SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to KATE DEMPSEY about writing, running a MEADERY and POETRY DIVAS …
Kate Dempsey is a prize-winning poet and one half of Ireland’s most exciting young tipple houses, the Kinsale Mead Co.
Originally from Coventry, Kate lived in Maynooth for twenty years before making a new life in Kinsale, where she founded her very own meadery with husband Denis in 2016. Her combined love of words and the ancient honey-based drink is a match made in heaven, as her brand continues to expand and word of her poetry spreads around the country. Kate has written a blog called Emerging Writer since 2007 and has contributed to Writing.ie since 2011.
Originally a data analyst, Kate studied Physics at Oxford University and prior to putting down roots in Ireland, she lived in the UK, Nijmegen, The Netherlands and Albuquerque in New Mexico. Her accolades include The Plough Prize, the Cecil Day Lewis Award, along with a short-listing for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, two commendations for the Patrick Kavanagh Award and a Forward Prize nomination. Kate runs Poetry Divas, a sparkling group of women poets who have dazzled audiences with their immersive performance style at events and festivals nationwide. As part of the Kinsale Arts Weekend 2018, the Poetry Divas held their inaugural Meadery Sessions in the Kinsale Mead Co. building, which went down a treat.
Kate’s debut poetry collection The Space Between was published in 2016. Her quite often droll, yet accessible prose covers such diverse themes as love, science, travel, health, consent, and family, all penned with her distinctive finesse.
Iggy McGovern has said of Kate’s work, “From the kitchen table to the Periodic Table, from dancing cows to drunken poets, Kate Dempsey puts our loves and lies under a powerful microscope.”
The Space Between (€12) is published by Doire Press and available from all good bookshops.
We are currently renting a slightly ramshackle house in Kinsale but you can forgive the sticking doors and rattling windows for the view. You can see over to the town and the harbour and along the river and out to sea.
I’m full on working in our business, Kinsale Mead. Anyone who’s gone into business for themselves knows how much time and effort and headspace that takes. The meadery is just down the road, so the short commute past fields and along high hedged roads is a welcome change after years of schlepping into Dublin on the train from Maynooth.
We run tours every afternoon in the summer. I really enjoy meeting different people with diverse interests, beekeepers, craft food producers, chefs, wine makers, sommeliers, brewers, chocolatiers, distillers. We’re always learning from each other.
I moved around a bit as a child with my family but we finally settled in Coventry. The city was heavily dependent on the motor trade and heavy engineering but this was in the era of the collapse of those industries so it was a city without much going for it. It was flattened in the second world war and rebuilt in the 60s with a lot of grey, grim concrete. But Coventry Cathedral was rebuilt beside the ruins of the old cathedral with some extraordinary modern art, tapestries, wood and stone carving. If you are lucky enough to be inside when the choir is practicing and the sun shines, the light streaming through the stained glass windows, it’s magical.
The other thing I admire about the city is the ethos of multi-culturalism. I remember the Asian food and West Indian spices in Coventry Market. And I read recently that the city took in more Syrian refugees than any other city. I think this compassionate attitude is a direct result of the terrible devastation in the second world war.
I write usually on the sofa or in bed. Or if I’m travelling, on the train or coach works well for me. I like the rhythm of travel and the changing landscape. First draft always in pencil in my notebook then I move on to the laptop.
From my sofa I can see out to the water and the sea. At night the lighthouse pulses in the distance. The colours change all the time; some mornings it’s so foggy, you can’t see anything, then it burns off to slate grey, then airforce blue, then sky blue then turquoise.
There are books piled beside me and my rhyming dictionary. I can only snatch the odd hour at present with the business so time consuming, my time is precious.
There are quite a few bookshops in Kinsale, a lot for a small town. I try to spread my business between them all! Prims Bookshop is great for second hand reads, an eclectic mix, as is the Poet’s Corner which also does great coffee and cake and mysteries. The Kinsale Bookshop is a treasure trove of new books, fiction and non-fiction and the Bookstór has a great selection including poetry. It’s hard to go in without buying something and I’m running out of shelf space.
On her “TBR” pile
I’m reading about Sir Kenelm Digby, a seventeenth century privateer, poet, scientist, catholic, cook and meadmaker. He lived such a fantastic life, I’m obsessed. I’m reading A Stain in the Blood about his early life on the continent and then his privateering around the Mediterranean. Also Viper Wine about his experimentation with potions and the Powder of Sympathy and his wife’s use of beauty tonics and creams which may have led to her early death. But it’s his book of over 100 recipes he collected for mead that intrigues me almost as much as his life.
Outside of these I have poetry collections and anthologies to be read, a teetering pile that never seems to decrease. Brian Kirk, Amanda Bell, Kate Ennals, Crannog, Flare, The Forward Anthology, Robyn Rowland, Stephanie Conn.
I often go on walks or for a run if I’m feeling energetic, just along to Charles Fort in Kinsale. Or a drive along the Wild Atlantic Way that starts in Kinsale. I go to sit at the cliffs by the Old Head of Kinsale which are magnificent (and windy!) or along to Timoleague and on to Courtmacsherry.
For a longer spell, I try and escape to Annaghmakerrig, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for a week’s retreat concentrating on writing. I always come back refreshed with a good chunk of work started or refined. A magical place with lovely people. But a week is very difficult to squeeze out of my time right now unfortunately.
Poetry is meant to be consumed slowly, (like a glass of mead) not chucked back in one shot and move on. I think slowing down for anything, food, drink, words, driving, conversation, life is something from which everyone can benefit. Take time for the experience, think about it, reread. Is there something else? Poetry is complex, it should entice you in on first read but it should have layers.
Poets in medieval times were paid in mead to perform at the great feasts in mead halls up and down the country. So if you want to get in touch with your inner bard, sup a glass or two of mead!
Mead is a delicious drink, the oldest alcohol in the world and we started making it in the lovely gourmet capital of Ireland, Kinsale last year. This was after a great deal of research and soul searching and the final decision atop the Great Mead Hall of Tara. It’s a deceptively simple drink, just honey, water and yeast but the better the honey, the more complex and delicious the mead. We ferment most of the sugars from the beautiful, raw Spanish honey to alcohol so there’s very little residual sweetness, just a lingering finish of honey. Nectar of the Gods! We handcraft in small batches. For the melomel style meads, we ferment fruit with the honey including amazing blackcurrants from Co Wexford which are bursting with flavour.
On Poetry Divas
We are a loose collective of woman poets who read our own poetry at events and festivals around Ireland. Each show is tailored to the event and audience. We promise a deliciously infectious show that’s bound to touch a nerve and blur the wobbly boundary between page and stage. We read interspersed and find that each poem can trigger a poem from another poet and then another like a waterfall. I love when poems chime with each other. The best result of a poetry reading, apart from selling loads of books, is when someone comes up and says, I don’t like poetry, I haven’t liked poetry since I left school, but I like yours!
On what’s next
More mead basically. We’ve just started trying out music and poetry events at the meadery. The acoustics are fantastic in there so hopefully lots of people will come along and listen and drink some mead too. And there will be me in the back row quietly scribbling some notes for the next poem or two.
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