P(rivate)S(paces) w/ Mary O’Donnell

in which Prairie Schooner contributors give us a glimpse into their writing spaces and sensibilities.

Filed under: Blog, Contributors, Interview, Poetry |

Mary O’Donnell has published six collections of poetry, most recently The Ark Builders (Arc Publications). She has also written three novels and two short-story collections, has won prizes in the V.S. Pritchett Competition and was the overall winner of the 2010 Fish International Short Story Competition. She is guest poet in the National University of Ireland-Maynooth in the creative writing program. Her poems "Sea Life in St. Mark's Square" and "Baby Boy, Quaryat al Beri" appear in the forthcoming Winter 2011 issue of Prairie Schooner, aka the Ireland Issue. (Subscribers should see the issue in their mailboxes soon!)

Name three things on your writing desk at the moment.

Right now? "On Love and Barley – Haiku of Basho", Penguin Classics; the second thing is an emery board (nail-file); finally, a CD of "The Best of Rachmaninov".

Name one classic you've long been wanting to read.

Tolstoi's "War and Peace".

Why haven't you read it?

Basic laziness about its length. Perhaps if I had an edition in four separate volumes (I believe they exist), I'd read it. I just hate handling very thick and heavy literature.

Is there any particular music or musician that puts you in the mood to write?

Schubert used to, but not any more. Mostly now, the music of Hildegard von Bingen would do it, insofar as such spiritual music opens an aperture into the stream of reflection and meditation needed for making new writing. I suppose I'm talking about detachment.

Name a favorite book in your possession: a favorite not just for content but for its actual physical qualities.

"The Land of Spices" by Kate O'Brien ranks among my favourite books for several reasons: 1. the story, which is set in a convent boarding school, and which features nuns as major characters, is all about the need for love and freedom. 2. It questions heterosexuality through the use of one, simple sentence which at the time of original publication (1941) got this novel banned. 3. it was published by Arlen House, prefaced by the wonderful Irish academic Lorna Reynolds. Arlen was an adventurous publishing house in Ireland during the nineteen eighties which brought to light near-forgotten but important writings by women. But I also love this book also because it is signed and dated by me – 1983 – an important year for me as a writer, when I was just beginning to exercise my writing wings and feathers, win a competition here and there, have bits and pieces published. It was an exciting time. Importantly, I read this work very closely and its slightly battered appearance is a testimony to my need to gobble up the brilliant and the beautiful in language and literature – a need that has never deserted me but always sustained me. Incidentally, although that Arlen House is now defunct, a new and exciting Arlen, run by Alan Hayes, is now publishing both poetry and fiction from men and women in Ireland, so the logo has survived as one of quality.

Learn more about Mary O'Donnell at her web site.