I first made the acquaintance of Eva Griffin in France four years ago. We studied literature at the same university in Lyon and we shared a bed at a small hostel in Nîmes one weekend. I remember snapping a picture of some friends in front of la Tour Magne and being very taken by Eva’s eyes in the background. To this day, if someone asked me to name people I know with pretty eyes, I’d immediately think of Eva Griffin. I suppose that’s not a question people pose often enough. I decided to ask Eva some alternative questions, however, about what she’s been up to in recent months. At the time of this interview, she found happiness in a chocolate milkshake. But the 24 year old is acutely aware of the tumultuous nature of our existence.
“I'm a poet,” writes Eva Griffin. “I feel like an asshole typing that.” She’s only been taking herself seriously as a poet for about a year. Listening to Paula Meehan read “The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks” was a pivotal moment. The poem is about a 15 year old girl, Ann Lovett, who gave birth to a child in secret and died there in the grotto.
I asked Eva what prompted her to finally claim the title of poet. “I found friends who were the same age as me and also giving the poetry thing a shot,” she explains. “I'm lucky to have a lot of incredible poets as friends - it makes everything a lot less lonely and frightening. I've heard you're a writer as soon as you write something but a writer in the professional sense is still a way off for me.”
Eva hardly ever gets paid for her work. “A lot of it I donate to charitable causes in the form of zines, the rest is published by people who can't afford to pay me but love the work,” she says. I ask her what her personal philosophy is, to which she replies, “nuance.” And it shows. The twenty four year old was most recently featured in the anthology With You: Withdrawn Poetry of the #MeToo Movement alongside thirteen other poets who withdrew work from journals and publishing houses.
Keep reading to learn more.
RS: Did the environment in which you grew up affect your work?
EG: It's funny because Irish poets (well, Irish writers in general) are always thought of as having a very palpable connection to place but I always struggle with the 'where are you from?' question because I feel very little connection to Kildare. I was born there, lived abroad from the age of 4, came back when I was 10.
RS: So you spent four years of your childhood living in the Philippines?
EG: Yes. I went back to visit when I was 18. The people there are so kind and gracious, but that country is going through a lot. I feel a lot of guilt when I look back on my time there - little white girl in a huge house with two maids, a gardener, and a driver. It fucks me up knowing I was part of that lifestyle. I'm really ashamed of it even though I cherish all my memories from there. There's a very visceral disconnect between the rich and poor living in such close proximity. I was so blind to it as a kid and going back at 18 was an eye-opener.
RS: What were your teenage years in Kildare like?
EG: During my adolescence I lived in a very isolated house where I couldn't easily socialise with people. I loved my house in the country but didn't know the place itself. I guess that would explain why there's very little 'place' in my poems. I've lived in Dublin for nearly four years now but I don't feel like I can claim Dublin since I didn't grow up here. It's a very vague sense of uprootedness I have now as none of my immediate family live in Ireland anymore.
RS: Most of them live in Singapore now?
EG: Yes. I've discovered a lot of amazing literature during all my visits to Singapore (where my parents and little brother currently live). There's an amazing bookstore called Books Actually and they have a publishing imprint called Math Paper Press. Every time I'm over I buy as many books as I can from them. Cyril Wong is an incredible queer Singaporean poet. You all need to read his work. Immediately.
RS: What other literature do you enjoy?
EG: Reading Danez Smith during my MA was like seeing god. There is no one like them, their work is so important. My favourite Irish poets are Doireann Ní Ghriofa, Leanne O'Sullivan, Paula Meehan, Annemarie Ní Chuireann... Irish women are the best, basically.
RS: You mentioned you weren’t “a typical bookworm kid” one associates with writers.
EG: My mum and older brother have always been serious, serious readers but it took me a while to find my way to books in the same way. That said, my mum's love of reading has definitely had more of an effect on me as I've grown up and our conversations have shifted.
RS: So what did you enjoy doing as a child?
EG: I listened to music a lot. My first 'poems' were terrible attempts at pop songs. I had a band when I was 9 even though only one of us played an instrument and we used a drum and bass machine. I wrote all the lyrics - one song was a complete rip off of the live-action Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack (that film was big in my friend group at the time). Everyone knew but I vehemently denied it. I know now that copying is essential to writing. Not plagiarising, obviously, but every writer's work is a coalescence of everything they've read. The band died when I was out sick from school and replaced as lead vocalist. Still the greatest betrayal of my young life. I was and still am a huge daydreamer and got boiling mad whenever my daydreams were interrupted. They usually involved me on stage singing whatever song was on the radio, and then embarking on a huge movie-style romance. Hopeless romantic, incredible narcissist. A poet, truly.
RS: Hahaha, I love it. What's a day in your life like now?
EG: I'm currently an administrator for library suppliers so I spend my days invoicing books which is monotonous but fine. I write when I can. If something pops into my head I'll get it down as soon as possible and often form poems from notes like a collage. It's rare a poem will flow out start to finish but it happens. I've finished a pamphlet which I'm trying to get published and working on another short collection, just to have as much work as possible at my disposable for when I see submission calls.
RS: How do you decide where to submit?
EG: I would just like to be surrounded by poems I love. Often I'll see a call for submissions on Twitter and check out the publication - if I like it and think my work would fit I'll give it a go.
RS: What are the most important elements of your work?
EG: Being as truthful as possible, even if it never happened.
RS: What publication are you the most proud of?
