E.A. Gleeson Explores Values, Beauty & Mortality

Small Acts of Purpose is a new poetry book by E.A. Gleeson, a funeral celebrant with an exotic Irish background. Her poems touch on key issues from everyday life in a personal, accessible and sometimes humorous style, as you’ll see from her interview with Assistant Editor Wai Ying Wong.  

WYW: What led you to write Small Acts of Purpose?

EAG: I cannot not write poems, I almost always have a poem “on the go” so this is a compilation of the work from the last four years. it seems to take me about four years to put a collection together.

WYW: Since you have published two poetry books before, what differences were there in composing this new volume?

EAG: In this new volume, I think I am much more attuned to the magic and power of land/waterscapes. It’s a more interesting collection, less about me 😉 more about others and how we interact with each other and the natural world.

WYW: Your book comprises several parts, most notably the one about Northern Ireland. How do you see the other parts working with the Belfast one?

EAG: Each of the four parts engages with the way we relate to our world whether it’s an urban environment or an emotional landscape. But the Belfast section is also distinctive. I LOVE Belfast and I wanted to acknowledge its beauty as well as its troubled history.

WYB:What messages are you trying to convey with Small Acts of Purpose?

EAG: The ideas I am exploring vary:

  •  reflecting on the choices made by inspiring people
  • attending to places of power and beauty
  •  examining things we value 
  •  accepting notions of change and mortality

WYW: We can see you are playful in the structure of certain poems with spacing between lines and words. Why did you choose to adopt this format?

EAG: I try to use the rhythm, line structure and word choice to add to the concepts of a poem. With the early Belfast poems, I was trying to add visual weight to the poetry. Similarly with the last poem in the book, “Peonies”. I wrote that as a love poem, but I feel it’s a blessing poem and the layout emphasises the action of petals and the underlying concept of the collection, transience.

WYW: What are the key themes and values expressed in your poems? How does your Irish heritage influence your writing?

EAG: Brendan Ryan says these are ‘poems of witness and empathy’. Speaking for the voices is something I want to do with my writing. Mike Ladd described the collection as inquisitive, philosophical with a sly sense of humour.  I think that is so apt pertaining to me as a person and a poet.

My Irish heritage is a fundamental part of who I am so I think that comes through some of the poems quite specifically but it is also a cultural thing. Many of the poets who have had greatest influence on me are Irish.

WYW: How does your experience as a funeral celebrant affect your perspectives on life?

EAG: My funeral work keeps me ‘in the real’. A lot of us will not get three score years and ten. It is also a constant reminder of the power of words and the value of honouring lives that have been lived.

WYW: Which is your favourite poem in this book, and why?

EAG: That’s like asking which is my favourite child – ‘I love them all the most’.

But if I had to pick one poem, I’d say “Radio Ulster”. That poem came like a gift just as described, But then I worked so hard to get the rhythm and rhyme to add to the energy. Rosie is a composite fictional character but she’s as real to me as the people in my family.

If you allowed me a second choice, it would be “Short Life, Long Death” because it is ironically realistic and the crowds love it!


Small Acts of Purpose

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