Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Writer Wednesday - David McLoghlin

David and I met at NYU, and while we never had a class together, during readings and nights out, he was warm and friendly.  When I first read his book, Waiting for Saint Brendan, I was struck by his talent and depth of emotion as well.  A native of Dublin, we're so lucky to have him in New York right now.  I hope you'll check out his poems after reading this interview, and as always, if you're interested in being featured in this space for your writing or other artwork, please email me

Who are you?  David McLoghlin, author of Waiting for Saint Brendan and Other Poems, published by Salmon Poetry in 2012. I’m an Irish poet who has lived in Brooklyn since August 2010. I moved to NYC to study the MFA in poetry at New York University. I hadn’t planned to end up in New York, which had always seemed too big for me (it still is, in a way, but over the years I’ve slowly found my niche, and so it’s manageable, barely, now!) Once I imagined the possibility of studying an MFA (creative writing degrees are only beginning to appear in Ireland, and since the USA has always attracted me, I decided to apply here), I thought of myself in a college town like Madison, Wisconsin, Lawrence, Kansas, Ann Arbor, etc. NYC took a lot of getting used to, but the NYU Creative Writing Program was very nurturing. It put me in touch with several great teachers (Sharon Olds, Kimiko Hahn, Breyten Breytenbach, Matthew Rohrer, Marie Howe), and perhaps more importantly, it gave me a sense of a literary community that I had been lacking before. I might have been subscribing to the “isolated artist” model before! In workshop, I began to understand that feedback from other poets and writers could help me to break through the final 10% barrier between making a poem good and potentially great (Obviously that’s up to others, and not us, as writers. I mean, “great” in the sense of making every word count, and not having any lazy words in there). After I graduated, I held onto the 2 or 3 reader-friends whose opinions I really trust, and they have been a great boon to me creatively. Lawyers, pilots, engineers, construction workers, electricians all pal around together, talk shop, and are understood best by others in the same field, so why do writers imagine they can do it alone? Truth is, we can’t, and we need poet-friends or novelist-friends. That has been the best discovery of moving to New York (that, and meeting my wife!).

Where can you be found online?  Do you have a blog or other online receptacle for your work?  If so, how would you describe it to a stranger you've just met while on vacation?  Let see: I have a website, I also have a blog (which became unattended in the busyness of getting married, but which I plan to send to rehab soon). My blog,, began as a place to register the culture shock of moving to NYC. The shock was mainly in quickly realising that I had no space here. I noticed that a lot of people in New York City have been drinking too much of the Kool Aid, and I thought that having my own complaint space would be a place to vent some steam. Its subtitle is “digested by New York” (peristalsis is the movement of the gut on the food to pass it through the intestines: better definitions exist, of course. But, I chose that byline as a way of expressing the experience of feeling digested by a crazy city where one felt psychologically assaulted everything you went out your door), and the blog was designed to register the shock of, among other things, lack of space; difficulty of finding a bar stool / café / park bench where invasive others weren’t; it complains, humorously, about the phenomena of an inspiring, infuriating, crazy city. It began as a separate project from my poetry, and has remained, somewhat, separate.

What inspired you to start writing/blogging?  When did it happen?  A teacher at school, whose name was Mr. Love (really!), one day set us to write a poem for homework, and I never stopped. My years-that-I’ve-written now outnumber the years that I haven’t written, and it is as natural and as important for me as breathing. That said, it drives me crazy, I get blocked, react against the imperative to write, like most of us do. I have a daily need to write, as a minimum, 3 pages in my diary (I refuse to use the word “journal” – damn! Said it!). 3 pages is really half an hour, and it acts as a psychological self-bleeding, or leaching of my mental humours. After that, if I have the time, the inclination, I work on poems, or other prose projects.

Why do you write? It’s a mystery. Need, most of all. I think it starts on the brute level of self-therapy, and then it starts to move into the level of art. I see it as a compost heap. The pocket notebook is for brief jottings in the street or the subway; the larger book-sized diary is for more stable, café- or home- or library-writing – still messy, still off the cuff. Some good ideas get germinated there amidst the sprawl, but, the important thing is for there to be no pressure, no need for neat penmanship. No need to even record things that might, in the future, be valuable to read. Why? Because the obligation would further complicate the writing process, which is complicated enough as it is. Sometimes, some seeds from the compost shit heap sprout, and become “art”, “literature”. But, it all starts down there. From the diary / notebook, handwritten, to the laptop, to the print out, more crossings out and notes by hand; further typing up, it’s a process.

