February 8, 2017
February 3, 2017
Very honoured to be included in #15 of The Stony Thursday Book, Limerick’s long-running yearly collection of contemporary poetry, this year edited by John Davies. About 1800 poems were submitted, we were informed at the launch, and so John had what must have been the herculean task of selecting the 98 poems eventually included in the book.
And so it is hard to pick out my preferences, but here goes –
Evan Costigan’s ‘Memo’ (p.13) is very short (all of 8 lines) and has the concision and attractiveness of a William Carlos Williams piece. Usually I don’t like cat poems, but exceptions prove the rule. I loved the final lines which indicate what this particular moggie has been up to:
… to the pond
where two goldfish
no longer flash.
And what a poem is David Lohrey’s ‘Muddy Water’ (p.39). I read in the bios that he ‘grew up on the Mississippi in Memphis’ and all I can say is that he has written a poem worthy of that historic region of the USA. One can get a feel of the people and their way of living and the constraints they had to deal with. Going up to northern Mississippi for a ballgame wasn’t a journey undertaken lightly:
They were greeted upon arrival by the local sheriff
And his cow-shit-stained deputies who aimed their shotguns
At their heads and shouted “Niggers don’t play ball down here,
So y’all better git back yonder.”
Edward O’Dwyer’s ‘Going’ (p.60) is a sad poem about someone taken ill in a car at a traffic lights, all the more effective for me because I witnessed something similar one time. I thought the restraint of the last few lines was admirable:
Some people too are moving towards
the man’s car in a tentative fashion,
the way people do when they are expecting
to find something disturbing.
I also liked another rather sad poem dealing with an older person’s forgetfulness: ‘Testing’ (p.114) by Martine Large.
She knows the name of the prime minister,
it’s right there, give her time …
Ron Houchin’s ‘The Crows of Ennistymon’ (p.14) captures that sinister aspect that clings to crows and which was exploited so well by Ted Hughes and Hitchcock:
… the crows who keep a little to themselves,
who feed on death so often, know this and their wailing gyre
tells of each new vapor rising, a spirit they must rail about
from each night’s vantage above the Falls Hotel …
And there were so many others I liked very much. Anamaria Crowe Serrano’s ‘Cauthleen‘,Paul McNamara’s ‘Little Bits of Processed Nature in Small Locked Boxes’, which was very enthusiastically received on the launch night, and ‘Elephant’, enacted by the redoubtable Norman King.
One of my poems ‘Kilmainham Elegy’ deals with the 1916 rising, or rather the aftermath thereof. During a walk some years ago in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham cemetery, I came across the graves of some very young British Soldiers who were killed during that Easter Week. My sadness at the loss of their young lives is no reflection on the lives lost by the insurgents, nor on their cause. I hope this comes across in the poem because I would be seriously upset if there seemed to be any criticism of the Irish rebels. I am no revisionist in matters of the fight for Irish freedom. Still, the death of a 19-year-old, whosoever they are, and in whatever circumstances must always be a sad event. You can be sure that someone somewhere grieved the loss of his young life.
for two soldiers, aged 19,
of the Notts & Derby Regiment
As in life, now at the last
we are together, side by side,
two English boys who disembarked
to angry streets at Eastertime.
We who thought to ship for France
to fight for freedom of small nations
lie with dust of older wars
in this Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
A century has driven past
along the St. John’s Road. Nearby,
Kilmainham Jail remembers those
were conscripts of a dream and died.
Two English boys fresh from the Shires,
we fought and fell, our long decay
now equal part of Ireland’s soil
with those who raised her flag that Sunday.
My other poem ‘An Emigrant’s Return’ is rather long and deals with some personal family memories. I am particularly grateful to John Davies for including it in the anthology because it can be quite hard to get a long poem published. And I was particularly grateful to be afforded the time to read out, complete, on the night.
Contributors receive two copies of the book and it is available from the Limerick Arts Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) for €10, p&p free (+353 407363). The cover art is ‘Heterogeneous’ by Beth Nagle and the overall design is by Richard Mead. Submissions for #16 are now being considered and should be sent to Limerick Arts Office, Limerick City and County Council, Merchants Quay, Limerick.
September 22, 2016
A great time was had by all at the pre-launch of issue 7 of Skylight47 at the public library in Clifden on Thursday 15 September as part of the Arts week. The magazine is the result of some very hard work from the Clifden Writers Group and the accomplished poet Robyn Rowland was at hand to officiate. A number of the contributors attended and read out their pieces. I was very taken with Anne Irwin’s ‘Omey Island Races 2015’ with its vivid description of the event; and ‘Elegy to Some Mysterious Form’ by Ria Collins was quite a moving and unsettling poem on a very personal and traumatic decision that had to be made. Indeed all the contributors must be congratulated on a very fine selection of poems. There are prose articles too in the magazine on topics ranging from poem-writing itself (Kim Moore’s ‘Poetry Masterclass’) to reviews of recent books published.
The venue of Clifden Public Library contributed enormously to the cordial atmosphere of the proceedings, especially the three skylights overhead which, Tony Curtis assured us, were put in specially for the occasion and at great expense! Congratulations to all the Skylight Team on such a fine magazine and compliments to the library staff on the wonderful venue.
