Spotlight: Beth McDonough

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How to hand-raise & Author Bio

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How do you begin a poem?

First thing in the morning, I read other people’s poetry, aloud. I read everything I can, from contemporary to ancient, in Scots, in English, in translation …and yes aloud. Someone said that for every poem you write, you read forty. I think that’s about right. Not all at once, but yes…forty to feed one. Then, I walk (and in warmer days swim). There’s something about being outside, for me. Words begin to clutter and cluster, knock into one another in my head. The poem starts there.

If I have a particular subject to tackle, I often borrow the Anglo-Saxons’ idea, and write a riddle. That helps me find a way under the skin of a metaphor and understand my subject better. So sometimes that gives me two poems for one!

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When did you start writing poetry, and when did you start reviewing it?

I wrote poetry when I was at school, but after a gap, in later years when I found myself writing more, it was predominantly short stories. I started an M.litt at Dundee University, and then began to write more and more poems. I am indebted to the huge support and encouragement I received there, both from the staff (Kirsty Gunn, the much-missed Jim Stewart and from Gail Low), and the creative community which continues to thrive there. Kirsty has a way of making terse, written comments, which say a huge amount in very few words. “Your short stories want to be poems.” I found that they did.

Gail set up DURA nearly five years ago, and asked me to review a poetry collection. Then I seemed to be reviewing and editing other reviews …five years and still going on. I’m not quite sure how that happened!

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Do you find that reviewer voice influences the way you write and edit your own poetry?

One of the wonderful things that reviewing has done for me is that I have read poetry I’d not otherwise necessarily have chosen in a library or shop. If a collection is published it has already gone on a considerable journey to reach a reader. Not being appealing at first glance is not enough, and you have to read closely, respect and understand what makes that work stand, whether it is to your taste or not. I think that opening yourself to possibilities, not perhaps always of your choosing, is a terrific opportunity for any poet.

So, that ever-widening reading does echo in my head as I write, and edit my own lines. Then I hear Jim Stewart’s pithy thoughts. Dundee’s beloved Jim died in June, and though I miss him terribly, and want to ask more, much more, his words and advice continue to underscore every poem I write. I also hear Helena Nelson – her reading window is a hugely generous service to poets everywhere, and I have no idea how she manages it. Then there was a poetry surgery with the equally wonderful John Glenday. I ran home from that not with the six poems he had advised me on, but desperate to apply his advice to everything I was writing. Those three voices continue in my head, but certainly no less importantly, I have so many dear friends who gathered through the M.litt and who continue to crit, support and advise. Lindsay Macgregor and Nikki Robson stand out. Jo Bell’s 52 was an amazing experience, and some of the continuing online support which had its roots there (Ruth Aylett, Catherine Ayres, Seth Crook, David Callin and more) has greatly nurtured and inspired me.

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What’s your favourite poem you’ve ever encountered, and when did you encounter it?

I honestly can’t single out one poem! I could mention almost anything by Heaney, MacCaig, Donne …too many! It is such a privilege to read Scots translations of classical Chinese poets. Where could I start? However, I suppose I have a very dear place for Les Murray’s  “It allows a Portrait in Line Scan at Fifteen”. When I first read it aloud, but in the quiet of my own home, I jumped up and down, punched air. YES!! I saw how the great Australian understands his son’s autism, and untangles it from his son’s unique and precious personality. I was in tears, and I am again,every time I read it. Everyone with personal and professional experience of autism should be given that poem. Sometimes when I need to pull the thread of an experience I have had, in order to be able to write about my own son, I turn to Les Murray’s extraordinary pattern.

I’d also like to mention Jamaican poet Tanya Shirley’s “Edward Baugh, When I Die”, because it’s the best funeral plan I have ever read.  I suspect the Co-op will struggle to manage it for me, but it will be perfect. I’m tempted to mention her countryman Kei Miller’s work, but I’d really never stop answering your question!

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The Handfast poetry duets is a lovely idea. Was the anthology your first collaboration, and did you find it challenging/rewarding/both?

Working with Ruth on Handfast was a huge privilege. I have worked collaboratively with visual artists, but never with another poet. I would certainly recommend it. Again, that imposed certain very constructive and positive editorial disciplines. I expected that we would have more professional and respectful disagreements than in practice we did. Although we are very different poets we worked well together, and it was a great to see our work interact. Certainly for me, it was an entirely positive experience which helped me develop as a poet.

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How did you jump from Silversmithing to an M. Litt?

Perhaps it wasn’t so much a jump as a long swim! My parents and English teacher would have liked me to go to University at seventeen, but instead I headed to Glasgow School of Art. I have no regrets about that, and like anyone who ever studied at GSA, those years are very much part of me. Words have always mattered hugely though, and although I was tremendously happy teaching Art in various situations, increasingly I felt my creative direction was in language. I started odd classes, and asked about doing something more. I was shocked when Jim Stewart suggested an M.litt.  Even as I started the course, I was sure he and Kirsty had made a mistake. I was heading for fifty, and not being sensible.  Jim Stewart’s confidence in me changed my life.