EG: A poem called 'All creatures good, small, and Irish' featured in an anthology called Autonomy published by New Binary Press. It was released in the run up to a referendum in Ireland to repeal the 8th amendment that equated the life of a foetus with that of the mother (damn it feels good to write that in the past tense). The fight for abortion rights stretches back years and years before I was even aware of it - but to contribute some of my writing felt amazing. It obviously affected a lot of art being made in the country.
RS: Can you tell me about Not4U?
EG: I have a collective with two other poets (Jess McKinney and Rosa Jones) called Not4U and we run events in Dublin sometimes, though one of us is moving to Scotland so we might try branching out over there and elsewhere - inclusivity is our main focus. We've published one zine called 'Cailleach' which was an amazing experience and raised money for Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, so hopefully we'll have more publications down the line.
RS: What is the Cailleach, or the divine hag?
EG: She's the cliffs of Ireland, all our sad winters and craggy coastlines. She's all the women our country fears and tries to silence.
RS: What are the main challenges of your art?
EG: You really have to put yourself out there. I remember sending off my first submissions and not being able to look at the rejection emails. I'm more used to it now because I've been published elsewhere and have made peace with the fact that not everyone is going to love my work or be able to give it room. The one acceptance email means so much more than piles and piles of rejections - it's enough to pull me out of a slump. I've had a few moments where people have come up to me and told me my work has meant a lot to them and that has been the most amazing, surprising, overwhelming thing of all.
RS: But that only happened because you got over your fear of what people would think and started performing at events.
EG: It's the easiest way to get your work out there. Start at an open mic, get to know people, and if things go well you'll be invited to read your work, or you'll start running your own events to give work you love a platform. It's scary, but so rewarding. My first open mic had me so scared I practically forced my friend to read as well just so we'd be in it together - she did, because she's a saint.
RS: What's the scariest thing you've ever done?
EG: Accepted that I've done terrible things. Carried on anyway.
RS: When do you feel most comfortable?
EG: That changes all the time. I went through a period of not handling being alone very well but not wanting to go out and find company. I think I've hit a good balance now though. I can appreciate solitary moments for the gift that they are - especially since I've been taking my writing more seriously.
RS: What kind of people do you hang out with?
EG: I admire all of my friends deeply, mostly for the kindness and patience they require to be my friend. I tried to cut myself off from a lot of people a few years ago and they've welcomed me back in as if nothing happened. I'm so grateful for that. I thought I didn't need old friends but having people around you who've known you since you were twelve is really wonderful. There's no pretending there.
RS: Are you an indoor or outdoor person?
EG: I always think I can be an outdoor person but then I try to sit on the grass and immediately get pins and needles in my legs. I like walking around outside but sitting in it for long periods of time brings too much physical discomfort for my very not-as-young-as-it-looks body. I lived in a studio apartment with my boyfriend for over a year. When you've shared a box with another person for that long, the luxury of a living room is so appreciated. Being able to move from one room into another, close the door, and sit down at my desk is finally possible for the first time since I left home.
RS: The rental crisis in Dublin sounds intense.
EG: It makes it hard to find a place big enough to spread out and live unless you cohabit easily with people you don't know well - and even then, it's hard to find a place.
RS: How have your political views shaped your work?
EG: As a country we've seen a lot of shit - Magdalene Laundries, direct provision - and currently there's a huge movement fighting for housing rights. Look up Take Back the City. They're doing incredible work in this time of rent hikes, evictions, and a disgraceful amount of people forced into homelessness.
RS: What else do you find artificial or deceiving in our world?
EG: Isn't it all? We talk about how hard it is to find 'real' people and 'real' things but as soon as you describe something as 'real' it defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it? It feels so fake and facetious to call something 'real'. I wrote my MA thesis on YouTubers and how they sell products (and by extension, a neoliberal feminine ideal) through appearing genuine - which is an oxymoron, obviously. That summer messed me up. But I can't stop watching.
RS: What’s romantic to you?
EG: A fresh bunch of baby's breath. Hot chocolate on the couch. Sleeping.
RS: What do you think young artists need?
EG: Time, space, money (unfortunately). A day job that doesn't leave your brain sad and wanting.
RS: Why are you frustrated in your place of employment at the moment?
EG: Because I do the same thing over and over again and I think my brain is turning into mush.
RS: How else does capitalism affect you?
EG: Money makes me feel very uneasy - I have a lot of guilt tied to it because of how I grew up and how I live now. How many times have I used the world guilt in this interview?
RS: Three times.
EG: It's the most common emotion I tie to cards on my tarot app. I should probably call my therapist.
RS: Do you wish you had access to therapy earlier?
EG: Yes. I only got that when I was in my last year of college.
RS: Me too. Could have used it earlier.
EG: I think it would have helped during adolescence but it wasn't something that I felt was available without making a scene. A lot of my poems feel like they're stuck in a certain time because I hold onto a lot of resentment from 'wasting' years being depressed and not doing anything about it.
RS: Who makes you laugh?
EG: My little brother, always.
RS: What do you find peaceful?
EG: I found peace in Sapa, Vietnam. If I was self-sufficient enough I'd retire there. Whenever I feel overwhelmed and anxious I re-imagine myself on the back of a motorcycle in the hills letting my arms go and leaning back. So freeing.
RS: What makes you think too hard?
EG: I honestly don't understand how anything works. I was never a Maths or Science person in school and I live in complete beautiful ignorance of everything.
RS: Except poetry.
EG: Poetry makes sense!