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.
Attracta Fahy’s background is Nursing/Social Care. She works as a Psychotherapist, lives in Co.Galway, and has three children. She completed her MA in Writing NUIG in 2017, and participates in Over The Edge poetry workshops. Her poems have been published in Bold Italic, Live Encounters, Banshee, Poetry Ireland Review, Poethead, Orbis, Crossways, The Curlew, Impspired, North West Words, Honest Ulsterman, The Blue Nib, Burning House Press, Elixir, Ink Sweat & Tears, and several other magazines, and journals at home and abroad. She was the October winner in Irish Times; New Irish Writing 2019, has been nominated for a Pushcart prize, included in Anthologies; Impspired, The Blue Nib, Avalanche, and Of Mouth Northern Women’s Writings, nominated for Best of the Web 2019, shortlisted for 2018 Over The Edge New Writer of The Year, and long listed for 2019, shortlisted for Allingham Poetry Prize 2019. She was a featured reader at the January Over The Edge Open Reading in Galway City Library. Her debut chapbook Dinner in the Fields was published in March‘20 by Fly on the Wall Poetry.
Here is the link to her latest book if you wish to purchase:
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
My love of reading, and later writing, in some shape or form was a natural progression. It is difficult to know when or how a child develops particular qualities, but being reflective, I observed everything around me with deep curiosity in the search for solace. I had natural ability as a child to pick up on the unconscious, and a strong intuition for immediate experience.
I learned to manage sociability through having a sense of humour, and had to learn to hold a part of me inside, which I instinctively knew that I could not bring to the world. This I believe is the part of me that needs to write, regardless of what I write. My mother liked singing, anything from Jim Reeves to nursery rhymes, and then her story telling was rich. She would often stay up most of the night reading.
My childhood poems were mainly rhyming prayers, and the sort of sonnets you’d find in anthologies. I loved to daydream, and was often told I had a wild imagination. I loved wandering alone on our farm in North East Galway. The townland of Killererin at the top of a hill nestled between two graveyards and archaeological sites.
I would secretly withdraw into the seventeenth century graveyard. It was natural for me to chat with dead souls. I read their names on the headstones or tombs, and I felt we were friends. This landscape had a deep impact on my psyche, and my development, particularly the funerals, when people from miles away were buried practically in our back garden. It was a mythos, like so many myths that refer to one going deep into the forest and the graveyard was my forest.
Living next door to the church, we had to attend every religious event, so one needed to be inventive. I loved the symbolism, it held a deep significance for me, particularly the church itself, its statues, windows, the large bell outside, and the Stations of the Cross. I loved the imagery of the host, chalice, water and wine. I felt a deep resonance in ritual, like the blessing of water, palms, and throats. Later as an adult I learned the deeper meanings of all these rituals, and I soaked it up like a sponge.
Our communion, and confirmation celebrations were significant, but, going to confessions was more of a task, like bringing in the turf, you just got it done. The hardest part was making up sins, which wasn’t too hard, you just switched numbers each month, changed how many times you cursed, or told lies. If you really wanted your soul to be clean, you’d be smart enough to include the lie you were telling the priest, then get out of the dark confessional, kneel in front of the altar, say your penance, and off as quick as you could to meet up with friends, sharing the lies we told, and making more sins. We were harmless really; the worst we ever did was steal apples from what we now call orchards. Back then they were apple gardens.
In the sixties it was very important to not get above your station, know that you were never going to be good enough, and had to feel shame, and guilt that you were nothing more than a sinner.
The only lie you could get away with at that time was the one you told in confessions, so it was very important to make a feast of it, as you were instantly forgiven. I have always thought confession was great training for potential politicians.
I loved the smell of incense at ceremonies, the processions, biblical readings, and all the extravagant dressing up of the priests at Easter, or significant events, like when the Bishop visited. It had all the colour, and pomp of a Macnas parade, or a Gay Pride celebration. When one thinks about it, if we remove the power, dogma, and fear, which are instilled in religion, we have access to a fabulous pool of creative inspiration.
