The Where

Late that evening and her bus missed
and no lift, she hitch-hiked straight
into oblivion, left no rumour,
clue, no fingerprint, not smallest
faintest trace of her departure.

Unremarkable that day
that dawned like any other but
a mainstay in its superstructure
didn't hold -- a bolt came loose,
a strut, a fret inched out of place

or if it be that happenings
are mapped out for the best beforehand,
something evil intervened
to turn her step out of the path
ordained to guide her safely to us.

Hard the waiting year on year
the doorbell, phone bell, feel the sorrow
welling in the throat until
we come to hope to hear the words
we never thought we'd hope to hear.

And darker still than deed itself
the heart that hides it, will not tell
the how, the where, the when. The where
is all that matters now. What bog?
What brambled mountain side? What fen?

                                                 Eamonn Lynskey

This poem, published by North West Words online in 2017, was written shortly after I read Alan Bailey’s book, ‘Missing, Presumed’ (Liberties Press 2014). Bailey is the now- retired Garda Detective-Sergeant who for thirteen years as national co-ordinator of Operation TRACE (set up in 1998) doggedly pursued enquiries into the disappearance of young women in Ireland in the Leinster area during the 1990s. Cogently written, his book makes for grim reading. It includes a diagram of that fateful area, which has become known as ‘The Vanishing Triangle’, bounded by imaginary lines linking Carrickmacross-Dublin-Wexford-Tullamore. New investigations are now underway (October 2020) by the Garda Serious Crimes Review Team.

Bailey’s book is cogently written and centres the cases of six young women who ‘vanished without a trace’ in the course of their daily lives. However, numerous other cases of young women, who suffered a similar fate at other times, are recounted. That he can list so many cases is a shock. And almost as shocking as the disappearances themselves is the thought that someone (and more than one someone) could live day-to-day having information about any of these disappearances and still not come forward to Garda authorities with that information.

My poem was published in 2017 when there was some talk of a breakthrough in one of these cases. But there was no breakthrough. Since then, now and then, hopes have been raised about the fate of one or other of these women but again and again these hopes have been dashed. And the hope that any of them might still be alive has by now almost completely vanished. In fact, it is the recent determination by An Garda that the case of Jojo Dollard be upgraded from that of ‘missing person’ to that of murder enquiry that has led to renewed investigations.

So it is that there is again hope that there might be some developments about Jojo, who disappeared in 1995 on her way home. There is a detailed treatment of her disappearance, and the disappearances of the other women, in an article by Catherine Fegan in this week’s Review section of the Irish Independent (Saturday 24/10/2020). Sad reading it is, with just a tincture of hope that some new information might at last emerge.

Every time there appears the possibility of new information about these cases, this poem floods my mind again. The absolute horror (and I mean absolute) of this kind of happening defies accurate description, even in poetry. The effect on the families must have been truly awful — and endless. And it must take a lot of courage to face up to the realisation that it is now very improbable that their beloved daughter could still be alive, perhaps one day to return. Worse again is the knowledge that this terrible treatment of women is so well-established in Ireland and worldwide.

It is only right to leave the last word to the late Bernadette Breen, who is quoted in the Independent’s article, and whose daughter Ciara disappeared in 1997: Somebody could be getting up every morning, knowing the truth, knowing that they could end the nightmare of being stuck in limbo, but instead choosing to protect the perpetrator by keeping their silence.’

Who can read these words and not be affected?

Mary Phelan, who died in 2018,
holds a poster of her sister Jo Jo Dollard

at a demonstration in 1997.





Regal on its clouded heights …
The Liberation of Tibet

On the streets of Lhasa's New Town,
noisy traffic, glassy shops
and neon signs and all the best
of brands: Bugatti, KFC.
And smiling, helpful people wanting
to speak English. Muffled shouts
of soldiers marching in the barracks
left and right and left and right.

And many more of welcoming Han
than grave Tibetans until New Town
fades to narrow lanes and stalls
and coloured flags that wave above
the Jokhang Temple where the Monks
chant loud above the megaphones
of earnest tourist guides who try
to summarise the Pratimoksha.

Regal on its clouded heights
the white Potola Palace, splendid 
as the days Younghusband pillaged --
as when revolutionary zealots
vandalized its sacred treasures.
Pilgrims in the street below
prostrate themselves, fulfil the Kora,
hand-boards rasping on the pavements.

Minimarkets all agree
that visitors must have Cornflakes,
the bookshops offer histories
of subjugations past. A sculpture
in the central square proclaims
the socioeconomic gains
since first the People's Army wrought
the Liberation of Tibet.

