writing, the internet and flying with Orang utangs...
Writing is by its very nature a solitary pursuit and unless you live near a cultural town or city you can feel very isolated as a writer. The Internet has changed this entirely; there is a huge online writing community among the blogs and on Face book. It (in the main!) breeds a feeling of camaraderie and mutual support; it’s a great source of information and swapping of ideas, themes, trends and inspirations. There is also much spoofing, puffing, blowing, blagging, blackguarding and bluffing too! The Irish gang in particular seem to work well and attract people, we may be crap at being a Tiger Economy but we can still talk shite and write a bit.There are pages where you can post your poems and get feedback and online mags springing up like Outburst, The First Cut and Bare Hands which are a welcome addition or maybe even antidote to the mainstream mags.
Above all it’s a way of meeting people across the globe that would be impossible in the real world. It can be very hard to be heard in the (for want of a better term)’ real life’ poetry world, I wonder would I have been ‘spotted’ without it? Actually, I don’t wonder, I know! There would be no ‘Jewel’ from Salmon and no Poetry Bus Magazine which even gets its funding online via fundit.ie
And fair dues to the likes of Jessie Lendennie of Salmon and Chris Hamilton Emery of Salt who have a significant online presence and communicate freely with the great unwashed. Their fingers are on the pulse, is it any coincidence that they produce some of the best poetry books?
I believe the real poetry world is that of the poets themselves, not the chosen hierarchy and its institutions, we are the lunatics but we haven’t taken over the asylum, it was ours all along and the Internet is our common room, we can say what we like. Just like right here in this interview. The establishment poets like to keep tight control of what is said and who is allowed to say it. But poetry is a broad church and I believe that everyone is entitled to pray. Whether their prayers are answered or not should, at that level, depend solely on talent.
As for the writing routine the Internet messes it up entirely. Having said that even FB is writing, it’s not always ‘I’m having cornflakes this morning because the cat ate the toaster’ and I think some of my best stuff has been offered up as moments of clarity in a drunken status update at 2 in the morning.
I wrote my first poem when I was 16 and I’ve written terribly, sparsely, sparely, speciously, sporadically ever since but mainly in the last 10 years when I improved a little bit. What got me started? Anger, frustration, fear, anxiety,anger, a desire to be heard, anger, a fierce sense of injustice, an over inflated ego, an acute allergy to phoneyism, anger, and a hatred of bullying. A ‘Kilroy woz ‘ere’ desire to make a mark , leave a sign that I existed. A love of words, an excitement of putting them together in a way/order that has never been done before, get it right and they can be beauty, they can be dynamite!
And anger, did I mention anger? I’m Basil Fawlty with the tree branch swearing at his Austin 1100, I’m John McEnroe questioning the umpire, I’m Roy Keane being offered a prawn sandwich,I’m …Well you get the picture? These are the very same things that continue to make me write now, 300 years later. Except that now love and hope get a look- in. And a funny thing I just realized while answering your question Niamh, is that the very first (awful) poem I wrote at 16 was about suicide and the most recent (slightly better) poem in the latest issue of The First Cut is also about suicide. La plus ca change?
I get the picture! And love what you have to say about poetry being a broad church. Your first collection of poetry, Jewel has just been published by Salmon- what time span do the poems in the collection cover? What was your criteria for including/excluding poems? Was it a difficult process? What has the publication of the collection meant to you as a writer? All the poems are from the last 10 years and most are from the last few. The criteria for inclusion/exclusion were ‘Is this any bloody good?’ Which is an almost impossible task to ask of yourself. One minute I’m Bertolt Brecht and the next I’m Bertie Bassett. One minute I can find only 10 good poems the next I have 110. I’d have been there vacillating 'til doomsday only for a short deadline that focused my zooming lens. So yes, a difficult process but not as bad as a 10 hour shift down a coal mine. A couple I wanted in Jessie Lendennie took out (rightly so) and she also skilfully put them in a coherent order and made a sense of them that I would never manage. Publication with Salmon means the world to me, it just about saved me from oblivion and waste of breath, as a writer it’s the biggest boost and most wonderful feeling I’ve ever had! I just thought to myself ‘Well all that and all those years actually meant something after all!’