We had a great sense of community in our parish, and one always felt that was unique to their own tribe. As a child we had the ritual of the bath on a Saturday evening to be ready for mass. I looked forward to seeing everyone showing up each week for mass in his or her Sunday best. I would have a creak in my neck turning around in my seat watching the style, who was next with their Easter bonnet, and whose bonnet would be the talk of the parish for that week. In the sixties Sunday mass in a parish was like the Oscars, except much more humble. It was special meeting and smiling at everyone.
Although I had respect for priests, and nuns, I never revered them, or believed they were closer to god than anyone else. I didn’t understand then, the depth of meaning in ritual, yet, this was my focus, and what felt significance for me. I think now that as a child when I prayed to Jesus, and Mary, and all the saints, who I really had faith in; my deepest belief was in a pagan god.
We were taught that a pagan was somebody who had no faith. I now understand this was a denial of our heritage. You cannot just get rid of your roots, and we are fortunate to have a very rich heritage from our past.
I wrote a lot of poetry in my early teens nothing morbid you know more early gleanings of mythology. But I felt very self-conscious and stopped showing my mother what I’d written, as it was she who submitted my poems. I felt vulnerable about it. I had a few included in Poets’ Corner, a section in the Connacht Tribune in the 1970s. I also won competitions at school.
Our farm was a world in itself. I was the middle child of seven, and the oldest sister. I got everything done expertly and efficiently, then escaped into my dreamworld outside the house and the outhouses. How would I describe my parents? My father was an anxious man, methodical, taught us a strong work ethic, and in his own way encouraging. My mother was very kind, intelligent, and creative; I’d have to credit her as being a very gifted woman.
I loved play but sought solitude for my inner world that could not show my true self to others. One could not cry without good reason. In touch with everything, feeling the pulsation of everything, I cried easily. When lambs were killed for eating, I bawled. When the pigs were slaughtered, the squeals haunted me as I helped my mother make the puddings from their blood.
I was a dreamer and wanted to believe in the mystical. There is a brutal side to doting on lambs as a farm child, keeping them by the range in the kitchen, seeing them as pets, and later killing, then eating them. My father would not let us see the killing, but I knew what was going on. I have a sensitivity, which caused an internal conflict. I learned to integrate these conflicts through writing. This is the shadow side of experience that I write about in my poems. Every human being has some shadow; our challenge is to admit it to ourselves.
I wanted the magical side of the world and writing created it from another perspective, which was equally valid. Writing for me became alchemy and my own personal myth in relating to conflicts, and contradictions, the longings of a child. My life was a paradox of intuitive awareness and being extrovert with a sense of humour as a way of protecting the introvert.
I wanted to be a nurse and a poet. My parents encouraged nursing so, aged twelve, I started working in a nearby nursing home, awakening to how vulnerable we are as human beings. From there, I began formal training, later working as a Hospice nurse in my late twenties. I loved caring for people and witnessed mortality, fate, and destiny.
I found separation from this mythical environment difficult, and struggled to compensate for what I’d lost. I focused on work and my career, and then in my mid twenties, my mother died. After her death I kept a journal, writing poetry occasionally. I wrote spontaneously.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Ours was a storytelling house, which fostered my imagination, and the world of spirits intensified my perceptions in the graveyards. The wind often howled through the sash windows of the house, up the chimney and through the sheds. I believed it carried spirits and unsaved souls communicating with me.
Reference to the wind was a part of storytelling nights, sitting around the turf fire where occasionally a blaze threw its pattern, and the fire went a bit wild before settling down. This drew the attention of the tellers as if they believed spirits spoke through the fire. There was the lullaby rhythm as each teller spoke, and this felt soothing. And somewhere along the way I was encouraged to join in, and for a child this was an extraordinary feeling, particularly when they believed my stories. It was magical.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
When not wandering the fields, I spent my time in our sitting room, called the parlour at home. My mother loved reading, so I read the collection of Beatrix Potter navy covered books and my favourite book by Padraig Pearse – a small, green hard-covered book of stories, poems and plays – an old school book from my father’s era, and it had little notes written on the side. I loved reading ‘Eoineen of the Birds’. Every time I read it, I was inside the story with Eoineen and his mother. Such experience of reading nurtured my connection to how one could write with their imagination. I love reading poetry from poets such as W. B. Yeats to Mary Oliver for instance her poem “The Journey” from Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen to Meatloaf and Gordon Lightfoot. You see song lyrics equally capture my imagination.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I work as a psychotherapist, so, writing includes clinical notes, and responses in my journal, clinical observations, reminders, ideas, quotes from articles, things to do, explore, or look up, shopping lists are all part of my routine. My unconscious sometimes is streaming into a half-formed poem, which may not be a poem, or something I never return to, however, since I began to focus on the craft of writing poetry two years ago, I am trying to become more disciplined in giving it priority.