My thanks to Eamon Mag Uidhir, editor of the Dublin narrowsheet FLARE, for including this poem in the no. 15 issue. For full details of how to obtain the magazine, and to see videos of me and other contributors reading their work, please go to the Sunflower Sessions facebook site at http://www.facebook.com/TheSunflowerSessions and remember there are no monthly gatherings at the Lord Edward pub in Dublin at the moment due to the pandemic restrictions. We all hope it will resume its ‘last-Wednesday-of-the Month’ open-mic readings as soon as possible. Sorely missed.

I was all the more pleased that the poem was published because seeing it in print reassured me that the balance that I worked for between appreciation and criticism was successful. Appreciation of a wonderful place side-by-side with a dubious view of what the Chinese are doing there. There are a very few of my ‘political’ pieces about which I can say I got things right. It is so very easy to veer into the denunciatory, thereby forcing the poem to become overly polemical, which in turn tends to obscure its other content. viz., the magic of the experience. There definitely ARE aspects of Chinese government policy towards its ethnic minorities which deserve denunciation, such as its detention of people in high security camps (‘re-education camps’). But there is a time and a place for denunciation and anyway it is a task better suited to prose. This is not to argue that it is a ‘great poem’, just to say that it’s good to be contented that it approaches near to what still I feel about a wonder-full holiday I spent in an extraordinary place: Lhasa, in Tibet, and even with all my reservations about what is happening there. Writing is like that. You have to be content to get as near as possible to what you want to say and not be side-tracked into what you might think you ought to say.

My visit to Tibet (accompanied by wife Kathy) lasted 10 days, In our capacity as ‘Western tourists’, we stayed at a western-style hotel. Shortly after I arrived I was taken ill for a day or two because of the high altitude (Tibet is the highest region on Earth with an elevation of 16,000 ft) but a member of the hotel staff furnished an address in town where I could get oxygen treatment. Thank God (once again) for the kindness of strangers.

China has had an enormous influence of Tobet’s history and culture, and the not just in recent times. The country’s gigantic neighbour has long claimed it as part of its territory (as it does also with regard to Taiwan) . China regards western and central Tibet as an ‘Autonomous Region’ of the Chinese State, while the eastern parts are mostly ‘ethnic autonomous prefectures’ within other Chinese provinces. I am not sure what exactly China means by these these descriptions. Most probably whatever China wants them to mean. My short visit gave me the impression that The People’s Republic is very much in control of everything in Tibet and the history books (published by the People’s Republic of China) on sale in Lhasa’s bookshops underline all the good things that have been done for Tibet since the takeover in 1951

Naturally, more than a pinch of salt is necessary when dealing with communist literature extolling the virtues of its actions (or capitalist literature for that matter) but there’s no doubt that the ordinary peasant-farmers had a hard time of it in past ages. Any changes in the previous feudal life of Tibet’s ordinary people in times past cannot but be welcomed. There is also the Chinese State’s desire to repair the damage done by the so-called ‘Cultural Revolution’ under Chairman Mao (1966-1976), which might be better described as’ The Cultural Vandalism’. Repairs were still ongoing at the Potola Palace in Lhasa when I visited, such was the enormous damage done to its treasures by the revolutionary zealots of The Great Leader.

The new Lhasa

A cynical view would be that the Chinese are attending to Lhasa so assiduously because they intend to turn it into a valuable tourist destination, a project that will become more a reality when the high-speed train link from Beijing to Lhasa is completed. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on this tourist-industry strategy since the idea of making money by getting people to come to an area of interest is not neglected by our own government. Think of the bus-loads arriving in the car-park for the Cliffs of Moher ‘experience’. My poem tries to convey how the ‘modern’ Lhasa has been appended onto the old in such a way as to provide visitors with all the necessary mod-cons in one area while at the same time allowing them to immerse themselves in ancient culture in the ‘old’ town.

The Old Town

So it is that I am, as our American cousins say, ‘conflicted’. I have read many articles written about how ancient cultures are diluted — even destroyed — by the ravages of tourism. These articles are written by, well, tourists like myself, often masquerading under other titles (explorers, travellers, news correspondents, writers) but all contributing to the levelling effect of globalisation. Perhaps will come the day (soon?) that there will be little to distinguish any one culture from another on our entire planet. The process that television started, and that the internet and mobile phone continus, is gathering pace. And the getting placed on UNESCO’s ‘World Heritage’ list has already proved the ruin of some places, formerly unique but not unique any more. ‘Invasive tourism’ is a serious problem for the local people. Anytime I see an advert for ‘a beautiful, unspoiled, out-of -the-way’ venue, I know that it won’t be unspoiled and out-of-the-way for very much longer.

Prayer flags

But back to Lhasa. The sights, sounds and colours of the city will never leave my memory. The pilgrims prostrating themselves before the temples; the beautiful decorations of those temples; the prayer flags fluttering in the surrounding countryside; the rows and rows of monks in the Jokhang Temple sitting in the lotus position … And of course the modern hotel I stayed in and the new shops where I could buy my Cornflakes. OK, OK, yes, I know. But I don’t pretend I was anything other than just another tourist.

