An impressive line of new books were launched this evening (23 Nov) by the Arlen imprint

Tom Duddy

in association with Poetry Ireland. Geraldine Mills led off with her book  (shared with Lisa Taylor)  ‘The Other Side of Longing’, including a poem comparing our Leprechauns with other foreign varieties.  According to Geraldine, ours are ‘meaner’ (?). Then it was Tom Duddy who read from his ‘The Hiding Place’ three poems, ‘The Quiet Life’, ‘Left Bank’ and ‘Garden Party’. I liked  ‘Left Bank’ with its evocations of  ‘This old street which still dreams of being  / central again one day, cannot change itself…’ and the people who still came there, themselves now changed, and yet unchanged. Other readings were from Maighread Medbh, Adrian Kenny (on behalf of Jim Chapson), Gerard Smith (who read from James Liddy’s posthumous collection, ‘Fest City’), Geraldine Mitchell (whose poem involving the new scientific discoveries relating to dark matter struck me as very original, and Kate Newman from her ‘I Am a Horse’ collection.

Donal Moloney and Ross Hattaway

Poetry and prose today at Chapters at lunchtime organized by Seven Towers– Ross Hattaway providing the poetry and Donal Molony the prose.

Ross is working very hard on his next book (he says) and it’s going to be a cracker (he implies). Well, with poems like ”Killing My Husband’ it’s going to be at least unusual. The poem is divided into three parts: (1) The Trigger, (2) Pulling the Trigger, and (3) The Requel. Fascinating stuff. Trouble is that Ross does such a line in sardonic comment that I’m not sure whether to take him seriously or not. It could all be tongue in cheek. Then again, on the other hand…  … To finish up he lightened the mood  with a poem from Kate Dempsey about man’s faithful friend. Not being a dog-lover (to put it mildly) I appreciated the artistry but not the subject matter. Never can quite get to grips with this dog-loving business, particularly as, when I meet them, they always seem to want to get to grips with me….  Anyway, it was the usual cool, calculated, delivery from one of New Zealand’s finest exports.

And after wondering about whether or not killing one’s spouse might be a good idea (or might not?) it was good to get back on the level playing field of good, solid prose. Donal Moloney read an excerpt from his novel ‘In the Balance’ where we see the hero (Donal will reject THAT description), Michael, in a pub meeting up with a lady who comes across as rather arch and certainly more worldly-wise than… our hero (sorry, Donal). Like much else of what happens to Michael, this visit to the pub, and the meeting with the lady, is quite unplanned. It happens to him  by accident, not by design. Really good atmospherics and very exact character portrayls and analysis. And not a dog in sight, thank God.

Another enjoyable lunchtime reading and please give a warm round of applause to Oran Ryan who did MC. The Power is with him…

Oran Ryan in evangelical pose

Did the Empire begin to fail with the loss of America?  What about the Irish Easter Rising of 1916? Wasn’t that a strong signal that the end was nigh?… To this list so many, many other historical events that foretold the fall might be added, but this book ‘The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire’ by Peter Clarke  concentrates on that last coda that saw out Britain’s great civilising force for good in the world (as the British saw it). Within that circumscription the author tries to select a few key nails that finally fixed the lid in place.

Peter Clarke chooses as the ‘last 1000 days’  the period from September 1944 until August 1947. That fateful September was the month that Churchill met Roosevelt in Quebec and admitted that Britain had no money to run its Empire. Other matters were discussed of course: the war was going well, military matters had to be decided and this was the conference where the partitioning of Germany, and other future political strategies, were agreed. But  money matters took up a sizeable part of the proceedings.  America had already forked out a lot of cash towards winning the war and the common grumble in the US was that the country was ‘being taxed of thousands of lives and billions of dollars to save the British Empire’.  So it was that Churchill’s frank admission that Britain was financially broken that occupied most of the discussions. The outcome between the ‘co-equal’ allies was that the US Treasury was in effect given control over the British balance of payments by agreeing to extend the Lend-Lease arrangements, already in operation, into the post-war period. This then was the future:  Britain and her Empire was in hock to the Americans, had been for some time and definitely was now, in the light of the agreements undertaken at that Quebec conference.

