My sincere thanks to all who came to the launch of my book ‘It’s Time’ at Books Upstairsin Dublin last Wednesday 10th May. I shared the evening with my good friend and excellent poet Anne Tannem (‘Tides Shifting across My Living Room Floor’) and I know I speak for her too when I say it was a fabulous event. Thanks also to Ross Hattaway and Alvy Carragher for their kindly introductions. And a huge thank you to Jessie Lendennie and Siobhan Hutson for taking us on board the good ship ‘Salmon Poetry’. Long may she sail!
Anyone assembling a poetry collection usually has difficulty organising around a ‘central theme’. One discovers that, rather like a musical composition, a theme there is, but it surfaces in different ways in different poems, sometimes quite obliquely and sometimes – it seems to the writer – hardly at all. This of course is because the poems probably, and in the case of this collection certainly, have been composed over a somewhat lengthy period of time, during which the writer herself has been changing all the while even though remaining essentially the same. Which goes to prove that poets really are just like other human beings, after all.
So it is that ‘So Long, Calypso’, as a collection has a number of different, we will call them, strands. However, if one were to risk pointing out a central concern it would probably range around those pieces that deal with a sense of place, of home, of self. ‘Treading Out Home’ (p.36) is such a poem:
‘Pick a village or a city. At a pinch / a street will do…’
– Yes, even one’s ‘home’ is a somewhat random circumstance. Very few people have had the complete freedom to choose where they live. Mortgage rates, personal income and so many other constraints intervene, but once one is settled there it’s probably going to be ‘home’ for some time and so will become part of you. And you will become part of it:
‘… day by day, / quite soon you find you’ve walked yourself a past / where time and place entwine and pave your way / to history you’ve chosen to outlast…’.
And we never forget our former places, our former ‘homes’, ‘abodes’. They will have formed us in many ways, even though we may not have noticed this at the time. Maybe not until we read poem like this. And when the time comes to leave forever a place one has for a long time called ‘home’
‘…it’s not possible / to leave without taking a moment first / to look around…’
as Liz observes in ‘Lot’s Wife’ (p.37), a poem placed, significantly, opposite the previously mentioned ‘Treading Out Home’.
This concern can also be sensed in poems such as ‘Tenement’ (p.18), ‘Moscow’ (p.34) and, in an indirect way, in ‘Glasgow Central’ (p. 29), a poem that is superficially merely a re-run of the announcements one would hear in that railway station while waiting for that train and the ensuing announcements while travelling on it. But the poem is more than this: one gets to travel through exotic Glasgow, in the space of a page and a half, while sitting in the train, or well … in one’s armchair at home. And of course, this is a poem that gains immeasurably from being read out in a Scots accent (which Liz does surprisingly well). And when you reach the terminus please ensure that you take your luggage and belongings with you.
This preoccupation with one’s place in scheme of things, and the temporary nature of that place also surfaces in poems like ‘On the Old Road to Cork’ (p.7) and in ‘Orbital Mechanics’ (p.16), the last-named a mine of information how to secure a safe rendezvous with another spacecraft while orbiting the earth. An unusual setting, but the concern for secure location is really much the same as in poems already mentioned.
And now, following my tentative essay to point out a dominant theme I will contradict myself immediately by mentioning several other ‘strands of thought’ equally important in this book. That’s the way it is with a poetry collection. Even so, a close reading will often reveal definite links between ostensibly different strands, links sometime unperceived by the writer, who is often too close to his or her material to see them..
A particularly strong element in the collection concerns aging. I’m speaking now of the ‘Angela’ poems, in which we see up-close and personal that stage we all must reach, assuming we are lucky enough to survive into old age. Angela is an old lady now and quite heavily dependent on others, although one gets the strong impression that in her past she had been an independent type. Her discomfort, both physical and mental, at her surroundings and how things have changed for her, now that she is old, is forensically presented. These are poems of ‘last things’ and bring to mind that passage at the end of John’s gospel:
‘…when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted: but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ (John 21:18)
And this is the way of things with Angela. We meet her first in ‘Angela Gazing at the Stars’ (p.10):
‘It’s after midnight. Angela can see / the Milky Way. It wasn’t a bad fall. / She toppled over, how? She can’t recall / exactly what she’s doing, lying here / at this hour …’
She is reluctant to use the alarm that hangs around her neck because she feels she has bothered the neighbours too much already and so she will lie here a while and see if she can’t sort herself out, herself. Old people can be like that.