Pilgrims prostrating

The Pratimoksha mentioned in the poem is a list of rules governing the behaviour of Buddhist monastics. The Younghusband mentioned is the Sir Francis Younghusband who commanded a British expeditionary force which invaded Tibet in 1903-4 equipped with rifles and machine-guns and made short work of the disorganised resisting forces wielding hoes, swords and flintlocks; much like the Italians did with the Ethiopians in their invasion of 1935. Younghusband’s was only one in a long series of invasions and takeovers. Discontent and unrest continues in Tibet to this day, though much subdued under Chinese control. Every day of my visit in Lhasa I could clearly hear the soldiers drilling (very) loudly in the barracks. So could everybody else. It was very reassuring, if you were Chinese.

Below are some more photos and after that a video of me reading the poem. Don’t mind my being pictured upside down at the beginning: it’s my usual mental state. Just click and everything will be fine (would that real life were so easy to adjust!).

As they say these days … enjoy!

Stupenduous decoration
Peace be with you

Devotional items everywhere.

Tibetan pilgrims relaxing
Tibetan pilgrims seeing the sights
The ubiquitous geranium
Eamonn Lynskey reads ‘The Liberation of Tibet’

… and rainrops wink among the clothespegs …

The Director of the Italian Writers’ Federation (Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori – FUIS) Antonio Natale Rossi recently compiled a series of writings on the situation in which writers found themselves during the Covid-19 pandemic. These he published weekly on the FUIS website under the heading ‘Domenica di Lettura’. I am happy that he selected some of my poetry, including this poem (below) This turning hour and every thing intent, which is followed by an Italian version, Quest’ora di svolta e ogni cosa intenta, which I wrote with the help of Roman poet Anna Maria Robustelli. The original was also published in the Irish magazine ‘Cyphers’

[Il Direttore della Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori (FUIS), Antonio Natale Rossi, ha recentemente compilato una serie di scritti sulla situazione in cui gli scrittori si sono trovati durante la pandemia Covid-19. Questi ha pubblicato ogni settimana sul sito FUIS con il titolo ‘Domenica di lettura’. Sono felice che abbia selezionato alcune delle mie poesie, tra cui questa poesia (sotto) This turning hour and every thing intent che è seguita da una versione italiana, Quest’ora di svolta e ogni cosa intenta, che ho scritto con l’aiuto della poetessa Romana Anna Maria Robustelli. L’originale e’ stato anche pubblicato sulla rivista irlandese ‘Cyphers’.


This turning hour and every thing intent

on furnishing another day, I see
a flake of sunlight slant from branch to leaf,
and raindrops wink among the clothes-pegs.

On the cobwebbed grass still wet with dew
a plastic laundry basket spills its colours,
ivy writes illuminated text

that tells how night is trembling on the cusp
of morning, blade and bark awakening
and every moment dying towards the dawn.


Quest’ora di svolta e ogni cosa intenta

a provvvedere a un altro giorno, vedo
un fiocco di sole cadere da ramo
a foglia
e le gocce di pioggia scintillare tra
le molette.

Nell’erba le ragnatelle brillano di rugiada,
un cesto di bucato in plastica versa colori,
e l’edera scrive sul muro un testo illuminato

che racconta come la notte trema sulla cuspide
del mattino, filo e corteccia si risvegliano
e ogni momento muore verso l’alba.

To see the entire page of contributions to the FUIS ‘Coronavirus Diary’ of 17 May 2020 click this link below / Per vedere l’intera pagina dei contributi al ‘Diario del Coronavirus’ di FUIS 17 maggio 2020, clicca qui: http://www.fuis.it/diario-in-corona-virus-10-antologia/articoli5045

Grazie e … STAY SAFE!

The Irish Times https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/poetry

A new work by Eamonn Lynskey to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, publ. 20 July 2019

Buzz Aldrin (L) on the moon – Reuters/Neil Armstrong/NASA/

20 July 1969 AD

“May the spirit in which we came
be reflected in the lives of all mankind

When we pressed our footprints on your crust
we trod on centuries of endless yearning,
long fragmented into silvery dust,

O Queen of Tides

remembered snatches of old songs and rhymes
addressed to you by poets who disturbed
your tranquil seas with sad, despairing lines

Nightfarers’ Guide

and when we walked the pock-marked desert plains
our mediaeval ancestors believed
were gouged to show the murderous shape of Cain

Translucent Lantern

and sank our probes into your soil to gauge
was Beatrice right to hold the dark spots equal
to the bright and not more dense or rare,

Latona’s Child

and sent back images of figures lumbering
towards a distant hill where high beyond
the outline of a dry horizon’s rim

Apollo’s Kin

we saw our troubled homeland poised above us,
viridescent oceans veiled in cloud,
and felt this day must herald Pax Lunaris.

