Anne Tannam speaks to Clara Burghelea

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Anne Tannam is a Dublin poet with two collections: Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor (Salmon Poetry 2017) and Take This Life (WordOnTheStreet 2011). A spoken word artist, Anne has performed at festivals and events in Ireland and abroad. She is co-founder of the weekly Dublin Writers’ Forum and regularly runs literary events across Dublin.

As well as writing, Anne is a creative writing coach, find out more about her at her website

Clara Burghelea: 

You coach lead workshops meant to help writers navigate their creative life. How did you come up with this idea?

Anne Tannam: 

As someone who found their way late to the writing table, I have firsthand experience of how difficult it can be for a writer to first find their voice, and then develop and sustain it through regular creative practice. That experience, coupled with my training as a life coach, led me to design workshops and clinics that would support other writers to build and sustain flourishing writing practices. 

Clara Burghelea: 

How do balance facilitating, coaching and writing?

Anne Tannam: 

It’s always a juggling act, but as I love engaging with all three, it’s more about managing my time efficiently (get thee behind me, Netflix!) and making sure I’m clear about what’s the priority in each given moment. It can be too easy at times to let the writing slip but co-running the weekly Dublin Writers’ Forum helps to keep its importance in focus. And I know that I’m actually a better coach, facilitator and parent when I’m writing regularly. It centres and keeps me grounded.

Clara Burghelea: 

You are also a spoken word poet? Is this important, as a poet, to be able to overcome your potential shyness or discomfort and stand up in front of an audience? 

Anne Tannam: 

It depends on the kind of poet one is. For some poets, they are happy never to read their work aloud, never mind stand up in front of an audience. For them, the relationship lies between the words on the page and reader’s eyes. For most, and certainly for me, sharing our poems with a listening audience and connecting with them on an embodied level is thrilling, even if it’s a bit scary too. And spoken word allows us to really engage with our audience during the entirety of a poem, and to watch the impact of the words on people’s faces.

Clara Burghelea: 

Everything you do is targeted at building and supporting the creative community. Is it important for a poet/writer to put aside their solitary work practice and be more active and caring to their peers? 

Anne Tannam: 

Again, I’d be slow to speak for all writers, but I do believe that for the majority of us the support we give each other really helps to sustain us in what can be a lonely activity. I know that my own practice would have faltered years ago, if I hadn’t plugged myself into the creative community and found my place there. I’ve also found that it’s matter of fair exchange too – what you put into our community, you’ll get out of it, and more. The more we help build and support our community, the more creative nourishment we receive back. 

Clara Burghelea: 

Your first poetry collection, Take This Life, came out later in life. Is there any advice here for emerging poets? 

Anne Tannam: 

Remember that everything you write, no matter how much you judge it as ‘not good enough’, is improving your writing; particularly in the early days, write very regularly to establish a writing habit; seek out constructive and useful feedback early (emphasis on useful and constructive), but not so early that it terrifies you into stopping before you get going; and read like books are going out of fashion. Oh, and find your writers’ tribe!

Clara Burghelea: 

I love how you emphasize the power of stories as identity and belonging. Can poetry map out the personal and the collective story? Is it a bridge between stories and storytellers?

Anne Tannam: 

There’s a gorgeous line from ‘The History of Rain’ by Niall Williams that says ‘We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or to keep alive those that only live now in the telling’. Recently my lovely dad died and a friend emailed to say that though he hadn’t met my dad, they knew him through my poems. I was so comforted when I read that.

We are wired for story and make sense of the world through them. They tell us who we are and where we fit in the grand scheme of things. I really like the idea of a poem as a map or bridge. A great poem points not only to the poet, but to the reader, mapping the terrain in such a way that the reader can find their own way, just as the poet, through the writing of it, did.

Clara Burghelea:  

You third poetry collection is forthcoming this summer. What can you tell us about that? 

Anne Tannam: 

It’s called ‘Twenty-six Letters of a New Alphabet’ (Salmon Poetry) it will be launched on June 23rd in Poetry Ireland. It’s a deep dive into what it means to be an Irish woman, living in this place and time, at this particular stage in life, inhabiting this borrowed body, spinning through the galaxy on this beautiful and often neglected planet. 

Clara Burghelea

How do we hold the space for the other? Can this skill be taught?

Anne Tannam: 

That’s a very deep question. I love it! I think we hold the space for others by first learning to hold our own space and establishing its boundaries. When we are grounded in that sense of who we are, then we can reach out and invite others into a shared space that respects their boundaries too. The skill can be taught, and the earlier the better. We’re talking about emotional intelligence here, and being self-aware enough to see what’s uniquely mine, and what’s uniquely yours, and the shared space where we both can be seen. In a lot of ways, a poem is that shared space, where the writer and reader can meet, without infringing on each other.

Clara Burghelea: 

You said that “some of my poems have two versions: the page version will use less conjunctions or connecting words, relying on punctuation and lineation to guide the reading; the spoken poem will be looser, more colloquial, following the rules and pace of conversation rather than writing.” Does spoken poetry mean you need to sort of establish a conversational line with the live audience?

Anne Tannam: 

Spoken word poetry means different things to different people. I know that for me one of the pleasures of spoken word, both as a poet and as a member of the audience, is that it can feel like an intimate conversation between two people, even if the room is full. A lot of my poems naturally follow a conversational tone and style, so they do lend themselves to being spoken rather than recited (if that distinction makes sense to you), and that’s what works for me as a spoken word poet. 

Clara Burghelea: 

As a poet, what do you think of as being your most important resources? Also, do you share your work with other people while you’re working on it?

Anne Tannam: 

My most important resources are the very special group of poet friends that help me to edit my work and allow me to help edit theirs. I learn almost as much from editing their work as I do from writing my own. Dublin Writers’ Forum has been an amazing resource to me for the last eight years too, and of course reading other poets, both local and international. And I think that answers your second question too. But it’s really important to make sure that you’re ready to share your work, and that when you do, it’s given to the right person or people. Negative or careless feedback when your confidence as a writer is only developing, can stop you dead in your tracks. Choose your first readers very wisely.

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