This kind of starkly realistic portrayal is one of Liz’s great strengths and can be seen throughout the collection, and especially in these five poems. Anyone approaching ‘elderly’ status will recognise the reluctance to give in to the solicitudes of others. One does not know where such neighbourly concern will end. All classes of people fear the loss of independence but it is particularly a sharp feeling in the aged. And problems that might seem quite small can loom quite large for someone not too good on the pins:
‘The biggest problem is that step between / the kitchen and the hall. It’s not so high / but if you have to steer a walker, lean / and lift it at the same time as you try / to make a cup of tea, it might as well / be Carrauntoohil … ‘ – from ‘Angela Becomes Accustomed to Her New Walker’ (p.15).
Other poems in this series are well described by their titles: ‘Angela’s Mishap whilst Unplugging the TV’ (p. 25); ‘Angela Wonders about Emptying the Commode’ (p. 31); ‘Angela Has Doubts about the Kindness of Relative Strangers’ (p. 58), this last an indication of the ulterior motives that might lurk behind kindly concern, and the suggestion that this concern might lead to her removal to somewhere else…
‘ … she can’t /, be left alone here now. She’ll never face / the winter…’
In an indirect way, these poems are also concerned with home, or perhaps with the impending loss of home. And what very human and humane writing is here, with something of the detail of Austin Clarke’s great ‘Martha’ poems. These are my favourite pieces in the book. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? – nearing the seventieth year of my allotted biblical three score and ten?
And then there are what could be termed Liz’s ‘seascape’ poems. The ‘Angela’ poems were concerned with the situation of another individual, though of course they were also concerned with the writer herself in the sense that they prefigured a situation which she could – which we all could – find waiting at the end of things. All poems are personal, but some are more personal than others and these ‘seascape’ poems with their ‘Turneresque’ backdrops of sea-fronts, mists, waves, tides, rain-in-the-face – these poems are quite unlike the ‘Angela’ poems and are, I think, Liz’s most personal in the collection in that they are intimately concerned with the self of the writer: her fears, hopes, ambitions, sometimes all three together.
It is significant that she has chosen to place ‘Assumption Day, Inch Strand’ (p.11) as the first of this series. This poem touches on one her deep concerns: the search for permanence, followed quickly by the realization that this will always prove be out reach:
‘you could wish for a constant / time and place / with less flux / more of a state to settle into / free from this change…’
but shortly afterwards comes the thought that
‘…this is here after all / things just move / then move again’.
There is a dreamlike quality about these ‘seascape’ poems, something that is seen strongly in a poem like ‘Into the Blue’ (p.32). Again, we have the turbulent seafront,
‘the blue mist, a steel rain that pierces / the skin …’.
a scenario already painted in ‘Storm’ (p. 21) and later on in ‘Finding the Waves at Dun Chaoin’ (p. 35). There is the feeling of being overwhelmed by things. Of being ‘knocked off your feet’. Of not being able to cope. Be comforted, Liz, you are not alone.
These ‘seascape/waterscape’ poems are ‘pure’ poems, in the sense that there is no story other than a few moments of focused personal experience, no characters, no implied criticisms of a system or circumstance (as in the ‘Angela’ series) and probably therefore they are nearer to what poetry is about. This series really is, in Eliot’s words, ‘a raid on the inarticulate’. As Liz herself says in ‘On Burning Bridges’ (p. 26):
‘… There’s no guide-book / for this, no boss to blame, no one you took / the order from. The only way to do / it is to do it …’
It is difficult to write such poems, with no support from a narrative or objective context. The writer really is on her own here, facing into the void. And, as writing, in a book of so many fine pieces, they stand out as something of an achievement.
So many other poems to talk about, but this is Liz’s night and so I must allow her at least a little time to strut her stuff. I will just mention ‘Thermopylae’ (p.51) and the title poem, both of which are products of Liz’s extensive reading of the good old classics. She has chosen to depict ‘Thermopylae’, that military stand-off undermined by betrayal, at the point where the defenders’ morale is still high, despite the odds. And the writing is as confident as the speaker in the poem.
Finally, and on a more cheerful note, we must smile at the self-justifications employed by Odysseus as he ditches Calypso. Men are very good at this sort of thing. It’s always the lady’s fault. Though to be fair, he really does have to get home as soon as possible. He is dead right to say
‘… they’ll need me to sort out all the intrigue at the palace …’
Yes, there has been rather a lot going on in his absence and, as I am sure you will remember, Penelope has been very faithful, but there is just so long a gal can stay weaving at her loom.
