Lots of poetry and prose material on display at ‘The Hammersmith Ram’ pub in London last Sunday evening (22nd August), hosted by myself as MC. I started things off by explaining how Seven Towers hoped to have a regular event at the Pub, building on this evening and the one we had some months ago. A mixture of guests and open mic. I read some of my poem ‘So Where Do You Expect to Find Poetry?’ (from my collection ‘And Suddenly the Sun Again’) which attempts a potted summary of the trials and tribulations of engaging in ‘open micery’ and its importance against a background of jaded, formally organised poetry readings. We had great fun at the Ram, and ‘formality’ was not much in evidence.

Beth Pearce provided a very poignant and touching poem ‘Grandad’ which attempted a warts and all portrait of someone very dear to her. This a difficult thing to pull off, the temptation being to indulge in too much praise, or be so reluctant to criticise that the criticism is swallowed up under the praise. Beth’s poem (which I heard before at London’s ‘Poetry Unplugged’) gets the balance right. She also gave us some new poems, some still in construction. This is a feature of open mics: the stuff doesn’t have to be complete or finished. Just coherent enough to take the interest of the audience. Of course, ‘completed’ (and just when is a poem ever ‘completed’?) work is always a bonus. I liked her ‘We Don’t Need Another Charity Poem’ which reminded me of my own ‘I’m Sorry for the Grunts Get Killed’ (in ‘And Suddenly the Sun Again’) in the way that she underlines how fed up one can become of sanctimonious poetry.

Graham Buchan delivered several fine poems (just about as ‘completed’ as poems could be, I think) including ‘Bad’, an interesting

Graham Buchan

 study of how you summarise for very young people (his daughter) the terrible things that are going on in the world. You know you’ll go over their heads by ranting about despots and dictators and genocides, so you just tell them that these things are bad. You know they will, in time, discover the details for themselves, unfortinately. Lots of other stuff from Graham, whose humorously ironic traits came out very much in ‘My Gaudi House’. He also had a very funny poem called ‘Radio Pussycat’ in whch he spoke of ‘prattling discjockeys’ and I feared that my next guest Steve Conway might take ofence and leave me with a vacant slot, but no…

Takes a lot to offend Steve. He was up next to give another reading of his story ‘Schroedingers Cat’ which I heard before in Dublin and which I am just now beginning to understand (everyone else understands it immediately, it seems. Oh, well…). Too complex a narrative to summarise here,but really enjoyable to hear (even if you are little slow…). Basically its about a cat being in a box… and not being in a box. I know. I can’t help you. Great story, though.

Seamus Harrington turned up to lend his support and to give us his brand of light verse and some wel- crafted rhymes. His poem ‘Ringsend is a feat of rhymes and puns.  I finished the night with my ‘When People Say’ poem, which is one of those poems you don’t put much store in but people regularly call for it.

A great night, and let’s hope this event can get underway on regular basis soon. You can find out how things are going in this blog and also at www.seventowers.ie

Eamonn and Beth Pearce

And of course a great big huge thanks to the staff of the Hammersmith Ram who were very welcoming to us and our event.

This lunchhour reading at Chapters Bookshoop (Parnell Street, Dublin), organised by Seven Towers brought us the poetry of Alma Brayden and Tony Gilmore. Alma is also a painter and this is very evident in her poetry: the visual elements are always sharp and clear. She read from her collection ‘Prism’ (Seven Towers 2010) starting with ‘The Ineagh Valley’ which is as close to being the blueprint for a painting as you will get… besides being a fine poem in itself. She continued with this rural landscape with ‘Aran’ and then abruptly changed the scenery with ‘Towels from Egypt’ and then back home again for ‘Bulloch habour’. She finished with ‘Papillon’ and ‘His Castle’, the latter a very poignant piece about that dreaded moment when people want you to leave your home and go somewhere you would be better looked-after. Alma’s poetry is the poetry of the balanced word and the carefully chosen phrase and I like it a lot. I also like her cool, straightforward delivery which allows the poems to speak for themselves.

Tony Gilroy featured in ‘Living Streets’, last year’s anthology of the Ranelagh Arts Festival and today gave some new writings, firstly a long semi-autobiographical poem and then ‘Not Looking at Anyone’, followed by ‘Storm Coming’. I found this last-named most impressive, with its very exact descriptions of the gathering tempest as the poet walks along Dollymount Strand. And what a great description of that old poetry chestnut ‘the rainbow’ (‘…my heart leaps when I behold…’)… only Tony did it all up afresh and with stunning effect. A great poem with lots of almabraydenesque coloour. ‘He Didn’t Know What to Do’ was a very moving poem about a friend who passed away and the last poem was ‘All the Trees’.