As mentioned, Australian poet Robyn Rowland did the honours and I was pleased to meet up with her again. I remember well her reading from her collection ‘This Intimate War’ recently in Dublin at The Sunflower Sessions in Jack Nealon’s (Capel Street, every last Wednesday, 07.30pm. Come along!). It is a most impressive book dealing with the terrible Gallipoli engagement in WWI and is a hard read since it eschews any self-serving attempts at ‘glorification’, and conveys much senselessness and absurdity of war. Robyn gets down into the dirt and blood with the soldiers and the sense of verisimilitude is stunning. Extra-fine poetry, then. And what a great writer she is and what a great thing to meet her … twice within a very few months!
My poem, Day of Judgement, was the last to be read out, and just as well too since it is a poem about ‘last things’. Not the kind of poem one would like to hear at a Christmas party (or any party!) but poems like this do have their place in the Great Order of Things to Come (but not to come too soon we hope!)
Day of Judgement
They who come to clear this room
will show a ruthlessness unknown
to me. The histories of my books
and how they came to claim a space
along these shelves will be unknown
to them. The brush and vacuum cleaner
will probe every corner, frames
will leave rectangles on the walls
and files of half-formed poems will bulk
black plastic sacks. This desk and chair
and radio/cd/clock will find
our long companionship concluded.
Half an hour will be enough
to sweep away a life, to feed
the hungry skip, allow the skirting
run around the room again
unhidden; there will be no mercy
for old pencil stubs, news clippings
yellowing in trays. Each spring
I tried, but never could be heartless,
emulate that day of judgement
when my loves must face the flames
or crowd the local charity shop,
forlorn— hoping for salvation.
Single issues of Skylight 47 are available at €5.00 plus postage, from skylight47.wordpress.com or come to the launch in Galway City Library at 6.00pm on Thursday, September 29 and pick up a copy.
Submissions for Skylight 47 issue 8 (Spring 2017) will be accepted between 1 Nov 2016 and 1 Jan 2017. See skylight47poets.wordpress.com for details.
May 25, 2016
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.
June 3, 2015
Attended John McAulifef’s launch of his new Gallery Press book ‘The Way In’ in the new Books Upstairs premises in D’Olier Street. Great venue, great bookshop, continuing its long tradition of forefronting Irish poetry. John read in his accomplished way, ably helped by a really gifted Irish Fiddle player, Dan Diamond. I suppose Dan is tired of puns on his name but he really is a diamond. What tunes from Sliabh Luachra! What wonderful compositions from Dan himself!
But I’m in danger of ignoring John’s wonderful poetry and his usual fluid and fluent reading. I will not go into detail just now about the contents of this new book just in case I spoil the pleasure s you will get after you rush out and buy it.. Which you must do. NOW.
November 27, 2014
Very gratified to have made it into Crannog again, Galway’s long-enduring, top-notch poetry and short stories magazine, edited by Tony O’Dwyer, Ger Burke, Jarlath Fahy and Sandra Bunting. Delighted too to read on the launch night (Oct 31st) in The Crane Bar with the rest of the gala company. The magazine is, as always, well turned out and immaculately proofed, with an arresting cover by Sandra.
This edition (no. 37, autumn 2014) lines up plenty of good stuff. My own favourtite poems (apart from my own one, of course!) are Frank Farrelly’s ‘Everest’, an unrhymed hexameter sonnet which springs a surprise in the sestet; also I liked very much Patrick Chapman’s ‘The Infinite Questionnaire’ with its humanistic take on philosophical questions. Great last line: “A god is not required. In fact it rather spoils the view.” Edward O’Dwyer’s list poem ‘Wall’ is good too: “That day the God of Other Plans/tore up the list of things you were meant to be…”
My own poem is a two-voice, ‘counterpoint’ piece entitled ‘Warrior’:
Who did he leave behind
that morning he set out?
“… and as to age, the carbon dating
indicates a lengthy time span
of some nineteen hundred years …”
Who prayed for him each night?
Who watched for him by day?
“… Our X-rays of the skull, indeed
the actual skull itself, reveal
the arrow struck him from behind …”
Who stopped each passing stranger
to ask for word of him?
“… The angle of trajectory tells us
much about the victim’s stance
the moment just before he fell …”
Who listened every night
to hear his step outside?
“… We have here that unfortunate
and not infrequent military
occurrence: death from friendly fire …”
Who hoped when hope was dead?
Who mourned for him a lifetime?
“… Well, I think we have resolved
the most important questions. Any
from the floor? No? Thank you all.”
How many generations
before his name was lost?
January 26, 2011
Listen in to Liffey Sound 96.4 FM next Sunday (Jan 30) at 4.00pm for Ann Tannam’s interview with me on ‘Sunday Scrapbook’ about her poetry and especially about her new book ‘Take this Life’ to be launched on Saturday week (Saturday 5th February, 6.30-8.30) at The Exchange, in Dublin. For more details log onto Anne’s site http://www.annetannam.com Great to see Anne’s book coming out. Top class work and anyone who has heard her deliver her work over the past while at the Seven Towers open mic in Dublin will know how good her poetry is.
