8 May 2018

Poéfrika Interview with Michelle McGrane

Michelle McGrane
Born in 1974 in Zimbabwe, Michelle McGrane spent her childhood in Malawi, and moved to South Africa with her family when she was fourteen. Her third poetry collection is forthcoming in 2010. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, and blogs at peony moon. Here's what was said:

  1. Will you share some of your memories of Malawi with us?
    My memories of Malawi remain a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, smells and tastes. I remember going to the Saturday morning market in Limbe with my mother: the glowing pyramids of fruit and vegetables set up in rows on concrete slabs, the yards of tiny dried fish, kapenta, laid out in the sun, the heaps of colourful spices in yellow enamel bowls, bunches of ripe bananas. Baskets of all shapes and sizes. Straw brooms. Wooden carvings. Miniature wire cars and bicycles. Brilliant bead jewellery. It was an Aladdin's treasure trove.

    There were hot weekends spent at a cottage on the shores of Lake Malawi. We slept with white gauze mosquito nets over the beds. I remember steep hikes up Mount Mulanje, camping overnight in log cabins and falling asleep with the smell of Mulanje cedar smoke drifting through the window.

    There was no television, no video or computer games, no cd players. We spent our time outdoors. I feel privileged to have grown up in a relaxed environment with friends of different backgrounds and cultures.

  2. If there were one thing that the 'learning' or 'beginning' writer should not do, what would it be?
    We're not all 'beginning' writers, but hopefully most of us, however long we've been writing, are still 'learning' writers. I'm wary of dispensing advice particularly having stubbornly ignored most counsel I received when I began writing. One learns more from failures and mistakes than from successes.

    I think I would say: "You'll make mistakes. Everybody does, it's an ongoing process. And, if you learn from them, that's how you will improve. Don't be in a rush to get published. Don't measure your progress, your success, by your publishing rate. Persevere. Read. And, most importantly, enjoy writing each line."

  3. Poets spend a lot of time perfecting their craft, and then perfecting each piece. Where's the money?
    If you're writing poetry for money, give it up.
  4. How long had you worked, and worked, before your first piece got published?
    I was very lucky to have the first poem I ever submitted accepted in Fidelities, a publication edited by the South African poet, Kobus Moolman. Unfortunately, Fidelities is no longer in existence. When I dropped the envelope containing the poem in a postbox, I wasn't "writing poetry". It was a one off thing. A little poem, five or six lines I think. And don't let this fool you a bit, I've written countless pages of drivel...

  5. A university teacher of mine (Elizabeth, one of the reasons I'm here busting my..., well... my head, to try and write) told me that if I ever got a poem published in a prestigious magazine, she'd go back and turn my grade into an A+. No matter when that happened. Question: Was that a good or a bad move on her part? Would you do something of the sort if you were a varsity teacher?
    A quirky teacher! I don't feel qualified to answer this, but think that if it motivated you to improve your writing, to put in the extra hours, then it was a good thing.

  6. Do you read African poetry (or literature in general)? If you don't, why not? If you do, what's wrong with it, if anything?
  7. I do read African literature. Unfortunately, I can only read it in English, which is fine if it's written in English but not ideal if it was originally written in one of the many beautiful African languages, and then translated. Translations are better than nothing, of course. I don't believe enough literature is currently being written and published in indigenous languages.

  8. You are to encourage poetry students to write a poem. Please come up with a "writing prompt" out of your own experience, or out of something else, using anything that invades your mind right now. Short and simple.
    Write a ten line poem using all five senses: touch, sight, smell, taste and sound.

  9. What position do four-letter words hold in your work? Can a poem be good despite its use of profanity?
    I've used profanities in poems. Not recently and not uncontrollably, but I have used them. Certainly, I believe a poem can be good despite its use of profanities. Swearing in a poem doesn't negate its qualities. I don't think swearing has anything to do with whether a poem is well written or poorly written. Used sparingly and in the right place, I think it can be effective. This is my personal opinion. It's also very much an element of some people's vernacular, their everyday speech. If you're writing a poem from a specific character's perspective, cursing may be an authentic part of their speech. I don't think there should be hard and fast rules.

  10. What makes you laugh?
    Laughing at myself keeps insidious literary pretensions at bay.

  11. Here's an ongoing poem. Please add a line.
    They stood before me that night
    with clenched fists and blown pupils


http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/ said...

I loved this interview, Rethabile: "We're not all 'beginning' writers, but hopefully most of us, however long we've been writing, are still 'learning' writers."

Rethabile said...

Thanks, for Michelle.

Michelle said...

Hi Geoffrey, thank you reading.

Jo said...

Excellent interview. I love the descriptions of Malawi. And yes, the learning line is well said!

Crafty Green Poet said...

good interview, your descriptions of Malawi reminded me of the two years i spent there!

christine said...

This a great interview. I've enjoyed getting to know more about Michelle and what makes her tick as a writer.

david santos said...

Really great work. I love your interview of Malawi. Happy day!

Anonymous said...

i love the sights from being in malawi as a kid, and i love that you hesitate to dispense advice b/c you've ignored most counsel. :)

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