Yet, there’s a connection, isn’t there? What might draw someone to the tiny, intricate and beautiful concerns of making a silver box might equally make someone write a poem. I think they’re not so very different.  Though I’m no longer a smith, I continue to work many of my poems out into mixed media visual works. I feel very lucky to be able to try to understand what is an interesting, and not always easy life (whose is?) creatively.

 

 

Beth McDonough

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How to hand-raise

First, you must practice on gilding metal, which
behaves more like silver than copper ever does. Then

[but they have given me the most precious thing first. Having cats or dogs or bloody fish, or even relatives and friends – none of that could possibly have readied me for this]

take your sheet of 12 gauge.
Pierce a perfect sterling disc.
File any rags away.
Stone the surface. Take a 2b pencil, draw
concentric circles, half a centimetre apart. Plot

[but I have no way of predicting what will happen. I cannot tell what falls, what climbs, what swims will lie ahead. I cannot tell]

every hammered round.
Cut an aluminium profile.
Be sure to use it – every single course.  Sit

[what profile? What shape? He is like no-one else. He is him]

properly positioned.
Ensure your former is clasped
tight in the vice. It must not move at all. Strike

[there is no certainty in these moves]

your silver, steadily, precisely. Aim
every hammer blow at that exact same spot.
Work with a steady pace. Do not
attempt to compress your metal quickly or

[there is no even rhythm. Some weeks flame by in a million flaring seconds sharped in sore bright sparks. Some crawl dungeoned into eons. Nothing comes in measured lines]

your disc will surely crack.

After the first, and every course,
anneal your piece dull red.
play the flame for three full minutes. Quench

[how can I soothe these slip plains, align this into workable order? Now, I am not saying malleable, no. What do I do to make him flexible for all that runs ahead?]

in the waiting bucket.
pickle off all the sulphides and the oxides in a bath –
of sulphuric acid – ten per cent.  Wash

[there is no way to strip off  darkness, no means to walk open, unstained into the hit of hard ahead]

your object. Dry it well.
Raise every course. Coax every line
from the centre to the outer. Always caulk
back the edge. Build it up
thickened, strong.
Listen to your metal.
Never let it crack.

[but there are fractures everywhere. How can I fill this damaged space? Everything is opened out to air. I cannot see it heal]

When you see your form complete, check
that it matches the profile you’ve prepared. Select

[this is another shape. This will not fit. Nor is mine the only hand in this]

your planishing hammer. Cosset it well.
Keep it papered to a mirror finish.

[I do not want to see my face]

Now watch. Glance this hammer’s fall
across the form.

[yes, every impact builds]

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Biography

Beth McDonough trained in Silversmithing at GSA, completing her M.Litt at Dundee University . Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts 2014-16, her poetry appears in Gutter, The Interpreter’s House and Antiphon and elsewhere and her reviews in DURA. Handfast (with Ruth Aylett, May 2016) charts family experiences – Aylett’s of dementia and McDonough’s of autism.

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Editor’s Note

I defy anyone to read this poem, and this bio, and not have some questions for this wonderful poet. It’s more than we could do. We simply had to contact Beth and find out some more about her silversmithing, her poetry reviewing, her writing process, her use of riddles and plans for funerals. If you’d like to read more about Beth McDonough, and we highly recommend that you do, please click here for our first ever poetry spotlight.

Erik Nelson: Crossing Willow Creek (parts 9-12)

Parts 1-4

Parts 5-8

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Part Nine: Across the River of Arabim

They elected to stay if life would improve

And delayed when it only got worse,

Then selected a day to pack up and move

To evade the effects of the curse;

They carry, on their backs and shoulders,

Though strength, at length, has abated,

Fetishes as heavy as boulders,

Evil goods accumulated.

 

As lost, unfit and out of place

As fish fresh out of water,

This vain pipedream they blindly chase,

Like lambs led to the slaughter,

En route to where streams cross the sand,

Where cranes and albatrosses land

To dally in a valley that’s brimming with fresh water,

Over a desert sea, which diurnally gets hotter.

 

Traversing this uneasy land,

They’re looking for dirt that’s rich and moist:

Past unforgiving seas of sand,

A brook where plans can be hatched and voiced.

The plains are all hurting, of mirth bereft;

Folks hope a sliver, though very slim,

Remains of some fertile patch of earth left:

Across the River of Arabim.

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Part Ten: The Nightmare of History

All their problems they vowed to leave behind

And trunks of treasure take,

But they merely move matter, not their minds,

So how can they awake?

 

How can they escape the chains that bind

When they’re in love with the pains they cause

And cling to them with body and mind,

As if the links were natural laws?

 

How can the nightmare of history

Be left that far behind,

When its crux and central mystery

Are matters of the mind?

 

Somewhere safe, where they can settle and live,

Is out of sight but not out of mind,

Where they can write a metanarrative,

Inspired by whatever they find.