November 24, 2010
An impressive line of new books were launched this evening (23 Nov) by the Arlen imprint
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.
September 29, 2010
Kevin Higgens and Susan Millar du Mars launched their new poetry books in Dublin at Chaplin’s of Hawkin’s Street. The event was organised by the Seven Towers Agency and the poets were introduced by Patrick Chapman. I was delighted to be in attendance because these are two really fine poets and quite among the best ‘on offer’ in the Irish poetry scene at present. This praise is genuinely meant. Their work is both interesting and exciting.
Susan went first with the poem that gives to collection its title: ‘Dreams for Breakfast’ and then ‘Vacant Building’. I think you can tell from the title of the last-named that it is ‘a poem for our times’: the building is one of the ‘Ozymandian Towers’ (Susan’s phrase) the ‘Boom’ has left us. ‘Outside the Crane Bar’ is a sort of tribute poem to that well-known pub which has seen so much music and poetry, as well a s being a poem about loneliness. She finished with ‘I Dream of Stephen Fry’. According to her, he’s a big hit with the ladies. I must watch his programmes more closely.
Kevin then obliged with a couple of poems from his new collection ‘Frightening New Furniture’. Although the cover of his book shows actual chairs, the ‘new furniture’ he has in mind in some of the poems is that adjustment we will have to make now that the Boom is over. ‘Ourselves Again’ is a poem is this vein. Now that the celtic tiger is gone ‘… We’ll be ourselves again/ and then some’. A ‘lighter’ poem about unwelcome guests (‘House Guest’) was very appealing.
It’s always good to hear the writer read his/her work. Even when they are not really very good readers it’s good to hear them. But these are two very good readers and their obvious good humour is a great lift. Interesting how humour pervades their work, even the very grim parts of that work (I love grim humour) and lifts it to a very accessable level. If you haven’t read these books… you’re missing a lot.
Both books are published by Salmon Poetry (salmonpoetry.com)
June 20, 2010
I finally got my second collection out of my hair, first in Cassidy’s of Westmoreland Street (launched by Karl Parkinson) and then in Lucan Library (launched by Niamh Bagnell). And a big thank you to Seven Towers for publishing it. Seventysix poems. It’s been a long time since my first collection, ‘Dispatches & Recollections’ in 1998 and what kept me so long? I guess you musn’t be in the poetry-writing-publishing arena if you ask that question. If you are, you will know just how difficult it is to get your work in print. It’s not just because there are so many really good poets out there, which there are. Or because there are so few publishers– also true. It’s also such an effort to keep up the submissions and not be ground down by the rejections. And if anyone tells you that as time goes on one doesn’t mind rejections take it from me that that’s not true either! One just learns to absorb them and carry on regardless.
In fact I had a collection assembled about five years ago, and almost got to the publishing stage but (and I want to cut a long story short) things didn’t work out. I put a lot of work into preparing that collection and so I really could not psyche myself up to start submissions again until some time afterwards. Just about then I started going in to the Seven Towers open mic, which hadn’t been going very long. The atmosphere was welcoming and inclusive and, eventually, I submitted my book. Seven Towers lays emphasis on open mic performance poetry as well as less ‘dramatic’ page poetry. (In fact all poetry is performance poetry: think of John Donne). Since my work ‘straddles’ both ‘camps’ (such terrible categorising!), or more precisely, since my poetry works equally well in both ‘formats’, my submission was accepted. Much of the poetry published by Seven Towers grows out of its open mic and listed reading venues. From the first I was delighted with this and still am. This is the way to write. Write, read out, amend, read out again, amend again… Well, this is the way I write so I guess it’s too much to say it’s the way. In the final analysis, there’s not just one way. However, as far as I am concerned, one has to get the stuff out in front of an audience to be sure if it works, both for the audience AND the poet. I don’t believe that poetry is a solitary meditative exercise.
The poems cover a long period of time. One of them, ‘When I am become Again’ was published in 1980, but most of them are of much more recent date. Many of them stem directly from my Seven Towers readings (such as ‘OMIGOD: Not Another Newgrange Poem!) and have all the hallmarks of ‘performance’. Others, somewhat ‘quieter’ (‘Times I Hear of Lives Lost’) date from a time previous to Seven Towers, but are still indebted to that open mic for a little ‘fine-tuning’ here and there. Still others were ‘forged’ at Gerry McNamara’s ‘Write & Recite’ open mics and others at Delta O’Hara’s ‘SpyBar’ sessions. As you can see, the book has a rather ‘mongrel’ pedigree. And I’m proud of that.
I have been using the name ‘Seven Towers’ a lot in the above meanderings, but it all really comes down to individuals in the end and I must say particular thanks to Sarah Lundberg, Oran Ryan, and Ross Hattaway for their encouragement over the years. I should also mention Steve Conway, but I won’t because he is of a shy and retiring disposition and wouldn’t like to be singled out.And I could not possibly list all the other writers who have helped me in the 7T open mics. Everyone I heard showed me something I could use and I was not ashamed to steal it– like all true writers.