Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Peadar O"Donoghue A Question and Answer Session with the author of Jewel and the editor of The Poetry Bus

March 1 to April 28

Peadar O'Donoghue

Pictures and Postcards

by Peadar O'Donoghue

Mountains to mist, Beckett to boxer to blonde-
platinum of course, looking me straight in the eye,
over the slope of her shoulder.
She says nothing, and a million things.
not one can I catch as, like the accusations, I fly.
I’m back on the midnight bus as it pulls out and pulls in
passengers from the random roundabouts of my youth,
girlfriends dressed to kill and dying from the cold.
Yards and years away are barges passing,
coal powered, just like the square panes of light from the
Arndale block that lure people like moths.
The bigger picture hints of a hunt, of war, of winter,
brothers in arms, their quarry sought their silence confident,
reflective, pleased with themselves and whatever they have done.
I remember their faces peering in from the streets to the dreamy Cafés
‘Stay a while’, they seem to say, ‘Drink your coffee,
Compile this list for lesser days.

This work is protected under international copyright law and cannot be published in any format without the permission of the author.  I am grateful to Peadar for allowing me to share this poem with my readers.

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.

You can learn more about his work at Salmon Poetry

Be sure to check out the webpage of The Poetry Bus

  1. As this is Irish Short Story Month year III, please tell us who some short story writers you find yourself often returning to are?  Do you have anything like a favorite short story?  Who are some contemporary short story writers you admire?

    Before I start I’d like to thank you ,Mel, for inviting me to do this Q and A session.I think you are doing a fantastic job of promoting writers and writing. Well done!

All my favourite short stories have been found on the New Yorker website, mainly the podcast, so perhaps I’m swayed by the readings (often performed by other writers picking their favourite short) which can be very good indeed. On that basis I love individual stories rather than individual writers. My all-time favourites being John Cheever’s ‘Reunion’ read by Richard Ford and Tobias Wolff’s ‘Bullet in the Brain’ read by TC Boyle. A great short story is a very rare thing; these two are collectors’ items! If I had to pick an Irish short story writer it would be William Trevor. The only Irish short story collection I’ve bought recently and liked is ‘Nude’ by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

  1. I recently read Strumpet City by James Plunkett (the 2013 Dublin One City One Book Selection).  It presents a culture whose very life blood seems to be whiskey.   Drinking seems much more a factor in Irish literature than Indian, Japanese or even American.  There are rude sayings like “God Created Whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world” and “Without Guinness the birth rate in Ireland would be near zero”.  What do you think are some of the causes of this or is it just a myth?.   It seems to me from my reading of Irish short stories that few important conversations or events happen without drinking.   Is anything like this a factor in your work?   

Let me just get a whiskey while I answer this, Mel. There are three types of people in Ireland ‘Pioneers’ (People that hang upside down at night like bats) people who ‘Take a drink’ (Social drinkers) and then people who ‘Like a drink’ (Raging alcoholics)
A lot of people in Ireland ‘like a drink’ I don’t know what the cause of this ‘liking’ is. It could be the weather, it rains in Ireland 364 days a year on average and most modern pubs have roofs so you can remain dry. Certainly down the country the pub would be one of only two places where neighbours and friends could actually meet, the other being mass, but nobody goes to that any more, not even the priests. Almost everybody in Ireland suffers from depression and we mistakenly think that 20 pints of Guinness might cheer us up. Basically I think we’d like to be anywhere else than inside our heads, so we get out of them as often as we can. As a writer
I’ve never written more than 2 or 3 poems sober. This is a bit old fashioned these days though, and rightly so, drinking is a mugs game.

3. Declan Kiberd has said the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing father?   Do you think he is right?  How does this manifest itself in your work?     

I don’t know, I can’t say I’ve noticed that, maybe I’m reading different books, or not enough books. My own Dad died when I was 16 and the loss, the missing, the question that has no answer, surely surfaces in unexpected and (to the reader) unrecognisable ways in my poetry.
4.  Who are some contemporary poets you admire?  If you could hear three dead poets read their work who would you pick? 

