Monday, 26 September 2016

Interview with poet Shirley McClure

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of the poet Shirley McClure. I was lucky enough to know her and interviewed her last year. In a tribute to her warmth and wit, I'm republishing the interview. My condolences her family and her many friends. Now go off and read her poems.
Hi Shirley and welcome to emergingwriter. I enjoyed the launch recently of your new poetry collection, Stone Dress and I devoured the book on the way home.
First question. How did you first get into poetry?

The poems I wrote as a child bear a strong metrical resemblance to the hymns we sang in St Patrick's Presbyterian church in Waterford. I think that was my most likely influence, although we did read, and hear poetry read aloud at home. My mother was a primary school teacher and made sure we read more than Enid Blyton. In return I gave her carefully bound editions of 'My Poems'. This is beginning to remind me of Billy Collins' 'The Lanyard'...

Billy Collins - The Lanyard.
Does the carefully bound edition of “My Poems” still survive?

Probably, I shall look.

Would you want to go back and read your childhood poems? Have you? I’m not sure I would. In my memory they are brilliant, but probably with my world weary eye now they would appear less shiny.

I found my old poems!
But I am more amused by these than anything.

Did you continue writing through adolescence and on to early adulthood? How did school affect that?
I continued writing whilst at school, devoured the poetry sections of English text books and wrote for the school magazine. Teachers encouraged my writing. A couple of friends tried putting my poems to music, strumming away on their guitars on summer afternoons by the school pond. (Winter afternoons on their dorm beds?) Leslie Dowdall came to our school in fifth year, and did me the honour of singing one of my poem/songs at a school concert. (Already we could see she was good).
In college I did English & Spanish, read a lot and still wrote a bit, but it all kind of fizzled out as the years went by, with a kind of small revival when I got to forty.

Do you remember your first published poem as an adult? 
Getting published is always a thrill! Although one of my poems appeared in our college magazine, Icarus(1982), and a translation of mine from Spanish to English showed up in Poetry Ireland Review, I think I was most excited when in 1992, after a long 'sleep', one of my poems was selected to appear in Women's Work, an anthology of poems brought out by a Wexford-based community arts group. We were invited to read our poems, and my partner and I went to Wexford for the night. There I tasted the thrill of reading 'live', a pleasure I rediscovered fifteen years later after another long pause in my writing career. I remember the night so well, and the excitement of meeting other women who wrote. It makes me wonder why I stopped writing, or why I wrote so little really between the ages of 20 and 40. I suppose I was doing other things. Once I got into writing proper, I discovered the equally strong emotion of disappointment each time poems were rejected. Not funny.

So there’s hope for every lapsed writer! What brought you back into poetry, do you think?
A friend threw a 40th birthday party for me, where people performed and sang. Very enjoyable, except that they had dug out a few of my old poems and these were read, to my deep embarrassment! It made me think, though, and soon afterwards I attended a weekend writing workshop which really inspired me. At another workshop I met James Conway, who runs Rathmines Writers' Workshop, a long-standing group which meets weekly. I joined the group and the challenge to produce a new poem every week got me going. I would encourage anybody who is starting out or re-starting to attend courses/workshops, and to join a group where you get helpful feedback. Since then I have always been part of a work-shopping group: I spent about 5 years each in Rathmines and then Airfield Writers, then set up a small peer group with my friend Jane Clarke and three others. The group keeps my focus whenever I lose it. We do 2 poems each and stick to a strictish half hour per person arrangement, after which we all need to go home!
How did your first poetry collection come about?
I was preparing my first manuscript to send out when I saw an ad for the Cork Literary Review/ Bradshaw Books manuscript competition. So I sent my collection,Whose Counting there and was very lucky to win in 2009. Tina Pisco was writer in residence at Tigh Fili/ Bradshaw Books at that time, and she and Maura Bradshaw were very encouraging to me in getting the book out. They got me down to Cork to do a few readings which was a big help.   

And what about your most recent collection?
Bradshaw Books encouraged me to move on as they prefer to publish new writers, so for my second collection I did have to decide where best to send my work. Again I was lucky in that Arlen House does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, but a fellow writer who knew my work suggested they have a look at it. Alan Hayes and I exchanged edited versions of the manuscript and met to agree on final changes. He pointed out that I am over-fond of italics, so I will watch out for that in future! Apart from that, we tended to be in agreement about the changes to be made, so it progressed quickly. The book was launched in Dublin in July, and I'll be taking it on tour from next week (Kilkenny on 27th August) with Jane Clarke, who is promoting her new book, The River.

What do you have coming up?

Stone House Books, Kilkenny
The Kilkenny launch of Spanish Affair and Jane Clarke's The River is in Stone House Books on Thursday 27th August at 7pm. Music by Eamon Sweeney, whose Spanish guitar is featured on the CD Spanish Affair.

Café Fusion, Wexford
Shirley and Jane read at Café Fusion on Friday 4th September at 8pm.

Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinahely, Co. Wicklow
Shirley McClure, Jane Clarke, and classical guitarist, Eamon Sweeny, will give a performance of poetry and music on Thursday 24th September at 8.30pm.

Bray Arts, Bray
A performance of poetry and music from Spanish Affair with Eamon Sweeney, Katie Donovan, Jane Clarke, Lizzy Morrissey and Shirley McClure, Monday 5th October at the Martello Hotel, Strand Road, Bray. 8 pm.

No Alibis Bookshop, Belfast
Poet Paula Cunningham will launch Jane Clarke's The River & Shirley McClure's Stone Dress on Thursday, October 8th at 6.30 pm.

Imagine Festival, Waterford
A reading by Shirley McClure and Jane Clarke at Waterford Book Centre, as part of the Imagine Festival. 3 pm on Sunday 25th October.

Books Upstairs Cafe & Bookshop, Dublin
A reading by poets Paula Cunningham, Rosy Shepperd, Jane Clarke & Shirley McClure on Thursday 26th November at 7 pm.

Thanks Shirley. Good luck with your upcoming readings with Jane. Here’s a poem from Shirley’s second collection, Stone Dress published by Arlen House, available to buy online from Kenny’s bookshop.


Today she has been clipped, primped, squeezed,
handed back with a pink bow, she's a smooth black angel
beneath whose sleek chops, butter wouldn't melt.

Tonight is warm, the garden wild with possibility.
Suddenly the bellows of her belly surge, her body spasms
to expel the rare meat struggling in her mouth.

On the grass the hedgehog still breathes, but somehow
she has opened him, got right in without incurring
a single spine on her perfectly barbered snout.


Shirley McClure's new collection, 'Stone Dress', is published by Arlen House in August 2015. Her CD Spanish Affair, with her own poems plus poetry and music from invited guests, was launched in June. All proceeds from the CD go to Arklow Cancer Support Group, where she facilitates a writers' group. Her first poetry collection, Who's Counting? (Bradshaw Books) won Cork Literary Review's Manuscript  Competition 2009. She won Listowel Writers' Week Originals Poetry Competition 2014. Shirley lives in Bray, Co. Wicklow. 
Shirley’s website is here:

1 comment:

Donna OShaughnessy said...

I was not familiar with Shirleys work but now I am. Thanks for sharing your memories.