Eamonn Lynskey’s most recent collection ’It’s Time’ was published by Salmon in 2017.

My thanks to the Irish Times for publishing this poem

My thanks to Mark Ulysses for publishing three of my poems on the websiteLE-Poetry-Writing-May-2019-1-300x248.jpg ‘Live Encounters’. The poems are ‘My father Saved Lives’, ‘Black Saturday 1941 Revisited’ and ‘Duende’. The first is a personal poem, relating to my father who spent some time on the construction of the hospital in Blanchardstown (now Connolly Hospital) where TB patients could be treated. ‘Black Saturday’ deals with the difficulty of forgiving while not forgetting, and Duende came out of an essay by Garcia Lorca in which he eloquently discusses that crucial moment of clarity in the mind that sets off creativity.

There are many other works to be enjoyed, including one from the redoubtable Kevin Higgins who gives a new (sardonic) interpretation to old catch-cries (‘The Man Who Spoke in Slogans’) ‘; and a wry look at the ever-crowded poetry scene (‘Regretfully’)  from Anne Fitzgerald, to mention only a few. Artwork is by Pawel IIgin. You can read ‘Live Encounters’  by clicking  HERE

I must also thank Eamon Mag Uidhir and his merry Sunlight crew for including my poemflare-11-2 ‘A New England Schoolroom c. 1800’ in ‘Flare’, the quarterly ‘narrowsheet’ produced by the long-running Sunflower Sessions. This open-mic event occurs every last Wednesday of the month (except December) and is now located in ‘The Lord Edward’ pub opposite Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin. Copies of Flare (€5) are available at the sessions. NB: The Sessions are always friendly, lively and full of fun. Come along, and not just because of FOMO!

For more information, join meetup.com, like The Sunflowers Sessions on Facebook, or email at: sunflower_sessions@yahoo.com 

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Following my exchange visit to Rome last September 2018, I have written a number of poems inspired by the experience. FUIS (Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori), the Italian Federation of Writers, has kindly published some of this work on its website  http://www.Fuis.it/residenza-letteraria-penne-in-irlanda/articoli4561 You may view these poems and their translations below.

More poems are forthcoming. My thanks FUIS and the Irish Writers’ Union in Dublin for enabling this exchange to take place and to Sig. Simone di Conza for his work as facilitator.

The first poem here published concerns a visit to the Church of San Stefano Rotondo, where its ‘martyr murals’ had much the same effect on me as they had on Charles Dickens when he saw them and wrote about them in his travel essays in  ‘Pictures from Italy’ in 1846. I have allowed the torturers to speak for themselves.

The second poem was inspired by a visit to the famous ‘English Cemetery’ on the outskirts of Rome, properly known as the ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery’, which is the charming final destination of many a famous literary name who happened to be not of the Roman Catholic persuasion. The voice in the poem is that of one of the foremost English ‘Romantic’ poets.

This series of poems will be titled ‘Voices from Rome’ (‘Voci da Roma’) and, with the help of my exchange colleague Anna Maria Robustelli, I provide Italian translations.

 

The murals in the Church of Saint Stefano Rotondo, Rome

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This poor wretch we break with stones,
this woman we dismember live,
this one we stretch until his bones
crack open. Crowds have gathered, gape
at trees we’ve hung with chopped-up torsos,
lopped-off limbs.  No pleas, no groans

deter us, no imploring cries –
we’re limited as to instruments,
employ the means we have, devise
whatever tools we can. We’re skilled
in fire and water but the future
lies in methods more refined.

Despite our arrows, here’s a one
still prays and gazes skyward. But
it’s Jupiter and only Him
we’re told to worship now. For now.
We have our orders: ours a trade
must heed today’s doctrinal whim,

but future days may dawn the hour
these followers of the holy fish
are fated to come into power.
It’s then the rack will creak afresh
and bodies bleed. It’s then the cries
that rise to heaven will be ours.

 

I dipinti murali nella Chiesa 
di Santo Stefano Rotondo, a  Roma

Questo poveretto lo frantumiamo
con le pietre, questa donna la smembriamo
viva, questo lo allunghiamo
finché le ossa non si spezzano.
Folle con occhi spalancati guardono
i torsi e gli arti appesi agli alberi.

Nessun grido o lamento ci scoraggia –
i nostri strumenti sono limitati,
usiamo tutto ciò che abbiamo,
proviamo a concepire nuovi mezzi.
Siamo abili con il fuoco e con l’acqua –
più raffinati i metodi del futuro.

