Following a time-honored tradition, the Spring/Summer Cyphers magazine was launched in April in the elegant surroundings of Strokestown House, Longford, during the Strokestown International Poetry Festival. Eilean Ni Chuilleanain officiated and, as always, the launch itself was a festive occasion, combining the debut of Cyphers 81 with that of two new poetry collections, On a Turning Wing from Paddy Bushe and Music from the Big Tent from Macdara Woods (both from Daedalus).
This Cyphers edition features a selection of New Zealand Poets, among which are fine pieces from Dinah Hawken (Haze) and Bill Manhire (Coastal). Among the rest of the poets I particularly liked Mary Montague’s The Road back and Where the Brown River Flows by John Murphy.
A poem of mine also features in this edition and I just cannot believe that it is thirty years since I first had a poem in Cyphers. Thirty Years! A Connaught Man’s Rambles is a poem about my father, one of that ‘lost generation’ of Irishmen of the 1940s and 50s who worked in England for practically all of their lives, sending money home to their families. Besides being a hard-working miner in the coal pits of Lancashire, ‘Sonny’ Lynskey was also an accomplished Irish Fiddle Player who shared many a session with some well-known names, such as the great piper Felix Doran (pictured with him below) This is the only photograph I have of my father playing. It was the age before Facebook and camera phones.
A Connaught Man’s Rambles
(in memory of Eddie (‘Sonny’) Lynskey, 1914-1972)
and Michael Coleman cuts the discs
will guide the bow a generation.
You in Mayo find the tunes
are slowly forming in your fingers –
Miss Mc Leod’s, The Creel of Turf…
to Holyhead and Lancashire:
a collier’s life of dust and dirt.
Your bow has split the resin stick,
your fingerboard has lost its black –
The Munster Jig, The Frost is All Over…
back in Dublin you will try
to leave behind the life you’ve lived
since first you lied about your age
to take the cage with pick and lamp –
The Sheep in the Boat, The Morning Star…
and tired of jobs on building sites
you’re back in Manchester to rooms
and mineshafts, ever shorter letters
to your family of strangers.
Toss the Feathers, Cherish the Ladies…
in Meelick cemetery someone
pours a naggin on your coffin
just before the sods are shovelled.
Old men watch, remembering –
The Sailor’s Hornpipe, The Kesh…
I hear Tommy Peoples play
and hear you chase the slurs and slides
with Michael Coleman’s 78s –
I see you raise your shoulder, bring
The Connaught Man’s Rambles to a close.
Cyphers, Ireland’s longest running poetry and prose magazine (with some artwork as well!), is available wherever good poetry magazines are sold, as are the two Daedalus collections by Paddy Bushe (On a Turning Wing) and Macdara Woods (Music from the Big Tent).
And hearty congratulations also to the Strokestown International Award winners John Murphy, Beatrice Garland and Jed Myers.
Another fine issue of Boyne Berries, edited by Orla Fay. This is a themed edition, centered around the Easter Rising of 1916 and it reviews that cataclysmic event from a variety of angles with an extensive range of poetry and stories/articles. I can only deal with a few and the fact that I leave some out of my reckoning is absolutely no reflection on their quality.
Michael Farry’s ‘John Gormley’ is based on the death of a 25-year-old RIC constable shot dead at Ashbourne on Friday 27 April 1916. It is a fine combination of the usual humdrum life of a policeman transformed by the chaotic arrival of the Rising:
Back in the barracks that evening news
of the Dublin rumpus unsettled us.
I was sent to Slane to guard the castle.
Robert Tully’s ‘Flags’ with its down-to-earth assessment of patriotism appeals to me. The question in the final triplet demands an honest answer:
We’ve come such a way
In a hundred years.
‘Conversing with Our History’ by Stephen O’Brien is a fine poem, and is also given in an Irish language version by the poet. Both versions work well but I have to say that the Irish reads and sounds better. The poem picks up on Robert Tully’s question quoted above:
How would they react,
Our nation’s heroes,
If they could see our
An outstanding poem in the book is Clare McCotter’s ‘Epsom, 1913’. Based on the death of suffragette Emily Davidson, which resulted from her falling under the hooves of the King’s horse at the Epsom derby. It is a poem that one can read again and again and still be moved, especially at the way Emily was force-fed in hospital afterwards:
I cannot breath
I am not breathing
I am drowning
and will drown forty-nine times
My own contribution, ‘I fought for King and Country in My Boyhood’, is a poem of Ireland’s ‘eastern seaboard’, that territory where I grew up reading about how the bravery of the European pioneers wrested the lands of North America from the savages who deserved no more than to be shot on sight, and how the British had single-handedly defeated Hitler. That is to say, my head was filled with the exploits of comic-book heroes like Kit Carson and General Montgomery rather than with the sacrifices of the 1916 insurgents. I admired them too but, because of my family background (and I do not blame everything on my family!) the more recent World War Two and the epic stories of the Wild West were more in my mind:
I Fought for King and Country in My Boyhood
I fought for king and country in my boyhood,
surveyed the trenches from an R.E.8
in constant danger from marauding tri-planes,
was saved a hundred times by Sopwith Camels.
I flew Spitfires too, downed Messerschmitts
in flames with no regrets, though he was I.
At Alam Halfa and at Alamein
Montgomery owed his victories to me.
At school by day I learned about the men
who shook the Empire. Momentarily
I faced the bullets with them in Kilmainham
and admired their sacrifice and yet
by evening shells exploded all around me
in block lettering, and speech balloons
above me shouted orders to my troops
to make the final push for Anzio.
Many other poems bring alive or commemorate that 1916 triumphal failure: Orla Fay’s ‘First Frost in the Park’ concerns an insurgent raid on the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park on Easter Monday 24 April 1916, and Andy Jones in ‘An Easter Visitor in 2010’ has a a person from 1916 having a look at present-day Ireland. He/she doesn’t feel entirely welcome and sardonically observes that it is
Just as well I’ve become I’ve become invisible.
No one would have bought me a pint!
And now I must risk the ire of my fellow poets when I say that the most striking piece in the magazine is, for me, a prose piece by Noel French, ‘Remembering 1916: A United Ireland’ is a bewildering read for the first page or so until one grasps that Noel is indulging in what is called ‘speculative history’. That is to say, his piece centres around the idea that the Rising had never happened. It is a highly unusual and imaginative piece and very thought-provoking.
Finally, remember the great illustrations that William Blake designed to accompany his poems? No? Let Rory O Sullivan remind you. Every Boyne Berries has one his extraordinary illustrated poems. ‘Ashland’ and its accompanying design has chilling echoes of Edgar Allen Poe. Rory’s regular contributions are an art-form in themselves.