This book has a good opening chapter which describes the last hours of the condemned Nazi leaders awaiting execution at Nuremberg. After that it’s rather downhill all the way to the end. The story concerns a letter that Goering is supposed to have written in his cell before his suicide and which was a rallying call to his followers to rise again and proclaim the doctrines of the Third Reich. All of the subsequent story is an endless chasing around in pursuit of this ‘testimony’, with a few lacklustre love scenes thrown in here and there.

Not great, but helped me get through a few airports. Every book has something.

The book, Paradise of the Blind, by Duong Thu Huong, was first published in Vietnamese in Hanoi in 1991 and the credits tell me that it is a work of fiction and that any resemblances to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. I will allow there must be some transpositions, creative imaginings and repositionings in any novel but I do not believe that in this book any resemblances to any persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. This is a book ‘you couldn’t make up’ from imagination. The truth will out and in this novel it does come out, whatever safety guises are in place.

I didn’t know that Vietnam had to export its young people to work in Russian factories, living in dormitories and enduring a dreary work-rest-sleep-work-rest-sleep existence, rather like HG Well’s sad little hero Mr Polly in Victorian England. In ‘exchange’, it seems, Vietnam got help with ‘reconstruction’. Anyway that is the life of Hang, the heroine of this novel ‘Paradise of the Blind’,  who narrates her story while travelling to Moscow o see her sick uncle, a middle-ranking communist official. He has not been much concerned about her or her mother in the past, so Hang resents being forced to make the long journey to Moscow because of her mother’s deep commitment to preserving family ties. This feeling for ‘family’ and loyalty to one’s family group comes across strongly throughout the book. Most of the book is in the form of her recollections while she is travelling and brings us back to Hang’s childhood in her small Vietnamese home village.

As a book, it sprawls a bit. We see everything through the eyes of Hang and therefore it could be that we get an unfair view of the other people in the book. However, one senses truth everywhere in the book. The absurdities of the campaign against the ‘Landlord Class’, most of whom were landlords in the most miniscule way, are clearly described. The absurdities of ‘communal ownership’ are also treated, and the many ways in which vendettas and old scores were settled under the guise of ‘progress’ are described, not in a detailed analysis but, as it were, in passing, giving the impression that there was nothing remakable about the various cruelties and that they were simply a part of the whole post-war communist experience. Which indeed they were.

This is one of those books that one might say ‘writes itself’, without much in the way of crafting from the writer itself. But this view is always unjust to writers who have gone through the mill of social hell. Yes, the narrative does get a bit tedious here and there (the long descritions of food and meals, for instance) and repetitive. But, given the ordeals of Hang and her neighbours, these faults are a small price to pay for sharing them with her and being reminded how fortunate we are, any of us living in the much-maligned ‘democratic free world’.

It’s Wednesday! It’s 1.15! It’s Poetry!…  So it must be Chapters Bookshop in Parnell Street, Dublin. And it is! And it was…  an opportunity to hear some very fine poetry from two very fine poets organised by the Seven Towers Agency:  Catherine Anne Cullen and Pauline Fayne. Catherine Anne read some from her collection ‘A Bone in My Throat’, (Doghouse Books) and some new ones. ‘The Roundabout’ dealt with childhood memories, especially those of hot summers when the tar melted on the roads… Remember them! Especially after the last few we’ve had. (It began to rain outside as she was reading). ‘Hedges’ treated of that vanishing phenomenon that used to be so aboundant between fields, and ‘Joyriders’ brought us back with a jolt to the citys: some people get prizemoney and champagne for driving fast cars around at great speed, while others get jail. I had heard her fine ‘Contraband’ poem before about her mother’s brown bread and the difficulties of getting it through customs and was glad to hear it again. She finished with an experimental poem  called ‘Jazzy Surrey Sunday’ which has terrific sound effects mimicking the ‘Surry with the Fringe on Top’ Rogers and Hammerstein song. It’s great to hear someone trying out something quite different and daring and new.

As if that wasn’t enough for us, next up was Pauline Fayne, who is on her fourth collection (‘Mowing in the Dark’, Stonebridge Press), and who started with a ‘reminiscence’ poem called ‘Flying in the Breeze’. Ostensibly a poem about her grandmother’s death, the untertow has more to do with how soon we are forgotten when we pass on. Very skillfully done. A poem called ‘Waiting’, full of cityscapes, followed and ‘Poor Little Poet Man’, a rather sardonic piece centered around the figure of a male, Irish, rather  misogynistic poet. Every male poet who hears this must be afraid to ask Pauline whom she has in mind… in case they get their own name back! ‘Copycats’ gave a look into the ways in which women’s roles are largely pre-ordained by social class from an early age. This poem ended with the line ‘… soon she will be old enough to hold an iron’. She finished up with ‘Dad’s Wallet’, ‘The Woman who Talks to the Walls’, and a new poem ‘A Desperate Man’.