There are quite a few well known poets whose work I really like (Lemn Sissay, Ian Duhig, both in PB4!) and then more excitingly some new ones I’ve been fortunate enough to discover and publish in The Poetry Bus. One of the many glories of the magazine is that it has a CD so you can hear some of the poets read their poems. There is amazing untapped talent out there! A lot of the great new voices submitting work to The Poetry Bus are female, and some are immigrants, I’m delighted about that, they have wonderful things to say and their voices need to be heard. That they’ve chosen the Poetry Bus is a great encouragement to us.
As for dead poets I’d love to hear Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Jack Kerouac read their poems. Is that four? Maths never was my strong point!

5.   The Fall of Celtic Tiger, the Irish Economy,has caused a lot of pain and misery.  Is there a positive side to this?  what lessons for the future can writers take to their work?  has it in any sense brought people closer to values other than consumerism?  Is it just another day in the life of the Irish? 

If there is a positive I’m struggling to find it. I don’t know either what lessons writers can bring to their work other than maybe trying to convince people to try a different way of living. Fundamentally capitalism really profits only a very few people, why don’t we try something else? It seems a very callous system, a thriving of the fittest to the detriment of the less able, it has never changed.

English landlords (Landlords-what a grand powerful title- though, are a breed not a nationality, Irish landlords have proved themselves no better by crippling and destroying small businesses with ridiculous greed. For hundreds of years we were able to blame ‘The English’, we’ve nobody but ourselves to blame now.)  in the 1800’s threw tenants out of their houses if they couldn’t afford to pay the high rent, now in 2013 the Irish banks(the same banks that the whole country are bailing out by the way) are doing the same if ordinary people can’t pay their (often ridiculous) mortgage. The f gaul of them! Worse is that they often then sell these homes very cheaply to investors/landlords. The tragedy repeats and re-winds and continues unabated. The whole boom and bust housing market is madness, houses should be affordable homes for all not commodities to speculate with.
On a local scale is it right that some people have 3 houses when others are homeless? On a global scale is it right that I am 3 stone overweight while children starve on the other side of the world? We
all have to look to our consciences.

Einstein defined insanity as ‘Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Already people are ‘hoping’ that house prices will go up, so it’s quite clear that most of the population are mad. Capitalism cannot boom without the bust. Lots of people get very rich from a recession. I just think that’s wrong and that it’s time we tried a different way.

So yes, let’s write about it. I’ve poems in my collection ‘Jewel’ reacting to this situation. I also receive many on this theme at The Poetry Bus, and not just from Irish poets. Plus in many ways the poetry scene in Ireland is the system in microcosm. Let’s write about that too.

6.   A while ago i read and posted on a long biography of Hart
Crane, author of the Bridge-few read it but many know of his life style as one of the first Gay poets living out a life of rough trade and wealthy older benefactors-he lived a very chaotic life and died young from suicide by jumping off a cruise ship. His father invented Life Saver Candy and wanted Hart to go in the Candy business with him-so if he Hart had done this and died at 75 rich living in ohio fat bald and married would he still be even much thought about let alone read?  One of the most references poets is Arthur Rimbaud who likewise had a short and chaotic life.   Does a poet need or naturally tend to a chaotic life?  why so much seeming admiration for writers like Jack Kerouac and others who died way to young from alcohol abuse.    (I know this is long, please just respond to it as you will.)
I have never read Hart Crane, but from what you say he does sound very interesting so I’m going to as soon as I can. There are so many good poets I’ve yet to read (I started very late) I hope I have enough time left! It’s far too late for me to die young but it certainly does have a romantic appeal, why is that I wonder? Is it because life is so precious that to waste/lose a single second is a tragedy, let alone half a lifetime or more?
As for chaos surely some poets are blighted/blessed with internal chaos and poetry is their only hope of at least temporary relief? Often this internal chaos cannot be contained and manifests itself in an outwardly chaotic life too.

7.    Tell us about your educational background?  

I went to Trinity College Dublin. Unfortunately it was only to eat my sandwiches on the steps there one afternoon last summer.
I hated school and school hated me, I’m not sure who hated who first.
I’m fairly certain that school let me down very badly,
I’m fairly certain I let myself down fairly badly.
I left school early with little or no qualifications and the Sex Pistols ringing in my ears.
I doubt I would have been a poet if I had liked school and done well, so I have no regrets. A lot of anger, but no regrets. Thank you school!

