Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Terry McDonagh

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

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Terry McDonagh

taught creative writing at Hamburg University and was Drama Director at the International School Hamburg. He’s published ten poetry collections as well as letters, drama, prose and poetry for young people. His work has been translated into German and Indonesian (Arts Council funded). 2015: shortlisted for Poetry Society National Poetry award and Gregory O’Donoghue poetry prize. 2016: poetry collection, Lady Cassie Peregrina – Arlen House. 2017: included in Fire and Ice 2, Gill Education for Junior Cycle. 2017: poem, UCG by Degrees, included in Galway Poetry Trail on Galway University Campus. 2017: Director of WestWords, Irish literature festival in Hamburg. 2018: latest poetry collection, Fourth Floor Flat – 44 Cantos, published in September by Arlen House.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I grew up in Cill Aodain, Co Mayo and was always very conscious of the presence of the blind poet, Anthony Raftery (1778 – 1835). My great grandfather, Thady Conlon, who had translated Raftery’s poem, Cill Aodain, was somewhere in the background as well. Then there were the ballad singers and storytellers. I didn’t like school very much but I had an uncle that kept Raftery, Thady Conlon and fairy stories alive. Later I became aware of poets like Michael Hartnet, Matthew Sweeney, Philip Casey, Beat Poetry and many others and it went from there.
In short, there were many inputs and reasons why I chose poetry. I’d go so far as to say that we are chosen by life or genetics or inheritance to carry on a tradition. Who knows?

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

As I’ve already said, my background and my uncle played a major role in my life as a poet. I studied in UCG (Now NUIG) and came in contact with poets and dramatists. And when I went to live in Hamburg I was lucky enough to come in contact with like minds. This led to Olaf Hille Verlag (publishing house) and to my first poetry collection, THE ROAD OUT in the early nineties.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

As I’ve already said, I was conscious of Raftery and my great grandfather who had translated Raftery’s great poem Cill Aodain. Yeats and all the rest were very vague.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I like to write in the mornings for a few hours when I’m not doing workshops or traveling. I suppose writing is always in my head. It is not just a conscious act.

5. What motivates you to write?

Hard to say. I like it and I enjoy the community of poets. They’re an odd lot and that is how I like it.

6. What is your work ethic?

Writing poetry is hard work and you can only have a degree of success if you are dedicated and prepared for rejection. It is not romantic.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Like all children I liked stories and tales…and I loved cowboy books and comics. That’s about it.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

There are many. These are a few of them:

Moya Cannon is a writer I really admire. She is a quiet voice who creates wonderful pictures.

Matthew Sweeney (RIP) is the Kafka of Irish poetry. Quirky, exciting and precise.

American poet, Billy Collins, because of his humour and unusual way of looking at his world. Very accessible as well.

Paul Durcan because he has challenged the structure of poetry…he turns language upside down and he is very amusing and truthful.

9. Why do you write?

Because I enjoy it. I have had some success to help keep me going when I doubted myself.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Write. Get to know other writers and writing groups. Don’t stop.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I have written 15 books in all. My latest poetry collection, FOURTH FLOOR FLAT, had just been published – publisher Arlen House. At the moment I am working on some drama scripts. My website: http://www.terry-mcdonagh.com

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