I like very much the UNAFFECTED delivery of these two poets: no lengthy pompous introductions, high droning tones, or ‘dramtic pauses’. Just straight talking, and natural flow, allowing the poems enough room to escape the page (and the author) and be themselves. I could listen to these two poets any time for any length of time. And that’s not something I say to ALL the girls!.

Eamonn Lynskey

This book is such a good book that when I finished reading it I had to read it again. It’s subtitled ‘Essays on the American West’, although the 12 chapters are not so much essays as they are book reviews. That’s a small quibble, however. They are all worth reading, and re-reading.

The title is a bit awkward: ‘Sacagawea’ was an Indian woman who, with her husband, was part of the Lewis and Clark expedition up the Missouri in 1804 and acted as interpreter. It seems that everyone on the expedition had trouble pronouncing her name and so they renamed her ‘Janey’. She gave birth during the trip and proved a great asset to the exploratory voyage, such that the white men become quite fond of her and her family. She and her child were also a great asset to the expedition because Indian tribes encountered on the way, seeing an Indian womean and a child as part of the group, were much more friendly than they otherwise might have been.

I did not know anything about this expedition into the (then) unknown interior of the western United States (as it was later to become) and the author spends a good deal of time on The Journals of the Lewis and Clarke Expedition issued in 2000 by the University of Nebraska and draws on these journals for material not alone in the essay he devotes to them, but in several other essays as well.

McMurtry has much to say on the mythology of the ‘wild west’ which has come to be received as the actual truth of what happened ‘when the West was won’. We know of course that the west was stolen, and its inhabitants murdered. Roy Rogers, Wild Bill Hikcock, Gene Autry… Figments of the imagination, or at least it’s true to say that their deeds of derring-do were figments. In fact it was all just the same old story: Massacrre, pilage and rape. It’s good to see these issues treated dispassionately, and truthfully.

Furthermore, I am pleased with this book because I am intensly interested in that period of history around the initial exploration of the New World (North and South) and all its attendant adventures and miseries. And miserable certainly was the fate of the native peoples. Ironically, according to McMurtry, there is in fact very little authentic record of that lost world except in writings like those of Lewis and Clark, and there are, according to him, precious few of those.  What has come down to us in the way of authentic first-hand accounts are a few items like Kit Carson’s biography (itself somewhat episodic, according to McMurtry), and other biographies, or autobiographies of ‘frontiersmen’, which are intent on painting their subjects in the best light possible and at the considerable expense of truth.

These Lewis and Clarke journals are, on the other hand, first-hand accounts, like the  work of the first painters to get out across the frontier, George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Alfred Jacob Miller and a few others. The closing paragraph of the book is worth quoting for the way it summarises the importance of the the work of these writers and painters that speaks to us across the centuries: “Thanks to the character, courage and ability of these few men we can now know what the West was like before the prarie was plowed, the buffalo killed, the native peoples broken, and the mighty Missouri dammed”.

Thoroughly recommended

This is an Open Mic Nite I’ve been meaning to get to for some time and finally landed last Wednesday. It’s a Reading Nite that takes place four or five times a year, organised by Mari Gallagher and the Clane Writers Group, and is held in the Liffey Arms in Newbridge. It’s an excellent venue with plenty of space and great acoustics. The start time of 8.00 pm was observed and this will come as a relief to those of us who can’t abide hanging around until after 9.30 (or later!) engaging in

The Liffey Arms ('Johnson's') Newbridge, Co.Kildare

 chit chat and looking at our watches. Great talent on show, with plenty of interesting, amusing and downright rivetting material coming and going behind the mic. An elite force of Seven Towers personnel invaded and gave their all… well, some it. Steve Conway, Oran Ryan, Bob Shakeshaft and myself.(Eileen Keane was there too, but being a local, she doesn’t count as one of the ‘elite force’. Sorry, Eileen, but rules are rules…). I flogged my book ‘And Suddenly the Sun Again’ unashamedly (AND sold a few). During the evening I heard a great piece from Una Ni Cheannaigh drawing a comparison between the Inca sacrificial victims and the ‘Disappeared’ persons in Ireland and elswhere. There are two poems on this (terrible) subject in my book, one based on the people taken away and killed in Argentina (‘Street Demonstration, Buenos Aires’) and one which tackles the Irish version of this horror story, ‘Oh Come All Ye True Born Irishmen’. I therefore thought it fitting to read out my poem which deals with the abduction


and murder of a seventeen-year-old boy during the ‘Troubles’. I then lightened things with my new ‘When People Say’ and one from my book entitled ‘Thank You for Holding’. This is my practice: I engage with my listeners in serious vein when I start and then, depending on how serious (or gloomy) the material is, I end up on a lighter note. It’s only fair, I feel. This night, because of the horrendous nature of the subject, I changed gear immediately after the poem and read lighter material. There’s no easy way to get across serious material without ‘gloomifying’ people, and, consequently, turning them off, but a mix of material goes a long way towards having people really listen. All in all a really good night, really well organised. I will definitely go again.

