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The Untethered Space by Carol Caffrey

The Untethered Space by Carol Caffrey

4Word are very pleased to officially announce the launch of Carol Caffrey’s much vaunted debut collection – The Untethered Space. Carol was another successful candidates in our recent submissions call-out and this remarkable series of poems captivated us from the first read.

Many of the poems are coloured by the tragic loss of her four siblings, to whom the book is dedicated, and explore not just mourning, but remembrance; bearing tribute to and celebration of the lives of those lost loved ones. ‘Caffrey’s handling of universal and personal themes is never sentimental, though sometimes nostalgic, and connects with the reader in a profound way. There is musicality, acceptance and a strong, clear voice…’ (Pat Edwards – London Grip Review – Other poems bear witness to her Irish roots, her profound engagement with its language, myths, history and landscapes.

After graduating from University College Dublin in 1977 she worked as a teacher in Nigeria, France and Ireland. She became a professional actor in the 80s and worked as a freelance with Moving Theatre and TEAM Theatre-in-Education and as one half of the comedy duo The Bawdy Beautifuls (with Annie Kilmartin)

She moved to Shropshire, England, on meeting her husband and was a full-time mother to their two children before returning to teaching and eventually to performing and writing. She tours the one-woman play “Music for Dogs” by Paula Meehan, which received 4-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and was chosen to open the 11th Palliative Care Conference in Glasgow’s SECC in 2016.   Her work has been published in a number of journals and anthologies in Ireland, Britain and the USA and she is a member of Room 204, the prestigious writer development programme run by Writing West Midlands. Carol has been short-listed in a number of competitions, and was runner-up in the Fish Flash Fiction Award in 2015, a finalist in the Gettysburg Poets-in-Parks residency in 2018 and winner of the Blake-Jones Review Flash Fiction contest in 2019.

For a number of years she has helped organise and occasionally host the monthly Shrewsbury Poetry events and is a regular reader at events around the region. “The Untethered Space” is her debut chapbook publication.

When did you begin writing?

I’ve always written off and on, ever since school, and made a few false starts at being a serious writer in my 30s and 40s.  It’s only in the past decade or so that I began to think it might be possible to identify as a writer.

Are you mainly drawn to writing poetry or do you also write prose?

Until a few years ago, I thought of myself as a prose writer and I actually feel more comfortable in that genre.  But there was something about poetry that drew me in, almost against my will, and I’ve found it the first port of call on a number of occasions. 

When and where were you first published?

Back in 2005, I think it was, during one of my false dawns, in “Ireland’s Own” magazine.  It was a story about two older people getting a second chance at life.  I wrote it under a pseudonym and got paid £50 for it, a very respectable sum in those days – or even now!

Can you describe your journey to publication?

It’s been a long and emotional one and I suspect it resembles that of many other writers.  Once I got serious about writing, about seven or eight years ago,  I started submitting short stories, flash fiction and poetry, many of which grew out of writing classes that I took.  There were numerous rejections before anything got accepted. The lows were very low, especially if I’d had high hopes for a poem or a story, and the highs, when they started to come, were correspondingly high.  You can have belief in yourself and your writing, but there comes a time when you need the validation that publication by others gives you. I can be quite stubborn and there have been stories and poems that I have refused to give up on that have eventually found a welcoming home.  But I have been thrown off course a few times when I began to doubt myself and wonder if I had anything worthwhile to say.  I think there were two occasions when a particular rejection made me seriously consider giving up, but I always returned to the writing as it was the thing that made – and still makes – me the happiest.  I needed to write; I wanted to be published.  There’s a difference, and if you have that need you’ll keep going, even in the face of adversity.

When and where do you write?

Mornings tend to be best for me.  I usually take myself off to the “den”, our converted garage where the computer and my husband’s music collection live.  It’s peaceful and I can shut the door on the rest of the world.  In theory I suppose we should all be able to write anywhere at any time (J K Rowling has a lot to answer for!) but I don’t find that the case, I’m afraid.

Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

A lot of it is thinking time, when ideas and stray thoughts might be bubbling away beneath the surface that I’m not even aware of until I sit down at the computer. Sometimes, I’ll have been thinking about an idea, or playing around with an image or phrase in my head, for weeks before I try to make something out of it on the page.  At other times, especially if I haven’t written anything new for a while, I’ll use a submission deadline as the impetus to get going. I do try to spend some time each morning writing, or at least editing work, and the afternoons, in theory, I try to concentrate on the admin side of things – keeping track of submissions, adding things to the rejection pile, making sure I’ve noted any successes, and so on.  Generally, I find if I can get things down on the page (or computer screen, usually) that’s the hard part over with.  Tidying up, cutting, re-phrasing, that’s the gravy.

Do you think your style has changed over time?

That’s an interesting question.  I don’t think my pre-occupations have changed but how I address them might have.  Certainly, when I started writing poetry I made the mistake I imagine many beginning writers make of striving too hard for effect. I’ll always remember the Irish poet Paula Meehan saying to me, after reading some of my first attempts, that I should talk to the reader as if I were talking to a friend across the table. I promptly lost some of the more high-falutin’ imagery I’d been using!  I’ve certainly learnt that less is nearly always better and that it’s easier to cut than to add. 

What writers influenced you and which poets do you continually go back to if any?

In my teens and early twenties, it was novelists I usually read ; Solzhenytsin, Steinbeck, Nikos Kazantzakis, Graham Greene, Jane Austen. I loved the Romantic poets while at school, and Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins and also the Metaphysical poets, believe it or not, as we studied them at some length.  More recently, as I’ve come to read and write poetry myself, I turn to many of the contemporary Irish poets, like Paula Meehan, Theo Dorgan, Tony Curtis.  I love Leanne O’Sullivan’s work and Jane Clark’s.  But there are so many wonderful poets out there, here in Britain and elsewhere. Liz Lefroy is someone whose work I greatly admire and I often re-read her poems in an attempt to discover just how she achieves the effects she does.  I’m still trying to work it out!

What are you reading now?

Jane Clark’s “When the Tree Falls” from Bloodaxe Books and “Redhead by the Side of the Road” by Anne Tyler.

What advice, if any, would you give to an aspiring poet?

Don’t give up.  Work those poems until they’re the best you can make them.  When you’re ready, show them to people whose judgement you trust. Be open to constructive comments, hold firm where you believe you are right. Read lots and lots of other poets’ work.  What do you like or dislike about it? Go to poetry events.  Listen to others read. Do an open mic or two.  Do more.  Keep writing, keep learning, keep the faith.

The Untethered Space, is available to order from 4Word at £5.99 plus p&p or from Carol directly.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. ian Munday

    This is Carol’s first published collection of poems and, if this volume is any measure, it is long overdue. Though she freely admits the collection is partly inspired by the loss of three siblings, these pieces are totally devoid of any sentimentality and though they are clearly about loss, it is a universal loss, hers and ours. Even in “Prayer”, where she expresses a cris de coeur of desperation, it is a desperation we have all felt and resorted to in those times of extremis in our lives.
    The poems clearly reference her Irish roots with people, places and the Gaelic language bursting through the seams of her little tales, however there are also traces of Frost, Shelley, Plath,? Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens, to mention but a few. She also speaks through the language of nature, and history; earth’s history rather than man’s: “dust floats to the ground where it merges with the past.”
    Carol’s poems take on many forms: the sonnet, the ballad, tercets, rhyming quatrains, and the prose-poem, and she uses structure and punctuation (or sometime not) to hone and concentrate the reader’s focus. She also admits that politics are present, but these are political views not worn on her sleeve, these politics are found in the marrow of the bones of her work.
    There is nothing tentative about her writing, she writes in an accessible conversational tone yet with huge confidence and clarity. Each piece is thematic and through conjuring nature’s imagery, she gives us a sense of the cyclical, which in its turn gives us, the reader.
    There is also humour present: “I wish I were Italian”, “Thoughts on a treadmill”, and “The Stoics revolt” nestle nicely between the more poignant and serious bookends of the collection.
    There are many, many beautiful phrases: “I am grateful to the quiet air”; “memories gather as a snowball gathers snow”; and “even when their own child is a disgusting little blister.” Phrases that, in feel, seem like truisms, yet in Carol’s singular voice, are quite unique.
    I cannot recommend this volume too much.


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