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
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 con l’assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli
In the Company of Poets at the Non-Catholic Cemetery,
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
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!):
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!’
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
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
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,
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,
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 …
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.
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.
This Galway magazine has done me the signal honour of publishing another poem of mine, ‘Survivor’. I am very pleased to find myself in the company of some fine and well-known writers such as Kate Dempsey, Michael Farry, Brian Kirk and John W. Sexton, as well as some others I have not seen before.
I liked very much the precise demestic details of Kate’s ‘No.1 Mum’ and John’s series of terse tercets. Not sure if the latter could be classed as a sort of haiku selection but they work very well:
how easily the snail
on its skin
and Brian Kirk’s ‘Immanent’ has an immediate appeal to me because it captures that moment (when night is about to ‘fall’) about which I have often written myself.
… The night is ready
like a cat to pounce,
and idly, like a cat,
it paws the moment …
Another poem of twilight time (favourite time of poets!) is from the pen of Michael Farry. ‘Waiting for the Train’ is the title and that is what the poem is about (Michael writes that ‘down to earth’ type of stuff that I like a lot). he catches the atmosphere of the old station, now falling somewhat into neglect where the dying sun casts
a brief drench of rusty brilliance,
kindling the few last clinging beech leaves,
their fallen fellows thick on the disused platform.
My own contribution is a poem written after an illness in which I suggest there may be some similarity between myself and its long-legged subject:
Driving down the Belgard Road
I see again the gossamer evidence
of my sitting tenant, snug
behind the glass of my wing mirror.
Rare the glimpse I’ve had of him
the time we’ve been together, I
so sure the wind would put an end
to his arachnoid acrobatics
but this tiny wight is match
and more for zippy morning breezes,
keen as elephant or moose
or mouse (or me) to cling to life.
In dead of night and lit by streetlamp,
undisturbed by prowling cat
or busy milkman he will toil
to realign his damaged lacework
and, come day, will venture out,
negotiate his deadly silk
to reach his breakfast, all the while
remembering to place his feet
along particular threads he spun
dissimilar from the others, ones
he left bereft of gum. But he
and only he, can tell which ones.