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
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,
the net closing in
on their safe haven.
All that’s left,
on a window sill
torn safety net
on Red Road.
a Glasgow morning.
Did the outweighed sun
close its eyes
for that brief moment?
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;
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:
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 to tell me
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.
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.
you’re right, and I do
don’t want to
face the shadow side: seals
stockpiled on a pier;
a pregnant woman’s
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…
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,
reposted from from NMJ 2012