Nonostante le nostre frecce, ecco
uno che prega ancora e guarda al cielo.
Ma è Giove, solo Lui, si adora –
per ora. Abbiamo i nostri ordini:
il nostro mestiere si deve prestare
al capriccio dottrinale del momento,

ma un giorno nel futuro potrebbe vedere
i seguaci del pesce santo destinati
a venire al potere. È allora che
scricchiolerà di nuovo il cavalletto
e i corpi sanguineranno. È allora che
le grida verso il cielo saranno nostre.

Tradotto dell’autore assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli

 

In the Company of Poets at the Non-Catholic Cemetery, 
Rome

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On a beach near Viareggio,
wife and friends surround the pyre,
my boyish face defies the flames –
so tells the legend. Not my body
sea-wracked, friends departed long
before I crackled into ash.

This grave a narrow place, the spirits
spurred me into verse dispersed.
A plaque nearby commemorates
the cinders of a New World scribe,
and everywhere eroded stones
show broken lyres. Stone angels weep.

No angel weeps for me, no urns
stand draped in funeréal folds,
no elegant encomium
ignores my faults. Along the path
that skirts these vaults and monuments –
my modest tablet. Unadorned.

Beyond our strict confinements rears
a giant pyramid born of pride –
but turn, remark the simple headstone
of the one – our frail colossus –
who demanded it be chiselled
that his name was writ in water.

Water ferried me ashore,
and fire reduced my frame to dust.
I share this crowded charnel yard
with jugglers of words, with those
who found their poetry in music,
those discovered it in prose.

So far from all the hurried clamour
of our lives, this field affords
a brooding quietude is bred
of whispering trees and falling leaves.
And silence – like the silence follows
when a final line is read.

Nella compagnia dei poeti
nel cimitero acattolico di Roma

Su una spiaggia vicina a Viareggio,
moglie e amici circondano la pira,
la mia faccia da ragazzo sfida le fiamme –
ecco la leggenda. Non il corpo
sconvolto dal mare, gli amici andati via
prima che diventassi cenere.

Questa tomba è un posto stretto,
gli spiriti che mi hanno spronato a scrivere
dispersi. Una lapide vicina commemora
un poeta del Nuovo Mondo, e ovunque
steli mostrano le lire rotte.
Gli angeli di pietra piangono.

Nessun angelo piange per me
non ci sono urne in pieghe funeree,
nessun encomio elegante
ignora i miei difetti. Lungo il sentiero
che corre accanto a questi monumenti—
la mia modesta targa. Disadorna.

Oltre i nostri confini rigorosi
una piramide nata dall’orgoglio –
voltati e osserva la lapide modesta
dell’uno – il nostro fragile colosso –
che voleva fosse inciso nella pietra
ch’l suo nome era scritto nell’acqua.

L’acqua mi ha traghettato qui,
il fuoco ha ridotto il mio corpo
in polvere. Condivido quest’ossario
con giocolieri di parole, e altri
che hanno trovato la loro poesia
nella musica, o in prosa.

Lontano dal clamore frettoloso
delle nostre vite, troviamo qui
una calma pensierosa, nutrita
di alberi sussurranti e foglie cadenti.
E un silenzio – il silenzio che segue
la lettura di un verso finale

Tradotto dell’autore, assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli

 

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The Sunflower Sessions continue to flourish, consummately compered by Declan Mcloughlin, albeit with a change of venue and now reincarnated in The Lord Edward Fitzgerald (opposite Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin). And so too another incarnation of its magazine, or ‘narrowsheet’, as its editor Eamon Mag Uidhir calls it, because of its unusual shape.

There definitely is room in Dublin for a publication that brings the poetry of the NOW out into circulation immediately. The poems here in FLARE 08 have all the appearance of being as up to date as you will get, with their ink just freshly dry. There is a lot to be said for a magazine that appears several times a year and features poetry written most probably very recently.

Good quality too. Look at Claire O’Reilly’s paean to the someone (Alva) who arrived into a rather staid place and transformed it: ‘… she was as exotic as pineapple / from another parish … ‘ and who ‘ … nourished our monochrome minds / in the kaleidoscope of her existence …’.  What a phrase! ‘monochrome minds’.

And Rob Buchanan’s For You Is OK is wonderful in the full sense of the word: it is full of wonderful usage of language: ‘Away from line of sight, ascending arabesque railed basement steps / An ancient battle-scarred bare-chested aulfella, drunk and bald like myself / but black, smoke stained arthritic … ‘ I don’t usually go for OTT poems but this is irresistible! Really great stuff.

Peter O’Neill’s extensive Sonnets from The Henry Street Arcade Project brought me new discoveries of a place I see most weeks.  It evokes the famous cave, ‘which according to Vico / In Scienza nuova, Plato singles out as the origin / Of civiisation’. I hadn’t thought to find Plato’s cave round the corner from the GPO  but now I will always. Such is the power of poetry!