Moving onwards towards the very last of the ‘thousand days’, by December 1946 the writing was on the wall as regards the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Empire, India. There ensued conferences and committees and hearings and parliamentary debates but the  outcome was never in doubt  and the date for British Departure from India finally was set for June 1948. In fact, power was handed over on 15 August 1947 and Peter Clarke sees this as the day the sun finally set on the British Empire. In his words:”The King had to get used to signing himself George R. and not George R. I., like his father. He did so a few days later in a letter to his mother, Queen Mary, who noted on the back of the envelope: ‘The first time Bertie wrote me a letter with the I for Emperor of India left out, very sad.’ ”

Very sad indeed, And If the British had any shred of Churchillian self-delusion left as to being a ‘world power’ it was dispelled when they were lumped in with the rest of  ‘Europe’ by the Americans in the subsequent negotiations for aid from the Marshall Plan. There was to be no more trading as ‘The British Empire’, and no reference whatsoever was made to the ‘Special Relationship’ which Churchill believed had been built up between the Allies over the years prior to, and over the course of, the war. As far as President Truman was concerned his General, Marshall, was to deal with Britain as just another of those European countries which, now that America had won the war for them (again), had to be helped out of the financial hole they had dug for themselves.

A great read, even though the author strays a bit here and there and gives us rather more details of the various theatres of war than we really need to have. He is really, really good on conveying the personalities of the huge number and range of the politicians and apparatchiks involved in this great ‘winding down’ of Empire or, as some would say, reluctant withdrawal from other people’s countries.


Some of the audience at the Liffey Arms


Time again for the Clane Writers Open Mic in the Liffey Arms in Newbridge. Lots of talent on dispaly. Some humorous stories to start things off and then back to earth with a very affecting story from Jean Crampton entitled ‘Bread’. A truly grim scenario which dealt with sexual abuse. We’ve heard/read so much about this topic recently you’d imagine the story might have been passe, but no. She managed a riveting narrative which kept everyone listening. Some more stories then in the humorous vein from Joe Murphy and Patricia Whelan and then… poetry! (my own particular poison of choice). Debbie Thomas gave us a DH Lawrence inspired piece called ‘DH you were wrong’ … a battle with a cockroach… Don’t ask! Liam Power gave a piece about ‘Arthur’s Day’ and there was story from Francis Brady. Una Ni Cheaalaigh had four very attractive poems, one of them based on an installation by Cornelia Parker which would make you want to see the artwork. She finished with a sardonic piece on Ireland’s current economic woes, a theme which surfaced a few times tonight (I think there was a couple of people from the IMF in the audience). Breda Wall Ryan gave some poems (‘The Snow Woman’… a life in two verses) and Eileen Keane gave a memoir piece. Mervyn Ennis (all the way from Tallaght: Virginia House Writers’ Group) gave a story and Oran Ryan read a poem and then a story (?) that had the cadences of a poem: ‘The Portable Prudence Antipode’. Sounded great. Martin Malone followed with a piece on the Curragh Wrens, those unfortunate camp-followers who endured so much and Mari Gallagher (who organised the evening: Thanks, Mari) gave some poems, one of which involved a Seamus Heaney lost notebook. There were more contributions from Dominic Hogan and Eleanor Dillon and many others. Steve Conway finished up the night by giving us a story about a balloon flight and I gave some of my own poems on Ireland’s Economic woes (see Una Ni Cheallaigh, above), including ‘Fresh Green Shoots’ from my collection ‘And Suddenly the Sun Again‘. I tend to write light-heartedly about our economic woes, which proves I’m living on another planet. Well, OK. It’s nicer here.


MC for the night: Rita Crampton


A round of applause for Rita Crampton who did a great job as MC. And again I commend an Open Mic that breaks the readings into four or five people at a time. No matter HOW addicted to ‘Literature’ one is, the mind goes numb after four or five people and needs a break. Or at least mine does.

If you haven’t been to the Clane Writers’ night, you’re missing out.

I defy anyone to tell me they wouldn’t at least flick through a book with a title like this! I did, and ended up reading it through. And it’s a good read, although the story is a bit strung out, and I don’t mean drugs, although there is a lot about drugs in it. Also it is in diary form with a few jumps back and forward in time which I don’t find easy to follow. But, yes, a good read. On the cover it says that the book is about the author, Nick, meeting his father when he (Nick)e was twenty-seven and working in a homeless shelter, not having seen him (his father) for years. He’s a terrible case, the old man, but the reader feels sympathy for him despite his (very) obvious faults. He’s someone who never really got things together for himself or anyone else. It’s he who uses the phrase which is the book’s title, after another night of sleeping on the streets of Boston. Does this story sound a bit contrived? Maybe, but in fact it’s a true story. It’s not a novel. It’s a memoir.


This Seven Towers reading at Chapters Bookstore, Dublin, at lunchtime Wednesday 3 November was from novelist Clar Ni Aonghusa and poet Eamonn Lynskey.

