Julie Goo talks poetry and Irish language ahead of Lesbian Lives Conference

Cork native Julie Goo spoke to GCN about her poetry ahead of her appearance at this year's Lesbian Lives Conference.

Split screen with two images. On the left, photograph of poet Julie Goo in front of a red door with a silhouette of a tower. On the right, the cover of Julie's latest book Dána.
Image: @corkcitylibrary

Performing as part of the unmissable Lesbian Lives Conference, poet Julie Goo shares how the Irish language has helped her work reach new depths and how poetry helps her make sense of things.

Born and bred in Cork City, Julie Goo has always been involved in the arts in some shape, but for an art form which has become such a huge part of her creative output, poetry was a relatively late arrival.

Fittingly, for someone about to share her work at Lesbian Lives, it was another gathering of like minds that saw Julie’s work make its public debut. The poet explained, “The first time I shared was actually at Women’s Camp. I just recited a poem and I got an overwhelming response, and I thought -‘wow, people really like this.’”

From there, Julie Goo got into spoken word, slam poetry, hip hop – a myriad of ways to play with words, language, feeling. “Poetry helps me make sense of things. If I’m ever worried or frustrated or inspired about something, I like to write about it,” she explained. And people like to hear it, as evidenced by the reactions the work has gathered. Politically driven and socially conscious, she has performed at a wide range of festivals and events, been featured in numerous literary magazines and has had successful collaborations galore, most notably a powerful short poetry film of her striking Laundry with filmmaker Aisling Murphy.

Tapping into the personal in her work has, of course, seen her sexuality reflected in her output. “It’s inevitable really, you write about your experiences,” she described. “The big experiences of being gay – like coming out, and even pre-coming out, the internal dialogue or tension within yourself – writing helps me deal with that. I have several poems that are very much LGBTQI themed; same sex parenting; I have a lot of empathy for people in the Trans community; pre-marriage referendum where I ask for people to be accepted as they are. I’ve also a few break up poems about women who I dated years ago who have no idea,” she laughed.

Writing in the Irish language under the name Julie Field, 2021 saw the publication of her first book of poetry, Dána. For those not in the know, the title translates as Bold in English. Some may question why the poet decided to make her book debut as Gaeilge. A popular misconception, but a misconception nonetheless, is that Irish as a language is fading away, but GCN has in recent times featured many LGBTQ+ people championing the power of our native tongue. Goo is no different. “People might assume it’s a dead language but there’s a thriving community of Irish speakers, especially in the arts, literature, music, poetry.”

“I didn’t grow up speaking Irish but I just loved it,” she continued. “I have a love for Irish that I don’t have for English, English is very functional. My work in Irish tends to be darker, deeper, even spiritual in a way, slightly abstract. The language allows me to play with themes that I wouldn’t be drawn to in English.”

The learning of language and the process of discovery brought the conversation around to Goo’s own position as a teacher in an Educate Together school. Her current placement is a joyful one, Julie praised the wonderful equality-based ethos, describing the “lovely curriculum, and there are all different types of families. It’s made clear you can love who you want.” With her own marriage coming up next year, she expressed being comfortable to share the odd photo of the event with her students should the conversation come up.

This is a far cry from her first posting as a teacher, as she explained. “I was about 30 when I started teaching and it was the year of the marriage referendum. Because I had Irish it was easy for me to jump into a Gaelscoil. It was a lovely school but very traditional. Throughout the referendum, I was hearing so many homophobic comments, from older staff members in particular, and I thought, ‘Get out of here before you’re offered a permanent job’. I thought ‘I haven’t come out of the closet to go back in in my workplace.’”

So what can attendees of Lesbian Lives look forward to from Julie’s appearance? “There’ll be a reading, along with Sarah Clancy, Felispeaks, a few others. It will be a mixture of spoken word along the theme of ‘Solidarity’. It’ll be short and sweet but hopefully it will pack a bit of a punch.”

Appearing as a performer, but also being an attendee herself in previous years, what is it about the conference that appealed to Julie? She explained, “What I love about Lesbian Lives is that it’s very much about ideas, insight, sharing experiences. I suppose to socialise as well. It’s in-depth, as opposed to other things that might be happening in the community.”

“We are really listened to,” she concluded. As evidenced by the poem Julie selected to share for publication –Dear Society– there will be many an attentive ear when she performs.

Dear Society by Julie Goo was published in ‘Twin Skies; poems from Cork and Coventry’ and ‘Poetry Worlds; Lost in Print.

I am a homo, homosapien
I am attracted to other homos, homosapiens
I am a member of the LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ community
a group of people in society
segregated by our sexuality.
I am not queer, I am here, and I am me.
If my honesty offends your inability
to accept that I am free
to love the essence of femininity, well
I do not apologise, for beauty lies in the eyes
of the beholder, and I will hold her.
Her curves have been moulded to fit
the pieces of my life society which
you have jig sawed apart
we fit together like art
but our love is no
exhibition to be stared at.
And if you are to say to me that
‘God made man and woman to make child’,
I respect your right to be so black and white
but I am grey, and I also pray that
one day you may awake to see
that black and white blends to make me.
I am exhausted society from trying to suit you
my spine aches contortionist pains
from trying to fit into this closet,
from which I emerged terrified and alone,
back into my family home to sit my elders
down and reveal to them what felt like bad news.
But why should I, society?
Come crawling to you to accept me?
When it is you who should come crawling in apology
for building that closet and forcing me in it!
Why is it that you accept men to hold guns, but not hands?

Julie Goo will participate in the ‘Queer Creatives’ panel discussion and will present some of her poems as part of the final plenary session during the Lesbian Lives Conference at UCC from Friday, March 4 to Saturday, March 5. A full programme of events can be found here. To register for attendance click here.

This interview with Julie Goo was originally published in GCN Issue 370 which you can read in full here.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

This article was published in the print edition Issue No. 370 (March 1, 2022). Click here to read it now.

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March 2022

Issue 370 March 1, 2022

GCN March cover: Black background with the words 'When will I be able to walk alone at night and feel safe?" with a line striking through "at night"
March 1, 2022

This article was originally published in GCN Issue 370 (March 1, 2022).

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