Anne Morgan

This Chapters reading organised by Seven Towers ( featured two writers, Anne Morgan and Eileen Keane, both regular contributors to the 7T monthly Open Mic (currently at Chaplins Bar, Hawkins St., and next one on Wed 28th July) and whose work has appeared in the 7T Census Anthology. Anne read a number of poems, some from a personal perspective, like her ‘In Bloom’ which deals with the mother-daughter relationship, to more outward-looking poems like ‘Schools Out’ which portrays her experience of working in a shool for the disadvantaged (this poem appealed to me because I myself dealt with disadvantaged students in the course of my yeaching career). I can’t remember if Anne produced Haiku before, but on this occasion she read out a number of very accomplished pieces. Here’s one: ‘Yellow rose / stands alone / waiting to be taken’. I also liked her poems drawn from paintings like ‘The Goose Girl’. The fact that so much can be drawn out of works like this shows what great works they are.

Eileen Keane









Eileen Keane read her story ‘Snapshots’ (a bit truncated due to time) which I heard before somewhere and which is is really good. The psychology is deep, the charcters credible and the setting (a rather isolated area in the USA: ‘no one seems to call…’) very well drawn. It’s basically the story of a young wife’s trouble with fitting in with the in-laws. The tension created by this pervades the story and I better not say anymore. Except it’s really well-done, the whole thing.

All in all it was a privilege for me to MC for such talent. The next Chapter’s reading will be at 6.30pm (pm!… as if…) on Thursday 15th, on the theme of animals. Be there!

First thing we did was drink a glass in mourning for the demise of Cassidy’s of Westmoreland Street which closed suddenly during the week and necessitated our 7 Towers Last Wednesday Open Mic relocation to Chaplins nearby in Hawkins Street. Turned out to be an excellent venue and with acoustics so good that most people didn’t need the mic.

All the usual supects were there, plus one or two newcomers. Oran Ryan

Oran Ryan

started us off with the opening from his new novel followed by Steve Conway with a piece from HIS next book. (not to be outdone!), which was folloowed by a new face, Susan Roe who read an excerpt from HER new book (‘The Unknown’). All these books! And it takes me so long to write one short poem! (But then, poetry takes so much more concentration, right?). Phil Lynch gave two poems with a heavy ‘political’ content, one about the terrible ‘Granard’ case some years back, and another to do with the Saville enquiry, with eachoes of Wordsworth’s ‘The Sloitary Reaper’ adding poignancy. (I always like to hear Wordsworth appreciated). Then Ross Hattaway: He awoke one night convinced that he was dead. Walked the house at 2 in the morning trying to stay alive… Don’t ask. On a more serious note, his ‘Song from Normandy’, an elegy for 90,000 dead, was very impressive. Next, Bob Shakeshaft, with his continuing focus on people living (or surviving ) on the margins of society, and the Sandra Harris with her direct and in your face treatment of very raw sex. And then (after a long absence from The Last Wednesday in Dublin… well, he lives in New York) Quincy Lehr. I clapped in the wrong place during one of his long poems, but since poets appreciate ANY kind of applause he wasn’t too hard on me. He also had a poem deconsrtucting that type of annoying film we call ‘Art House’. He took his analysis to the French art house type, and these are maybe the best of their kind at being pretentious, but the

Bob Shakeshaft

field is really wide open. Helen Dempsey was up next, asking herself why she had so many poems about birds. Patrick Chapman read, among others, the poem published in ‘Census’ (The second Seven Towers Anthology) ‘The Golden Age of Aviation’, and Damien Clarke gave a really good poem (‘Elements’) recalling a friend who died. Anne Tannem gave her ‘Woman in the Mirror’ poem (paradise lost and regained) and Karl Pakinson gave his ‘Mushrooms and Vodka’. Eileen Keane left us wondering what came next in one of her stories… we have to wait a month it seems. The evening finished with poems from Eoin Hegarty, Chrisodolous Makris (I thought his ‘Impressionists’ poem was very good) and a newcomer, an Australian poet called MelissaPetrakis with poems mourning her mother’s death.

Eileen Keane

Somewhere in among all this talent I gave my ‘Visiting Dachau’ poem from my recently published ‘And Suddenly the Sun Again’ collection. Not much sun about this poem, written some years ago and first published in ‘The Stinging Fly’. Its basis is the realization that, for some things that happen, the old cliche comes into its own: some things are indescribable. ‘There are no words’. It’s one of the themes of the book. Indescribable,  yes, but the attempt must be made, and, in the attempt, maybe we get a little nearer to the truth of the matter. It’s a fairly long poem, and NOT cheery and so I lightened things up with a recent piece called ‘When people say…’ in which I try to decode the usual politenesses, such as ‘If I offended you, I apologise’ (Watch that ‘if’). Fairly ordinary stuff, but gives few laughs. And people should be allowed at least some laughs. Even during poetry evenings.

If you are not coming to this open mic you are missing out on A LOT of great stuff. You have been warned.