The Monthly talks to Moyra Donaldson about being awarded a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland – Part 2

Part one of this interview is here

Is this a better time to be a female poet?

It is better, I don’t think there is any doubt about that, but if we are honest, I think for a long time it couldn’t have been much worse. We were starting from a very low base. For quite some time women’s voices weren’t given a platform, in fact women’s voices in Northern Ireland were considered to be of very little value.

Was this a specifically Northern Irish problem?

No, I think generally women’s voices have had to struggle to be heard. To be taken seriously.

When I worked as a social worker, I was always fascinated by the fact that in general, when I would visit homes, it would be the women that would talk about the family, the children. If a man opened the door, he would more often than not say something along the lines of – it’s my wife you need to talk to. It struck me that in public life in Northern Ireland, men had plenty to say, actually pretty much everything to say, whereas women were mostly contained within the private sphere, the sphere of the home. It was one of the reasons why I became involved in community arts.

I think now there are major changes, and while there is a long way to go, we have many more female voices pushing through. The recent Fired movement and research into gender in publishing and in access to reviews, has highlighted the issue in Ireland and been instrumental in bringing change about. I also think that younger women now have access to role models that they didn’t have in the past. When I first thought about becoming a writer, there were barely any published women poets in the North. I have written before about this influence of absences. I love now to see young women confident in their voices and expecting equality.

Do you feel, as a poet, you need to look at issues which require a female voice?

I think every writer or poet starts with their own experience, with what they are interested in, what occupies their mind, and I think any writer can look at anything at all that interests them, however I do think there are registers in the female voice that matter in the world, that need to be heard.

Of course women and men can write about any subject they wish, but there are processes in a woman’s life, menstruation, giving birth or not giving birth, relationships with children, the relationship with society generally, which inevitably gives a particular perspective. In the same way that being a man brings its own perspective on things.

Has that female perspective been examined sufficiently?

There are so many things that come into that discussion, not just gender. Class, religious beliefs, life experience, to name a few. They all play a part of how people see themselves in the world, how people interact with the world. I don’t think there is just one ‘female perspective’.

Part three of this interview is here

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