Introducing Siobhan Mac Mahon. I’ve known Siobhan for many years – she’s a great friend and a wonderful poet. However, we only really know each other in real life! I’ve got a blog and I do Twitter. Siobhan is on Facebook and YouTube and Instagram. There’s not much overlap!
Siobhan Mac Mahon (MA Creative Writing) is an award-winning Irish poet who has been writing and performing her poetry for over twenty years. Siobhan has collaborated extensively with other artists to create Spoken Word projects, combining poetry with music, dance and with film and has been awarded Arts Council funding twice for her collaborative projects. Much of her work celebrates the Sacred Feminine and our deep connection to the Earth. Winner of WOMAD Open mic and the Ilkely Lit. Open mic, she has performed widely in the UK and in Ireland, some highlights include: the Southbank Centre, London, Stanza Poetry Festival, Wicklow Arts Festival – Ireland, The Brigid of Faughart Festival, Mountshannon Arts Festival, University of Vienna – Austria, Artemis International Festival – Spain, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Italy, as well as numerous venues in Yorkshire. Shortlisted for the Hennessey New Irish Writing Poetry award 2018, She has been published both online and in print, most recently in a Bloodaxe/ Raving Beauties Anthology – Hallelujah for 50 Foot Women, the Irish Times and in Skylight 47.
I was lucky enough to do a live workshop with her just before lockdown started last year, and did a second one over Zoom during lockdown. Her workshops are very much like her – warm, inspiring, nurturing and a little bit wild.
Let’s start with a poem:
Advice for my Daughter
They will try to keep you small.
They will warn you about the dangers
of being too loud, too clever,
too wise, too ambitious.
They will mutter words,
darkly, under their breath, such as:
strident and over-emotional,
hormonal and over-sensitive.
They will threaten you
with ancient memories
of asylums and burnings,
they will issue dire warnings
about upsetting the apple cart,
about gaining a few pounds,
about dressing like a tart.
Ignore them all.
Don’t play by their rules;
you’ll never win.
Make up your own rules –
tip the whole feckin cart over,
make cider from its sweet juices,
throw a wild party,
invite your sisters
and your brothers,
put your red dress on
and dance until dawn
on the dying embers
of the Patriarchy.
Speak your beautiful mind,
flaunt your wild wisdom,
be a brazen hussy
with the truth
that you know,
encoded in your DNA.
Hear generations of women rising
from their forgotten graves
clapping their bony fingers in delight.
Go on girl get up
on your high-horse –
you’ll have a magnificent view from there.
I haven’t seen you since just before lockdown! In terms of writing, what have you been doing over the last few months?
I’ve been doing a few different things over the last few months. During the lockdown before Christmas I began really using Instagram as a platform for my poetry. I am very much a Spoken Word poet and Instagram is a great way of getting my poetry out there, especially in these times when we can’t perform to live audiences. I filmed the first poem from my local woods and said I would post a poem every second day during lockdown – from the woods. So, that was that! – hail rain or shine I filmed all the poems from the woods, which added a whole other lovely dimension to the videos, bringing nature and the changing season into the project.
And are you working on any projects at the moment?
For the last few years I have been travelling to Dundalk in Ireland to perform my poetry at the wonderful ‘Brigid of Dundalk Festival’ which takes place around the Celtic Spring festival of Imbolc, meaning ‘in the belly/womb’. Much of my work is a reclamation and celebration of the Sacred Feminine and of our deep connection to the earth. Brigid is revered in Ireland as both Goddess and saint. She is Goddess of healers, poets, smiths, childbirth and inspiration. Her name means “exalted one” This year, of course we can’t gather in person, so I am in the middle of getting some new poems finished and working out how best to pre- record the poems for the festival, to make it feel as ‘live’ as possible – so I’m going to have to master a few tech. skills!
What does poetry mean to you? If you had to define a poem, how would you define it?
Poetry to me is a way of trying to express the magic and mystery of this extraordinary world we live in, to bring back stories and wisdom from, what the Irish would call ‘the other worlds’ It is a way to wrap words around the invisible, the sacred, the numinous so that we may catch a glimpse of it.
