A Portrait of the Artist: Sarah Clancy

Every Tuesday at 11.30am on Flirt FM, James Falconer interviews a budding artist. From poets to musicians, James talks to them all. This week we have an interview with Galway poet, Sarah Clancy…

Galway poet, Sarah Clancy

Galway poet, Sarah Clancy

Sarah, you’re an artist, primarily a poet?

Well, I’d say, only a poet! My drawings are all atrocious and I’m not musical.

When did you start writing poetry?

I started writing poetry about 4 years ago, but I’d done a few bits before, you know, horrible adolescent poetry about how you hate everyone. I have applied myself to writing poetry because I really enjoy it – it’s a great sport, and it’s cheap – all you need is a pen and paper.

What about your artistic process – your journey?

I’m a bit of a pragmatist. If you want to write a poem, I think you need to sit down and write it. There’s a lot of talk about inspiration and muses and where poems come from, whereas for me, I think that one of the easiest ways that I learned, and became open to ideas, is by sitting down trying to write things. I write things very quickly, which isn’t similar to a lot of other people I know who write.

Do you write as fast as you talk?

[laughs] Near enough! Well, it’s not that I write very quickly however, I won’t spend a month sweating over a poem. I am more likely to write ten poems in a short time and only keep one of them.

Is there any particular time of day you like to write?

No, I could write at any time. I write a lot of things on facebook (maybe a bad habit). I started that for two reasons. I was away traveling and it was the easiest way to keep them safe, from one net café to the next; this was before Dropbox. Maybe the second reason was something of the Irish mentality; I was kind of ashamed of them. I often thought “I’d never show that to anyone” and in some way putting poems on facebook was a way of bypassing that, a little psychological trick!

So you don’t like the term ‘inspiration’?

Well, it’s not that I don’t like it, it just seems to overstate for me; if you sat around all day waiting for inspiration…

You’d be waiting?!

Yes, you’d probably be waiting! Inspiration is an idea or, how you were affected by a particular moment that makes you want to create something. Other people might have a very different experience with muses or inspiration, but I could be waiting years for a muse, or before some marvellous inspiration came and knocked on my door.

You mentioned traveling, Sarah. Where in the world have you been to?

Well, I haven’t spent a wild amount of time there, but I have been several times to Central America, particularly Mexico. I find it a fascinating place, the culture and its similarities to us here, it’s very Catholic and also very Pagan.

Mexico is in a horrific situation at the moment. Even though normal life continues, it’s completely plagued with drug violence, and life is really cheap. A lot of things that happen here, happen there, only they’re exposed. There’s a South American writer called Eduardo Galeano who wrote a great book called The Open Veins of Latin America.

It’s a fascinating book about the history of the Continent, but in those words, Mexico is like the open veins of capitalism that are at their worst there, as in, it’s not covered up. You’ve got people selling everything and anything and washing car windscreens at traffic lights to extremely wealthy people living in mansions in gated compounds and then you have people trying to live middle class lives amidst the backdrop of all this violence and failed state.

What fascinates you the most about this situation?

Well, it’s the overwhelming normality of it all, despite the fact that they’re finding beheaded corpses in places like Acapulco, which is considered to be quite a touristy destination; it seems to coexist.

Is your activism a big part of your writing?

People are always describing me as a political poet, but I actually have a whole load of love poems as well. I often get a bit awkward. Activism is not a hobby; it’s just something you have to do. I am always described as an activist, but I think that’s because it’s what interests me the most and I talk about it a lot.

What about activism in Ireland, are you on the ground here?

I am, but not as much as I used to be. We’ve had the most amazing people involved in things in Ireland. Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle both live in Connemara. They are opposed to the death penalty, both of them having been sentenced to death.

Peter Pringle was the last man sentenced to death in the Irish Courts and Sunny Jacobs served years in solitary confinement for something which she had no involvement in whatsoever. They’re very active in human rights campaigns. Probably lesser known is Caoimhe Butterly who’s based in Dublin and has been involved for years in working for peace in Palestine and elsewhere.

The Israeli Defence Forces, that’s an ambiguous term, is it?

[laughs] It certainly is. More accurately, The Israeli Army.

What about Amnesty, are you involved with them in Galway as well?

Not so much these days, I used to do a lot of volunteering for Amnesty and I ended up working for them. There’s a very active group here in Galway and I recently spoke at their youth conference. When I moved on from Amnesty, I began to look at what type of activism works.

I did huge amount of research on it when I was working for a youth organisation here called Spunout.ie. We used an awful lot of the findings for youth training in academies of activism and so on. If you’re going to put a lot of effort into activism; I suppose, it’s finding out how to do it as effectively as possible, and mind yourself.

Do you ever feel down or depressed when you’re out there being active, but then you don’t see much change?

I do, yes. We’re in a ridiculous situation in this country, between the debt, and I suppose the fact that despite a few whinges, we’re obediently doing everything we were asked to do by the same people who celebrated our brilliant economy, whilst it was an inferno about to collapse. People are being asked to bear the brunt of it and that’s so damaging.

So at the moment I feel very down about it. Feeling down about it is very different that just going “ah to hell with it” and doing nothing. I learned to mind myself because you’re no good to anyone when you’re tired and burnt out. Also, not to hate people – you could be going around saying “Oh I hate Enda Kenny”. Well, that’s probably a waste of energy…

Yes, I think he’s only a puppet anyway.

Actually, I think he’s a wedding singer!

[laughs] I have lost faith in our political… cartel. Where can we find your material online?

I have a website with another Galway poet, Elaine Feeney – www.poetrygirls.com. You can also find me on Facebook or Twitter on sarahmaintains.

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  1. […] Sarah Clancy is the author of The Truth and Other Stories, the Irish People’s Poetry Prize Winner for 2015, and a campaigner for marriage equality, among many other good things and causes. She is participating in the world-renowned Cuirt literature festival in Galway […]

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