My favourite part is when listening to, say, the soundtrack to The Piano by Michael Nyman, and you cross what Heaney calls “The Frontier of Writing”: it becomes “a game”, a meditation, with some ecstasy in it. That’s when what Patrick Kavanagh called lift off happens. Without that sense of connection to something larger inside and outside myself, I wouldn’t be alive.

Your writing inspires me.  Who inspires you? Thanks Kristin! Let’s see. As a teenager, Rilke and Rimbaud. The translations of Robert Bly. As an adult, Lorca and the Generation of 1927. Seamus Heaney, Sharon Olds, Marie Howe, Michael Hartnett, Bruce Chatwin, many many more poets and creative nonfiction writers, as well as novelists and short story writers. Raymond Carver, Eamon Grennan, Basho, Miloz’s anthology A Book of Luminous Things. Poets of witness. Ted Hughes’ animal poems like “The Thought Fox” blow my mind wide open, and approach my reason for writing, which is not about words at all: the possibility of some transcendence, in which what is “transcended” (the earthly, the body) is not left behind at all, but reinfused with – “spirit”? (that was already there in the first place: “your Buddha nature is as good as any Buddha’s Buddha nature”, they say). That’s what poetry is for: to say the unsayable in a way that captures “the moment” in an uncheesy way. I’m most interested in those writers that don’t write for the lowest common denominator, and yet, have a simplicity and directness to them that allows self-claimed “people who don’t read poetry” to have an experience that “blows the heart open” (Heaney, “Postscript”). I write for those people. Firstly, though, I have to write for myself, and then I hope to reach down into myself to a universal place.

In keeping with the admittedly loose travel theme of Not Intent On Arriving, if you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? Well, all-expenses paid?! Bolivia, The Himalayas, Bhutan, Patagonia, the Trans-siberian railway…

What is your favorite place on earth? My favourite place on earth is the Dingle Peninsula (in Irish Corca Dhuibhne), in the summer: a timeless peninsula in the south west of Ireland that has a green mountain range running the length of it, old green mountains, little lane ways of fushcia and blackberry bushes; the sea on both sides, white beaches, blue skies in the summer and wild rain and wind in the winter; Gaelic speakers, ancient archaeological sites, Ireland’s 2nd highest mountain, Mount Brandon. And, it’s where, more or less, Brendan the Navigator, is from, the man credited with reaching North America, in a leather skin boat, before the Vikings. I lived there for close to three years before moving to NYC. There is only one traffic light on the whole peninsula. As you can imagine, NYC came as a shock. (That’s not to say I’m not an urban person. I’m neither rural nor urban. I can live in either relatively happily. Even in the right kind of suburb, as long as it’s not the soulless kind.)

Anything else you'd like us to know? I’m working on my 2nd book, The Room, which follows the themes of poems of self-witness (in the sense of waking up to realisations of past betrayal and past abuse), travel, spiritual exile and hunger explored in my first book. I’ve also finished the manuscript of Santiago Sketches, a book of poetry I first wrote while living in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain in 1993. The book sat in notebooks until 2009, when I put it on the laptop in a tortuous week-long process at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig that made my tendons feel like ship’s hawsers; then, after graduating from NYU in 2012, and after Brendan was published, I spent a year winnowing what had already been winnowed, and came up with 60 pages of small, short poems: moments, of daily life in the pilgrim city of Santiago: from the point of view of the café terrace, of course, not the pilgrimage! But, with that theme of quest running through it, too, and flashes from Ireland within the Iberian fabric of it. It’s very different to Brendan and The Room, and I like that. It also encapsulates a form of literary recovery that I like: this book could have been my first book, but: it could also have never made it into manuscript form. I could easily have lost those notebooks. Luckily, I kept them safe, and now the manuscript exists. It’s mysterious how things survive, or don’t, and how we make things be born.

Finally, although I know a lot of folks are interested in words and meanings floating away from each other, I have to admit that I’m of the camp where they cohere. I think, too, that readers who aren’t poets come to poetry looking for succour, and, they grow impatient if you play around with the food you’re offering when they are really hungry for nourishing sustenance.

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