Aoife Lyall is the author of Mother, Nature (Bloodaxe Books, 2021). Her poems have been published in many prestigious literary magazines and journals, receiving national and international recognition through the Hennessy New Irish Writing Awards and an Emerging Scottish Writer residency award at Cove Park. In 2020 she was awarded National Lottery funding through Creative Scotland to write her second poetry collection. She has been a guest curator for the Scottish Poetry Library and a guest editor for Butcher’s Dog. Her reviews have appeared in Poetry London and PN Review. Her work focuses on tender and tragic experiences of pregnancy and motherhood.
Who and what inspires you?
I started writing in 2012 but it was in 2015, when I became pregnant for the first time, that my writing gained its real focus. I am driven to write by the fascination I feel watching my children grow, but also by the frustration of realising how little of motherhood is actually represented in history books or contemporary media.
It took a long time for me to overcome a hesitancy, not so much about my writing, but its subject matter. Growing up, I knew Eavan Boland as a mother-poet. I gained so much of my confidence from her poems and essays, but I worried my work would still be considered niche. Not anymore. I have become part of a community of mother-poets who, like Boland, are unapologetically bringing their experiences to the fore. Being part of it is both invigorating and challenging, in the best way.
It is an organic community: we make each other stronger by supporting each other, not trying to outdo each other. Being a mother-poet now means navigating motherhood, the literary landscape of the 21st century, Brexit and a pandemic. Never has so much been asked of mothers: never have we been so cut off from each other; and never have we done so much to bring ourselves back together. Poets like Hollie McNish who agreed to read a manuscript from an unknown mother-poet: me. Poets like Victoria Kennefick and Jessica Traynor who have embraced the chance for us to work together even though we have yet to meet in person.
Then you have poets like Jo Clement, who strives to increase representation and visibility of the GRT community, and who invited me to guest-edit Butcher's Dog in 2020. Poets like Jane Clarke, Rachael Allen, Natalie Diaz, Leeanne Quinn and so many others: all doing magnificent things. These are the women inspiring me every day with their talent and compassion and generosity.
How do you find time to write as a parent?
I definitely have had to look for it. Most of Mother, Nature was written during maternity leave, during any ‘spare’ time in the evenings, and during the first lockdown. At first, I wrote only when everything and everyone else was taken care of: it took a long time for me to take time out to write, to say 'I need to work on this now'. This year, after handing in the manuscript for Mother, Nature, which tied in with the end of my second maternity leave, I went back to work part-time. This has given me a day in the week to write in. Securing National Lottery funding through Creative Scotland means I am able to take a career break next year and work on my second collection full-time.
I think we're so often raised to look after everyone else first and get praised for selflessness to the point of self-destruction. So, I’ll say it now: you exist in your right. You don't need anyone else's permission to write. You don’t need to convince anyone of your worth, of the value of your writing. It takes a long time to feel that though: to not feel guilt or that you're letting someone down by paying attention to yourself.
Which writing activities kickstart your writing when you're struggling?
Writing reviews. I started reviewing during my first maternity leave as a way to focus my attention: I was reading a fair bit but not really taking anything in. I dedicated a year to posting a review once a month on my own website and more recently have been writing them for different literary journals. I think writing reviews helps me on multiple levels: I have to really think about what the other poet has done with their work; I can then take that analytic eye back to my own work; from there I might make changes to existing poems or be inspired to write new ones.
That said, I think it's important to say that you can't always write, and you can't always write well. I've had two extended periods of not being able to write poetry: the first after my pregnancy loss, the second this past year. In those times I made notes but couldn't do successive drafts of poems. I'm certainly a writer of seasons- I think most of us are- and just because I'm not writing poems doesn't mean I'm not doing something to cultivate them. That said, I do have to remind myself, often, to just pay attention: that the poems I write are usually the ones I'm looking at, not the ones I’m looking for.
Social media link: @PoetLyall
Signed copies of Mother, Nature: aoifelyall.com
Bloodaxe link (Free UK P&P, extracts and video): https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/mother-nature-1252