Clar read a piece from her novel ‘Civil and Strange’, which covered some aspects of Irish life


Clar Ni Aonghusa


which were prevalent in the recent past, such as: a curious shrinking away from the sexual act and some really extraordinarily cruel and unfeeling attitudes towards women who suffered miscarriages and stillborn births, not to mention the callous treatment of their unfortunate babies. It is hard nowadays to credit such infamous views, but they were widely held and part of ‘our’ culture until at least the mid-sixties. Clar also made reference to ‘the marriage bar’, by which a woman HAD to retire from her job on becoming married. Unbelievable? Maybe, but that’s the way it was then. Anyway, to brighten us up a bit after that particular trip down a rather dark memory lane, Clar then read  some attractively descriptive poems dwelling on more congenial memories, one about her grandmother and one about the experience of living on the Great Blasket Island for a while when she was a schoolgirl. She was well prepared for it, she told us, having read Tomas O Criomhthain’s  ‘An tOileanch’. And what a great book that is! Must dig it out again.

I read ‘The General Takes Command’, a new poem about David Petraeus arriving in Kabul July 3 this year


My Goodself


to see what can be done about that dreadful ‘war’ (or, more accurately: ‘hopeless mess’) in Afghanistan. Petraeus had some success in putting together the ignominious ‘exit strategy’ that got American troops out of Iraq (though there is still a lot there) and so there is much is expected of him in Afghanistan. Then I read ‘Black Saturday‘, a poem which is about the London Blitz of 1940 and the problem of seeing war as a kind of hero-sum game. My ‘Colloquy in Mile End Park’ (a conversation I had with William Wordsworth one morning: What a great place London is!– You never know who you might meet) went well with’ Black Saturday’ since Mile End Park in East London is itself a former bomb site. I then read my ‘Early Christian Chronicles‘ which covers much the same ground as that dark period in recent Irish history that Clar had referred to in her reading: I tried to give a somewhat humorous treatment to it– Not easy, considering the ferocious and uncharitable attitudes then prevailing toward human failings . And, like Clar, I tried to brighten things a little by finishing with a few of my (by now) infamous ‘fast-food’ haiku.

Cats in the Garden

stalking birds all day.

I really must get out more.


Well, a rather SERIOUS reading overall. We promise loads of jokes next time around… And thanks to Oran Ryan for a great job as MC. Next ‘Chapters & Verse’ lunchtime reading is on Wed. 10th Nov. with Neville Keary and Catherine Ann Cullen.

OMIGOD! It’s not ‘The Last Wednesday’ again, is it? Yes, my good man, it sure is! Just where did
the month GO! Plenty on offer as always, including the launch of a new poetry magazine, ‘Poetry Bus’ edited by Peadar O’Donoghue. Forty poems! And includes people you’ve often heard me going on and on about on this blog: Stephen James Smith, Niamh Bagnell, Colm Keegan, Maggie O’Dwyer… Absolutely great value. Peader says in his introduction that ‘my dream is for it to become one of the best poetry magazines in the world’. What a great start! Congrats to all concerned and well done Paedar.

Missed a few writers at the beginning because my bus decided to lounge around Lucan Village for about 20 minutes, but was in time to hear a great range of talent, including Phil Lynch with a poem mentioning the Berlin Wall and one on a recurring dream. Karl Parkinson also had a ‘dream’ poem, ‘I Have a Dream”, from his collection ‘a sacrament of song’, and you should get your hands on this collection as soon as possible. John Piggot, Damian Clarke, Maggie O’Dwyer, Susan Roe, Helen Dempsey, Bob Shakeshaft… what great stuff! And then Sandra Harris, whose stories are really arresting, by which I mean they are really strong on story and keep everyone’s attention to the very end. No higher praise, I think, for a short story. This one was about three wishes that went very wrong. Then Ross Hattaway with ‘The Need for Leadership’, a rather sadonic piece dressed up as off-hand comedy. And it really is comic, until one starts applying it to what’s going on in society today. Ann Tannem,


Sandra Harris


like Ross, gave something of a disguised reflection on our Ireland of today (my God, everyone is getting soooo serious. I better stop writing those jokey poems of mine), followed by Oran Ryan with his ‘Dinner with Dr. Mengele ‘(what did I tell you!!!). Donal Maloney gave us a piece from his novella, replete as always with his profound love of classical music, and then Frank Moore gave some poems, intermingled with snatches of old songs, and Kate Dempsey gave us a ‘recession’ poem (serious, serious, serious…I’m tellin’ ye…)

Thank God I DID have a serious poem for the night (‘Listening to My Elders’) which then allowed me to read some of my silly Haiku (notice I didn’t say ‘haikuS’) and ‘That Look’.

Damian Clarke


Ann Tannem



Niamh Bagnell