Interview with poet Mary Madec
Mary Madec works with Villanova University in Ireland and has taught widely at Third Level (English lit. and Linguistics) but only recently had a shot at teaching writing. It’s a very different process, the teaching of writing, she says and tells us more about her journey with writing here, how she got into it and why she stays with it.
Mary has been working with people with intellectual disabilities for some time now, teaching creative writing. Tell us about that, Mary.
My husband, Claude Madec, and I set up and run Away with Words in Galway city and county with the Brothers of Charity Services and this project has been has been very successful. It’s going for four years now. I believe in it because I think that everybody should have a chance to express themselves in whatever way they are able and in the way they choose. We got some local writers to come on board to facilitate workshops –Susan Millar Du Mars and Kevin Higgins are always there generously sharing their expertise and time as facilitators.. The work of all our participants is moving and inspirational and tells us, like everybody else’s about their lives. One of our participants recently won the Inclusion Ireland Art and Poetry competition top prize in writing, to be awarded on 30th November in the National Library. Several other members were shortlisted too in writing.
I also seeded a project in Ballinrobe in Mayo very recently and got a local writer involved there, John Corless so it’s full steam ahead in Ballinrobe. Over the hills in Connemara things are going great too. In this workshop, which I run we have created a script together and are collaborating with Aideen Barry to animate it. We received very generous support from the Arts Coucil to do this for which we are very grateful. It will be launched at the Cúirt festival in Galway this April so we are very excited…
Last ye ar I started a residential workshop with a friend of mine, Conall O Cuinn for writers who are starting off, and we ran the first workshops in Kylemore Abbey, in beautiful Connemara in Co Galway. It was a wonderful setting and it did what we wanted it to do. The idea was to provide a space where participants could engage in the process of writing with gentle guidance and try it out , creating new pieces in a sharing environment. We’ll be back there next year..Watch out for our next workshop at Kylemore in Summer 2012.
Do you have monks in your classes?
No, no Benedictines as yet! And they are sisters! And very supportive. It’s hardly surprising giving that the discipline of poetry and monasticism are not so foreign to eac h other really when you think about it!
What about your own work?
I’m working on my second collection, title undecided. I find titles tricky. One of the themes is based around the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It’s very exciting. I’m finding out more about the myth as I write. The collection though is about the “truths” in my life rather than the facts, the myth providing a scaffold to do this. I’m working with the sequencing of these with other poems. It’s interesting how poetry collections are put together. It’s a challenge really and often from what I see it’s not taken up seriously at all. If a writer makes an attempt to structure the book it becomes easier for the reader, it sets up some kind of context for the interpretation of the material.
The poet Enda Coyle-Greene likens it to the order of tracks on an album, a kick as s first track, more thoughtful in the middle and again, finish with a bang.
Yes. I like deliberate sectioning in collections. The usual first collection is very autobiographical and after that, you have the freedom to do things in a totally different way. Freedom but also a challenge to be way more creative..I like that challenge but it’s not easy!
There was a good bit of autobiography in it – it’s hard to avoid it in a first collection. Of course it’s part of what you do in poetry anyway, but it would be a mistake to just seek autobiography in someone’s work – at least to seek it as a summary of their life story since it will always emerge in poetry as a complex personal narrative with a purpose greater than the narration of life events. The meaning overall is greater than the narrative and the “truth” in it is not a simple statement of facts. I think anyone who writes can appreciate what I am saying here.
What have you had recently published or coming up?
I had a sequence of poems solicited from Fox ChaseReview, a Philadelphia based publication and in Natural Bridge (University of St Louis, Missouri). I’ve also published here Southward, I’ve also have a poem in The Stand in the UK about to come out. They took two years between acceptance and publication. Also I had a dog poem in the Salmon anthology Dogs Singing I don’t enjoy the labour of sending stuff out to magazines but I try to do it form time to time. Ideally I would like a PA to organise submissions for me!
Wouldn’t we all! How did you first get into poetry?
I’ve always loved poetry. I had a very early reaction to language and nursery rhymes. The line between school and home was blurred with both my parents teachers at local schools so I can’t say which influenced me most. I was attracted to the music of language from the very start. I think, even now, I go for the musicality of a poem first and the meaning second. Sometimes as poets, we work too hard on the meaning, when the construction of meaning is a mutual task between writer and reader. A poem, which takes a long time to write and in which is invested a considerable amount of life experience should take a little time to understand and readers of poetry get this, I think and also appreciate that you get even more out of it if you stay with it.
I am my own worst critic. I go on gut/instinct so I appreciate feedback from others on what a poem means (I have a few close readers) after I think I’ve finished it. One poem I wrote recently was triggered by an insight where a friend of mine was present. I showed her the poem and she pointed out much more than I had realised. Subconsciously my mind had brought that out in the poem. In our best poetry, we are allowing things from our subconscious to come up even though we think we know everything about what we write. Subjects choose you, which is a strange thing to say maybe. But every poet I believe has a whole lot of poems in there trying to get out and sometimes we are wasting our time trying to write other ones..so being a writer is also about listening to yourself and making that part of your creative process.
Do you have any techniques when you write to open that up?
No. If something comes to me though, I always write it down, a few phrases. Sometimes I excuse myself from the company and go to the bathroom to take out my notebook! If I lose the initial flow of words, I find it impossible to recall later so the first stage is important. After that you are into multiple edits-some poems might be ready after a few days of editing and others not for years. The poem that won the Hennessy XO Prize in 2008 took two years to write. Writing can be intense sometimes as I am always at different stages with different poems-it’s like having a gang of kids-all different ages!!
What advice do you have for writers starting out?
It is very important to workshop your work. If you don’t do that, you’re deluding yourself. However, you must find a workshop that suits you, where you trust the members. A residential workshop is a good idea, particularly when you are starting out. You must ask yourself Is this really important in my life? Why do I want to write?
And honour the creative expression the most. Don’t get obsessed with publication. It is a risk-taking step. The first refusals are difficult. Prepare yourself. I wonder if it is harder now than ever to get a book published?
Also share your work. Read it for feedback and affirmation. It’s a wonderful way of making friends, different friends from those you meet playing sport, for instance. I’ve met so many lovely people through writing who I would never have met otherwise and got to know them at a deeper level because of writing.
Thanks very much Mary and good luck
KATE DEMPSEY runs writing.ie's Poetic License blog and is our poetry guru. She is a writer and a blogger living in Maynooth. She writes fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry and is widely published in Ireland and abroad, in magazines, anthologies and on the radio. She fits this around her family and a full time job, writing on the sofa, on the train and in that little coffeeshop on the corner.
Poetry can be a solitary activity and she appreciates the support she received from the online community, particularly when starting out. She is excited about continuing the dialogue with her blog here.