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British newspaper features doctoral candidate’s poem

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Tuesday, October 2, 2012

English doctoral candidate Ailbhe Darcy joined some esteemed company when The Guardian, a prominent U.K. newspaper, featured one of her poems as Poem of the Week the week of Sept. 24. Darcy’s selection is no small honor. The previous week, the paper showcased William Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle.”

Darcy, a Dublin native who earned her Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Notre Dame’s creative writing program, wrote her featured poem, “Silt Whisper,” nearly a decade ago. The piece was published in 2011 as part of her first full collection of works, “Imaginary Menagerie.”

Darcy said she thought “Silt Whisper” was an unexpected selection for discussion by Guardian columnist Carol Rumens. Rumens’ column showcases one poem each week in both the print newspaper and the online publication.

“I had thought of ‘Silt Whisper’ as a quieter poem, like punctuation within the collection to add a bit of a pause among the noisier poems,” Darcy said. “I wouldn’t have thought of it as a poem that stuck out in terms of its content, so I was surprised she picked that one.”

Darcy said “Imaginary Menagerie” contains many reflections on traveling and leaving home, including her transatlantic move from Dublin to South Bend.

“I never planned to come to America, and it was a bit of an adventure because I’d never been here before we moved,” Darcy said. “But I’m studying Irish poetry at [Notre Dame’s] Keough-Naughton Institute [for Irish Studies], and my husband is studying geometry here, so we think of it as a home away from home.”

Though she considers herself more of a poet than an academic, Darcy said her studies in Notre Dame’s doctoral program in English influence her creative endeavors.

“My academic work definitely feeds into my writing, because I write in response to the things I’ve read,” Darcy said. “But poetry is kind of a mysterious process even to the writer. [Poems] happen so slowly, percolating away in your mind for a long time, so that it feels like working on a problem. How that happens is a bit of a mystery to the writer, I think.”

Seeing her poem in print in The Guardian was a surreal experience, Darcy said, especially since she composed the poem a decade ago.

“It’s a little bizarre to me that it’s gotten so much attention already,” she said. “Actually, it’s quite strange to watch people commenting about the meaning on the online page. It’s almost like sitting in the classroom, and of course I didn’t want to join in with a comment, but it was quite difficult to refrain sometimes.”

Darcy said the experience, while unexpected, is “really exciting” for her and her work. Though poetry is her passion, other dimensions of her life have taken center stage lately, with the birth of her eight-week old son complicating the life of a doctoral student.

“I’m definitely still getting used to the motherhood part, and I haven’t done a lot of writing in the past eight weeks,” Darcy said. “Hopefully the ideas are all percolating in there though.”