Arts Interview: Vivienne McKechnie

John Rainsford

Reporter:

John Rainsford

Vivienne McKechnie
Born in Dublin, I was educated in The Hall School, Monkstown, and Trinity College (TCD).

Born in Dublin, I was educated in The Hall School, Monkstown, and Trinity College (TCD).

As an English teacher I taught in Dublin, before moving to Kenya for four years, where I worked at Hillcrest Secondary School. I came to Limerick 27 years ago when my husband, John, took up a new post here. However, I still love to travel. Indeed, I have been back to Kenya since, and recently visited my son out in Thailand. I love Italy and France but Connemara is the most beautiful place in the world.

All of my life poetry has been a love affair.

I sold my first poem to my Grandfather when I was only six years old, as he always insisted that a ‘poet’ should be paid. It was called Spring. After my grandfather passed away, my father, kept the poem in his wallet for years. The Listeners is a poem which I learnt very early on in school. Its mysterious atmosphere is truly inspirational. Macbeth was, also, very influential for me. Even though it is about murder and blood, it is also a play which resonates with modern life.

The writer’s life, while lonely, can, also, be very appealing.

You work, primarily, for yourself and so your time is your own, for the most part, though, when the ‘book’ comes out it is hard to find time to write for a while. You tend to become involved more in launches and in meeting people. It is great to do all that but great too to get back to the writer’s life of solitude and reflection. A writer is someone who wants to give form to the vicissitudes and highs of life. Writers are constantly observing, listening and taking notes for future use.

My debut poetry collection is entitled A Butterfly’s Wing.

It is very exciting to have a book ‘out there’ but also strange and scary to think of those poems setting off on their own. The themes explored in my book include love, loss, family, ‘empty nests’, nature, man’s inhumanity to man and lack of respect for the environment. It explores life in Ireland, and in Africa, together with the whole notion of travel/emigration. I am now working on my second collection, gathering-up poems and writing new ones. I don’t know when it will appear but I hope that it will come out over the next two years. Robert Ryan’s beautiful painting adorns the front cover and Rebekah Pearson, my Goddaughter/niece’s inspirational art work is on the back cover. Rebekah lives in Melbourne.

As children we read books by torchlight, or by landing light, in our bedrooms at night.

My parents, Dr. Desmond Darling and Audrey Darling (née Butler), sisters, Gillian Darling, Deirdre Craig and Nicola Darling, and friends have all influenced me at various times. David Norris and Brendan Kennelly were, also, very inspirational and I was lucky to have been in Trinity when they were lecturing. W.B. Yeats and Emily Brontë were great favorites of mine. I, even, met my husband when I was in TCD and crucially he believed in me right from the start. Indeed, he bought me my very first typewriter when we were both living in Kenya. He is still very supportive, (as are our children, Hannah, Scott and Jessica), and comes to all my launches, while helping me with proof reading.

My parents were both avid readers and my father always encouraged us to buy books.

Presents were, often, carefully chosen books and I loved the look and feel of them. I won a prize in school in my very first year for reading the most books, even though at the time, the whole list was made-up of ‘pony stories’. My father took me out to a bookshop, shortly after that, and I was free to choose any book I wanted, so long as it was not about horses. I remember choosing Children Of The New Forest because of its lovely cover. My mother, meanwhile, had a song for all seasons, even when answering the phone! She was great at quoting bits of poetry, in particular, and I still have her beautiful Everyman green editions of Swinburne and Donne.

Today, I teach Creative Writing in Limerick College of Further Education.

The great thing is that I get to research short stories, novels and poems while trying to encourage my students to write. However, it is difficult being a writer because you are always on a personal journey and a solitary one at that. Letting a poem go is the hardest thing of all and, also, the most frightening as you wait for the invariable response. Poetry captures the beauty in nature, the agony of death and the frailty of life.

I have been a member of the Kate O’Brien Committee for the last six years.

Kate O’Brien was such a wonderful writer and it is good to be involved with something that keeps her memory alive. I am usually responsible for inviting speakers to the literary weekend, and as a result, I have lots of fabulous letters from writers that I would not, normally, have had letters from. I am, also, on the Limerick City Of Culture Committee, (writers’ section) and work with representatives from The Limerick Writer’s Centre, Cuisle International Poetry Festival, City Library, White House Poets and the Gate Theatre in Kilmallock.

Every year I go to The Oxford Literary Festival with my friend, Carol Millard, whom I met on day one at TCD.

It is a wonderful Festival and, to use a cliché, it would be a dream come true to be one of those guest speakers/poets at some stage. It is an opportunity for me to find writers for the Kate O’Brien Weekend, also. Indeed, I always go armed with brochures from the previous Weekend and have found many brilliant speakers who, subsequently, enchanted our audiences in Limerick!

For more about Vivienne McKechnie please see: www.kateobrienweekend.com A Butterfly’s Wing will be launched at The Lime Tree Theatre on Friday February 21st at 6.30 pm