8.    What are some of your favorite movies?  What was the last movie you saw, the last novel you read?  Do you watch much TV or have favorite programs?

One of my favourite movies is ‘Twelve Angry Men’ it’s also the last movie I saw as I watch it now and again on YouTube. I’ve just finished reading Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis straight after reading ‘London Fields’ by the same author and it was a bit of a weird variation of the same theme in a way, I’m not sure what I made of either of them beyond enjoying the brilliance of the writing.
Being addicted to Facebook and occasionally reading, or watching a film, or writing, or putting The Poetry Bus together, doesn’t leave a lot of time for TV. I like dramas, any music programmes, ‘Later With Jools Holland for example ’and my son likes me to watch Match of The Day with him so that we can argue all the way through it.

9. Why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers?  Or is this a myth?

Because of the weather. Or maybe it’s a myth.

10. (This may seem like a silly question but I pose it anyway-do you believe in Fairies?-this quote from Declain Kiberd sort of explains why I am asking this:

" One 1916 veteran recalled, in old age, his youthful conviction that the rebellion would “put an end to the rule of the fairies in Ireland”. In this it was notably unsuccessful: during the 1920s, a young student named Samuel Beckett reported seeing a fairy-man in the New Square of Trinity College Dublin; and two decades later a Galway woman, when asked by an American anthropologist whether she really believed in the “little people”, replied with terse sophistication: “I do not, sir – but they’re there."

Sitting here safe in my day-lit home cocooned from the natural planet, surrounded with brick and plastic and urban civilisation the answer would be no. But ask me again as we walk home from the pub at 4 am in deepest darkest Tipperary or Offaly when you are falling under the weight of the dark and the oppressive silence that you are terrified to disturb with the sound of your feet on the tarmac road, that you are almost scared to breathe in case you miss something in the black, and you have to pull into the even blacker hedge for a pee, an ancient blackthorn hedge that you can feel but barely see, a hedge that is the only barrier between you and that vast field full of nothing but blackness and more silence and the knowledge of the hanging tree and the fairy bush right in its middle, then a twig cracks and you feel the breath of a full grown cow on your neck and you widdle all over your trousers as you run screaming down the road, then the answer might be different. Besides even a salt cellar doesn’t require you to believe in it, in order for it to exist.

11.  I will be touring the West of Ireland as part of my first ever Irish trip with my brother.  What are the scenics highlights?  What are the literary must do places?

I remember as a child going on a coach trip and stopping at a scenic location somewhere in the west, for a toilet break. The ‘toilets’ were open chutes that overhung a cliff and if the wind was not in your favour, your bodily fluids/solids were riotously returned to you. Don’t go there.
Do go to Clifden in Connemara, look all around it and the surrounding area, if you love romantic ruins go to Clifden Castle. Have a few pints in any of the bars in the town followed by a seafood chowder and sandwich in ‘Off The Square’
Go to Westport in Co. Mayo,visit Lissadel House, climb Croagh Patrick and look down at Clew Bay, then head to explore Achill island.
See Glencar Waterfall in Sligo, avoid the ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’ see bare Ben Bulben’s head and Yeats’s grave beneath it. If you happen to land in Dublin on your way to The West pop into The Winding Stair Bookshop by The Ha’Penny Bridge and get yourself  a copy of ‘Jewel’ by Peadar O’Donoghue, it’s the only book you’ll need. If you go via Clare take a look at The Cliffs Moher and pop in to The Salmon Bookshop and Literary Centre in Ennistymon, it’s FULL of wonderful poetry!

12.  As editor and founder of The Poetry Bus Magazine, what sort of qualities do you seek in the work you publish?  what methods do you use to promote readership and submissions?  

