Sarah Clancy is a wonderful poet and I'm delighted to get this chance to talk to her about her latest collection, Thanks For Nothing Hippies.
The first thing that struck me about your work Sarah was its freshness and energy, do you write your poems immediately they come to you? Or do you write them later on reflection?
Thanks!! I write them whenever and wherever. Normally, not always now but usually, I sit down and decide I am going to write and then I see what comes of it rather than having an idea before I’ve sat down. I’d often have a feeling and a place or context but not an idea. I don’t really do any of the writer-ly things like carrying a notebook and scribbling lines in it. The writing is probably immediate for that reason- I let the poems go where they want and fix them as I go and when I’m finished. I have no shortage of ideas and so I don’t hunt down poems, I may do yet but it’s hard to think of writing like that, like someone in pursuit of an idea. I love writing poems and so it’s not a chore for me. I wouldn’t recommend my method though as I am still learning learning learning how to do it and why to do it and may change my mind completely.
Your work seems so woven with (what I imagine) is your life is poetry for you a daily practise?
Yes if I feel like writing I could write a good few poems in a day, it’s not separate so for example if I sat down to do a bit of work I might scribble down some poem first then do whatever it was I was doing. Sometimes I also like to just play around and that would be when and where I end up with poems that are for the most part little ‘fictions’ that is I pretend I am someone else or that I know how someone else feels to write them. I like those much more than anything introspective. I delete loads and loads of poems and in order to do that I have to write a heap of them first. I kill the weakest or the annoying ones and maybe play around with the ones I like a bit and then I either keep those ones,or else I give up on them and write more.
I love the idea of poems from and about everything and I have a whole lot of unusual or rushed, packed- in life experience gathered that I don’t know what to do with and haven’t finished with myself so I could maybe talk about it in a bar to strangers or bore someone with photos about it or I can write poems from it instead and disperse it that way from me, leaving the way clear for more adventures to be gathered. Not sure if that makes sense but I think it’s someway accurate.
Do you believe in the sacredness of the first draft or do you make many changes from first draft to last?
I have discovered that for the most part I edit as I write. (I write on a laptop) so I will be fixing line lengths, rhythms, sound as well as trying to get at the meaning I am after as I write the poem. I often tweak the poems and then, if I am not too impatient I’ll say them out loud to myself and if I trip or find any bit awkward I’ll remove or replace it and if I can’t I’ll delete it. I do keep tweaking them though and I have published plenty that I probably could have tweaked a bit more. Life is the thing for me I want a poem to have life, it doesn’t matter if it is spare and serious in topic or if it’s some light-hearted mischief, for me I want it to have life and that’s what I edit for usually. So I think yes I change poems many times from first to last draft but I do it lightly and ‘bravely’ and don’t worry too much if I wreck them.
Are public readings part of that process, Sharon Olds mentions this as being true for her? Would you ever revise on the basis of how the poems reads or is received?
Yes! Any poems that I have published without giving them a few trial runs in public first have stuff wrong with them (how’s that for artistic? Stuff!) I am a very impatient writer and so things get out there in the world before they should sometimes, I’m not sure it matters because often they can be the ones that other people enjoy most however I find that they aren’t easy for me to read or perform which would tell me that something is awry in the scheme of the poem. I lose more though, by overworking a poem than underworking one.
Performance wise, I often edit poems after the first few times I read them, live audiences are great for pointing out any places in a poem where you went on unnecessarily long or indulged yourself with phrases and lines that weren’t needed. They tell you this by yawning, by checking their phones or whispering to their companions and shifting around in the seats.
So that’s the editing bit, the public bit I also in some way agree with I have very few poems that are not public, now I don’t mean that they address the public on big issues necessarily but for me the act of writing a poem is in a way of asking myself what would this (this issue, this emotion, this doubt, this question, this fear, this love etc etc) look like if I made it public, how would it be then? And that’s what I write for; a kind of kamikaze making public of private things, often invented private things from the invented minds of invented people but still you’ll know what I mean.
I stole it, it was a slogan from somewhere that I saw that later became graffiti in Galway (which I had nothing to do with honest). A couple of years before I began writing poetry I was doing an MA in NUIG and I had wanted to call my thesis, (which was on whether or not non- violent resistance or peaceful protest could be effective in a globalised neo-liberal world) ‘Thanks for Nothing,Hippies’ but I chickened out that time. It is tongue in cheek and slightly cynical but more or less is an observation much as was made by Henry Thoreau in Walden that ‘dropping out’ on its own by an individual doesn’t change what’s wrong or unjust, that actually takes work and action. This is getting more serious than my choice of title was but those are some of the ideas and themes behind it.
Thanks for dropping by Sarah, and just one last question - do you have a favorite quote, a favorite poet?
I don't know about 'favourite' poet I like lots and lots but at the moment an odd little mix of Frank O'Hara, Adrienne Rich, Pasolini the Italian film-maker/poet and I am enjoying Charles Simic's work at the moment.
Same for quotes I have lots I use for work etc possibly my favourite is 'Wecome to the Weekend, brought to you by the international labour movement''. Or Alice Walker's ''the most common way people give up their own power is by thinking they don't have any'' and similarly from Howard Zinn ''If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.''
by Sarah Clancy
I come from a long line of robber barons
with a great welcome for myself,
I'll eat your food, drink your wine
then I'll set your crops alight
and vanish to the mountains with
your horse and cattle charmed and
walking so light-footed behind me
that you wont have heard a thing,
then I'll take the torch you're carrying
and hurl it backwards so at dawn
all you wake to are empty fields with
nothing left but the charred and bitter embers
of a half remembered plundered past.
Thanks For Nothing Hippies published by Salmon Poetry....
'This book may be the essential survival guide to nearly everything for the disaffected; it offers its off-kilter judgements on issues as wide ranging as Mexico’s narco wars or surviving in a modern workplace, it endures scarcely tolerable bus journeys in odd places and provides a myriad of tips for ruining perfectly good relationships along the way. In these restless and darkly funny poems the writer trawls life’s horrors, pleasures and its most banal irritations in search of an identity she can live with. Irreverent and imaginative this collection could be described as a poetry whodunnit where the writer has no illusions that whatever ‘it’ was she did it herself.'
Sarah Clancy has been shortlisted for several poetry prizes including the Listowel Collection of Poetry Competition and the Patrick Kavanagh Award. Her first book of poetry, Stacey and the Mechanical Bull, was published by Lapwing Press Belfast in December 2010 and a further selection of her work was published in June 2011 by Doire Press.
Her poems have been published in Revival Poetry Journal, The Stony Thursday Book, The Poetry Bus, Irish Left Review and in translation in Cuadrivio Magazine (Mexico). She was the runner up in the North Beach Nights Grand Slam Series 2010 and was the winner of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature Grand Slam 2011. She has read her work widely at events such as Cúirt and as a featured reader at the Over the Edge reading series in Galway, the Temple House Festival, Testify, Electric Picnic, O Bheal and at the Irish Writers’ Centre, she was an invited guest at the 2011 Vilenica Festival of Literature in Slovenia and in Spring 2012 her poem "I Crept Out" received second prize in the Ballymaloe International Poetry Competition.