Hey there, I’m Cliona O’Connell, a poet and a Software Engineering Manager. Phibsborough in Dublin has been my base for the last twenty odd years though I’ve mixed it up with various stints of country living too.
I’m lucky in that when I’m in the city I love the city, when I’m in the country I love all that the country has to offer.
At the moment, I’m involved with a campaign to protect the river Barrow towpath. I spend most weekends strolling here in the company of friends and enjoying the comma butterflies, kingfishers and otters. There is a proposal in the formal planning stages at the moment to fundamentally alter this Special Area of Conservation and our campaign www.savethebarrowline.com opposes this urbanisation proposal.
My main creative outlet is poetry. I wrote poetry as a kid and as an adolescent – luckily none of it survived – but it was much later when I started to write in earnest – I only half-jokingly say that this was in response to a mid-life crisis. About ten years ago I started doing creative writing classes, initially only because a friend wanted somebody to go along with them to the class but it was me who was immediately hooked.
I started out writing short stories and some flash fiction but it soon became apparent to me that poetry was a perfect medium. Having been writing for some time and having some small success with getting poetry published and being selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions showcase of emerging poets I decided to learn the craft more formally so I did a part-time Masters in Poetry Studies at the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies in DCU.
That was a wonderful experience – the thing about a course like that is that everyone doing and teaching the course is entirely passionate about the subject so it’s a real joy and privilege to be in that kind of environment.
Poems arrive in different ways and there is no one source of inspiration or motivation but usually it’s either a sound or an idea or an image or a feeling looking for another sound or idea or image or feeling that it can sort of arc to. There is a part of writing that feels quite mysterious.
One of my favourite descriptions of a poet’s work is by Rilke when he described poets as “bees of the invisible.” Although poems can come about through quite different processes, what I think these processes have in common is the discovery of a synergy between an outer world landscape and an inner one. Another big motivation for writing is pure jealousy. I read a lot and am often most driven by reading someone’s stunning articulation of what it is to be a walking, talking, breathing human being and feeling – I want to do that.
Concentration is an essential for writing. I’ll often get ideas when out walking. Virginia Woolf’s description of the freedom to be experienced out rambling the streets resonates. She describes a scene where, while at home, she is weighted down by being “surrounded by objects which perpetually express the oddity of our own temperaments and enforce the memories of our own experience.” When she leaves the house she manages to shed this self and becomes “part of that vast republican army of anonymous trampers.”
Often too, if I’ve an idea already in my head, I’ll wake up with some words around that idea forming. I often start to compose something while I’m only half awake. I usually try to maintain that state as long as I can because the shape of the poem seems quite malleable during that time but some concrete words are arriving. When I reach a stage where I’m worrying if I can keep hold of it in my head I’ll run off and write it down. It starts to lose the tensile property when it’s written down, it kind of sets.
In 2011 I won the Cork Literary Review manuscript competition and my poetry collection White Space was published which I’m kind of proud of. I was also delighted to have a poem of mine called “Chains” appear in the catalogue of the Deutsches-Museum special exhibition “Welcome to the Anthropocene” which explores humankind’s relationship with and impact on the environment.
the bay streams its silks
along its shallows,
troubles the heron’s shadow
to shiver in a hall of mirrors
while the bird stands motionless,
waiting for the minnows
that have gathered in the harbour,
black brush strokes
like night falling on a broken skylight;
water turning on its belly
with the sound of the seal’s swim breaths
Turning as if turning
by wind curl or the Coriolis effect
are physical and fictitious forces:
the Great Pacific Garbage patch.
Pelagic plastics, polymer roots
barbed aquatic cross hatch
of the new continent of trash,
the size of Texas becalmed mid-ocean
in these latitudes for working
off a dead horse debt;
photo degradation in the ocean,
disintegration to ever smaller pieces,
to a polymer, to a molecule,
to flotsam in the food-chain
Split open your average albatross stomach
and what do you find
spilt ocean zooplankton, a few invertebrates
the occasional fish, but more,
much more than this,
mistaken by the endocrine system
(endo meaning inside, crinis secrete),
mistaken, that is to say fooled
into hormone disruption
(which affects our mood)
are bottletops, lighters,
and fishing lures.
It’s hard to pin down a favourites list and it might be different tomorrow than it is today. One of the first books of poems that I totally fell in love with when starting to write myself was Jo Shapcott’s Tender Taxes.
Then there are the greats Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson et al. I have a strong interest in writing that touches on nature and spirituality so a couple of favourites in that category are Jane Hirshfield and Jean Sprackland.
I very much admire Carol Ann Duffy and Billy Collins, both poets laureate, for the accessibility and humour (humour can be very subversive) that they bring; though I have taken exception to one of Billy Collins’ poems called “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes and wrote a response to it called “Taking Off Billy Collins’ Clothes.” I met him a couple of years ago and gave him a copy of the poem. I haven’t heard from him since…
If you would like to read more of Cliona’s poetry, visit clionaoconnell.com