 

They need a place to be reborn

And weave new webs of lies,

As clothes are graciously worn

To hide what’s hard on eyes.

 

With cloaks of ink they’ll need cover-ups,

For it all has been laid bare;

A bitter drink is in the lover’s cup,

For castles are made of air.

 

Exposé equals apocalypse,

Etymology shows,

A block on which humanity trips,

Keeping it on its toes.

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Part Eleven: The Uncovering

Pavement splits as blades of grass shoot;

In broken windows owls hoot:

Now the city is a haven

For the bittern and the raven.

 

No bricklayer repairs a wall;

The last to leave just stared, appalled:

Never will humanity adorn her

Or pick one stone again for a corner.

 

What she has sown she now has reaped,

Which fate she couldn’t avoid;

The harlot’s bones are buried deep

In the soil she destroyed.

 

The great whore will not make a peep,

No echo of her sound;

Nevermore will she wake to creep,

All wrecked up, from the ground.

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 Part Twelve: A Population Without a Town

They trampled nature under their boots,

And fatter they grew, like sows;

So mother-earth replenished no shoots,

No matter how much they plowed.

 

They gobbled up their plants and roots,

Nuts and berries, sheep and cows;

No field then yielded any fruit,

Because of how much they plowed.

 

They took their booty and their loot,

What their ways and means allowed

And ventured out, in vague pursuit,

By the sweat of their furrowed brows.

 

With doubt they are plagued, for it’s moot

If aught exists past a misty shroud,

Where owls lay eggs, brood and hoot,

With abundance of wisdom endowed.

 

Their brass horns some make a point to toot,

Which fails to catch on in the crowd:

Alas, none care to follow suit,

Feeling more wretched than proud.

 

They are an orchard without fruit,

A traveling circus sans a clown,

A tree without one grounded root:

A population without a town.

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To Be Continued

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Biography

Erik Nelson was born in Madison, WI, in 1974, grew up in British Columbia, Canada, as well as several states in the United States, before obtaining a Masters degree in Literary Theory from the University of Dalarna, in Falun, Sweden; he then taught English at the college level in the deep south of the United States for ten years, before moving to the high plains of Colorado, where he currently lives, lucubrates and works as a librarian.

Eoin Ó Donnchada

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Words over Water

A fair friend favoured truth to me

And cast a barb that tore my pride,

As we were locked in row by Dee:

A river flowing through my side.

So sharp the point and clean the poke.

My name Fer Diad, man of smoke.

The hound of Louth was loyal, you see.

A fair friend favoured: truth to me.

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Biography

Eoin Ó Donnchadha is an historian, teacher and poet from Dublin. He studied history at University College Dublin where his doctoral research on Irish poets was funded by the Irish Research Council. He is currently teaching in the UK.

Cara McCaughey: Which one wins/The one you feed

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Biography

Cara McCaughey graduated from Belfast School of Art in 2014 having studied Textile Art, Design and Fashion with particular emphasis on embroidery. She is inspired by stories and the flora and fauna of Northern Ireland. Her work consists of screen printed, heavily hand embroidered repeat patterns which are inspired by her self-written narratives. She strives to blur the boundaries between art, craft and design with her highly illustrative style of drawing fused with her historically inspired hand embroidery.

James Devlin: Fort Worth, Torso In Brilliance, Paletta Palette

torso-in-brilliance

Torso in Brilliance

fort-worth

Fort Worth

paletta-palette

Paletta Palette

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Biography

James Devlin (Irish 1989-) is a writer, filmmaker and visual artist who grew up in Bray, Co. Wicklow. There he studied Film and Television. Succeeding a stint in Wales from 2010 -2011, Devlin received his honours degree in video. After some years working in television, Devlin pursued painting, showcasing his first pieces at his home town in 2013. In the short period of time Devlin has been painting he has exhibited work throughout Ireland and recently in New York, along with having his work printed in publications nationally and internationally. Devlin’s work is self-taught, abstract primitivism, that holds up a distorted mirror to urban life in a humorous and joyful celebration of the different.

Christy O’Connor: Sorceress, Priestess, Succubus

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priestess

oconnor_c_succubus

sorceress-1

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Biography

Christy O’Connor is a New Jersey based artist, living in Monmouth County. She works in a variety of mediums, including, painting, mixed media, and sculpture.

O’Connor is an alumnus of the Ramapo College of New Jersey, where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Arts.  Additionally, she completed some of her undergraduate studies at New Jersey State University, concentrating in the area of photography.  O’Connor took some time away from her practice upon her completion of school to focus on her career in education.  After ten years in the field, she made the move back into the arts.

O’Connor has been involved in a large variety of group art exhibitions throughout New Jersey.  O’Connor has worked in collaborative installations, including Automaton, located in Trenton, NJ, Lost Connections, in Red Bank, NJ and Dusklit, an experiential art project in Warwick, NY.  Most recently, O’Connor has been gaining curatorial skills in her latest endeavor, Nasty Women, a group exhibition, in Philadelphia, PA.