Afric McGlinchey

Afric pic for New Mirage

Irish-born Afric McGlinchey grew up in various countries in Africa, returning to Ireland in 1999. She was the 2010 winner of the prestigious Hennessy Emerging Poetry Award. Her poems have been published in seventeen journals, including the SHOp, Acumen, Magma, Moth, Southword, the Independent and the Sunday Tribune.
Other achievements include being awarded a Fellowship by the Faber Academy, having poems shortlisted in several other competitions and being nominated by New Mirage Journal for the Pushcart Prize.
A poetry reviewer for Southword and for Sabotage, Afric also reviews books for the Irish Examiner. She is a book editor and teaches poetry online at http://www.creativewritingink.ie Her début collection, The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, to be published by Salmon, is forthcoming in May.

Which genres do you write?

I write poetry, but I have also written one thriller (I’m working on a rewrite before sending it out) and one book of non-fiction, called Through Ireland’s Revolving Door, which tells the stories of immigrants.

How many books have you published?
Salmon will be publishing my first poetry collection in May of this year. It’s called The Lucky Star of Hidden Things.

How long did it take you to find a publisher for your first book?
I was very lucky – I won a prestigious award in Ireland, and was promptly contacted by two publishing companies for my manuscript, which I was still working on. I think it’s the best way to attract the attention of publishers – to enter competitions and hopefully win one!

Have you ever or would you consider self-publishing a book? What advantages do you see in self -publication? What disadvantages do you see in self-publication?
I have self-published two small gift books, called Advice to a Daughter and Advice to a Son. I’m already on the third reprint for both, so it has been worth it in my case. I’d still prefer to find a publisher for them though, because I’d get a wider distribution and better marketing. There is a stigma to being self-published, but on the other hand, you have complete control, and also all the profits go to you. I heard on the radio yesterday that one self-published author had just sold her millionth book, so it’s definitely an option worth considering.

How many awards have you won for your writing? Has this honor(s) helped you develop as a writer?
My first break came in 2010, when I received a Fellowship from the Faber Academy to do a six-month poetry course, which was equivalent to a Masters in focus and intensity. After that, I won the Hennessy Award for Emerging Poetry, and that opened up all sorts of opportunities for me. I was invited to read at festivals, not only in Ireland, but in England too. I’ve also been asked to adjudicate competitions, and it’s helped my work as a poetry tutor. As well as these awards, I’ve been shortlisted in a number of other competitions, and come second in one. And thanks to New Mirage, I’ve also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize! Thank you so much. It’s all helped to raise my profile and create opportunities for me.
What is your new collection of poetry about? When will it be available for purchase and where?
My début collection, The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, will be published by Salmon Poetry in May this year. Their website is http://www.salmonpoetry.com/
The poems are essentially about the experience of growing up and living on two different continents, about being nomadic, and how that affects my perceptions, relationships and identity. The title is a translation of the name of a star called Sadalachbia. Traditionally, when this star appears (in spring), it signals the end of hibernation, and prompts nomads to pack up their tents and seek fresh pastures. I relate to it as I have moved about forty times in my life, and have even lived in a tent for three months!

What do you hope people will take away with them after reading this new book?
I hope readers will gain a sense of what it is to be displaced, and feel an increased interest and empathy for those who have left their place of origin. The advantage of experiencing other cultures, of course, is that you gain insight about different ways of living and being in the world. I feel immensely privileged to have lived such a life. As a writer, being an outsider is quite an asset – you can make more acute observations.

Would you call yourself a professional writer? Or Is writing more of an emotional/spiritual calling? Why?
In the sense that I am also a freelance journalist, yes, I would consider myself a professional writer. But where my poetry is concerned, it’s definitely a calling. It’s a compulsion for me to write, and when I’m not writing, I’m editing. Writing poetry, for me, clarifies my responses to what I see and experience. It also gives me the opportunity to inhabit a world of my own creation, and no matter where I am, this is the constant in my life.

Who are your favorite Irish authors? Why?
I returned to Ireland in 1999, so it’s only since then that I’ve been reading Irish poets. Yeats, of course, for his imagery, rhythm and diversity of content; Derek Mahon for his exquisite control, purity of language and the fact that he too, is in exile from his home place – I feel a strong connection especially with his later work. Younger poets who inspire me include Leontia Flynn, Leanne O’Sullivan, Grace Wells, Pat Cotter, Michael O’Loughlin. And of course many other poets from all over the world!

Do you spend time each day writing? What do you need to write?
I write at various times of day and night – sometimes I wake up out of a dream and jot things down. I have ideas all the time, so the problem is selecting which one to focus on! I sit down to write every day. If a poem doesn’t flow immediately, I will do some editing. Most poems are redrafted at least a dozen times before I’m happy with them. What do I need to write? My notebook and a pen if I’m on the move, or my computer at home. It’s easier to edit as you go when you can delete, cut and paste etc.

