Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)

‘Cranford’ sees Elizabeth Gaskell back in the kind of world she grew up in: rural, somewhat secluded from the Great World, a bit over-numerically feminine, full of strict behaviour codes and genteel poverty. The other world of desperate living conditions, starvation wages (or no wages), and disease which she was to get to know so well later (and to write about so well) is not present in ‘Cranford‘, or in any of the short stories in this volume. This in itself is an indication of how much England, and the English, were a country of ‘Two Nations’, as described by Disraeli in his novel ‘Sybil’ (1845). In her novel ‘Mary Barton’ there is some overlap of the two worlds in the way that the industrialised workers are near enough to the countryside to enjoy something of its goodness, but this idyll s rapidly taken over by the book’s concern with the appalling injustices and degradations suffered by the workers.

Here, in Cranford, the biggest social upsets centre around strangers who move in to the little town and, it is greatly feared, will upset the normal tranquillities. These ‘dangers’ and the way the little society copes with them, reminds one very much of Jane Austin. Both writers see the preservation of the social fabric as being of extreme importance. Certain things are just NOT DONE, and those who do them… well…

Both writers extract much humour from situations that would at first seem just ridiculous. And both have a sure identification with the genuine suffering that can result from social slighting and neglect. It’s not hard to enter into Cranford with the author and become one of the little town’s inhabitants, sharing with them all the indignations occasioned by any attempts to change the way of life they have enjoyed for many generations. It won’t last much longer, though. The new railway is making its inexorable way across the English countryside towards the little town, after which things will never be the same again.

As regards the other stories in this volume, best are ‘Mr Harrison’s Confession’, which was incorporated into the recent BBC production of ‘Cranford’ (with the great Judi Dench in a leading role) and sat very well with the story; and ‘Lois the Witch’ which shows Gaskell able to set a story in a setting completely different from either the slums of Manchester or the small-town intrigues of Knutsford (Cranford), her hometown.

First up Karl Parkinson, whose been spreading himself around a good deal lately, and why not with the great stuff he has, his ‘City Sonata’ for instance (…the dead smile at me with black roses in their hands…”)

Karl Parkinson

and much more. Oran Ryan read from his novel ‘The Death of Finn’ abuot two-thirds the way through where the character Frank speaks about his doubts about his Faith. He also read a terrific poem by an eight-year-old, though I don’t know if it’s a good thing to stir up envy among your listeners, most of whom are poets! Martin Swords is new to the venue and gave a poem about Bob Dylan which appealed very much to the (ahem!) more senior members of the audience. He had other very good ones too, including one on the (late-lamented) Celtic Tiger. Maggie Gleeson (also, I think, a new face) had some great poems, including one about Iris Robinson and another about getting chalk to play hopscotch on the street. And if you don’t know what ‘hopscotch, is,

Maggie Gleeson

 or was… just go away and don’t be annoying me. Noel O’Brian gave a monologue version of his Aine and Ardan play (published in the first ‘Census’ anthology), delivered without script and with great dramatic power. Ross Hattaway gave us a somewhat reworked version of  ‘Killing my Husband’ and also that audience favourite ‘Lip Reading’ from his collection ‘The Gentle Art of Rotting’. Then a Maori song from 1912. Thank God I wasn’t on next. WhenI did come on I read ‘Bread’, a rather horriying poem about our gangland violance, and then a long meandering thing called ‘Sports Interview’ but which is NOT as long and meandering as the real thing! I also read two poems I liked from Alma Brayden’s great book ‘Prism’ (just launched from Seven Towers) and she also was there to read.

Another new face was Breda, and I didn’t catch her second name. She gave ‘The Woman Who Toasted the Owl’, and some others, all highly original and good. It’s been a while since Frank Cheemore (?) was down and he gave us three poems, of which ‘Colour Cards’ was my pick, based on his time working in his father’s paint shop. Incidentally, Frank introduced his poems with excerpts from songs, as is his usual wont, and is very entertaining. Tony Gilmore is also new to the Wednesday and gave some terrific stuff, particualry the one with so many references to various makes of car. Called, strange to relate, ‘Cars’. Ann Tannam had a bicycle poem which would do as a manifesto for all bikers and Inez Dillon had one about a disturbing experience in which she thought someone had taken ill. Helen Dempsey had a few, and her ‘I will Go to the Mountain’ was heavy with that kind of gospel/biblical language that really gets to the listener. Brendan Nolan told

Oran Ryan

a story, ‘Jimmy’s Swim’, which I could visualise very clearly as it was set around the Liffey weir at Lucan. Brendan has a book out, ‘Barking Mad’, which is a collection of stories subtitled ‘Tales of Liars, Lovers, Loonies and Layabouts’, which is well worth reading. The evening finished with Eileen Sheehan and Phil Lynch and and to anyone I’ve forgotten… apologies. Another great night. Lots of inspiration.

