Konstandinos Mahoney has written two poetry collections and has had a number of his poems published in anthologies. His newest collection, ‘The Great Comet of 1996 Foretells,’ transports figures from ancient Greek mythology into modern times and won Live Canon’s 2021 Collection Competition. Live Canon intern Alex DiMarco interviews Mahoney about his experience writing the book as he prepares for his flight from Athens to London to appear for the in-person launch of his newest collection.
Alex DiMarco: What is your poetry writing process like?
Konstandinos Mahoney: I have a strong feeling about something I observe or has happened to me, or I've remembered, been stirred by an idea - I write a rough first draft of poem to capture the essence of that feeling/idea. I read and fiddle, cut, add, cut, rearrange, try to find the right shape, rhythm. Leave. Go back. Repeat. Share, listen to feedback, fiddle again. Leave, go back to, tighten screws. Poems are never finished, only abandoned.
AD: What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
KM: The most difficult part is letting go, accepting the poem is as finished as it will ever be.
AD: Does that process change when writing a single poem versus a collection?
KM: Depends if you are writing a themed collection, the ordering is building on a narrative or single issue – ‘The Great Comet of 1996 Foretells' was a collection of separate poems that I gathered and ordered. Poets have their own interests and topics, I could see my poems fell into loose, sometimes overlapping, categories and styles such as - Greek poems, Greek nature, Greek mythology, Greek culture, Greek landscape, or gay poems, political poems, satirical, sexy, comical, long, short, experimental poems. The aim is for one poem to segue into the next, for the music to flow, not lurch.
AD: Where did inspiration for your collection, ‘The Great Comet of 1996 Foretells,’ come from?
KM: Inspiration for the title poem of, The Great Comet of 1996 Foretells, was a personal experience, two lesbian friends, a loving couple, asking me to be the sperm donor for a child they wanted to have together. The rest of the collection came from poems I wrote during the lockdown when my style changed and the poems I was writing seemed different in some ways from the poems in Tutti Frutti, my first collection. This gave the poems a certain unity of style that made them good bedfellows for a collection.
AD: When did you first start writing poetry?
KM: I first started writing poetry when I was reaching puberty, I remember overwhelming feelings of emotion that spilled over into words - I can remember some lines of one of my first poems, written when I was about thirteen, "Technicolour nightmares haunt my ivy twisted soul\ and I suffocate in silence\ and I kiss the morning toad."
AD: What advice do you have for writers?
KM: Read lots of poetry, fall in love with certain poet's work, let their words seep deep into you. Write about what interests and moves you, share your work, get feedback from other poets.
AD: Which part of ‘The Great Comet of 1996 Foretells’ did you have the hardest time writing, if there was one?
KM: Some poems keep wriggling about, they won't sit still. You think you've finished, but you haven't. The poem 'Acid House' (think that's the title) about tripping teenagers was like that.
AD: Which part of ‘The Great Comet of 1996 Foretells’ did you have the most fun writing?
KM: Probably writing, “Working from Home (8) Anaconda,” about a father working from home during lockdown, turning into a giant snake, and swallowing his son. It's a poem in three voices, mother, father, son, three perspectives on the son being swallowed whole by his dad.
AD: How long did it take to come up with the title of your book, and do you ever have difficulty titling your poems?
KM: The collection title quickly became the title of one of the poems in the collection - as well as being a one line poem in itself, it evoked a mood of strangeness, wonder and menace that was true to the overall character of the collection. Titles are very important, how to make them relevant but not overly explicit. Sometimes titles fall fully formed into my mind, sometimes I have to work on them - but it is work that is well worthwhile.
AD: Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
KM: I was always going to be a writer; it was in my DNA. But as I developed as a writer I was inspired by certain poets - Cavafy, Holub, Plath, Hughes, Blake, Yeats, Sikilianos, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Akhmatova, Sapphο, Gunn, and many contemporary poets writing today.
AD: Has writing and publishing a book changed the way you see yourself?
KM: Having my work published in a collection gives me a feeling of validation as a writer, a rite of passage into the wider poetry community. It’s also good to know my work will be available to a much wider audience. Having a published collection also helps me as a writer to look at my work as if someone else had written it, and that's good, I can see the flaws more clearly and that helps me to up my game.
Konstandinos (Dino) Mahoney, based in London, and the Greek island of Aegina, won publication of his debut collection, Tutti Frutti, in the Sentinel Poetry Book Competition, is a winner of the Poetry Society’s Stanza Competition, and a winner of Live Canon's Poetry Collection Competition 2021. Dino teaches creative writing at the University of Hong Kong and he runs the Chiswick and Barnes Stanza.