Tara Bergin was born in Dublin and moved to the UK in 2002 to undertake academic research. This culminated in a PhD on Ted Hughes’s translations of the post-war Hungarian poet Janos Pilinszky which she completed at Newcastle University, where she is now a part-time lecturer in Creative Writing (Poetry). She began publishing the poems that feature in her debut collection, This is Yarrow (Carcanet, 2013), in 2003. It won the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize and the 2014 Shine/Strong Award. Bergin was named a Next Generation Poet by the Poetry Book Society in 2014.

Comparisons have been drawn between Bergin and other poets in the Irish canon, namely Medbh McGuckian, Patrick Kavanagh, and Paul Durcan, with whom she shares, Sean O’Brien has said, ‘a left-handedness of interpretation that needs to set its own terms and to speak neither entirely in propria persona nor dramatic monologue’. The poems often house a mysterious and sinister sense of folklore and fable in the quotidian; their surrealism is articulated in a stark, matter-of-fact register, as with ‘Dying’ and ‘Sample Arm’, which systematically describe quite bizarre alterations to the body without seeming out to shock. Both poems probe deeply – at both subject and reader – with an air of brisk and breezy detachment. Her work is in this way highly elusive: the monologues are flirtatious in what they choose to withhold or disclose – be that the deadly ‘talisman’ gifted in ‘Himalayan Balsam for a Soldier’ or the oddly prudish admissions of a tourist with regards to a fraught friendship in ‘At the Lakes with Roberta’ – and with the line they tread between sex and death:

Shouldn’t we be more careful
who we ask to be our allies?
Shouldn’t we be more careful
who we lean out to kiss?
(St. Patrick’s Day Address, 1920).

The ‘skewed attitudes’ (of her speakers), says John McAuliffe, ‘invite an engaged critical response from the reader’, or listener, of these poems.

These works are notably influenced by a range of sources both close to home (the Yeats of 1916 rebellion in ‘Military School’) and abroad (given the nod to O’Hara in ‘In Memory of My Lack of Feelings’ and Bishop in ‘At the Garage’, and the Russian authors, Dostoyevsky and Marina Tsvetaeva, she cites elsewhere). Bergin is poetically ‘stimulated by other art forms, both “serious” and “popular”’, and her poems seem to actively interrogate those very categories, as with the mischievous picking apart of the artistic project and ‘obvious difficulty’ of painting:

I simply can’t stand the academic realism of the whole endeavour,
That’s not to say it isn’t worth something.

On the contrary.
(‘Looking at Lucy’s painting…’)

And, likewise, with her riposte to the etiquette and constraints that underpin academic practice in ‘All Fool’s Day’. Bergin’s reading in these recordings embodies much of the poems’ cool detachment while being paradoxically imploring, kindly and curious; a style suited to the work’s unwavering commitment to inquiry.

Tara Bergin’s favourite poetry saying:

‘Poetry I feel is a tyrannical discipline. You’ve got to go so far, so fast, in such a small space, that you’ve just got to burn away all the peripherals.’ – Sylvia Plath

This recording was made for the Poetry Archive on 6 March 2015 at Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

Poems by Tara Bergin

Himalayan Balsam for a Soldier - Tara Bergin
At the Lakes with Roberta - Tara Bergin
Tara Bergin in the Poetry Store

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Books by Tara Bergin



Seamus Heaney First Collection Prize for 'This is Yarrow

Prize website

Named Next Generation Poet by the Poetry Book Society

Prize website

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