Last Saturday (May 22) visitors to the Hugh Lane Gallery (Parnell Square, Dublin) met with an unusual sight: a circle of 11 people, sitting silently. Ten poets and an artist. Well, if thevisitors had come in at certain times (every 50 minutes) they would have seen one of the people strike a gong and then see the circle disperse, and then return punctually ten minutes later. Punctually? Poets? Is that possible? Yes indeed. Chris Doris, the creator of this artwork, had his poets well in hand.

This ‘silent circle’ was the brainchild of Chris, an artist ‘who utilizes silence as a medium of shared public enquiry’ . Which means… Well, I was one of the poet-participants and I’m not sure I can explain exactly what was happening. For one thing, there was no ‘exactitude’ about it. I do know that it was a deeply affecting experience for me. Just alone on the level of being without TV, Radio, conversation, books, internet, surrounding chatter, mobile-phone, door-bell ringing– that is to say: without all the  vicissitudes of ‘modern life’ — Being ‘away’ from everything for a few hours without any of these things was a unique experience. THAT was one important aspect of the silence Chris was constructing throughout the day, through which the participants one could see/experience something else about themselves, something not manufactured for them by their surrounding milieau.

But to utilize this silence ‘as a medium of shared public enquiry’? I’m not good at explaining this because, although the experience allowed me to see into myself without the usual hinderance of my ‘cultural clutter’, I don’t know what effect the artwork had on visitors to the museum. Once one allows the silence to do its work, one gradually sinks (or rises?) to a plane where the surrounds are almost shut out. So therefore I was sometimes only partially aware of people coming and going, and of people sitting down with us for a while in the ring of chairs placed outside the circle. One lady, directly in my line of vision, stayed a considerable time. I wonder how she felt? Was the circle working for her too? In what way? What enquiries was she making of her self? … How one asseses this idea of ‘shared public enquiry’ I’m not sure.

Another aspect of the experience that I began to feel as the day wore was that the silence in the circle became somewhat tangible, though ”tangible’ is the wrong word for something as elusive as this kind of shared event. However, something was generated by the circle which somehow locked us in together. This may have been just the effect of the ‘bonding’ any group will feel after being together for some time, but sometimes it had a different ‘quality’. This feeling was stronger for me in the later hours in the afternoon. How much of it was something, or how much of it was imagined, or the result of bonding I can’t say. However this sustained period of silence was very relaxing and brought to mind Wordsworth’s phrase in his great ‘Tintern Abbey’ poem about ‘seeing into the life of things’:

“… that serene and blessed mood,

in which the affections gently lead us on,-

Until, the breath of this coporeal frame

And even the motion of our human blood

almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body and become a living soul:

While with an eye made quiet by the power

of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things… ”    (from ‘Lines Coposed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’‘, 1798)

I hope to talk to Chris Doris again about all this sometime. He’s bound to help me out, as he did with us all the day(Friday) before the artwork. He has  20 years of academic and practical research in Eastern philosophy, Western psychology and science. That may sound a bit forbidding if you haven’t met him, but in fact he is very amiable and wears his learning lightly .

The poets were Chris Agee, Paddy Bushe, Seamus Cashman, Patrick Chapman, Rachel Hegarty,Kevin Higgins, Eamonn Lynskey, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill,  Eileen Sheehan, and Barbara Smith.

Thanks also to Rachel, who sat with us ready to catch anyone who fell over from all the mental exertion and bring outside for revival. Fortunately this did not happen. Despite rumours to the contrary, poets are tough birds!

(Photo by Mark Condren of the Sunday Tribune)


Alma Brayden launched her first collection ‘Prism’ (published by Seven Towers) at Cassidy’s of Westmoreland Street last Wednesday 19th May. It’s a fine collection, which has a colour reproduction of one of her own paintings on its cover and, in my view, is the best  Seven Towers cover so far. And you can tell this book by its cover: the poems are full of colour and detail. She read her ‘Celtic Animals’ poem and ”Chiaroscuro’– the one about Carravaggio’s cat. (I don’t know whether this poem is based on research or pure imagination, but it’s very good irrespective). I heard her read her very clever poem ‘Pythagoras in Love’ before and it was great to hear it again. Lots of other poems too, sad ones and humorous, and afterwards reading the book, I found two others I really like a lot, both entitled as a colour: ‘Blue’ and ‘Yellow’. The language of many of the poems, like these two, is very spare and balanced, and I like that. I’m looking forward to seeing/hearing her next Wednesday (26th)at the Open Mic.