I liked Richard Halperin’s sombre Farewell to a Beloved Brother too, with its abrupt start (‘The heavens opened / And he went into them’) reminding me of John Donnes’ straight-to-the chase first lines and equally Henry Vaughan’s (‘They have all gone into the world of light…’). And so I have to say again how privileged I am to be published amidst such fine work. My own offering is also a ‘farewell poem’ in a way, a farewell to all the things I used to do and cannot now do. And despite Allen Ginsburg’s famous line about the dreaded DIY destroying people’s minds, I have to say I always really enjoyed putting up shelves (no, really!):

Material Support

He is come again to haunt the aisles,

so desperate his need. Come to inhale

the resin scent of deal and pine, planed

and unplaned pointing roofward, waiting

for the careful blade will recreate them

into shapes as yet still hovering ghostly

in his mind like Plato’s caverned forms.

Again he wanders down long corridors

of paints and brushes, white electricals

and dazzling displays of indoor lights

that promise to undarken any soul,

surveys unsullied pruning shears and trowels

displaying gleaming edges, circular saws

and hand-tools nestling pristine in their boxes,

sharing side-by-side a universe

where every cordless drill will guarantee

its teethed chuck to grip the bit so tightly

that no tremble of the hand, no lapse

nor weakness in the aging brain will skew

the outcome. Who will pass these choirs of angels

shining in their tiers and not allow

he feels a sorrow lifting from his heart?

Others come with measuring tape and chart

and calculating eye and tilt of head

to weigh a purchase— Motionless, he stands

in Fixings, undecided whether slot

or Philips screw or toggle-bolt or plug

would best secure a shelf to cavity wall

when suddenly the task appears before him

whole, its every separate part in place

and splendidly complete and now he knows

that he can leave, depart as empty-handed

as the hour he entered all his years ago.

FLARE 08 also features great poems from Seamus Bradley, Rob Buchanan, Natasha Helen Crudden, Kate Dempsey, Helen Harrison, Michael Farry, Eithne Lannon, Jonathan Armas McGlinn, Jen O’Shea, Adriana Ribeiro, David Richardson, Polly Richardson, Daniel Ryan, Roman Rye and Breda Wall Ryan. It is available at the Sunflower Sessions every last Wednesday (7.30pm: The Lord Edward Fitzgerald), and at Books Upstairs in D’Olier Street. €5.

Cover and illustrations are from DMC (instagram@artdmc) photographed by Declan McLoughlin.

Come along and read on the last Wednesday of every month (except December) and fulfill one of the conditions for inclusion in FLARE. The other condition is … good stuff! As they say these days in all the best poetry circles in Dublin … ‘See you at the Sessions!’

 

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My thanks to the editors of Crannog for again including a poem of mine. As always, the magazine is full of interesting and arresting material and I make bold to mention a very few, out of the many that appealed to me.

I remember that George Bernard Shaw, one time when he was writing to a friend, is said to have excused himself for writing a long letter because he didn’t have time to write a short one. The apparent simplicity of a short poem is entirely deceptive (think of Emily Dickinson!). So it is with Snapdragon, from Olivia Kenny McCarthy (just 11 short lines):

‘A late bee hovers / over the antirrhinum. / His wing beats angle him / to the puff of her / lemon lip …’ The economy of language and the poet’s keen observation is truly marvellous.

But let’s not do down the longer poem. There is The Principles of Fatherhood, for instance, where Kevin Graham explores a difficult space for many parents. I think I am right in interpreting it as a poem about disability, but it could apply equally to any time in that period of life which many people confront rather awkwardly, fathers especially perhaps. It is a very moving poem and if there was a Crannog Readers Award (as in the UK Orbis magazine) it would get my vote. There are far too many twee, saccharine poems written about childhood (though never in Crannog!). This isn’t one of them.

Poems about the coming of spring are as old as the hills but in Clive Donovan’s The Return of Her, spring comes striding across those hills sweeping all winter’s destruction before her. What a great stirring clarion-call of a poem it is! ‘The bomb shelled birds stir to sound again singing / And scarred trees weeping with raw new sap …’ I am not surprised to read in the biographical notes that Clive has been published ‘in a wide variety of magazines’. This poem is really high quality, inspiring stuff.

Orla Fay’s Earworm is a poem to reckon with. I confess I had never heard of the singer Hozier (on whose song this poem is based) until I read Orla’s poem and this is a good example of the power of a good  piece of writing to send us hurrying to look up allusions we don’t understand. This only happens if we find the piece impressive in the first place, and this is a really impressive poem. I had not heard the phrase ‘stuck song syndrome’ before, but I know exactly what it means. Unfortunately it often happens that the song that gets stuck in one’s head is some obnoxious ditty picked up in the supermarket. Fortunately for Orla, it is a song she likes: ‘Yahweh do angels walk among us  / whispering such lyrics / as catalyst’. Now you must excuse me while I look up the words ‘teal’ and ‘calque’ …

As in Orla’s case, my poem derives from another artwork, this time a painting, the Canaletto masterpiece in London’s National Gallery. After many visits to Galleries, we all tend to look up our favourites, and the danger is that pass by the many other wonders. But the danger is always worth it with a marvellous work like his.