Kate Clanchy describes writing poetry as being part of a conversation with other poets. Are there particular poets you feel you respond to?
There are so many poets I respond to and I have shelves of poetry books! I’m also involved in a very lively poetry scene in Leeds (online atm) and I love to hear poets read/perform their own work.
And if you could only read 3 poets for the rest of your life, who would you choose?
It would be very hard to choose only 3 poets – but, if I had to, I would have to include Paula Meehan, David Whyte and Mary Oliver.
I don’t have a writing routine– I keep thinking it might be a good idea!
Do you have a writing routine?
I don’t have a writing routine– I keep thinking it might be a good idea!
What about editing? How do you go about it?
I am a very slow poet and will usually do numerous drafts. I find I need to leave poems ‘to rest’ for a bit in between drafts. If I begin editing a poem too soon after the first draft, my critical mind can be too forceful. I have learnt, over the many years I have been writing, to have a delicate (but rigorous) touch when editing. I find if I ‘go at’ a poem too much I can ‘kill it’ The final decision for any line or verse is always made by speaking it out loud, often recording the poem and listening back.
What sort of response do you hope for from your readers?
First and foremost, I hope to connect with the reader/listener.. I would hope that a poem will touch a chord inside the reader/listener, perhaps bringing them closer to something they already know deep inside themselves. I would hope that the reader/listener may feel moved: to tears, to laughter, to outrage at some social/moral injustice
I know you’re a great performer of poetry. Is performance poetry different to page poetry?
Yes, I think performance poetry is different to page poetry. With performance poetry you are really dealing with energy, with sound, with rhythm and silence as much as you are dealing with words. It’s more like music and it is also a two-way thing, between you, the performer, and the audience, you both participate in the live experience.
How important is inspiration? How do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration comes when it comes. It’s a gift, not something I can make happen. It’s more a process of clearing out the busyness of my mind which can then make space for inspiration to arrive. I find being in nature and trying to be present, rather than thinking, is often conducive to a poem ‘arriving’ Or taking a lovely long bath, or making soup! A poem usually arrives with just a few lines and I like to write it down right away and then leave it for a bit before I begin making a poem from the initial inspiration.
Do you think you have particular themes that recur?
Yes, I definitely have recurring ‘themes’ I write mostly about the Sacred Feminine. Initially (over 20 years ago) I was I was trying to ‘find’ any hint or trace of the Sacred Feminine, I was scrabbling around in the dark trying to even language what I intuited deep within; that She even ‘existed’ So much of the Sacred Feminine has been banished and obliterated from our consciousness, let alone our culture and any of the patriarchal religions. So, my work was an unpicking of much of what I had learnt and imbibed. It was also very much a reclamation of the sacredness of the body, and of the earth and our deep connection through the body and through nature to the Divine.
Do you ever feel blocked? How do you deal with it?
Sometimes I feel blocked and it’s often when I am trying too hard or when a new ‘voice’ is beginning to appear in my writing, which I am not yet familiar with. To unblock I walk in nature, make soup, garden in the Summer – just let it be for a bit….
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given? What advice would you pass on to others?
I think one of the most useful pieces of writing advice I have been given was by my tutor during the MA in Creative Writing I did. I had written a strong poem which very much pushed my point of view on the reader and he asked me whether I could ‘allow space for the reader to enter the poem…?’ At first I disregarded what he said, thinking that I didn’t want to dilute the ‘passion’ of the poem – but then I began to grasp what he had said; the gift and value of inviting your reader in rather than bludgeoning them over the head with your words! And I discovered that poems are, paradoxically perhaps, much more powerful when the reader is given space to ‘enter/participate’ in the poem.
If people want to read more of your work, where should they go?
The best place to listen to/read my poems is probably on my Instagram account or my YouTube account (my website is currently down) I am so much more a performance poet than a written poet. Or just google Siobhan Mac Mahon poet and you’ll find links to my work/performances.
Who should I interview next? And why?
Kathleen Strafford is a wonderful poet up here in Leeds (though she is American) and she runs a regular poetry night (now online) – Runcible Spoon. I don’t have her e mail, but if you want to contact her I will get it for you.