I enjoyed the poem This Christmas We, it really resonates, and The Man Whose Head Exploded, I loved that too ('padded walls? suits you sir!') The Train To Aberystwyth reminds me of leaving home decades ago, and of every time I leave somewhere; can you tell me a little more about that poem? Thank you Niamh! I’m glad you like those poems. This Christmas speaks for itself, but ‘The Train to Aberystwyth’ is a little more difficult. I went there when I was 16 or 17, just after my dad died and when I was struggling at a school that no longer (in fact never) wanted me there and in general I was having a difficult time. I stayed with my sister who was at university there; I was smuggled into the girls’ halls of residence and had probably the best few weeks of my early life. I wasn’t me, I was Philomena’s little brother and they looked after me and I drank in the Sea bank and had steak sandwiches and played pool and bought records and made friends and piled into a mini on Sundays to drive 16 miles to Machynlleth to get a drink as Aber was dry and I fell in lust for the first time and nothing was real and all was fantasy and home had to be faced and home I went. And things went bad. No matter how hard you run, or how far, you can never escape home.
The poem ‘The Man Whose Head Exploded’(The title of which I stole but slightly changed from the group The Fall who sang ‘The Man Whose Head Expanded’ which as song titles go is a cracker!) is about too much information, too much thought. It’s all dangerous. Poetic thought will lead you to the depths of darkness and madness and beyond but scientific thought is worse because it’s, well, scientific. Isaac Babel wrote a short story called ‘You must know everything’ I like to think you must know enough. I like mystery. If my child has goofy teeth and red ears I see that as a quirky random accident of nature, I don’t want science to isolate the red ear goofy teeth gene and tell me long before it appears when and how it will occur in every generation. I don’t want to know that all the stars in the sky are mainly dead and that the extra beautiful twinkle of red green blue and white is caused not by magic but by disgusting pollution in the atmosphere. Stop spoiling wonder and surprise, let me live in blissful ignorance. If the planet is going to implode at 3.30 am on the 31st Jan 2015 I hope I die drunk and oblivious at my computer writing about panda bears, not cowering under the bed counting the seconds and kissing my arse goodbye. So scientists until you discover a cure for cancer and the common cold, why don’t you fuck off and leave us alone.
What's your process Peadar, what guides you when you're editing final drafts of a poem, how do you decide when it’s done? A poem always starts as a mood, a feeling, the thoughts have been knocking around in the background, it’s a bit like giving birth then, out it comes! They are raw, I like to keep the essence of them and not interfere too much, I like to think they are honest and real, I don’t like to gild them too much and lose that rawness of creation.
If you had to pick one poet to recommend to a writer starting out, who would it be and why? Read everyone, someone, or no one. I wrote more poems than I ever read ‘til recently. Find your own voice. Don’t be homogenized. Succeed or fail on your own account. Like what you like, whatever it is. Follow your heart and your head will listen.
The poem, Best Days Of Your Life - interests me too - 'school made me hollow/ taught me that I knew nothing' - is that autobiographical? Have school days continued to 'blight your life?' (My own first year English teacher informed me that I'd no aptitude for the subject...) Completely autobiographical but clearly not unique. You have a Penguin book deal and yet your English teacher said that! School is the world in microcosm, so yes , not only have school days scarred me, the type of people who did the scarring are all around us as adults. I’ve spent a lifetime recovering, in some ways I’m grateful to them, they’ve made me think about life instead of breezing through it and I couldn’t write without them! The begrudgers and the sadists are still out there, but I’m more able for them now. Physically I sorted things out a long time ago but mentally it takes a lot longer. Beating someone to a pulp or shooting someone might give you temporary satisfaction but the head needs more than that, never mind the soul.