5. What motivates you to write?
In childhood surrounded by many siblings, I had the need and urge for separate space, which I created by writing. However, my real connection when I matured was to mythology through Joseph’s Campbell’s work, and the way myth relates to our lives and our humanity. Jungian psychology is a great influence in anything I write. Psychology seeks solutions and doctrines leaving less time for imaginative interventions and imaginative experience. We are losing imagination in our lives, and with it our souls. I mean soul essence, our world in terms of the senses.
This is still significant today; the same inner voice in writing gives me a sense of being part of a community. As a psychotherapist, using imagery and language is how we relate to clients. Self-reflection is attention to the numinous that I hold for my clients. Writing poetry is therapeutic between the conscious and unconscious world. My participating in workshops actually benefits my client work.
I feel that we are forced to postpone so much of our inner world, our original identity. Poetry has never been more important. The small cry from the wilderness we have lost, but every voice carries humanity’s difficult transitions. The wilderness in our psyche is exploited by the outer world. I think of poetry as protecting our inner world. This is the challenge to the poetic voice.
6. What is your work ethic?
I have a very strong work ethic in regard to anything, including my professional work, home, and parenting, but the hazard is a random work ethic when it comes to writing, dictated by my mood.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Writers are an influence in unconscious ways, connecting me to a deeper inner world of imagination, creativity and the skill to write. Poetry and prose connects me to something deep in myself, to nature, and humanity, and to a spiritual connection I have always sought. It is the use of language as medium, which meets the part of me that needs to make meaning out of my life.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I am involved in workshops, and attending Over the Edge Readings in Galway. This scene meant being introduced to several poets I had never heard before and I buy their books. I am a poetry book addict for sure, and I’m not ready to surrender. I read poetry just as I would listen to my clients’ ‘stories’. Some work deeply resonates with me. Even poetry if it doesn’t resonate at first, I will persevere until I get it. I cannot name all the writers I admire, because there are so many, and often it is just a poem, which resonates, and speaks to me like an echo into my soul.
9. Why do you write?
I write to relate to myself. I like solitude and need time to reflect. Creating poetry from a stream of thoughts makes me feel whole and connected. Poetry is supportive of my work as a therapist. I like listening to others and their journey. I love supporting and helping others find meaning. This is also the oral tradition in which I come alive through story.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?
I can only give the advice I have received: read, keep reading, write, and keep writing. I don’t think of myself as either a writer or a poet. I love to read and learn, and I enjoy writing, which has come to me later in life with a lot of experience. There is craft to writing as well as perseverance, and doubt as a challenge. Most importantly ‘be yourself,’ it is the hardest of all challenges to just ‘be.’
11. What I would say to anyone committed to their creativity, or anyone who seeks to fulfil their dream to pursue a creative project?
Don’t let your demons stop you because they really want you to be on board, and plaguing you is their way of getting your attention, give them a voice, they are part of the whole journey. Trust them, and don’t be afraid. Feel the fear and do it, have a friend you trust to share with, one you can bounce your work off.
12. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment?
2018 and 2019 were good years with several poems published. These poems arrived unexpectedly from the universe. I aim to continue to participate in workshops, attend readings, and get on with reading and writing. Most of my poetry is rooted in childhood experience, becoming a woman, my work, life experiences, and being a mother. These are central life encounters where they merge and may evolve further. That’s what poetry is about, isn’t it? I won a Chapbook Competition with Fly on the Wall Press, and my collection Dinner in the Fields will be published in March 2020. I am really looking forward to this; It is very exciting.