An Interview with Donal Mahoney

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1.What made you write and keeps you writing.

I have no idea what made me begin writing other than quirks in my personality and a love of words. I remember early in grammar school trying to write my first story with a character named Yukoa, an American Indian. Have no idea why I did it. Maybe it was raining and I couldn’t go outside and play ball.

I cannot say specifically what motivates me to write other than to say that I was reared in a home of Irish immigrant parents where my father, despite minimal education, finished crossword puzzles quickly. When either angry or happy, he threw words around like cannonballs. I went to the dictionary early in childhood to keep up with him. He was the only one I knew who would answer a yes or no question with the word “perhaps.” I have come to think that life is one big “perhaps” that cannot be answered with a yes or no.

2. Who or what most influences …writers …things…situations…emotions

What influences me most is the sound of words bumping into each other and what they mean when they bump into each other in the right way—my way when I am trying to arrange them.

If words are the most influential thing in my life, people surely are their chief rival. Other folks notice nice cars and beautiful flowers. I notice people, usually odd people, myself among them, perhaps because I’m odd in many ways that cannot be seen and that I have to live with and others have to put up with.

I can see a person, not know anything about them, but their mannerisms will tell me a story that may or may not be true. The piece may start out as a poem and end up as a short story. Normally I make up everything I write. Although I worked as an editor for a newspaper and magazines, I would have been a terrible reporter. Facts, for me, always threaten a good story, an autoimmune disease many people of Irish ancestry suffer from. Very rarely do I have any idea how a poem or story will end. I follow it until it ends, if that makes any sense.


3. How does writing poetry and your own life merge? What made you a poet and how does it affect your daily life?

Writing for me is an obsession. I have and have had other obsessions in life that have been good and bad. I have no idea what made me a poet, although I am uncomfortable applying that label to myself. I just like words and want to see what the next casserole I make will taste like. In addition, writing for me is an innocent obsession compared with others that have been in my life. I am lucky to have quit drinking and smoking the day I got married and never have returned to either. But five children were born healthy and still well in the first 6 years and 8 months of marriage, children wanted by both parents. That was in the Sixties. After the birth of the fifth child, I bought a TV.

4. Do your poems make you sad or happy or any other emotions that they bring?

Writing a poem through its various stages and finally finishing it is one act of love that seems to have no negative repercussions for me or for others.

Poems from my early life were probably more introspective that what emerges now. Usually, a poem begins with a word or phrase that sounds good to me and I type it out, and then write a beginning, middle and eventually an end, incorporating the word or phrase that got me started. I have no idea how or why I work like this. I just do.


5. Looking at your own writing style: How did you develop it. What do you think makes others enjoy what you have to say and the way you say it.

I write and revise, barring appointments, 7 days a week in two shifts of roughly three hours each. Mostly it’s rewriting. It might take as many as 30 drafts to get a poem or story to the point where I have to say I cannot do anything more with this and I send it out. I think it was Dylan Thomas who may have said that a poem is never finished but simply abandoned. I’d have to agree.

I started writing fiction late in life, thanks to an editor who returned a poem and said it would make a better short story. I had never written fiction or tried. So I reworked the poem into a story. Since then, I have had maybe 70 stories published, most of them born of poems that did not work out and that I could not abort.

I have no idea why some people like the way I write and others maybe not so much. I write for myself or rather for my ear. How something sounds is usually more important to me than what I am saying unless, of course, I’m in the didactic arena.

Content, of course, can determine how someone reacts to something I’ve written. I’m far from politically correct and can cause anger when I write about something that fails to mirror trends of the day. If write about nice things, which I sometimes do, people are happy or silent.

Like many others, I don’t write because I want to. I write because I have to and it keeps me out of trouble. It is the most innocent obsession I have ever had. I am always afraid that someday I might bump into one of the others. So far I haven’t.

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Thank you Donal for sharing your whys and hows of writing 🙂   Also, thank you for sharing your wonderful poems with Poetry Pasta 🙂 – Valeri Beers

(questions by Frank Esposito)


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5 thoughts on “An Interview with Donal Mahoney

  1. I love the Irish language, or slant of language. Like your name Donal, it atunes so well to the ear. The sound of words and the utterances of meaning that ripple underneath. The perfect horse for a writer. Thank you so much for this interview, you bring so much, as you always do, to the table. You interview like a book, full of tales and curves, and puzzles and questions, and perhaps a finish
    and always honesty of what is before you and where it may have come from.
    Donal, you are a terrific writer-poet-conversationalist. I have come across people like you, but they usually played poker and took me for everything. I am glad you have chosen a more innocent obsession, or a least one that makes us feel we are all winners.
    I hope you will always write and show us what you are up to.

    Franco Esposito

    1. Franco,

      I thank you very much for your comments, even the ones about my personality which are probably dead on. I’m glad my obsession with words has prevented me from doing things I might otherwise have done that would not have been so innocent or nice. The Irish and the Italians have much in common emotionally but perhaps we process it, generally speaking, in different ways. I’ve know a couple of hybrids, half Irish and half Italian, and they were mob actions waiting to happen. You take care and keep writing. Valeri as well. It will keep us on land if we’re lucky and we won’t get lost at sea. I’ve been out there in many a maelstrom when younger and somehow made it back with one oar.

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