Poet Ethna McKiernan
Minneapolis poet Ethna McKiernan's new book, "Sky Thick With Fireflies," is her third collection and her second published by the Irish press Salmon Poetry. The longtime owner of Irish Books & Media (now, sadly, closed), McKiernan has Irish roots that go way back, and she's been back and forth to Ireland more times even than Erin Hart.
Her launch party for her new collection will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Celtic Junction in St. Paul. It's important to note that the book is currently available from McKiernan or through www.dufoureditions.com. It will be in local bookstores (and on Amazon) beginning in February.
We could not resist subjecting her to our Ten Questions. My favorite answer is the first: She writes at her stove! (She is shorter than Thomas Wolfe, who used to write in his kitchen, too, but using the top of the refrigerator as his writing surface.)
1. Describe your writing room.
I have two, actually – the kitchen, where I write at the stove longhand, and also often read, and the dining room, which has always held my desk and, since the 90’s, my computer, though never a dining room table. I’m more careful with my paper empire at the stove than I used to be, but I still make friends nervous. Kitchen is mid-deep blue with lots of windows and stacks of books & papers on the counters; dining room has a 6” old oak library desk from the St. Paul Public Schools which I refinished in the 70’s, 5 bookshelves, 2 rocking chairs, my Mac computer and other stuff.
2. What is your writing strategy--do you have rituals that you maintain?
I wish I had a writing strategy! I’m a wee bit haphazard. For years, my best writing strategy was to go away once a year and do nothing but write, bringing back a wealth of material for revision for the year to come. But that was when my kids were small, and I was a single parent so it truly was necessary to leave. But even a year back, I went to the North Shore for 5 days alone and did a solid 8 hrs a day writing, trying to complete my new book. It worked. My writers groups also help, as there are monthly impositions of deadlines.
3. How do you get past writers' block (or the distraction of the Internet)?
Sometimes I give myself exercises; sometimes I get lucky and hit the inspiration lode; and sometimes I just cave in to old TV shows on hulu.com. My MFA listserv (Warren Wilson) can often be inspiring.
4. Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
I had a child’s book of Emily Dickinson poems I loved, many of which I memorized, in part because my English professor father loved Dickinson and often recited her. But I also loved The Secret Garden and The Little Prince.
5. What books do you re-read?
I love serial rereading and this year reread several Doris Lessings, Henry James, and Virginia Woolfs. I also turn to familiar poems.
6. What's on your desk?
Right now I’m at the library desk with the computer. There are printouts of four poems for my next poetry reading group, stacks of CDs from Patsy Cline to U2 to Madeleine Peyroux, 7 pairs of reading glasses in varying stages of disrepair and strengths, a copy of my son’s Constitutional Law textbook, a copy of The Best American Poetry of 2011, Yeat’s “Brown Penny,” which I’m trying to memorize for a friend’s party Saturday night, a Netflix movie, bills, and my physical therapy instructions.
7. Where are you right now? Describe what you see.
I’m at the desk. The wall in front of me was painted a deep raspberry this past summer after ice dam damage to ceiling and walls, and the color makes me so happy I could burst. Above my head in a huge frame is a copy of my father’s honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland in the 1960’s, conferred at a time when the only other Americans awarded this were JFK and Robert Frost; a framed picture of some first-issue stamps from the Irish post office; and a framed thingie of Virginia Woolf quotes that came from a calendar I loved in the 80’s. Below me are wood floors; to the left are three large windows with a beautiful mosaic-like, stained glass, red-heart window in the center one. There’s a file cabinet, 5 bookcases, several more paintings, lamp, rocking chairs, plants, and my summer sandals and a football under the desk (sigh, my older son’s).
8. What are you reading right now?
Just finished Mary Rockcastle’s In Caddis Wood, which I thought was an unflinching and achingly honest look at a long marriage. I’m also reading Minneapolis author JoAnn Guernsey’s new novel Glass Asylum, an inventive literary thriller about a writer discovering herself. Can you tell I’m a fiction junkie? And also the new Best American Poetry of 2011, and a new collection of poems by a local author whose work I didn’t know and am now wild about, Greg Watson’s What Music Remains.
9. What's been the best place so far to do a reading?
Both the beautiful space at the Loft and also the University Club, where Carol Connolly’s series is. But I’m excited for this Sunday’s “place,” The Celtic Junction in St. Paul, a building bought and rehabbed by a young Irish couple which houses a school for Irish music and dance and is beginning to rival the Cedar for its concerts. I’m hoping after my reading other authors might schedule literary events there.
10. What authors have inspired you?
Shakespeare, Hopkins, Dickinson, Yeats, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Salinger, Ann Patchett, Frank Conroy, Eavan Boland, Diane Ackerman– the list goes on!