The Stonemasons’ Yard Revisited

 (after Canaletto)

 

Because I cannot pass where work is doing

these stonemasons busy at their craft

detain me, bell tower rising up behind them,

canal waters flowing silkily past.

I’d half-expected they’d have given way

to office-block and supermarket landscape,

but they labour still as first I saw them,

hammers poised to chip and split and shape.

Here’s one who leans into his task, his eye

fixed on the point will take the chisel’s edge.

Another decorates a pediment,

another finishes off a polished ledge.

And so much happening else outside their yard –

small cameos of ordinary lives:

a cockerel struts along a window sill,

a woman turns to help a fallen child,

while others set their lines of wash to dance

so whitely, merrily in the morning breeze –

their men will home this evening, tired and dusty,

must have shirts tomorrow fresh and clean.

No devil’s workshops here, no idle hands

in this tableau of life and daily living:

his a world of stern allotted duties

where all become what they are making, doing.

Of the stories, I liked best Perfection by the intriguingly-named Hanahazukashi. (of Galway Writers’ Workshop).  I find too many stories strive to describe ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ experience. This one is full of the ‘ordinary’, but from a child’s point of view. Really well-handled. I used to do those magazine quizzes myself but gave up because I always came out badly (like Bala, in the story). Not good for the old self-image

So many other wonderful pieces there are in this issue of Crannog that one could discuss at length. Congratulations to the editors on another fine publication.

All details regarding purchase, subscription and submission are available on the Crannog website: http://www.crannog magazine.com

Artwork: ‘Tempus frangit tempus ducit’ by Marie-Jeanne Jacob, who studied in Ireland, New Zealand and Montreal. More information at http:// mariejeannejacob.blogspot.ie  and  Facebook

 

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Another issue of Skylight47 and another selection of poems and essays, provocative, relaxing and informative as always. This issue 10 is something of a milestone, one of the editors, Bernie Crawford, told us at the launch during the ‘Over the Edge’ event in Galway City Library, because they did not expect it would last that long. But it has and is full of good things for the serious reader … and maybe for the not so serious as well! The evening included featured readings from accomplished poets Jessamine O’Connor, Anne Walsh Donnelly and Jacqueline Saphra. Jacqueline had the honour of launching the magazine and several contributors were on hand to read their work.

I liked Mary Lee’s Sunny Day, a deceptively simple poem which opens with the lines

You saunter aimlessly

at the sea’s rimmed mystery:

flow, ebb, alteration,

tranquillity

and reminded me a little of one of my all-time favourites, Henry Vaughan:

Fancy, and I, last evening walkt,

And, Amoret, of thee we talkt;

The West just then had stolne the Sun,

And his last blushes were begun.

It really is hard to write (good) simple poems. Short ones too are no easy matter. I thought Conor McBrierty summed up a lot about present day Ireland in his short poem Crucifixion’. I hope he won’t mind me quoting it in full because it really is a most telling piece:

Jesus hangs on the wall

between the fridge and the phone.

His holy cross lamp is dark,

cable dangling,

swapped for an answering machine.

He died for sins such as this.

Anne Tannam continues her poetic researches into family and generational inheritance in her poem The Image Of, a phrase we hear often when our elders compare us with near relatives. The comparisons are sometimes uncomfortable reminders of how quickly time is passing but we must put up with the fact that this is the way of things. The speaker in the poem sees herself looking out at her from an old passport photo of her mother

come back to tell me what I struggle to accept:

that time, given time, eventually blurs the lines

between each generation, brings us face to face

with a truth we wrestle with for an age …

A very fine poem, focusing in on the reality of things, and there are  many more fine poems and articles. And Orla Fay proves that, no matter how many swallow poems are written, there is always room for another good one, Caught in a Dance:

They fly so close that I could almost touch a wing-tip

but I would be cut in the act so razor-like

are their dives and turns, so close-shaved.

Brian Kirk, besides contributing a poem, provides a review of Liz McSkeane’s latest collection So Long Calypso and there are reviews too of Emma McKervey and Maeve O’Sullivan’s latest productions. However, do not let me give the impression that all the content is as serious as the examples quoted above. There is a lot of fun in this magazine too. What?! (I hear you cry) Fun?!  What sort of poetry magazine is this? — Well, it is a fine magazine, ranging from the serious to the humorous — see for example Kevin Higgins’s My View of Things, though Kevin’s brand of humour is decidedly acerbic:

What I love about lateness is the hope

I might get to slip off home before you turn up …

 Terry McDonagh also has a poem (‘New Ways of Talking’,) describing an unattractive character who happens to be … a writer:

Maestro was a man of few words. He died

before his wife could comfort herself…

My own contribution, Prayer,  falls into the ‘less serious’ category, though I do think there is a serious aspect to the ordeal suffered in waiting rooms and on tortuous bus journeys, when one feels the time could be spent in some more fruitful way …

Prayer

Is there any way to claim back times

when I was only technically living?

