A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Denise O’Hagan

Q1: When did you start writing and who influenced you the most? 

Denise: It was probably seeing my parents writing that got me started. When I was still at school, I remember my mother typing at the kitchen table, paper everywhere – she’d started writing seriously by then, also composing and illustrating stories for me. I felt that story-telling was a natural expression of life rather than something we consciously set out to try and do, and my friends and I would often get together and write our own stories. On a practical note, I grew up in a small apartment in a busy city so learned quickly to make a world from what was at hand!

Two writers had a particularly strong early influence on me: Dante, whose wildly expansive symbolic imagination is so beautifully compressed into terza rima in the Divina Commedia that it still takes my breath away; and Seamus Heaney, whose Selected Poems remains one of my all-time favourite collections. Now I read widely, and find myself returning to those whose writings chime with something within me: David Malouf, Antigone Kefala and Eavan Boland, for example. If I meet a poem that resonates with me by someone whose work I don’t know, I’ll search out more by that poet. In this way, I picked up a book by Tomas Tranströmer the other day, and now am deep in his work.

Q2: Was there any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer? 

Denise: To be honest, it never occurred to me to be a full-time writer: I was under no illusion how hard it was (and still is) to make a living from writing. I had the example under my nose of my mother whose thriller, A Roman Death (Macmillan 1988) sold well along with being translated – but she couldn’t have made a sufficient income to live from her novels. The closest I could imagine to being a writer was becoming an editor, which is what I trained to do. Later on, I squeezed a little writing in around my editorial jobs, but it was when my husband suggested I ‘do what I most enjoyed and see where it took me’ that was a pivotal moment in my making the decision to carve out time to write.

In some ways, I regret my ‘lost years’ in commercial publishing, though they provided a professional, if at times brutal, grounding in manuscript editing and book production. Yet I also believe that as we journey through our lives we build up a reservoir of experience that we can tap into at any stage. Nothing is ever wasted, even when it may feel that way.

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career? 

Denise: As mentioned, my biggest early encouragement was from my parents, whose belief in the value of the creative arts was unwavering. Paradoxically, as I grew up it was the difficulties I faced (moving countries, family spread over different continents, and later still my son’s serious cardiac condition) which prompted me to find a language to express these realities and possibly see a way through and beyond them. I feel that an experience, once expressed, is subtly changed, and further am intrigued by the idea held by ancient Japanese court culture that no significant experience can be felt to be entire until it finds expression in verse. I sometimes wonder if, had my life been simpler and devoid of challenge, would I have still wanted to write, or make the experience ‘complete’?

More recently, Dave Kavanagh, manager of the fabulous Dublin-based journal The Blue Nib, urged me to take on role of poetry editor for Australia/NZ (2019-2020), which had an immediate and lasting effect on me, plunging me into the many and evolving forms of poetry, as well as a lively awareness of how writers work. Every poet I’ve worked with, every interview I conducted and every editorial I’ve written in the Nib enriched my appreciation of the art of poetry.

The live poetry events near me – such as The Sydney Poetry Lounge | Facebook and Live Poets at Don Bank | Facebook – have also affected me profoundly, not least on account of the warm generosity of their convenors who effectively bring to life the poetry community and keep it thriving.

And finally, I’ve had the great good fortune to have met many gifted writers-turned-friends along the way. I’ve found our exchanges utterly invaluable and they continue to inspire my own process of writing.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work? 

Denise: I was born and grew up in Rome as my father (originally from New Zealand) was working there, until I left to go to study and later work in the UK. Rome influenced me deeply; how could it not? Its sheer beauty and warmth and its rich heritage finds its way into many of my poems, a recent example being ‘In among the ruins, love’, accessible here:

First Prize | My Site (wbyeatspoetryprize.com)

But there were also the rumblings of political turbulence as the Red Brigades gained a foothold in Rome the late ’70s and early ’80s. Bomb scares at school were not uncommon, and we automatically watched out for unattended bags in public areas. The kidnapping and chilling murder of Italian politician, Aldo Moro, in 1978 gave rise to my poem ‘Fifty-five days’, published in Backstory journal. You can read it here:

Fifty-five days – Backstory (backstoryjournal.com.au)

While I lacked the security of growing up in a country where I felt I belonged which spawned a sense of being a perennial outsider, my background also afforded me the opportunity to be immersed in another culture, and grow up surrounded by people of all nationalities. I learned how to watch and listen – a great starting point for creative writing and poetry in particular, which requires the ability pay close and deep attention to the world around us.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you? 