What advice (given to you by a teacher, mother etc.) has helped you develop most as a writer?
It was Derek Mahon who told me not to write so much, to slow down and take longer with each poem! To redraft ruthlessly and make each word earn its place in the poem. That was a big help. I received similar advice from Ciaran Carson. Paul Perry, who was my tutor on the Faber course, also advised me to be more sparing with my images – less is more, I’m discovering!

Red letter day
(i.m. three unknown refugees)

Sky and light
from this height
so startling and clear

Tied by tribe
and fear,
they stand on the ledge

choose a final freedom –
fly through a hundred
feet of air

catenated by the wind-
slowed red tape
of final warnings,

to slip
the net closing in
on their safe haven.

All that’s left,
dusty footprints
on a window sill

torn safety net
fluttering
on Red Road.

Darkness
wraps round
a Glasgow morning.

Did the outweighed sun
close its eyes
for that brief moment?

Scraps

It has been drifting in icy tides,
its feathers peeling,
like stitches unpicked

from a mucky cloth,
dangling from the lip of a wave
before dipping below water.

Our rudder rubs against
the skinny corpse – to find its life
not quite extinguished.

Further out, we discover others;
a trio, clustered
up against a rock,

butting bodies, beaks and orange legs;
scrambled concoction
fetched up by the slick.

A quiet curse.
Bent heads droop over the side,
trail nets, scoop flesh.

There is no rescue. Just silence in a boat
in the black heave of water,
men and their staring eyes,

one arm reaching with a boathook;
another arm holds mine, while I film:
collecting scraps.
Late

They call us
in the tokoloshe hours

to take mrs jimmy
to have her baby

but mrs jimmy has already
had her baby

by the creaking gate
where the cattle come in

grief-witted, arms tight
as rope, she rocks;

baby fingers curl in the dirt,
pale as a bleary sun

No need

No need to tell me
that endings
are a moment of transcendence,
and all that is solid melts into air;
no need to remind me
of the eyeblink tales of life,
like furniture and fridge snacks that stack up,
then vanish in a flame-lick.
No need to challenge me
to walk the high wire,
or to drag me to a party with all the wrong people,
where men take up space with knuckles on hips,
and there’s barely elbow room.
No need to show me
I’m in safe hands –
I’ve seen your scar
and know what you’re made of.
No need for you to hold up
a cardboard cut-out sun:
I remember how it looks, how it feels.
Or to suggest
that I’m more stone than heart:
what do you expect?
I’m still half a couple from ark days
pickling memories in a jar.
No need to say
that love will return some day
like speech after long silence;
that’s dirty talk.
White sky

Outside, the sky is white as snow,
but there is no snow in Africa today,

not in Accra, Djabouti, Entebbe,
Addis Ababa or Zanzibar.

It’s an impossibility, the idea
of blizzards, gales, aberrations

of cold and ice, while we sit here,
hugging the heat to our pores.

The board flicks names: Brazzaville,
Lilongwe, Kinshasa, Babouti…

Umbali wa mwisho wa safari-
Have a safe journey –

says my screen. On the map,
our destination, engulfed in white.

Newsflash of an earthquake in Haiti – all over
our spinning planet, weathers, shudders, rocks, cracks.

Fields of cloud, banquets of pattern
hiding the stories below.
Valentine

Maybe
you’re right, and I do
rose-tint life;

don’t want to
face the shadow side: seals
stockpiled on a pier;

a pregnant woman’s
bayoneted womb;
vehicles bouncing over

corpses; skinny kids
split in the dark,
twisted with gin and dagga,

then sent out
to vent their hurt
with matches, fuel and guns…

But
when you smile at me
I feel my blood suffused

and all weight lifts:
front page, clouds,
the day, my heart,

and I hope
that’s not too flowery,
my Valentine.

reposted from from NMJ 2012

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Afric McGlinchey: The lucky star of hidden things (Salmon Poetry, 2012) – a review

Afric 

 

Sadalachbia is the lucky star as referred to in the titular poem – it appears glimmering to mark the arrival of Spring, equating to nomadic uprooting and moving on and Afric McGlinchey certainly expresses some wander-lusting escapades throughout this fine collection.

The entire first section colourfully resonates with the poet’s African connection: she spent her first few years in southern parts of this massive continent. Her imagery is particularly strong given the poet’s youth at the time: now her seventeen poems in this section are reflected as remembered in dreams – and I am back there – as much as in ‘real’ memories. The very name Afric has to be reflection of here time there! Thus we hear the:

men, dark as squid ink, drink chibuku [beer]

And taste the;

tongue-curling kapenta [dried fish]; sadza nyama [maize meal], hand-rolled

There is plentiful African (both Shona and Afrikaans) discourse here too, for which there is an ample glossary at the back of book. McGlinchey later bursts back to Africa much further on in the third quarter, when she returns to Zimbabwe to see the spectre of what once was, in her On the soles of their feet. Things have deteriorated considerably: No lights, no water from the taps…since she lived there.

