P(rivate)S(paces) w/ Micheal O’Siadhail

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

Filed under: Blog, Contributors, Interview, Poetry |

Micheal O’Siadhail’s thirteen collections of poetry include Tongues, Globe, Love Life, The Gossamer Wall: Poems in Witness to the Holocaust, and Poems 1975-1995. He has been awarded an Irish American Cultural Institute Prize and a Toonder Prize, and he was shortlisted for the Wingate Jewish Quarterly Prize. He has been a lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, and a professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. His poem “Conversation with Goethe” appears in our current issue.

Name three things of particular significance on your writing desk at the moment.

I have on my desk a book which traces the origin of Japanese characters and how pictographs combine in various ways to form complex ideographs. These signs fascinate me and in my latest book Tongues I devoted a whole section to meditating on them.

I also have here a lead pencil and a pencil sharpener. I have written all my books in pencil. I know the playwright Brian Friel wrote all his work with a ‘2B’ pencil. When we exchange postcards, I like to ask him if he is still pushing his 2B!

A third item is a picture of my wife Bríd, who has Parkinson’s disease, and sadly had to go into care early this year. I need to sense her presence here.

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

For years I’ve wanted to read Thomas Mann’s great four part novel Joseph und seine Brüder (Joseph and His Brothers). I know that Mann regarded this placing of these great biblical stories against the background of Egyptian history as his best work. I so want to steep myself in it.

Why haven’t you read it?

I have tried to put the time aside but have never succeeded.

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

I find I can’t listen to music either while working or before I work. Music affects me deeply and could change the dominant mood of the piece I’m working on. Yet music is immensely significant for me. I love classical music and jazz. Looking back on my poetry over the years, I realise how much jazz has been a core metaphor for me.

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

One of the great delights of working with my publishers Bloodaxe Books is how they serve their authors so well with eye-catching covers, often with a striking painting suggesting a book’s theme. I took particular pleasure in the beautiful painting Blue Dusk by Christopher Gilvan-Cartwright on the cover of This Great Unknowing: Last Poems by Denise Levertov. This is book where both the visual impact and feel of the book add to those superb poems.

Learn more about Micheal O’Siadhail at his web site.