Creatives in Trinity: Student poets on pandemic poetry

Student poets on pandemic poetry, vulnerability, and their futures as writers

“When I went into lockdown those first few months, I was completely disassociated from the world,” Medb Brereton Hurley tells me over the phone. Hurley is an English and music student as well as a songwriter and poet, but despite her multiple outlets, she felt her creativity dry up once the pandemic hit. She noticed a feeling of her life being “diminished to a small room, [her] social interaction happening only through a computer screen”. She wasn’t alone in this inspiration drought during the first months of the pandemic. Many other Trinity poets felt the same way. Final year philosophy student Meg-Elizabeth Lynch had “wrongly anticipated that [writing] would be a tool that would mould itself to all emotions,” but she says she found herself frozen during the shared crisis. Similarly, drama and theatre student Lucy Holmes had been doing lots of writing, but that all came to a sudden halt: “Being trapped in the same place for so long, the energy definitely becomes stagnant…my brain was like, ‘there’s nothing right to write about.’” Morghan Welt, also a drama student, couldn’t get herself to write her poetry. Although her creativity is boosted now, having had time to reflect on what’s happened, she is “still in the midst of the storm”. 

Final year Philosophy student Meg-Elizabeth Lynch had “wrongly anticipated that [writing] would be a tool that would mould itself to all emotions,” but she says she found herself frozen during the shared crisis.”

Be that as it may, these student poets did find their groove again. Hurley looked inward, creating a sense of interiority as well as exploring her sexuality. Her virtual multi-form play Pop-Tart for the DU Players festival Resilience contained a poem about masturbation as “a metaphor for the discovery of yourself and as a woman within the world at the moment”. Welt also proved to herself that her poetry is still in her by taking prompts for mini poems about her friends through Instagram (@berlinersinner). She also found herself reading more poetry in lockdown as did Lynch, who found solace in reading Hopkins and her friends’ zines to “wait for the tsunami to come in”. 

“Leigha Plunkett took a break from social media to focus on her therapeutic nature poems at home in Cavan.”

Some student poets thrived during lockdown, like drama and theatre student Sophie Furlong Tighe, who was constantly writing in their abundance of free time, working on a now self-published zine, creative nonfiction and a longer prose piece. Spanish and drama student Leigha Plunkett took a break from social media to focus on her therapeutic nature poems at home in Cavan: “I put away my phone ’cause I just got so sick of social media during lockdown: it was so toxic. I spent so much time in the evenings watching the sunset I got so much inspiration from nature.” History graduate Umang Kalra also finds writing difficult during especially turbulent times. “When things are too emotionally overwhelming it feels as if [my] entire being is too saturated to be able to write,” but she still found herself writing in an attempt to make sense of the world. Kalra, who has self-published three digital zines and has a fourth on the way, thinks the lockdown “cemented [her] realisation” that writing poetry is a need, “if that doesn’t sound too dramatic,” she adds. 

When did the urge to write poetry originate for these seven students? For most, it was either as soon as they were able to write, or in their teenage years. Welt, since she writes love poems, began writing in her early teens when she started falling in love. Hurley had always been writing songs but took an interest in lyrics sans musique when she began her college days, sharing both her songs and poetry on Instagram (@medb_hurley). Furthermore, Furlong Tighe moved on from their secondary school slam poetry days to eventually publishing written poems in college. Furlong Tighe, Kalra and Lynch, all good friends, began sharing their poetry to the Trinity community through Icarus magazine. Furlong Tighe has since taken over as editor from Lynch. Plunkett mentions needing that push from friends and family to share her first poem on Instagram (@leighaxplunk) called Nature Is Here to Keep You Living. For Holmes, her family didn’t even know she wrote poems while she kept notebooks of poetry to herself for years. Suddenly, she was performing Complacency in front of 10,000 people at a climate strike.#

Holmes has performed a lot of spoken word poetry in front of crowds, yet she keeps a lot of her poems to be read internally: “Performative poems are a much more, like, clear ‘this is what this is about,’ ‘this is what this message is,’ whereas a lot of my [written] poems are about ten different things and everything and nothing all at once.” She usually writes in a rush, in “a burst of inspiration,” much like Plunkett, who strikes a balance between thinking deeply about form and writing naturally. “Sometimes when I’m in the mood, I want something to rhyme and then I put so much effort into it, or sometimes I want to get whatever I want to get out on the page and I’m not going to think about it too much,” she admits.