Keeping on with the wandering star ethos – the second section of 15 poems, after all, is entitled The Road – finds McGlinchey now forming and formulating relationships and reminiscing wryly about missed relational opportunities, near misses, one-off hits – take, for example, Sparks, where she lusts after the virile masculinity of a tyre mechanic as her vision of him recedes in her rear-vision mirror. Here too are her maternal recollections of her own kids growing up, as in Charge of the white paint brigade and On not flicking my tea towel at his departing behind.

Only in the relative stasis of the third section of 12 poems do we find a slight downwind into the poet’s reflections about epistemological and cognitive aspects (ways of seeing and interpreting visual and mental appearances.) There are also the two poems dealing with blighted betrothals – Shotgun and Damned, where;

Above me lies a vast black space

trailing an abandoned veil  

Momentum stalls a little here in fact until the titular poem (which rounds off a group of odes which is somewhat curiously entitled We who saw in the table of contents, yet is entitled What we saw at the commencement of the section.) This concluding piece jerks us back toward the closing 7 poem sequence as McGlinchey awaits a man to lead on further: she, in fact, will be his Sadalachbia. He will be her mentor, her partner in time.

Throughout the collection there is a lot to do with man-woman relationships – especially in this final rather settled section as compared to the early booming poem Dessert where she caustically belittles her soon-to-be-ex. For now she is a mature family woman. She has found her man and they are united through all (his) potential temptations:

But that blonde is not going

to make it better, and you know

we’re better than this – so

hold on.

That’s why this final quarter is titled Leaning into your [his] world – indeed. The whole book culminates in the wonderful James Joyce rip-off (in the best sense of this term) of Yes.

 

All in all a segueing from the exotic to the erotic. Yet we must also mention here the poet’s decision to also commemorate the deceased – as in her own parents (her late father receives several warm accolades – take the sad Last conquest), a certain Danny Murphy (in the lilting and lovely Under the heart, a horseshoe shape) as well as those anonymous suffering under the brunt of ‘modernity’ and its meanness and lack of empathy (the dead birds caught in oil slicks in Scraps and the three refugee jumpers into unnecessary death in Red Letter Day.) That the poet is a representative of modernity’s qua Western aloofness and ignorance – here via the cold lens of a camera is nowhere more apparent than in her Invasion, with its snap lines:

she [a girl in south Sudan] passed the cool mouth

of my camera,

growled her rejection

 

while there is a tendency throughout also to pronounce and denounce (men’s) mendacity, such as:

 

What are we but beasts of prey

when all that doesn’t age

is the venom of desire.

 

This from the poem ‘about’ sleazebag gerontins titled No banquet for old men.

All-in-all, good stuff. Afric McGlinchey writes well with lots of excellent imagery, as mentioned earlier. But there is lush imagery throughout – not just re: the African vista. Take this example, when describing wild goats:

A bearded billy

flaunts boomerang horns,

 

does a rock gavotte,

concubines in attendance.

And floribunda figures of speech – take the similes:

I unearth a history,

Sifting, like flour, old memories…

 

And:

 

…The stars came floating down

Like paratroopers…

 

And:

Our bodies trapeze

like laundry

cavorting on lines.

& what about the nuances and enchantments of these wondrous metaphors:

…as she steals to the feast

of his back. [his being a wild horse]

And:

…I make my way on a pot-holed road,

…………………..with bare feet, read

Its braille…

And:

We drive down forest roads

branches scissoring the sun

into the green depression.

 

Other stylistic ploys also filter through these steadily stanza-ed verses – there is the ‘found poem’ that is All roads. There is a circular effect resonating through several other poems also, whereby the last line tends to if not repeat, at least to strenuously echo the first. There are repetitions of the same lines – as in After the sand storm. Then there is the multi-couplet dance that is He was – where each couplet begins with those same two words. Worthy of mention also is the deft concoction of food-words filling us up as we digest the poem Dessert: spoon, starved, dinner, main course, dessert in a metaphorical stirring against her shamed partner.

Here, to finesse this rather glowing review, is a fine example of not only the sheer poetic craftwomanship of Afric McGlinchey, but also one of her main thematic and emotive strands.

Eighteen

When I was eighteen
I swam four lengths underwater;
he kissed me, told me he loved me..

I let him touch my breasts;
walked along the ridge of the sofa
as he proposed.

What would you have been,
my little one, who beat
inside me for five months,

remained nameless, have no grave.
Yet your presence is felt in wordless
whisper, and on this day, in sunshine,

rain or fog, I listen for you, the hum
of your shape cradled between pelvic bones.
You would be eighteen.

I believe this to be just one of many fine poems in this collection by this Irish voice: charming, striking, sometimes bewailing, always with a distinctive lyric brogue that we are all going to hear much more of, reflect on more. Especially as we scan the astral plane as we scan her lines.
Review written by Vaughan Rapatahana