collection. The overwhelming sense is of life going on elsewhere, the halcyon days and brightest of years long past. This is the aftermath of being one who – in Matthew Arnold’s words – ‘has reached his utmost limits and finds . . . himself far less than he had imagined himself’. But there are still flashes of camaraderie, of stars aligning: lunchtimes in sunlit garden squares, languorous pub afternoons, cheering on and hard-won triumphs. These precious, precarious moments point to how we might reclaim potential, discover human connection in times of defeat or despair, and reach towards grace and redemption.”

Egg/Shell is the much-anticipated second collection by TS Eliot Prize-shortlisted Victoria Kennefick, and the Poetry Book Society Spring Choice 2024. Published by Carcanet Press, based in Manchester, it explores some challenging subjects, including early motherhood and miscarriage, the impact of a spouse’s gender transition and the dissolution of a marriage. Lives are cracking apart in thee poems, which is presented as a diptych, or “a double album”, as the publisher’s blurb explains. The first part of the book, ‘egg’, deals with fertility issues and the mourning of four failed pregnancies while nursing a healthy child and experiencing a fracturing relationship; the second part, ‘shell’, is concerned with the transition of the speaker from wife to something else, as she explores what the new reality she is facing means for her her family and her own sense of identity.

The lives depicted alter, shatter and recombine in Victoria Kennefick’s “stunning monologues, innovative hybrid forms and piercing lyrics”; the poems – that “are uncanny and strange, with an otherworldly quality that unsettles and discombobulates” – move through shock, loss, grief, anger, resignation, celebration and gratitude. It’s a complex journey, but not one without hope or humour – ‘to crack one’s egg’, we’re told, is to realise that one is trans.

Egg/Shell is the follow-up to Victoria Kennefick’s best-selling debut Eat or We Both Starve, and continues to prove her as one of the boldest poetic voices to emerge in recent years, breaking new ground. Seán Hewitt calls the book: “Daring, visceral and replete with unsettling images… few collections arrest a reader with such intensity from the opening poem, and even fewer manage to hold that thrill over the course of many poems, but Kennefick’s does.”

Both books will be available to purchase on the night and Victoria and Declan will be signing copies after the talk.

LITERATURE LIVE! Victoria Kennefick and Declan Ryan in conversation at Blackwell’s Manchester, Manchester 8 April 2024 Tickets from £3.00 Book now

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