Hours accumulated in waiting rooms

with nothing but golf magazines for company?

A celestial credit-note perhaps, for life

spent on those endless odysseys around

the hinterlands of housing estates before

the bus-route finally reached my stop?

 And all the wasted ages hunting car keys,

overdue library books, TV remote,

that other sock, the passport left in a place

where I would definitely find it next time.

Couldn’t. Surely I am due a discount

for those phone calls kept me holding, trapped

inside interminable manglings of Mozart?

I beseech you, Lord, please hear my prayer.

 

Finally I will say it is fitting that the entire back page is given over to a poem by Marie Cadden, who passed away recently and was long associated with Skylight47. She is greatly missed by colleagues and friends.

Skylight47 costs (a mere) €5 plus postage and is available online at skylight47poetry.wordpress.com     The next issue is Autumn 2018 and submissions will be accepted between 1 July & 1 September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My thanks to the editors of Cyphers magazine for including my poem This turning hour and everything intent in issue no. 85.

There is the usual multi-varied selection of styles and subjects in this issue, with a strong representation of poems as Gaeilge where Doireann Ní Ghríofa provides Birín Beo (The Glowing Splinter), with its subtitled reference to the lengthy history behind bonfire festivities on St John’s Eve (ar Oíche Fhéile Eoin), a history that reaches out to her in the last couplet, when a spark flies out from the fire towards her and  leaves a tiny mark:

… póigín dhearg dóite

ar mo leiceann, tatú buan.

(a small kiss burnt 

on my cheek, a lasting tattoo.)

In what can only be a very scattershot approach in selecting a few favourites, I will say I like very much Matthew Sweeney’s poem The Hards where, despite the behaviour of the rough boys in his neighbourhood there is a distinct note of regret that he never became part of their world. I use the word ‘rough’ advisedly because I found the poem had strong evocations of Stephen Spender’s My Parents Kept Me from Children Who Were Rough, especially in the last tercet:

it’s the term that stays because I hear it

still every time I stand on the beach, staring

at those houses I wasn’t allowed to enter.

I have a weakness for such poems because of my own rather strictured upbringing, but this does not explain why I like Bogusia Warden’s A Privilege of Hurricanes with its image-laden, enigmatic lines, each one of which might be detached as an aphorism in its own right:

You have nothing to lean on but this gum shield.

The worse you feel the better you look.

The descriptions would seem to lead to a rather depressing view of the person (or persons) in question, yet there is the feeling that something extraordinary might be in the offing. I’m not sure I have understood exactly what is going on, but if I did understand exactly what is going on it would not be the intriguing poem it is.

Not intriguing but right on the money is Stuart Pickford’s Emily, which is as good an astute observation of recalcitrant teenagers as you’ll get anywhere (and I should know, after 30 years of second-level teaching). Caught outside the school gate rolling a cigarette, she tells him: Strictly speaking, / holding a cigarette isn’t smoking it. He’s snookered.

Eiléan Ni Chuilleanain’s essay Stalking the Negatives suggests ways in which writers can employ figures of denial to add mystery to their work.  She holds that ‘the negative is one of the great resources of language, perhaps analogous to shadow in painting’. One might think immediately of that great Caravaggio in the National gallery and how much the surrounding darkness adds to the drama of the Jesus’s betrayal. The essay includes clarifying quotations from Siobhan Campbell, Ger Reidy and John Murphy. And from John Milton. What more could one ask?

There are many other great contributions in this issue, and I must salute my old friend Richard Halperin for his fine offering, The Snow Falls, and say how privileged I am (no, really) to share page 42 with him with my own contribution, the title of which leads into the poem:

This turning hour and everything intent  

 

on furnishing another day, I see

a flake of sunlight slant from branch to leaf,

and raindrops wink among the clothes-pegs.

 

On the cobwebbed lawn still wet with dew

a plastic laundry basket spills its colours,

ivy writes illuminated text

 

that tells how night is trembling on the cusp

of morning, blade and bark awakening

and every moment dying towards the dawn.

 

The magazine was launched in the regal ambience of Strokestown House during this year’s Strokestown Poetry Festival 2018, with several contributors reading their work.

Cyphers is an occasional publication on Literature and the Arts, supported by the Arts Council (An Comhairle Ealaíon) and the Arts Concil Of Northern Ireland. For information on  submission detail, subscription & etc., see www.cyphers.ie.