Poet in Profile: Noel Duffy

PoetInProfile - Noel3

For this edition of Poet in Profile, we’re in conversation with a recent addition to the Dublin 4 talent pool, Noel Duffy. Noel is the author of the collection In the Library of Lost Objects and a book of prose The Return Journey and Our Friends Electric: Two Novellas both published with Ward Wood Press in 2011. He has written for TV and film and his play The Rainstorm was performed in 2006 as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival.

Currently, Noel is putting the finishing touches to his latest poetry collection for Ward Wood Press. The new book is titled On Light and Carbon and focusses on one of Noel’s personal preoccupations: the relationship between Science and Art. Noel welcomed me into his flat in Ringsend for a chat over coffee and innumerable roll-ups.

Noel’s career trajectory is an unusual one. He studied Experimental Physics at Trinity College, considered a PhD, and worked as a research assistant on the Human Genome Project before deciding that a life of research physics wasn’t for him. It was at this point, which he candidly describes as a crisis point that he began to seriously write poetry. I wanted to know where he was first bitten by the literary bug?

“I grew up in a house without many books. I have four brothers so it was always action: bikes and football. Then in 5th Class, we got a new teacher who was really driven to get us all reading. I was picked out to go along to Eason’s wholesalers and pick out new books for the class and I think that started me thinking about books. I became a big reader. I actually tried to write a novel aged 11. I came up with a bunch of characters and set them going… and didn’t have a clue what to do with them! So it was never finished.”

He then explained that the Poetry aspect came into play when he was asked to write a poem for school. He wrote a rather bleak Dublin nightscape piece called In the City at Night.

“I looked at it again a while back and was surprised to see it was quite good, all things considered.”
Following his fateful decision to step away from research, Noel threw himself into writing and laboured for the best part of ten years, learning to write for screen and developing his prose voice, although poetry remained the centre of the cyclone for him.

“A poem has to have ballast, as Seamus Heaney said. It has to have concrete images to anchor it. The new collection On Light and Carbon is very specifically about those two things, among others. I wanted to meditate on light, as a physical phenomenon and as a metaphysical factor in our lives, and I wanted to meditate on Carbon, which is the basis of life.”

If this sounds a little airy, rest assured the collection will have a little something for everyone. “I’ve pushed further into the science in this book but I’ve tried to emphasise the human element. I like a big backdrop and have the intimacies of characters and voices in the frame. There’s a long piece, for instance, about the friendship my father struck up in the 90s with a labourer who was an amateur antiquarian. Around the time of the Wood Quay excavations, they were coming back to our home after work with recovered artefacts, like antler bones, roman coins. It was a great time for my father. That’s what you have to keep in the frame. Science gives us empirical knowledge but art – poetry – is more about the human element.”

Noel Duffy’s new collection On Light and Carbon is out from Ward Wood Press in October.

By Ruairi Conneely