We look for something interesting, something that grabs us, something fresh. There is a lot of very good, very worthy, sometimes even beautifully crafted but ultimately very dull poetry around. We like visceral poetry that hits you in the guts, or articulate poetry that is thought provoking, is honest in its approach, doesn’t preach too much or patronize, and doesn’t glory in itself. To be honest we never reallyknow what we are looking for until we find it! We expect the unexpected, one recent poem made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up- now that’s what we are seeking!
As for promotion, the internet is pretty much our only tool. Luckily it’s a very powerful one, a very egalitarian one. You don’t get into the media here in Ireland unless you ‘know someone’ Everything is dependent on ‘the good word’. Which is a shame, I hoped that creating something new, innovative, open to all, that puts poetry and poets first in a very high quality production would be of interest , and clearly it is, but unless you have someone to ‘tip the wink’ you won’t get a look in. We got onto RTE’s radio Arts programme Arena a couple of times and into The Irish Times Newspaper twice too. All of which was a fantastic boost. In general, and to be fair it is ever evolving, there is the old establishment and the new establishment and they both look to their own a bit and seem to keep things among themselves, it’s just the way things are. This was the major factor in creating The Poetry Bus, we are not content with the way things are, we are hoping for the way things should be and instead of looking for change we are being the change. 

13.  It seems more and more writers have MAs in creative writing, as you do from UCD, some with PhDs.  Education is a great thing but is there a negative side to this, will it produce in few years a literary culture where lacking this degree will make it hard to get published.   Will the day of the amateur writer without any formal literary training be a thing of the past soon, if it is not already so?  Often I see reviews, especially of American short story writers saying the writers work is standard University of Iowa writing-I don’t know what this means but it sounds like writers are being forced into standards acceptable to professors of creative writing?   Peadar, do you see yourself one day obtaining a MA in creative writing?

An MA? No. Not unless I’m really desperate to get an Arts Council grant. At the moment I’m keen, but not yet desperate. Franz Wright used to say really interesting stuff on FB about all this and the homogenization of poetry. Unfortunately his page has gone now. I get a fair few rejections because my poetry is different, but at least when I get an acceptance I know it’s for something genuine to me.

14.   What is your reaction to these lines from Susan Cahill about the beauty of Ireland-”There is a hopelessness that a glut of natural beauty can create when there is a cultural and intellectual morass”.  Is the beauty of Ireland is two edged comes from nowhere and changes everything be over because of this?  

 All I have read about Ireland and all the images I have seen on the net present a country of amazing beauty.  How much does this saturation in natural beauty impact the writing of the country   Does it inspire and defeat at the same time?  

Beauty is a luxury; it’s a state of mind. You can’t eat the scenery. I’ve never written a poem about the beauty of the landscape. I can appreciate it, enjoy it, but I’ve never felt strongly enough, moved to the point of writing a poem about it. Yet!

15. William Butler Yeats said in "The Literary Movement"-- "“The popular
poetry of England celebrates her victories, but the popular poetry of Ireland remembers only defeats and defeated persons”. I see a similarity of this to the heroes of the Philippines. American heroes were all victors, they won wars and achieved independence. The national heroes of the Philippines were almost all ultimately failures, most executed by the Spanish or American rulers. How do you think the fact Yeats is alluding too, assuming you agree, has shaped Irish literature.   It is interesting to me that the American short story writers most admired by Irish writers, like Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter all came from the American south, the only part of American to be crushed in a war.   Does defeat bring wisdom more than victory?

I think that nobody likes a show off or a smart arse. Losers are much more interesting than winners; you don’t have to think too much if you win, if everyone tells ou that you are great. The sad song of proud struggle is much more palatable than a crowing anthem. The Fields of Athenry, springs to mind. A tragedy used as a rallying cry at every Irish international Soccer and Rugby game. Similarly the best poetry comes from feeling bad. The words of the underdog, of the downtrodden, their hurt, their anger, the passion in their eyes, the determination to resist and to struggle. Happiness (Triumph too?) writes white. Poetry born of struggle has a power.

16.  Aosdana?  to many it seems a mystery?  Is it the best use of Ireland’s funds to promote literature?  Is it closed in Elitism?  Some of the members are super big name writers, do they get a subsidy from the government?  Of course if they decide one day to admit book bloggers based in the Philippines to membership I will say it is the greatest thing in the world but is it really also a way for the government to buy the silence of writers?  Samuel Johnson said a pension was pay for a traitor from his government for committing treason, but when offered one he took it.  On the other hand are those who repudiate it just jealous?
I’ll resent Aosdana to my dying day or 'til I’m a member, whichever is the soonest. Actually I think it’s probably best described as good idea gone a bit wrong. Very wrong.