I love the poem The Price Of Love, you really cut through the bullshit - and it brings me back to when I first heard Sinead O Connor sing Troy (I'd kill a dragon for you...) The Bones of You is beautiful, and reminds me of being young and having a long distance relationship...(I think I first read it through a link on Facebook) is there an element of looking back in your poems, registering a half way mark/significant turn in life - ('we are not yet old')... Did you stand up to live before you sat down to write? Or have you been writing since you were very young? I started at 37, and often wondered what would have happened if I’d been writing at twenty... would it be dynamite or would it be shite :) I love In The Zone, and At My Wake ('poor craythur with the choc ice') Do you have a favorite poem from the collection? I guess there is always an element of looking back once you pass 40, let’s face it looking forward from there isn’t too appealing! (Don't say that! I'm planning to have a ball!) But every poem I write is of ‘the moment’ but every second of my life up to that point is included. So yes standing up to live before you sit down to write is I think important. I have worked in factories, offices,hospitals, pubs, building sites, shops, outdoors, indoors, on the doors, been an apprentice electrician, a gardener, a civil servant, a chauffeur, a plumber’s mate, a car park attendant, a painter and decorator, a labourer, a gravedigger, a catalogue deliverer, a van driver, a shop assistant, worked on a chicken farm, in an egg packing factory, meat factory, chemical plant, nuclear plant, an asbestos bindings factory, airport, timber yard, cleaned vending machines, washed floors, been a furniture removal man, a photographer, magazine editor and poet. I’m not a genius so what little I wrote in my early years was really not very good at all. A variety of life (lives?) can feed poetry, keep it broad, alive, feed it, make it grow.A favourite poem? I am fond of most of them and it changes all the time, at the moment ‘Pictures and Postcards’ pleases me but ‘Profiterole Poets’ takes the gold medal puts its feet up on the mahogany desk and gets drunk on absinthe. Maybe it’s a P thing? (You can hear Peadar read 'Pictures and Postcards' @ Salmon )
And finally, what are you working on at the moment? What keeps you writing? Are you ''disciplined''? My own poetry seems to be on a hiatus. I’ve only written three poems since Jewel was launched, one a few weeks ago (The suicide one in The First Cut) one about a painting by Mike Absalom and one last night that I can’t remember and am a bit excited to go and look at! But there are loads there in the air, it feels good, I’m letting them ripen before I pluck them!
Indiscipline is my only discipline; I am reliably unreliable, dependably late and inordinately lazy. I’m in my (imaginary) shed at the moment putting PB4 together (Issue four of the world’s greatest magazine of poetry, illustration, spoken word and music) (Peadar is editor and founder of The Poetry Bus) I will go to fundit.ie soon to (hopefully!) raise the money to print the mag and make the CD. This is a terrifying but exciting enterprise, a bit like drinking Poi tin while flying a plane with an Orang-utan Co-pilot. Then there will be the first in a series of PB chapbooks giving new voices a chance (and a few older ones!) And another TBA project in the pipeline! I’m reading at the Monday echo International bar Dublin on July 16th on the 3rd leg of my Jewel pub crawl, er, I mean world tour. Further dates required in Paris, New York and somewhere warm in Italy. What keeps me writing? Anger, love,music, paintings, night time, alcohol, rain, sunshine, the world, LIFE! Bring it on!
A series of chapbooks? That sounds brilliant, and do let us know more nearer the time! I''ll be quoting you re: my own work ethic (Indiscipline is my only discipline!) Good luck on the third leg of the world tour Peadar, and the next leg of whatever's next for you:)
Peadar O’Donoghue has had poems published in Poetry Ireland Review, The SHOp, Revival, Bare Hands Poetry, Can Can, and The Burning Bush. He has also published flash fiction in Ink Sweat and Tears. He founded, runs, and edits The Poetry Bus Magazine, an innovative journal of art, fiction and poetry, accompanied by a CD of the poets reading their work. An accomplished photographer, Peadar’s photos have been selected for a solo exhibition at The Signal Art Gallery, Bray and group exhibitions for Wicklow Arts Office and The Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray. They have been published in The Stinging Fly journal (and anthology) and The SHOp, including several front cover. They have also been published in Magma and The Dubliner.