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  • Writer's pictureMarías at Sampaguitas

Interview with Anne Walsh Donnelly

Anne Walsh Donnelly Interview Questions & Answers

Your debut collection, The Woman With An Owl Tattoo which was published by Fly on the Wall Press in May; I want to start asking about life. How do you feel about this publication? Has anything changed in your life since May? Depending on the press release of your book, do you agree the The Woman With An Owl Tattoo “reflects on your growth since the ending of her marriage and what it means to unearth one's true sexual orientation, in mid-life”?

First of all Nazli, thanks for interviewing me. I’ve really enjoyed answering your insightful questions.


The publication of The Woman With An Owl Tattoo has been an exhilarating, frightening, liberating and overwhelming experience in the best way possible. Since childhood, it has always been my dream to write and get a book published. I never actually thought this dream would come true.


I am very proud of this collection because it is a culmination of both the personal and creative work I’ve undertaken in the last few years. It is my baby, my gift to the world, born of a painful but worthwhile labour. Yes, it does reflect on my growth since the ending of my marriage and what it meant to unearth my true sexual orientation, in mid-life.


Has life changed for me since its publication? That’s an interesting question. Life is good right now and getting this chapbook out there into the real world has contributed to that. Prior to its publication I was worried about how it would be received. I wanted it to be appreciated for its well-crafted poetry as well as for the content and the story I was telling.

I was also worried about how friends and family would react. Thankfully there has been no negative comments since its release. It has been received very well in the poetry world. I find that hugely validating.



You said that “I wrote these poems at a time when I was exploring my sexual identity”. How do you interpret gender politics in your country, family and social environment? Can we say that your explorations give the final form of your poems in The Woman With An Owl Tattoo?

I grew up in an environment where genders were assigned specific roles. It was a world where women stayed at home, reared the children, did the domestic chores and men went out to work and brought home the income needed to pay the bills.


Interestingly things were slightly different in my own family. My mother worked outside the home, as did my father. She also did the bulk of domestic chores. I have five brothers and to give my mother credit she always insisted that they did some domestic chores. She didn’t believe in the notion that boys or men shouldn’t help with the cooking or the housework.

I grew up quite conflicted. I hated wearing dresses. I didn’t care much for dolls and I didn’t like being stuck in the house all day. I much preferred to be outside playing football or Cowboys and Indians with my brothers. I remember one year asking Santa for a toy gun and I got a doll instead. I was devastated. I explore that conflict in some of my poems and also reflect on my internal battle with the mores of my society.


There was a time in my life when I buried my real self and conformed to what was socially and morally acceptable. Uncovering and showing my real self to the world was a difficult and painful process. It was important for me to include poems in the chapbook which talked about my struggle as I wanted to show how hard it is for gay people to be their true selves. Being gay is not a choice and I wanted to emphasise that in the collection.



Coming out as gay in your 50’s… Can you tell us about the coming out process connecting with your poetics?

The chapbook consists of poems I wrote during the two years of my ‘coming out’ process. By ‘coming out,’ I mean not only coming out to others but also coming out to myself, which was the longest and most difficult part of the journey. During this time, I wrote poems that helped me to make sense of what I was going through. It was only when I looked back on the poems, I had written during this period, did I realise that I had in effect written a poetic memoir.



Kevin Higgins finds you by far the most daring poet to emerge in Ireland of late. Are you really?

I was delighted when Kevin said that about me. I consider it quite a compliment. Am I really daring? That’s perhaps a question for others to answer not me. I don’t deliberately set out to be daring. I can only be myself in my writing, I write my own truth. If the reader considers that to be daring, then great. I’ve taken a lot of risks in my life, like leaving my marriage, coming out as gay etc. It’s only natural that I also take risks in my writing. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. It’s all a learning experience.



In your poem “Metamorphosis” we find these fantastic lines: “I manoeuvre myself out of bed{scurry towards the bathroom/into the shower./Boiling water lashes my vermin armour. I cry cockroach tears/stiff wings dissolve/antennae swirl down the drain./Six spindly legs/become two again.” Do you think that you represent queer poetry?

I actually find the word queer difficult to digest, because of the society I grew up in. Queer was a derogatory term, when I was a child. To be called or labelled as queer was a huge insult. So queer for me has a lot of negative connotations. I know the term is now being reclaimed in a positive way by the LGBTQ+ community and that’s great.


To answer your question I’m not sure if I represent queer or LGBTQ+ poetry. I don’t set out to represent it. I just write about my own truth and I hope it resonates with others regardless of how they identify.



Linked to the fifth question, does the new era of queer poetry start or are we living the golden age of it?

I have no idea! All I do know for sure is, that poetry which expresses the LGBTQ+ experience needs to be written and needs to be read. One very positive result of having my chapbook published is that it has helped start conversations. Friends who would have known about my sexuality but wouldn’t have talked to me about it, perhaps because they didn’t know how to, are now able to talk to me about it. That’s great.



When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?

It was after the break-up of my marriage that I started writing poetry. Prior to that, I didn’t have much interest in poetry. I would have preferred reading novels or non-fiction.

I was inspired by my daughter, who was eight at the time. She used to write poems for people for their birthdays. Isn’t that a lovely gift? So I decided to write a poem for my therapist to thank her for all the support she had given me. I enjoyed the process of writing so much, I knew I had to continue to write. I’ve explore my ‘origin’ story in the first poem in my chapbook. It’s called Guide To Becoming A Writer.


