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EMC Question Words with... Kathryn O'Driscoll author of "Cliff Notes"

‘Kathryn O’Driscoll’s Cliff Notes demonstrates the alchemy of poetry: summoning colour from blankness, shapes from the void, and making life from the very things that threaten it.’ ~ Caroline Bird

‘Kathryn O’Driscoll uses words to build bridges across the chasms we all dread to fall into. This collection is passage across a heart that beats so loudly we can feel the tremors in our own lives. Here is a poet that invites you to make the crossing and discover new territory in your own world.’

~ Shane Koyczan

Kathryn O’Driscoll’s debut collection comes from the edge of being alive, being sane, and being heard. Exploring grief, sexual abuse, mental illness, isolation and recovery, Cliff Notes forms the story of many losses and what is left behind.

Poetry from the precipice oscillating between beauty and brutality, Cliff Notes examines how our experiences shape our ideas about who we are. Intrusive thoughts, metaphor, and facts are woven together until reality is indistinguishable from a dysfunctional mind’s perception of it.

A biological cartography of the effects of trauma and silence, both enforced and self-imposed, this is a portrait of the body as the site of betrayal but also redemption. O’Driscoll’s writing is sharply human as she unflinchingly excavates the grimmest places and combs through the decay to find if there is anything alive growing there still. Yet amid all the darkness, each poem is a defiant flare of hope that change is still possible.

Cliff Notes sets you adrift, struggling to keep your head above water that will either save or destroy you with its next wave. This collection won’t let you catch your breath. This is poetry as survival and suffering, with no easy answers about which will win in the end.

WHO is Kathryn O'Driscoll?

Kathryn O'Driscoll is the 2021 U.K. Slam Champion and World Slam Finalist. A spoken word poet and activist from Bath, England, she talks openly about mental health, neurodivergency, disability, LGBTQIA+ issues and joys, and survival in her poetry.

She has performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Bath Festival, the Royal Albert Hall, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Literary Festival, and on BBC Radio Bristol. She was also one of the featured poets on the (BAFTA winning) Sky Arts spoken word TV show Life and Rhymes. Her debut collection ‘Cliff Notes’ was released by Verve Poetry Press in February.

Twitter: @PoetryOD Instagram: @YellowLeatherJacketPoet Facebook: @PoetryOD LinkTree:

WHAT do you write? I primarily write poetry, both page and spoken word - occasionally I dabble in flash fiction and vignettes but usually poetry works for everything I find myself wanting to explore. My poetry primarily focuses on mental health, and my experiences as someone with complex mental health issues, disability, neurodivergence, surviving trauma and grief, and LGBTQIA+ issues and joys. My upcoming collection, called Cliff Notes, is primarily centred around those things. The way dysfunctional thought can disrupt and warp my perception of situations, the way my life has been affected by these things and little snapshots of moments in my journey. WHY did you write Cliff Notes? I originally submitted two pamphlets to Verve Poetry Press, my publisher. One - called Gut Punch - was about mental health, and one - called The Poet’s Guide to Grief - about surviving loss. And they reached out to me and asked if I’d consider writing a collection and bringing those themes back together. Which made sense to me. My mental health is all interwoven issues and it felt more natural to write about them in a space where they bounce off of each other and speak to other poems by manner of being in the same collection with them. So once I decided to do that, I applied for Arts Council England funding to explore putting intrusive thoughts on the page, and how the interplay of intrusive thoughts and the poet’s thoughts could affect a poem. That didn’t work out the way I expected as I went through the mentoring process with Caroline Bird. But in the end we ended up with the intrusive thoughts very much present in the book, but with some control over how intrusive they are for the reader… its a happy middle ground. And I’m hoping that having them present will make the collection really speak to my experience - and perhaps be a nod towards other people with thoughts like that and let people imagine living with that noise going on.

HOW did the idea for Cliff Notes come about? It is all based on my own life, my own experiences. There’s a lot of themes of silence (both enforced, or self imposed). There’s a lot about feeling alone… My mental illness has kept my housebound for 10 years in total now, and watching the pandemic with that context was a confusing and distressing thing that churned up all these old feelings. I wanted people to take their experiences of lockdown and be able to extrapolate that out to understand the experience of people who are housebound due to illness or disability. I wanted people to understand me as a disabled person, as a mentally ill person… and all that came out in the book. WHEN did you write Cliff Notes? I think the oldest poem is about ten years old, truthfully. There’s a two line poem in the collection called Halo, and it felt like it belonged in this narrative… but another poem called Before, I wrote the final draft (it was a drastic edit) the day before I submitted my final manuscript. But I had had a few weeks to think about the stucture the poem needed, which bits I liked the most, how to edit it. But yeah its a real range. I’d say most of it was written in the past couple of years though. WHERE can readers find your book? You can find it on my website (where I even sell signed copies if you like that sorta thing) or on my publisher’s website, or its on Waterstones UK, W.H. Smiths, Amazon, everywhere. The ISBN is 978 1 913917 02 9 !

Disclaimer: EMC's interview series seeks to promote the artist and their featured writing and is in no way an endorsement of any of said artist's services, opinions or other work outside of this feature.


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