Others are more particular about their form. Welt has self-published three collections, two in German and one in English called Soliloquy. She has a different thought process for each language: “the German language has its own little uniqueness. For example, there is the possibility to make up words in German just by combining one word with another.” Writing in English is very different because of the sounds, Welt tends to focus more on verbs in her English writing process. For Hurley, being a songwriter as well as a poet, she always has music in the back of her mind: “Those words on a page are so powerful just as a poem, but I think I can always amplify them and make them even better when I add a kind of sonic palette underneath, or intertwine it through the lyrics.”

Furlong Tighe, Kalra and Lynch all write their poetry predominantly in prose style. Furlong Tighe finds themselves experimenting with forms and punctuations depending on the theme of a poem. For example, in Juicy/Filthy, they use forward slashes to represent sharp intakes of breath. The audience may not see that, but “as long as you shoot at indicating that to an audience,” they might pick something similar up. For Kalra, she writes many of her poems “in one shot without too much thought and they take shape as [she goes] along.” She finds prose poetry “gratifying in a restless way”. “I feel the run-on sentences and the lack of line breaks in prose poetry allows for a less reserved telling of things.” For Lynch, writing in a structured way is disconcerting to her: “there’s something about a wall of text that makes me feel like I’m left open to people who are reading it.” She thinks the narrative style of poetry to her is like “a defence mechanism against vulnerability”.

“While writing poetry can be one of the most cathartic and healing art forms, especially at this difficult time, all of the poets agreed that there is something about publishing your personal words and thoughts or sharing them on Instagram, that makes you feel vulnerable.”

While writing poetry can be one of the most cathartic and healing art forms, especially at this difficult time, all of the poets agreed that there is something about publishing personal words and thoughts or sharing them on Instagram that makes you feel vulnerable. Kalra says: “I feel as if poetry almost functions as a sort of smokescreen because I have plausible deniability for anything in there, but at the same time there’s almost a brazen ownership of the content that comes with it.” Furlong Tighe and Lynch also feel protected by a sense of deniability through the prose form, but both agree that ultimately writing poetry can be quite mortifying. For Welt, exposing oneself takes courage but she is exhilarated letting “other people see what’s going on in [her] head”. She feels connected to many women who read and relate to her work. Plunkett feels empowered when readers give her positive feedback: “I felt like I was doing something good and like not only for me but for other people, like I want my poetry to help heal others at the same time.”

Holmes has received many offers for her poems on climate change to be featured in books, but she has turned them down. She would love to be published, but she believes her poems are stand-alones and are not destined to be used to push others’ narratives. She hopes to publish a zine one day, but enjoys sharing her work on her Instagram (@lucyholmxs) for now and has plans to release more poems in visual forms. Hurley has a soft spot for sharing art on social media as it is how her music career began. She thinks there is a future for bedroom pop, “diminishing of the power and the influence of studios and big expensive equipment.” She is excited by the future of online poetry, especially after her successful play Pop-Tart: she finds it inspiring “to see something like that exist entirely in an imaginary landscape, technically, and that isn’t actually physical or real or anything but it still has such an impact”.

“These days, the future is uncertain for everyone, but these student poets embrace the unpredictability of their artistic careers.”

These days, the future is uncertain for everyone, but these student poets embrace the unpredictability of their artistic careers. Plunkett is a big dreamer, so being a published writer is a goal, but she also aims to work on more activist poetry and to help “get voices heard.” Welt does not want to limit herself to one art form and strives to be a storyteller no matter what. Similarly to Holmes, who doesn’t want to be seen just as a poet, but as an artist, dabbling in many different forms of art. Kalra thinks “it’s too much of a pipe-dream” to imagine a future as just a writer, as does Furlong Tighe, who cannot help but notice and find disappointing “the massive disparity between the money that you get from a poetry collection” and from a work of fiction. They know that while they will always keep writing, they will have to work outside of writing too.

Lynch, the current chair of Trinity Publications, sees a future for herself in publishing and had some wise words about the publishing world to share that any budding poet ought to hear. As an editor, “there’s a sort of ridiculous feeling, like somebody thinks that you can make the decision” to include or not include a work in a collection, but really, “it all comes down to a vibe check”. There are many facets to a rejection decision, and remembering this made Lynch “feel a bit freer”.  

While it was fascinating to hear from each of these talented creatives about their processes and purposes, it was equally refreshing to learn that inspiration and motivation does not always come easily. Writing poetry can be invigorating one day, then draining the next, but despite all, these student poets persist to get their thoughts heard and read by the masses.

You can find the students’ poetry on the Instagram accounts linked throughout the article, through Icarus magazine and through the following links: