Margaret O’Driscoll

When a Poem has Told its Story it is Finished: A Conversation with Margaret O’Driscoll

Margaret O’Driscoll‘s poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies internationally. One of her poems is reproduced for a current GCSE English Literature Exam publication. Her poems have been translated into Polish, Bulgarian, Finnish, Persian, and Punjabi. In 2016 she published her first collection, The Best Things In Life Are Free; it has received rave reviews. She was awarded a full bursary to attend the John Hewitt Summer School in 2016. She writes in free verse and classical style, and her poetry has been published by the Society Of Classical Poets. Several of her pieces are being rearranged and recorded by a classical singer.  She recently curated work of six Irish writers, both emerging and established, for inclusion in a bilingual journal, (Hindi and English) published in the USA. 


It’s exactly a year since your debut poetry collection came out. Reading your post on Facebook, you said: “I self published my book, had no mentor, never had time to attend a workshop or literary festival, no grant, no writer’s retreat, had my painting as the book cover, arranged the sequence of the poems myself, did my own proofreading, all in a few weeks, pressed ‘send’ to the printers while minding three of my grandchildren”. I plunge into your joy, and I deeply connect with the fact that writing and self-publishing make a whole load of rigour. The odds were all there to slow you, but you pushed—and this enthusiasm of yours is one story I am interested in.

Wonderful to hear that you ‘plunge into’ my joy; thank you so, much David. I really appreciate that you ‘deeply connect with the fact that writing and self-publishing make a whole load of rigour’…thank you. Yes, David, certainly the odds were all there to slow me, a hectic household, as a mother of seven adult children and grandmother to eleven, it was difficult to find time and space to compile my collection! However, as you say, I pushed, I did so because I felt it was the next step…my goal with this book was to help others, especially those with trials in life, to appreciate the ordinary, the everyday…family, friends, faith, nature, humour, all those things that help me to overcome struggles, most things that are all around us, for free! I wanted to rise above the many stresses I had to deal with and give my family something positive to lift their spirits following dismal years. I wanted to encourage my grandchildren to tap into creativity and included several poems about time spent with them exploring and enjoying nature and simple fun. I felt it was part of a new journey for me, a path where I would be both challenged and channelled!


It’s interesting your inspiration to give family something positive to lift their spirits following dismal years. I am immediately making a connection: to Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift; that irresistible force in us to stir an aura of hope and grace in ourselves. Your poems, ‘One speck of blue,’ ‘The dark lane,’ among others convey the encouragement. Can you recall the first poem you wrote or ever read? Any early experiences with poetry you never forget.

Yes, ‘that irresistible force in us to stir an aura of hope and grace in ourselves’ is powerful and helps to counteract strife and sadness…love that you immediately made a connection to ‘The Gift’, I feel this force that stirs us to give gifts is wonderful and the gifts are reciprocal. I decided that the first poem in this collection would be ‘One speck of blue’….as a very positive message to start with, many other poems in my book also convey messages of hope.  ‘The dark lane’ was inspired by a stretch of quiet roadway where some of my grandchildren and I enjoyed the calming, hand-on influence of nature as we walked to and from their house, in difficult times it gave them a positive focus and sparked a big interest in the wonders of nature.

The first poem I ever remember learning was ‘The fairies’ by Irish poet, William Allingham, I loved to recite its lyrical lines and imagined the magical scenes conveyed in the poem. From my early school days, I also fondly remember, ‘Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoighaire’, a great lament written by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill in honour of her husband who died in May, 1773 at the hands of a British official. The passion of the lines instilled in me the power of poetry written from the heart and also gave me a love of powerful poetry recitation.


I was late to reply you because I got caught up cleaning the yard and cooking and hosting a friend. This is no excuse, but I am wondering what a typical day is for you as a grandmother of eleven.

Early morning is the best time for me for writing…later some of my younger grandchildren call round and I spend some time with them while they play. In the afternoon I collect some of the school-going ones off the bus and help them with homework, make sure we get out to do some gardening, or go walking, teaching them about all the wonders of nature as we go.  At night I like listening to music, reading poetry, or singing…if I’m not too tired after a long day!


Do you keep journals or any lists to trap thoughts and images for your writings?

I jot down ideas for poems on any available piece of paper at times, but usually I hand write poems in a notepad, before typing them out…. a few remain in the notepads, not transferred! Some poems need a bit of research to ensure details are correct, or more often I just like to find out more about a subject that interests me. Most poems flow in a flash but others require a revisit!


Do you ever lose flashes of inspiration? How do you feel about such loss?

Yes, I have lost flashes of inspiration at times, it’s annoying when it happens, it could be in the middle of a conversation when  I feel inspired; but later when I try to remember what  word or idea  triggered my inspiration, it may  have slipped my mind! I try not to dwell on those things though, because luckily, the muse has always messages aplenty!


Freedom is one concept that runs all through your book: from the butterfly in the book cover to each poem. This particular poem, ‘Forever wild,’ captures everything: “Leave the stream to gently stray”. Here you have used water to translate freedom. What I see in this poem and in all your poems is a continuous interaction with nature that gives birth to your translations of freedom. So, to you, what is not freedom?

Yes, certainly, you are exactly right David; the butterfly on the cover represents me, having tentatively left the confines of being totally wrapped in family duties, opening my wings to freedom and possibilities. ‘Forever wild’ was inspired by an unspoilt spot, a place where I felt at peace and free from the trappings of everyday life.  Loss of freedom to me ultimately would be someone imprisoned unjustly, someone suffering due to various reasons such as race, class, disability, abuse, etc.


‘My plum cherry tree’ is an intriguing story. Rather than ask for a birthday cake or dress, you asked for a tree for the garden. Did you get the plum cherry tree? [Laughs]

Yes, David, I got my wish! That tree provided years and years of joy, not just for me but for all the family, beauty, a haunt for birds, shade and later, a tree house!


In some way I see your poetry book as a full inventory of landscapes in Ireland. What are your favourite sites in Bandon or anywhere else in the world?

I’m glad you enjoyed the Irish landscape as you read through my book! Some of my favourite sites are all wild places, coves, beaches, woods, lakes, rivers and hills—all places that enrich our senses and nurture our souls.  I love exploring islands also, I enjoy the peace and tranquility of islands, and luckily, there are many small islands not far away!


You’ve recently been holding readings and placing your book in libraries and schools and festivals. I particularly like the fact that children can also partake in the play of your poetics.

Yes, my book is being enjoyed by all but it’s particularly heartening to foster a love of poetry in children. I’m treated like a celebrity at school readings; the young pupils are excited to hear poems about wildlife especially and love to share their contributions with me!


When do you know a poem is finished and ready to be shared?

For me, when a poem has told its story it is finished.


Currently, who are your favourite Irish poets?

Some of my favourite Irish poets include, Patrick Pearse, William Butler Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney


What’s the next thing we should be expecting from you?

I’m looking forward to seeing more of my poems translated into different languages—very exciting!