The Small Machine Talks to Conor Mc Donnell, Episode 74

Recorded on Sunday, January 10, 2021

Conor Mc Donnell is a physician & poet. He has published two chapbooks, The Book of Retaliations (Anstruther Press), and, Safe Spaces (Frog Hollow Press). He received Honourable Mention for The Fiddlehead’s 2018 Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize, was shortlisted for the RawArtReview 2019 Charles Bukowski Prize, and was runner-up in the Vallum 2019 Contemporary Poetry Prize. Recovery Community is his debut collection to be published by Mansfield Press.

Mansfield Press

To begin the new year, I have a long and fascinating conversation with Conor Mc Donnell, and we go off on many tangents. We speak about the origins of the book, the choices he made, and the feedback which resulted in changes. He shares the complicated title he almost used for the book. We’re glad he decided on “Recovery Community.” We talk about the connection between the book and films, the bad treatment of female characters, and connections to a community of abuse, recovery as reclamation. I make a point for understanding that the work is not the person and having work rejected shouldn’t be a reason not to think the work is valid. We discuss readers’ assumptions that poetry is autobiographical. Recovery Community contains many different voices and types of poems, rather than representative of a single ideology.

We discuss the cover of the book, a painting by the Russian digital artist Alex Andreev and Conor makes references to dystopian imagery from film, including the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. He worked with the editor, Jim Johnstone and Erica Smith, who did the layout reminiscent of an old Penguin classic. I mention my partiality to folks in the medical profession.

We talk about the epigraphs in the book. There’s a great tumblr account that provides epigraphs used in literature:

Christopher Ware, cartoonist “”…it’s how so much of us live so much of our lives”  – Conor talks about the comics made by Ware. It becomes apparent that Conor loves comic books. We go off on many tangents, including a discussion of Google searches.

“I wish I took the blue pill”– Anon – based on dialogue from the Matrix. This leads to a discussion of the colours in the Matrix. We’re very undisciplined and unable to stay on topic. 🙂

I picked out a few poems to ask Conor to read aloud and have us discuss. We start with “Qui Vincit.” After Conor gives a brilliant reading of the poem, we get into some of the lines and background to the poem. I read the notes in the back of the book which provide the spiritual inspirations. We learn the bad ass Latin meaning of Conor’s name. We talk about the couplet, with its origins of meaning as two pieces of iron riveted together, the song Factory by Martha Wainwright and Louis Theroux’s empathetic yet detached tones in documentaries.

Conor talks about representing some of the brutal experiences he witnesses as a physician and how to put them into a poem and why, an acknowledgement of the scariness. He shows the human side of addiction in this poem and other poems.

We talk about the physical form of poetry and challenging what a poem can be. We discuss the background for the poem with regard to gender, and the symbol of water in the poem.

Conor reads “Forget Galway.” I talk about the rhyme and sound play in the poem. We discuss the title and the subject of the poem. The poem is an attempt to offer the story of the relationship and the pain that the subject went through. We talk about the meaning of the italics and the quotations, the imagery of meat and stars in the poem.

We talk about the poem Thirty-Three Rants per minute, which is taken from album titles. We begin a great discussion on the music Conor listened to for writing of the book and soundtracks for writing. The Theme music from Twin Peaks is the music that best signifies the book. We also discuss Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s soundtrack from Mandy, to Arrival, Ólafur Arnalds.

Conor reads Participation and passive views (Twin Peaks in under two minutes), which placed second place in the Vallum Award for Poetry, but is not in the book. We talk about promoting the work as an author.

Recovery Community is a ferocious and urgent collection of poems of the harm of addiction on the self and others, helplessness, sickness, injustice, life, youth, love and the arbitrariness of death. What stays with me above all else after having read these poems is the emotion: anger, frustration, grief. The yawp sounded over the roofs of the world.  Recovering Community is a timely collection.

Thanks to Conor McDonnell for being on the show, to Charles for processing, to Jennifer Pederson for the theme song, and to all of you for listening and sharing the episode. Upcoming guests include Jennifer K. Dick, Rasiqra Revulva, Dominik Parisien, Jennifer Mulligan and Lisa Richter so far.