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John W. Sexton

The Wallpaper Door, poem, Issue 40, September 2017

John W. Sexton was born in 1958 and lives in the Republic of Ireland. He is the author of five previous poetry collections, the most recent being The Offspring of the Moon (Salmon Poetry 2013). His sixth collection, Futures Pass, is due early in 2018. He is also a radio scriptwriter and children’s novelist, and his novels have been translated into Italian and Serbian. Under the ironic pseudonym of Sex W. Johnston he has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. (Photo of John W. Sexton courtesy of Niall Hartnett.)

Get to know John...
Birthday? Somewhere between my last one and my next one, and always in the sign of Taurus.
When did you start writing? I began to enjoy writing in my mid-teens, but it tended typically to come in brief spurts and was without stamina. It was not until I was 19 that I decided to dedicate myself to it fully, which was in 1977, exactly 40 years ago.
When and what and where did you first get published? My first published piece was a short story, entitled Blackthorn, which appeared in New Irish Writing, a supplement of the daily Irish newspaper The Irish Press, in 1983. The story was subsequently short-listed for the Hennessy Literary Award in 1984. New Irish Writing was edited at that time by the legendary Irish editor David Marcus, and under David’s mentorship I began writing book reviews for that newspaper as well, contributing reviews of poetry, folklore and comparative religion during the early to mid-1980's. David also took the first of my poetry during that period, so in effect those few years were an essential apprenticeship for me.
What themes do you like to write about?  I’m not easy with having themes uppermost in my mind when I write, unless it’s necessary, as when I’m working to commission, but the themes that can certainly be found in my work are transformation,  communication with and through archetypes, death and the dead, and the lives of women.
What books and/or stories have most resonated with you as an author? Why? How do these stories and their characters find expression in your work? Influence and resonance is an ongoing thing with me, as I imagine it must be for most writers, and I’ve always tried to find new writers to respond to and to learn by, and I tend to think in terms of the overall work of a given writer rather than a single work. Discovering writers that one has previously been unfamiliar with is always a good way to keep one’s own writing fresh. But of the writers that influenced me in a critical and inspiring way when I was setting out four decades ago, I think I would have to mention Ursula Le Guin, Josephine Saxton, Angela Carter, Sylvia Plath, Harlan Ellison, Robert Coover, Tomas Tranströmer, Paul Celan, Gunnar Ekelöf, John Keats, W. B. Yeats and Lewis Carroll. But that list has long since been added to immeasurably. Gunnar Ekelöf and Paul Celan were especially important to me as vision poets when I first discovered them. Ever since I was a young child I have undergone visionary experiences, and these two writers most especially gave me the confidence to try and incorporate that experience and its attendant sensibilities into my own work. And if you look at all the other writers in this list you’ll see that all of them are visionary to some extent. In the part of Ireland where both my parents are from, and where I now live, there is an old and respected tradition of vision poetry, known as Aisling poetry, and this is a tradition that has become increasingly important to me on a very personal level.

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