Both books mentioned are available from Chapter Bookshop and from www.seventowers.ie

Helen Dempsey

This themed reading in Chapters Bookshop (Dublin) saw a wide variety of poetic and prose offerings. First up was Maeve O’Sullivan with a prose poem (‘Moonriddle’) and a election of Haiku. Bob Shakeshaft added to the theme with his selection, including ‘Luna’, a title also in Helen Dempsey’s readings a little later. She also had interesting poems like ‘Martin’s Moon’ (from her readings of Martin Buber) and one which dealt with that phenomenon known as ‘The Moonies’, that cult which convinces people they won’t be saved unless they follow its rules (no, not the Roman Catholic Church, the Moonies. Although…). Niamh Bagnell

Niamh Bagnell

gave us ‘Maybe the Night’ (which she delivered without a script: I find this aways contributes a lot to the overall effect, and her delivery is really food) and ‘Street Party.’ Karl Parkinson gave ‘December Frosts’ and one by Li Po. He also delivered that long poem describing the ‘underside’ of Dublin and Bernie O’Sullivan obliged with ‘Crying for the Moon’ and ‘Moonshine’, among others. Oran Ryan gave another excerpt from his novel-in-progress ‘One-Inch Punch’ and Pauline Fayne was very much on theme with ‘Night’ and


‘First Night’. I was glad to hear Raven again with his terrific delivery style. He gave a number of poems, one of which, though untitled, was about jealousy and was very impressive. He also gave some from Heaney and Longfellow. The evening finished with some story excerpts from Eileen Keane, whose stories will be published soon.

I tried to rise to the occasion and the theme (‘moonlight’) with a few from my recently published collection and this was no easy feat considering how very close all the other poets kept to the theme, and considering also my book is entitled

Bernie O'Reilly

‘And Suddenly the Sun Again’! But I gave ‘Kristallnacht on the Late Night Bus’ a poem about a rather frightening incident that happened to me some years ago (this poem appeared in a SHOp issue in 2002); and also  ‘There is an Hour of Night’ which appeared in the Galway ‘Crannog’ magazine in 2005 and is a favourite of mine. Well, there’s not really much about ‘moonlight’ in either of them, but it’s the nearest my collection can go! I made up (somewhat) by giving a poem ‘moonlght, i.e,’ and a not-so-serious one called ‘from The New Encyclopaedia of Irritating Human Behaviours, (Vol. 3)’ which I’m still working on. Only up to volume 3 yet. So much material!

A great reading and really well attended. We actually ran out of chairs: a GREAT sign for a poetry reading!!!

This book ‘To Bear Any Burden’ by Al Santoli, is subtitled ‘The Vietnam War and Its Aftermath In the Words of Americans and Southeast Asians’ and that’s exactly what it is: a series of accounts, descriptions and narratives from people who actually experienced on the ground the horrors of that war. There is no fiction or, as is the fashion these days, ‘fictionalised accounts of actual fact’. The facts are allowed to speak for themselves. And speak they do.

There had been some American involvement in South East Asia from the time the French pulled out in 1954, but real involvement began in 1960 when North Vietnam imposed universal military conscription and Eisenhower increased the number of military advisors to 685. From then on there was no looking back until the ignominious scramble to escape by helicopter from the roofs of Saigon in 1975.

I have lived my life without war and at the same time my mind has been heavily marked by war. This was my first war. I remember having vehement arguments with a friend of mine in school in 1966 over the right of America to be in Vietnam at all. He was full of the ‘Domino Theory’. I wasn’t. Had I been an American youngster I would most probably have been part of their anti-war movement, though given the peculiarities of my sense of duty I also probably would have gone to the jungles as my country required. Of course Vietnam had already experienced about a 1000 years of war before the Yanks arrived, as this book reminds us, but American involvement changed everything: the whole idea of what ‘war’ is underwent a profound recasting. They had the atom bomb, and had used it before, and so the threat was always hovering in the background. They had defoliant and carpet bombing. They had seemingly inexaustable resources. But … they were in someone else’s country and the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army knew it was only a matter of time that this alone would defeat them. And of course the growth of the anti-war sentiment back home steadily eroded whatever ‘idealism’ was there initially. Now when I follow the Afghan war from the comfort of my living-room couch it all seems so familiar.

All comments by me (and others who have enjoyed a lifetime of peace) have to be hackneyed and unoriginal on this matter. What this book does is remind us, in the words of those who suffered, how much our ‘hindsight history’ was a raw lived-in experience for them at the time. There are first-hand accounts in this book from every type of participant: American soldiers of all ranks, advisors, Army wives, civilians, Viet Cong…  Here’s a excerpt from Frank McCarthy’s account of how things went when he got home to California in March 1967:

“… I was spit on. This gang of kids walking behind me threw peanuts at me. I went into a bar and phoned my brother. I almost didn’t make it out of there… they wanted to kick my ass. Calling, ‘You kill any women? You kill any kids?’ … … We went out to a dance that night. All I had was my Class A uniform. And boy, it was such a shock. People looking at me like, ‘You scum.’ They’d walk by and spit on the ground. And I had this tremendous feeling that I had done something wrong. It was like I wasn’t supposed to have survived.”

[Al Saltoli was born in Cleveland and served in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division, receiving three purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valour]