Today’s lunchtime reading at Chapters Bookshop featured three poets, Anamaria Crowe Searrano, myself and Karl Parkinson. First up, I had some new stuff to try out: two rather grim poems on a rather grim subject: gangland crime. ‘Bread’ is arumination on the recent killing of a

My Good Self

man delivering bread to a shop and ‘Deposition’ is about a young chap found dead on waste ground in Finglas some months back. I had originally titled this poem ‘The Women Watch’, after one of its recurring lines, but now I have reverted to its first title to bring in associations of the ‘descent from the cross’, the theme so often treated by Giotto and many other masters. I then lightened things up a bit with a few less forbidding items, one of whichwas ‘Sports Interview’, which deals with those inane, and sometimes quite lengthy, interviews that football managers have to give to TV reporters where evertything could be condensed into one sentence: ‘We lost the match because we were crap’. Next up was Karl Parkinson, whose work I particularly like, as I have said


 so often on this poetry blog. He gave his great poem about the sufferings of the artist from times past until now, and also that poem about meeting Walt Whitman in the supermarket. He also had a new one (well, new to me) called ‘Ode to Myself’ which is really humorous and very cleverly written (he wrote this ‘Ode to me’, he says,  because he felt it was ‘Owed to me’). Anamaria Crowe Serrano informed us that she had had a stressful week and read us some poems about stressfull experience. Also some untitled pieces, among them a striking poem which began ‘Horoscopes remind me’. A very unusual poem was ‘Sile na Gig’, allowing the goddess to speak for herself. Some other new ones and then a selection


from her ‘Hemispheres’ book. Anamaria has a very busy home-schedule but yet manages to present something new every time she reads, as does Karl.  They really put it up to the rest of us!

A really enjoyable reading.

Halfway through the month already and it’s time again for a Chapters Thursday

Oran Ryan

 Themed reading! Where is my life going? Well, into Chapters last Thursday anyway where a line up of writers read on the theme of ‘setting out’. Anamaria Crowe Serrano read from her collection ‘Femispheres’ and also some new stuff, including ‘Taking Steps’, and ‘The Navigator at Cobh’ which she dedicated to Paul Casey, he of the great ‘O’Bheal’ sessions in Cork. Tim Landers, a Canadian Poet over for a few days with me, also read and his easy style was very appealing and listenable-to. Bob Shakeshaft obliged with a poem

Tim Lander

on ‘Varna’, dealing with a visit to that Bulgarian town, and some other poems I haven’t heard before. Karl Parkinson was in his usual dramatic form with a terrific poem about a guy getting out of prison, and lots more. Oran Ryan gave a prose piece in which one of the characters had ‘a cliched smile of great wattage’ and Stephen James Smith gave his own ‘Ticking Clock’ plus a rendition of WBYeats’s ‘Lake Isle of Inishfree’. I gave a few old ones which fitted the theme very well (‘Voyage’, ‘When we go to Bed’, Song of the Wandering Suburbanite’). Old ones? Well, yes. I’ll have to resurrect some DISCPLINE and get down toproducing some new ones, like these other guys. Overall, a very relaxed and enjoyable reading.

Wednesday 28th April was the last Wednesday of the month and so all the usual (and some unusual) suspects gathered together in Cassidy’s of Westmoreland Street for another very well attended 7 Towers Open Mic night. Always the brave young man, Andre Kapoor went first with his own unique rhyming poetry, delivered from the heart and without a script. Eileen Keane, Steve Conway, and Inez dillon followed on to complete the first part of the show. One of the attractive things about this open mic (and

Declan, MC

quite apart from the quality of the contributions) is this division into four or five parts, with a few minutes in between, which allows some socialising and also (dare one say it) gives the brain cells a bit of rest from having to deal with so much poetry and heightened prose. I wish this understanding of the demands on the audience was more common at events like these. These breaks are arranged by the MC Declan McLoughlin, as is the order in which the writers appear. The overall effect, thanks to his work, is to make the evening move along at an even and ‘absorbable’ pace.

Other contributors were Michael Farren (from the Boyne Writers, whose piece on stamp-collecting [‘Philately’]struck a chord with this particular nerd now writing), Ross Hattaway, Ann Tannam, Orla Fay, Oran Ryan and Liz McSkeane, whose short story about Mozart’s dad was great. Philip Lynch, Helen Dempsey and Karl Parkinson also took the mic, and there are one or two others to whom I make the usual apology. Another great, and seriously unmissable, night.