Donal Mahoney is a prolific writer who shares more of his words with us in the September issue. We talk with him about creative output, editorial peeves, great reads.
1. You have worked as an editor in many different places. What’s your biggest pet peeve as an editor?
My biggest peeve as an editor is probably what kept me employed–the lack of knowledge of basic English grammar and spelling that has increased as technology has given us more and better tools to work with. “Spell Check” and email abbreviations (i.e., LOL) seemed to have amplified this concern. Blogging, however, has done away with editors in many respects. I guess the main peeve would be a lack of love for the language in itself among many who seek to write. I say that as a curmudgeon who never understood why someone would major in Journalism without taking at least one degree in English first.
2. Women Who Walk Like Men is an interesting poem. I am particularly enamored by the last two lines. How did this piece come about? I also sense, perhaps oddly enough, a bit of an erotic undertone. Was that intentional?
I am a man who has noticed women since 6th grade and has been bedeviled by them. But this poem came about initially, I believe, from eating in a diner 40 years ago where the night Â cook was a very masculine female with tattoos at a time when women didn’t sport tattoos. She also sported a man’s ducktail haircut when they had gone out of style. I ate there regularly out of necessity as this was the easiest place to eat late at night after working late. I recall nothing erotic in my thoughts about her, which proves that at least one female did not provoke such thoughts. But my imagination over the years led to this poem. Like most of my poems, it evolved over many revisions. I still don’t understand the lesbian dynamic any more than the male homosexual dynamic but for me a woman is a woman whether she likes men or women.
3. You’re a very prolific writer who has been publishing for more than 30 years. How have you maintained such creative output over such a long time?
I had more than 100 poems published in more than 80 print publications between roughly 1969 and 1972. Then I got a demanding editorial job and put all the unpublished poems in cardboard boxes in the trunk of my car where they lay fallow till June 2008. Â With five children to feed and educate, work came before poems. I retired in 2005 and spent two years reading esoteric journals and listening to Gregorian Chant. My wife tired of this pattern and bought me an Macintosh computer as a gift. She also showed where in the basement the boxes of poems had been transferred. I then started inputting all the poems and revising them. Since June 2008 till now, I have had the good fortune to have had 266 poems accepted here and abroad by print and online journals. I keep count because I may end up trying to do a book and I have to know when and where stuff has appeared.
4. What is the last great collection of poetry you have read? Why?
When I was a young man appearing in print publications in the U.S. and Ireland, I happened upon another young poet in the Irish journals–Seamus Heaney. I thought I could write with other contemporaries but I knew back in 1969 that Seamus Heaney was light years ahead of all other scriveners working on typewriters at the time. I was not surprised when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Perhaps he impressed me so because I am the son of Irish immigrants, raised in a blue collar area of Chicago, who was no good with tools but always could spell and tossed words about. (My specialty was to ask people to spell “ukulele.” Not many could. Back in college, I won at Scrabble for years and never played again when a genius pre-med student beat me. Still can see him. Would like to play him again.) Maybe I could “hear” Heaney’s work better than many at the time because his diction sounded so Irish, so fraught with the brogue. For me there is still no one alive today to rival him, though I am fond of Simon Perchik, an 86-year-old poet still publishing now as he was back in the Sixties. Totally different than Heaney and a challenge to read.
5. What is your writing process?
Since my wife bought me that IMac, I have spent probably six hours a day. sometimes more, 7 days a week writing and revising. When i was young, words just came to me and I would jot them down. My pockets were full of napkins with first drafts. Seldom did those first drafts survive the revision process. Today new stuff comes with a line, now in a stanza. But all I ask is a good line to start with. A good line is like a tight skirt on a wife; it can lead to progeny. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke but I still eat too much ice cream. The five children all have degrees–one turned out to be a Rhodes Scholar–but they are all out on their own. My wife is a photojournalist with four books to her credit and she is obsessed with gardening as I am with words.
Read the first poem Donal ever published–now much revised.