Afric McGlinchey is the winner of our 2012 Northern Liberties Review Poetry Prize. The interview below with Afric entails some questions we asked to help you, the reader, get a better sense of who our award winning authors are.
Tell us more about yourself.
I live in the south-west of Ireland, on the edge of the Atlantic ocean in a small cottage that I share with my lover, who's a glass artist and also a poet. I used to live in a land-locked country in the middle of Africa, surrounded by elephants and wildebeest. So it's been a varied life!
What led you to first start writing?
My first memory of writing a poem was as an angst-ridden sixteen year old. We had just returned to Africa from Ireland - we moved eighteen times before I turned eighteen - and I was homesick. I also remember being very inspired by Walter de la Mare's The Listeners, and other poems which we had to learn by heart in school in Ireland.
How do you feel that events in your life help shape or inspire your poetry?
My image base has been influenced by my upbringing in Africa, and the many dramas of my life have made me more attuned to the 'story' behind incidents/moments. I was a journalist in a previous incarnation, and am still insatiably curious about people and their motivations. As I have experienced emigration and immigration, I'm particularly sensitive to the experiences of migrants. Also, I lived in Zimbabwe during the civil war, and that has also impacted greatly on how I perceive the world. All these factors inform my writing.
Tell us about your work published in Northern Liberties Review.
It's not often that I get the opportunity these days to go to dinner parties and meet new people. I liked the idea of connecting the music theme to the subtle shifts in dynamics going on at the table. I wrote about it because it was interesting to me how uncomfortable both the hostess and I felt, and what non-verbal cues were causing this. I also adapted events slightly to suit the poem - the 'gardener' (who's really a writer) and his daughter were actually at the table too. (I thought it would be difficult to convey eight people at the table, so moved them to a different location.) He is intriguing, because he's convinced he lost a twin sister at birth, and that fact haunts him. The occult story is true, and I had to include that!
Do you feel there are common themes to your work that reappear? Have these changed over time at all?
I've been told that my strongest work focuses on relationships, interaction, the human condition. Some poems deal with political/environmental themes, surreal fantasy or abstract ideas, but mostly I write about birth, death, love, sex, landscape, the small day-to-day moments and the big ones. And of course, as you move through life and different experiences, your focus changes - although I do enjoy stepping into the skin of a young child, 20-something woman or old man at times! I like taking on different personae.
In what ways does a being a poet compliment other work you do?
I'm very lucky, because all my work is inter-related: I edit fiction manuscripts; review poetry and fiction, tutor poetry online; I'm a filter reader for several competitions and I facilitate creative writing workshops. The rest of the time, I'm reading or writing poetry. Swimming. Doing yoga. Or learning how to cook finally!
What's the hardest part about being a poet?
Having to stop writing to do the other stuff!
In your eyes, what needs to be done to help keep poetry alive?
One of my heroes is Derek Mahon, who once said, 'I can't think why they're teaching my work in schools. My poems were written for forty year olds.' We need to ensure that the poetry taught in schools is engaging and relevant (like Gwendolyn Brooks' 'We real cool'). In Ireland, we have a Writers in Schools project, where poets read/recite/perform/ talk to the students. I think this definitely generates an interest. Performance poets too, are helping to make poetry sexy. And poetry films, poems on apps and Soundcloud are all exciting new ways of connecting with the technological generation.
Advice for other poets?
Read as much as possible, especially work by international poets, to widen your spheres of influence. Also read other genres. Always have a notebook or phone handy to record ideas/images. And to quote Derek Mahon again, 'have something to say'.
What's next for you?
I have to consider what is going to underpin my second collection. Typically, a first collection is autobiographical, whereas the second is more likely to be focused on a single theme. But I'll aim for as wide a theme as possible, to give me scope within a parameter. The theme hasn't come to me yet, but I'm writing - and trusting that it will emerge from my new poems.
Afric McGlinchey spent her childhood and early adult years between Ireland and Africa. She won the 2011 Hennessy Emerging Poetry Award, and won second prize in the Chapter One Promotions Poetry Competition (2010). She has also been shortlisted for a number of other competitions. Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including The SHOp, Southword, Poetry Ireland Review, Scottish Poetry Review, Dogs Singing: A Tribute Anthology, Acumen and Magma. She facilitates workshops, is a poetry reviewer for Sabotage and reviews fiction for The Irish Examiner. Afric is also a freelance book editor. www.africmcglinchey.com