Friday, September 17, 2021

My hero / Michael Donaghy by Maggie O'Farrel



Michael Donaghy
Photograph by Claire McNamee


My hero: 

Michael Donaghy

 by Maggie O'Farrell

His teaching style was an invigorating and mesmerising mix of laid-back chat, practical advice, an astonishing ability to quote from memory, analytical rigour, bad jokes, and an unstinting devotion to poetry, says Maggie O'Farrell


Saturday 20 November 2010

"Hair oil, boiled sweets, chalk dust, squid's ink . . . / Bear with me. I'm trying to conjure my father."

There are many of us out there who would, if we only could, conjure the man who wrote these lines – Michael Donaghy, the Irish-American poet who died in 2004. How might the list go? Tweed overcoat, huge grin, sheaf of papers, flute . . .

I attended his poetry classes at City University in the mid-90s. I'd just moved to London and was navigating my way through the usual damp flats, unfulfilling relationships and the kinds of jobs where you open a lot of envelopes. His teaching style was an invigorating and mesmerising mix of laid-back chat, practical advice, an astonishing ability to quote from memory, analytical rigour, bad jokes, and an unstinting devotion to poetry.

"'No ideas but in things'," he might shout as he walked through the door, often late. "Who said that? William Carlos Williams." Or, slapping a photocopied poem down on our desks: "Some burglars broke into my house last night. They took everything." A pause while he looked around the room, registering our shock. "Then they replaced it with exact replicas, only a little dustier. OK! Who likes Sharon Olds?"

He taught me never to throw away a first draft, that every word must pull its weight, that good things come in threes, never to use abstracts, to cut and cut and cut. Everything I ever needed to know, basically. Plus how to play the bodhran.

I no longer write poetry – or play the bodhran – but who he was forms part of the bedrock of my writing. I often find that, when I'm working, I have conjured him inadvertently. Typing a sentence, I will stop and think, no, he said avoid the construct "the (abstract noun) of a (concrete noun)" – cut it, quick, before anyone sees. The other day, I was stuck and I remembered another piece of advice: go back to the masters, see how they made it work. So I did. I went back to him.

THE GUARDIAN




2009
001 My hero / Oscar Wilde by Michael Holroyd
002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm

2010

017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
042 My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford
043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
045 My hero / Edmund Burke by David Marquand
046 My hero / Shelagh Deleaney by Jeanette Winterson
047 My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid
048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
049 My hero / Michael Mayne by Susan Hill
050 My hero / Stanley Spencer by Howard Jacobson

051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
052 My hero / Jean McConville by Amanda Foreman
053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal

2011
079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
100 Thomas Tranströmer by Robin Robertson
102 My hero / David Hockney by Susan Hill

2012

190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
194 My hero / René Descartes by James Kelman
199 My hero / Albert Camus by Geoff Dyer

2015
2016




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