Which is your favorite genre to read? Which is your favorite to write?

I don’t know if I have a favourite. I love reading short stories, novels, poetry and non-fiction. I dip in and out of all these and usually have two or three or four books on the go at the same time.


Do you feel like your poetry falls under a certain category, such as experimental, contemporary, etc.? If you could have your work associated with another poet, who would it be and why?

My poetry is contemporary. I don’t think I would want to have my work associated with another poet or poets. I like to think that it’s distinct and has its own unique voice. I may write about themes that have been explored by other poets but I hope I am exploring them in a different way. It’s not what you say but how you say it, that’s important. Having said that, some people have told me that my poetry reminds them of Sharon Olds or Billy Collins. I find that quite flattering.



Do you participate in spoken word/slam poetry? If so, where can we find your performances? How is writing spoken word different from ‘traditional’ poetry?

I love reading my poems and short stories at literary events. I was recently joint winner in the Over The Edge fiction slam held in Galway. You can see a video of my reading at my chapbook launch on my website at annewalshdonnelly.com

Reading to an audience has been a revelation. In my ‘former life,’ I would never have imagined that I would enjoy the experience but I love it and I love connecting with an audience.


A lot of my poems are very suitable for readings. I think this is because they are conversational, accessible and easily digestible. The audience only gets one chance to understand the poem. They don’t have the luxury of being able to read the words on the page and re read if they don’t get what the poet is saying the first time. So that’s an important consideration for me when I am deciding that poems to read at a spoken word event.



Which do you prefer more: writing poetry or reading poetry?

Writing poetry wins every time. I love getting caught up in the flow of words that come out of my head and onto the page. However reading poetry is essential for any poet and I read as much as I can. I have learned a lot from reading other poets work, both good and not so good.


When writing poetry, do you write from emotion? What usually inspires you?

Yes, I write from the heart. But once the first draft is down on paper, I use my head, to ensure the poem is the best it can possibly be and is well-crafted. For me a good poem has to be more than an outpouring of emotion and a personal rant.


A poem needs to resonate with the reader or help them see something in a different way. After a recent reading I gave, someone said to me that they were glad they had come as it gave them a much needed ‘time-out’ from their busy day and gave them a new perspective on life. That for me makes writing and sharing my poetry worthwhile and inspires me to keep writing and sharing



I know a lot of poets/novelists, writers in general, struggle with marketing themselves and their services. Have you ever encountered this feeling? If so, how did you overcome it?

Yes, I struggle with marketing myself. I have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts which I use for increasing my profile. I also have my own website where I occasionally blog. I’m an introvert at heart and am always afraid that people will perceive me as being boastful or cocky. Sometimes it feels counter-intuitive to post about a success or a publication.


I am lucky in that both of my publisher’s, Fly on the Wall who published my chapbook and Blue Nib who are publishing my short story collection in September, both excel at marketing.

Social media has helped poets. It’s a way of getting one’s work out there and increasing exposure. Poetry doesn’t get enough shelf space or exposure in bookshops. So we need to find other ways of reaching and cultivating an audience.


I find that different platforms reach different audiences so they all have an important role to play. The only downside is that it can eat into writing time so it’s important to be aware of how much time you spend online and learn to switch off regularly.


What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration?

Thankfully I’ve never experienced ‘writer’s block.’ There are times when the poems flow freely, and times when they don’t, but they still come. I might have to work harder to get them onto the page. I find that when I’m tired or have a lot of other things going on in life, the poems don’t flow as freely, which is usually my bodies way of telling me I need to take a break! I find that if I do take ‘time-out’ and recharge, the poems start flowing again. My problem seems to be more about finding the time to write down all the ideas and words floating about in my head.



A lot of writers struggle with time management. Do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance work, writing (poetry and your novel), family, and personal time?

Yes, I have a day job. I work as a Student Services and Careers Officer at a third-level educational institute. I’m also a single mother to two teenagers so life is busy. I carve out space in my week to write, which is sacrosanct. Writing is as essential to me as breathing. I simply have to find time to write. I am a better person and a better mother because I write. I do most of my writing at weekends. Though I always have pen and paper handy in case a poem comes to me when I’m doing something else as often happens.


What do you want the readers to know about you?

That’s an interesting question. I think readers will get to know me if they read my poetry and if they read this interview! I’m honest. I don’t write to shock the reader. I write my emotional truth and give ‘my all’ to the process.


Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years?

I hope I will be writing till the day I die, whether that’s in five, ten or hopefully a lot more years than that. I consider myself to be an apprentice writer and still have a lot to learn about the craft. I hope that more of my work will get published in the years to come. I’m currently working on another collection of poems and I’m continuing to write some short stories. I’ve also started to write non-fiction and am experimenting with the personal essay. One of my longer term goals would be to have a collection of personal essays published. I still have a lot to say.


Are there any immediate events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?

My debut short story collection called Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife will be published by Blue Nib Press in September. The collection explores loss, loneliness and the desperate measures my characters take to assuage their grief. Some of the stories also explore sexuality, how society and religious pressure to conform damages a person. So I’ll be busy in September doing readings and launching the book. I’m looking forward to it. The book will be available to purchase on my website: annewalshdonnelly.com




Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.

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