17. Do you think poets have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers.    I sometimes think poets can be seen as like the canaries in the coal mines of society, they feel the dangers first.  Are poets kind of like our early warning signals?

They should and they should be, but aren’t.

18. Tell us a bit about your non-literary work experience please.

Apprentice electrician, Tax Officer, Grave Digger, Factory Worker, Cleaner, Delivery Driver, Vending Machine Operator, Furniture Removal Man, Shop assistant, Garden labourer, Building site Labourer, Plumbers Mate, Car Park Attendant, Hit Man. These are just the few I can remember. The only good thing about manual jobs is that you don’t have to wear a tie. Unbelievably I found a manual position that required a tie, and did it for eleven years. Every day was hell on earth. I lied about being one of the above, can you guess which one?

20. How dependent are Irish writers on government support?     How big would the impact on Irish poetry be if all government aid were cut to zero?  What good effects might this have?  Some also suggest that government aid to writers is a way of buying acquiescence in the status quo.  Do you see any truth in that?   Aside from given you money to run the Poetry Bus and me money to keep blogging about Irish literature, what changes could they make in their current ways of funding the arts?

Acquiescence in the status quo comes as a given, no bribery required!
Cut all aid? I couldn’t argue that it would be a good idea, but it would be a level playing field. People who want to be in charge are quite often the least suited to the task, whether it is an Arts office or a building site or a government. If we could change things so that the psychopaths and ego maniacs were kept away from all areas of responsibility/influence then things might improve.

21. Have you attended literary workshops?  If so please share your experiences with us a bit.

No, I’ve never been to one. I don’t think they would suit me; I definitely wouldn’t/couldn’t pay for one. Some people love them and some poets make a nice little earner, I’ve been offered money to give one but I’d rather be hung by my testicles from a lamppost.

22. My brother and I will be making our first ever trip to Ireland in May so I am seeking a bit of advice-
a.  best place near Trinity University for fish and chips
b.  best place for a fairly priced pint
c.  best two museums
d.  best non-chain book store
e.  best place for good old fashioned Irish food?
f.  best place to hear traditional Irish music?

a) Skip the chips and have a pint in Mulligan’s Poolbeg Street, best Guinness in Town.
b) Spain
c) The Dead Zoo and Collins Barracks.
d) The ‘SALMON BOOKSHOP and LITERAY CENTRE’in Ennistymon and ‘THE WINDING STAIR’in Dublin!!
e) London
f) Manchester

24.   When you are outside of Ireland, besides friends or family, what do you miss the most?  what are you frankly glad to be away from for a while?

My computer and my computer.

25.  I want to get much more into contemporary Irish poetry, I have read nearly nothing beyond Yeats, where do I start?  who are five essential modern poets?

Probably Heaney, Longley, Muldoon, Durcan, and me, but I wouldn’t bother with the first three.

26. Quick Pick Questions
a.  tablets or laptops?
A laptop please.

b. dogs or cats

Dogs. I have a Collie called Mollie.

c.  best way for you personally to relax when stressed?


d.  favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner?


f. Yeats or Whitman -With a gun at my head? Yeats.

g.  Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC-great for a quick break or American corruption?

h. night or day
They both hold terror.

i  Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights?

Wuthering Heights

j-best way to experience a new poem-hear the author read it or read it in a quiet undisturbed place?

Read it in a quiet undisturbed place.

k.  favorite singer?  

Luke Kelly for craic, Natalie Merchant for class.


I give my great thanks to Peadar O'Donoghue for providing us with such interesting and thought provoking answers.

Mel u


Anonymous said...

Grand questions ( when occasionally not so grand, perhaps necessary ) and often both funny and real answers. I enjoyed this interview and nearly choked with laughter more than a few times... such a gift. Thank you both! ~ Michael Touhey

Mel u said...

Michael Touhey. I am new too literary interviews. I
Am very open to your suggestions as to how I might improve.