This is the breezy, insouciant style that Liz does so very well and can be enjoyed in many other poems [‘Root’ (p.22); ‘Flight Taken’ (p.30)]. It is a complete change in tone from some of the more serious poems discussed already and lends variety of colour and register to her collection. Placed at the end of the book, ‘So long, Calypso’ lifts the collection onto another plane where we can feel a little superior (and what’s wrong with that?) to the man who tries to convince us that he is moving on for all the best reasons: you are way out of my league; I don’t deserve you; it will be best for both of us. It was great fun, but it was … just one of those things And so – So long, Calypso!
Save the date! Thanks to Jessie Lendennie & Siobhan Hutson at Salmon Poetry, my third poetry collection ‘It’s Time’ is launching at Books Upstairs, (introduced by Ross Hattaway), alongside the wonder-full Anne Tannam with her collection ‘Tides Shifting across My Sitting Room Floor’, (introduced by Alvy Carragher).
Very much indebted to the Sunflower Sessions (which are held in Jack Nealon’s Public House, Capel Street, Dublin, every last Wednesday) for including me again in their FLARE publication. The editor, Eamon Mag Uidhir, has declared it will be issued four times a year and we have all learned that Eamon is a man of his word. A bright, spacious, sparkling offering, this: 33 p0ems from 33 participants in the monthly sessions, some well known, others new on the scene, all worth a look.
I particularly liked Anamaria Crowe Serrano’s ‘Apple – 7’, with its unusual and very original lay-out. Anamaria’s innovations are impossible for me to quote on the page so you will have lay hands on a FLARE02 to appreciate how near the cutting edge of experimental poetry she is. Alice Kinsella’s short and economic piece ‘Starlight’ concerns the necessary slaughter that lies behind our veal dishes:
In late summer almost winter
they’d lock the cows up for the day
to take away their young …
and Anne Tannam’s ‘When We Go Shopping’ is also one of my favourites. It’s that kind of ‘domestic’ poem she always does very well, this one concerning the relationship between an elderly mother and her daughter.
When we go shopping, just the two of us
I get to be the child again, out with my mam for the day…
Writing a poem is never easy (well, Shakespeare maybe …) and writing a an optimistic, upbeat one I have always found particularly difficult, and so I admire Liz McSkeane’s ‘Remembering the Child’ . Liz is a long-time friend but that won’t prevent me declaring her poem a very fine piece of work. One feels BETTER about the world after reading it. And those awful things that you fear might be coming your way? —
… and just between
us — that won’t happen. Now, the sun is bright,
please step aside. You’re standing in my light.
So many good poems. A flash-back to times of church oppression in Ireland from Ross Hattaway and a curious, disturbing poem ‘Eve’ from Natasha Helen Crudden which weighs out its words and lines carefully.
My own offering is a rather nostalgic piece which harkens back to the time one could see the Guinness barges on the Liffey. The poem tries to merge those long-forgotten scenes of the past with the present haulage system of container transport by imagining a meeting between the present day drivers and the ‘bargeymen’ of old.
The Liffey at Low Tide
The Liffey at low tide
this evening at Kingsbridge
reveals the ghosts of jetties
built for barges bringing
Guinness down to port.
Jib cranes swing and strain,
men work with ropes and winches,
loading wooden barrels
into swaying holds
and friendly banter drifts
along Victoria Quay
where juggernauts line up
and drivers sleep alone
and wander in their dreams
down to the bargemen, talk
till morning when they yawn,
climb from their cabins, peer
across the parapet
at faint remains of timbers
drowned in rising waters.
If you wish to enter some work for the next Flare the only requirement (apart from quality, of course!) is that you must have read out something (prose or poetry) at the sessions. So come along some evening at 7.30 pm and join our merry throng, at the Sunflower Sessions, every last Wednesday of the month, except December, at Jack Nealon’s Public House, Capel Street, Dublin (7.30 pm), and get your name on the evening’s reading list.
FLARE02 is available for €5 at the sessions and also at Books Upstairs and the Winding Stair bookshops. The cover shows a detail of Eddie Colla street art, Capel Street, photographed by Declan McLoughlin (our genial open-mike MC). For more information, join online at meetup.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also on Facebook.
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 (email@example.com) 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.
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.
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.