Denise: Ah, that’s a hard one! I will take ‘meaningful’ to mean the work with which I feel most satisfied. I resist the notion that a poem is a tool or utilitarian, written to ‘achieve’ something; for me, a poem is its own meaning, even though it may well prompt us towards a new perception of things, or even action of some sort.

In my case, the poems which hold the most resonance for me are not necessarily those which are attractive to publishers or elicit the warmest praise. That said, however, there is one poem which embodied all my hopes for it, and clearly pleased someone else too. ‘Love was almond shaped’ is published here: Winner of Dalkey Creates Poetry Competition: ‘Love was almond shaped’ by Denise O’Hagan – Books Ireland (booksirelandmagazine.com)

Q6: What are your favorite activities to relax?

Denise: Bushwalking, drinking good coffee, reading (yes, poetry mainly!), hanging out with our four rescue cats, and watching thrillers on SBS TV far too late into the night. Recently I’ve been immersed in Scandinavian noir – The Bridge, Trapped and so on – and the Italian movies L’amica geniale (My Brilliant Friend) and Il cacciatore (The Hunter). Covid has a lot to answer for!

But there’s also bliss in, for want of a better phrase, doing nothing. Our ultra-technological age encourages us to become addicted to the state of ‘being busy’; there’s pressure to fill every moment, do more and do it more efficiently. Becoming aware of, and inhabiting, the unchartered spaces between daily activities brings its own relaxation, too.

Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza/lyric from your writing?

Denise: Now there’s an interesting question! It’s hard to isolate a line or even a stanza from its context. But there’s one instance that springs to mind, because the words came to me one day and wouldn’t leave me alone, so I had to write a poem around or rather before them, as they were the final couplet in a terza rima – a case of the tail wagging the dog! They are:

What exquisite irony that we’ll not tire                             

Of being lashed by the winds of our own desire.

The poem ended up being called ‘The winds of our own desire’, in which I explore what the shade of Francesca da Rimini might have felt when she encounters Dante in the second circle of Hell (Inferno, Canto V). It ultimately found a home with the gorgeous Dublin-based journal, The Madrigal, earlier this year, and you can read it here:

The winds of our own desire (themadrigalpress.com)

Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration? 

Denise: I enjoy many kinds of music from rock to jazz to classical, and count Edith Piaf, Leonard Cohen and Adele among my favourite singers. But if I were stuck on a desert island, it would be Renaissance and Baroque music I would want to take with me, and if there were one composer’s music I could take, it would have to be Bach, whose sacred works are absolutely sublime.

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, projects that you would like to promote? 

Denise: Thank you, David, for the opportunity to mention my second poetry collection, Anamnesis, due to be published in October by the Canberra-based company, Recent Work Press:


Bonus Question: Any funny memory or strange occurrence you’d like to share during your creative journey? 

Denise: I do, and this is really rather spooky. The first complete piece I ever wrote as an adult was a short story called ‘The hanging’. It was inspired by my father mentioning once the horror he had felt when, in Turkey for work many years prior, he accidentally found himself caught up in a crowd which he realised had gathered to witness a public hanging. He never elaborated, but his words stayed with me, and my story wrote itself. When I showed it to him, he was shocked and said that that was exactly how it had been (except for the twist at the end). I was also surprised because there was no logical way I could have arrived at knowledge of specific details. Appropriately, the story was published online in Bewildering Stories:

The Hanging (bewilderingstories.com)

Please include any links, bio, a photo to be posted on the website.

Website: https://denise-ohagan.com/

Facebook: Denise O’Hagan | Facebook

Twitter: Denise O’Hagan (@DeniseOHagan3) / Twitter

Instagram: Editorial and Publishing (@blackquillpress)

LinkedIn: Denise O’Hagan | LinkedIn

Denise O’Hagan is an award-winning editor and poet, based in Sydney. She has a background in commercial book publishing in the UK and Australia, and in 2015 set up her own imprint, Black Quill Press, to help authors publish independently. Recipient of the Dalkey Poetry Prize and former poetry editor (Australia/NZ) for Irish literary journal The Blue Nib, her work is widely published both in Australia and overseas, including in The Copperfield Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Quadrant, Books Ireland, Eureka Street and Hecate. Her second poetry collection is Anamnesis (Recent Work Press, 2022).

