Dr Julie Morrissy is the first person to hold the Newman Fellowship in Creativity at UCD. Julie is based in the UCD School of English, Drama and Film, and originally studied Law as an undergraduate. Her first poetry collection Where, the Mile End was published last year in Ireland and Canada. She is based in Dublin.
1. Tell us about your time in UCD?
I have had lots of different experiences at UCD, graduating with my law degree in 2002, and then returning in 2013 to do my Master’s degree in Creative Writing. I am more involved now in UCD life than when I was an undergraduate, though I have fond memories of Roebuck and the law faculty. When I went back to UCD as a graduate student, I felt more in control of my education and more certain and excited about the direction I was going in.
2. How did you end up in your current area of work?
In 2012, I was living in Toronto and working in a law firm, which I had been doing on and off for years since I graduated. I moved to Montréal right after I got my law degree, and I interned in publishing for a while, before deciding to return to Toronto and save money to go back to college. During my MA in Creative Writing, I was surprised how well I took to poetry; I went into the programme writing a novel, and I came out with the beginning of a poetry collection. That was largely due to the fantastic support of the Creative Writing faculty at UCD. Afterwards I continued on that path; I got a second Master’s degree in Literature (back in Toronto), and then a PhD in Creative Writing. I published a poetry pamphlet in 2015, followed by my debut collection Where, the Mile End in 2019.
3. What decisions have you made in your working life which were directly impacted by your time as a student?
My legal training has had a significant impact on my poetry practice. My project Certain Individual Women blends lyric poetry and legal poems, which I have constructed from parts of Irish legislation and the Constitution. Some of these legal poems have been published and are forthcoming in Winter Papers, Poetry Ireland Review, Law and Literature: The Irish Case and bath magg. Constitutional Law was my favourite subject at UCD, and while studying law I learned close reading and analytical skills that still help me with composition. For Culture Night last year, I read some of my legal poems in The Seanad, which was cool after studying law.
4. What is the proudest moment of your career to date?
I read at the opening weekend of the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, with the Heaney family in the audience, and my poetry has been published by Eavan Boland in Poetry Ireland Review. Boland and Heaney have been really important to me since I studied them for the Leaving Cert, so both of those things were significant accomplishments for me. Also, my debut collection Where, the Mile End was a huge milestone, and I am especially happy to have both a Canadian and a UK publisher.
5. What have been the most challenging aspects of your career?
I’ve put in a lot of work hard, made sacrifices and have learned to persevere when things are slow or tough. Probably some of the biggest challenges for writers and artists (and for anyone really) in Ireland now is finding space and security to work in unpredictable financial and housing situations.
6. What interests you the most about your career?
I love that I have the chance to travel to international festivals and conferences, but mostly I’m delighted that I can get up each morning and give time to something I find valuable and fulfilling. That is the most important thing to me—that I have the time to do my own work, generally on my own terms.
7. Could you tell us a bit about your activist organisation X-ile Project?
In 2015, three brilliant co-founders and I started X-ile Project. It’s a grassroots activist organisation with an online gallery of people who sought abortion care outside Ireland and Northern Ireland. We ran the project with no funding, relying on the generosity of our collaborators and participants around the country and the world. It is the most important work I have ever done, and our website and organisation have been covered internationally by The New York Times, Politico, Democracy Now!, The Guardian, and The Irish Times, to name a few. You can check it out at www.x-ileproject.com.
8. What emotions did you experience once the result of the Repeal the Eighth Amendment referendum was broadcast?
It was such a privilege to work with the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment and then with the Together For Yes campaign. The day of the referendum results, we were all gathered in Ballsbridge—the same as always, supporting each other and lifting each other up. So much energy and work went into that campaign, over decades, and we are so happy to play a very small part in it.
9. What advice would you give to someone who is now just beginning their career?
I think it is important for young poets to know that their goals are within reach. And to read, as widely and voraciously as possible.
10. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t proofread on screen.