On Writing · Publishing

November Guest Writer – Mary Ann Mulhern – Part I

Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, I am thrilled to have Windsor poet Mary Ann Mulhern, in the above photo, as the guest writer for November. She has agreed to give us a four-part guest blog, following in the fabulous wordsteps that Penny-Anne Beaudoin began back in September.

I will be publishing a piece each Saturday, beginning with this one today! Mary Ann does a fabulous job of giving us her writing background in this first instalment, so please read on for the dirty details.

Be sure to pay attention each week as at the end of the month there will be a trivia question, and a chance to WIN a SIGNED COPY OF Sleeping with Satan.

As I always do with guest writers, I give them a question to answer for their guest post.

Thank you, Mary Ann!

Here is the question I asked Mary Ann:

As November is a month of collective remembrance, write about how you ‘remember’ people, places, and things in your writing. From witches to convents to sexual abuse, how has the act of ‘remembering’ affected your writing life?

From Touch the Dead, by Mary Ann Mulhern

“In this house words and tears

Have a place

My father is a man

Who puts shovel to soil

Whose sweat bleeds into rock and clay

He knows the depths of grief

Feels it in his hands

Climbing up from graves”

I am a gravedigger’s daughter who grew up in a cemetery house in St. Thomas, ON. My parents were Irish immigrants denied an education in Ireland. My father, Patrick Mulhern, was the gravedigger and caretaker of Holy Angels Cemetery. The cemetery house at the edge of the burial ground was home for my parents, my three brothers, and I.

In my pre-school years, my brothers and I played for hours among tombstones in the cemetery my father tended. During those years, I watched my father dig graves with sweat pouring from his shirtless body in summer. In winter, he burned old tires all night over grave plots in order to melt the frost so that he could begin to dig. Winter graves were the worst. Funerals in snow seemed sadder than those in the sunshine of summer.

In those young years of hide-and-seek, it never occurred to me that I would ever die. These were my precious years of innocence about matters such as death. One day, my oldest brother, Ed, told me that I too would die. I can still remember feeling the shock of his words. I could actually feel them in my flesh, and I was afraid. I think that everyone is afraid to die- we don’t know when or how or why this will happen, but it most certainly will happen.

As we age, this reality comes more sharply into focus, and the knowledge that a grave ‘waits for us’ forces us to think about life in a much different way. My parents are dead, my brother Ed is dead, and some of my friends have already passed on.

When I visit graves of my family, I am reminded that one day I will join them there. An oak tree shadows the lettered stone at the head of my parents’ graves. A year ago I noticed a single brown leaf had fallen on their marble marker. I’ve saved that leaf. When I look at it I return to the cemetery, to graves beneath the shelter of a tree, and I feel as if I’ve gone home.

November is indeed a month of remembering. As I look back on my ten years as a writer, I remember incidents of luck. In July 2001, I won the Freedom Festival Poetry Contest. That event triggered a meeting with Marty Gervais, publisher of Black Moss Press. He encouraged me to write about my experiences as a young woman in a convent- He published this as a collection in my first book of poetry, The Red Dress. This book has since gone into four printings. I was interviewed by Mary Hynes on Tapestry a national CBC program.

The fact that I had grown up in a ‘cemetery house’ became the next focus of my writing. My second book of poetry, Touch the Dead was published in 2006 – again by Black Moss Press. This book was short-listed for the Acorn-Plantos award.

In 2007, Marty Gervais asked me to write about the Father Charles Sylvester priest-pedophile case that was prosecuted in Chatham, ON. I interviewed several of the women who’d been abused by Sylvester as little girls. Also, the crown attorney, Paul Bailey, worked closely with me. Marty Gervais’ Editing & Publishing Practicum class edited and designed what would become my third book of poetry, When Angels Weep. This book was also short-listed for the Acorn-Plantos award.

I became intensely interested in the fate of women charged as “witches”, and researched the Salem witch-trials of 1692. From this came my next book, Sleeping with Satan that was published in 2010.

Marty Gervais asked me to write a sequel to The Red Dress. Last year his students in the Editing & Publishing Practicum class edited and designed, Brides in Black. This book launched April 8, 2012. Thus, as a writer, I’m deeply grateful for my good fortune with Black Moss Press!

3 thoughts on “November Guest Writer – Mary Ann Mulhern – Part I

  1. How thrilling is it to read not only Penny-Anne Beaudoin’s writing on Vanessa’s blog, but now Mary Ann Mulhern’s.

    I hate to brag (!) but what the heck. I am Mary Ann’s biggest fan. A groupie even. I love her poetry. It is lovely to read her prose as a memoir and on such a thoughtful subject. She writes, as all good writers do, so that the reader can ‘see’ the scenes she paints with words. I can see her visiting her parents’ graves, finding the oak leaf and saving it in remembrance.

    I look forward to the rest of November, a month I’m not in awe of, just to be able to read Mary Ann’s writing.


    1. Now this is strange – I thought I was Mary Ann’s biggest fan! Tell you what, Joannie. I’ll share the presidency of Mary Ann’s fanclub with you. Deal?
      Provocative start to your article Mary Ann, but I must quibble with your use of the word “luck” to describe your success. While the timing may have been fortuitous, nothing would have come of it had there not been that deep wellspring of talent that is your writing ability. Your success is well-deserved! Can’t wait for the second installment! And just when I thought Saturdays couldn’t get any better! Thanks Vanessa!


  2. I am a great fan of your work Mary Ann. It has touched me and amused me, and I must admit, some of it is hard to read because of the painful emotion I feel, but of course, this means it is some really good writing! I enjoyed reading about your early days in that rare envionment, especially about how you were brought up with death, yet still had the thought that it could happen to you. I could almost see your wee shocked face as your brother told you the news! Looking forward to your next posting.
    :0) Karen


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