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Nathanael O’Reilly

with Nathanael O’Reilly:

BIO: Nathanael O’Reilly is an Irish-Australian poet residing in Texas. His books include (Un)belonging (Recent Work Press, 2020); BLUE (above/ground press, 2020); Preparations for Departure (UWAP, 2017); Distance (Ginninderra Press, 2015); Suburban Exile (Picaro Press, 2011); and Symptoms of Homesickness (Picaro Press, 2010). His poetry has appeared in journals & anthologies published in fourteen countries, including Anthropocene, Beir Bua, Cordite Poetry Review, The Elevation Review, fourW, In Parentheses: New Modernisms, Mascara Literary Review, The Quarantine Review, Skylight 47 and Westerly. He is the poetry editor for Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature.

Twitter: @nathanael_o Instagram: nathanael_73

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Nathanael: I wrote my first poem when I was about thirteen and started to get serious about writing poetry when I was seventeen. My first poetic influences were Keats, Yeats and Hardy. By the time I was eighteen I had been introduced to the works of Heaney, Plath, Dickinson, Lowell, Sexton, Eliot and Murray, and I was influenced by them all in different ways.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Nathanael: Seamus Heaney remains my biggest influence, followed by Keats and Yeats. I’m also influenced and inspired by contemporary poets, including Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Jessica Traynor, Eleanor Hooker, Anne Casey, Jane Clarke, Victoria Kennefick, Traci Brimhall, Ada Limón, Ellen Bass, Michelle Cahill, Ilya Kaminsky, Terrance Hayes, Jericho Brown, Alex Lemon, Lachlan Brown and Jonathan Bennett.

Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Nathanael: I don’t remember an exact moment of epiphany, but by the time I was eighteen and in my last year of high school I knew I wanted to be a writer. I just didn’t know how to go about it at the time, nor did I presume to call myself a writer or a poet. Writers seemed to me like minor gods that lived on another plane and possessed talents far beyond mine.

Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?

Nathanael: I don’t think I could single out just one person. I’ve been fortunate to have had great teachers and mentors and fellow writers willing to read drafts and provide feedback. I’ve had the most frequent and detailed feedback, advice and support from Alex Lemon, Lachlan Brown and Sean Scarisbrick.

Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & have any travels away from home influence your work?

Nathanael: I was born in Australia and grew up there. I was born in Victoria and spent sixteen of my first twenty-two years there; I lived in Queensland for the other five years. I consider myself a poet of place, and I always loved the landscapes in Australia that I grew up in and traveled through. I’ve now spent more than half of my life outside of Australia, but Australia will always be my first homeland and its landscape and culture are present in much of my poetry on a fundamental level. Even if I am not writing directly about Australia, I write about other places and subjects from the perspective of a person who grew up in Australia. I’ve lived in the United States for more than twenty years, but still write about it from an outsider’s perspective. I’ve spent time in forty countries and lived on three continents, so my work has been tremendously and irrevocably influenced by my travels and experiences as an expatriate and immigrant. I would probably need a whole book to write about all the ways living outside of Australia has influenced my work.

Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?

Nathanael: Almost all of my creative work is still meaningful to me, so it’s hard to single out a single book or poem. As a body of work, the poetry I’ve written since about 2005 (more than 300 published poems) has allowed me to come to terms with my identity as an immigrant with three citizenships and three homelands and to accept my hybrid outsider status, and that’s been tremendously helpful on a personal level, as I felt quite lost for a number of years with regard to my place in the world, especially in relationship to nation-states.

Q7: Favorite activities to relax?

Nathanael: Running, walking, skateboarding, listening to music, reading, watching films and television.

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?

Nathanael:  “… You are neither here nor there, / A hurry through which known and strange things pass …” (from Seamus Heaney’s “Postscript) and “I had my existence. I was there. / Me in place and the place in me.” (from Heaney’s “A Herbal”)

Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?


My most recent full-length collection, (Un)belonging, was published by Recent Work Press in Australia in 2020: https://recentworkpress.com/product/unbelonging/

My most recent chapbook, BLUE, was published by above/ground press in Canada in 2020:


More links:



https://amzn.to/2VYv6z8 for Nathanael’s book “Distance”

https://amzn.to/3sl6Umg for Nathanael’s book “Preparations for Departure”

https://amzn.to/3m8cUhi for Nathanael’s book for “Suburban Exile”

https://amzn.to/2VReeKd for Nathanael’s book “Symptoms of Homesickness”