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.
Cover image: ‘Bardic Shield’, by Miles Lowry, B C Canada
Another autumn, another Crannog, Galway’s (and the world’s) long-established quality poetry and prose magazine that insists on setting high standards in the writing world three times a year. Of this crop of 32 poems I liked best Bernie Crawford’s She Walks and not just because it is on a subject which determines much of my own output … well, yes, this. But also because of its control of the inevitable emotions raised by the subject. Every couplet is a text-book example of the restraint requisite in dealing with the horror of war, if the horror is to be conveyed fully. And the economy in the use of words is really excellent. Look at those last lines:
She walks to forget the piece that flew from her heart
that day the air strikes started.
And I liked the light, but effective, tone of Ask a Tattoist by D C Geis, a poem which which deals with a problem people must have with tattoos chosen at a particular time when, say, one is madly in love. And then, when the love – recalling Hank Williams – ‘grows cold’ – what happens? The tattooist, says the poet, can do a lot to block out former passions,
… Michaels devoured
the Karens lasered off
with no more considerationt
han bacon friyng in a pan …
But there is a limit to what he can do. As regards birthmarks,
… he informs you,
nothing can be done.
It’s very hard to limit oneself to just one more pick, but here goes: Anne Tannam is a good friend of mine but that won’t stop me choosing her terrific poem ‘By Decree’. It is a poem that brings to mind the age-old desire to create an ideal world devoid of suffering,
There will be no blame in my kingdom.
In my kingdom no one will point the finger, no one will lay fault.
Though the poem is short, or perhaps because it is short, it seems to have a very ‘absolute’ kind of power. I think it is because of the unflinching certainty built into every line.
Of the stories, I liked best ‘Flutter’ by Niall Keegan with its wonderful descriptions:
The air is thick with dust. fat enough to scribble on with a wet finger.
It might be I like this story – apart from the story – because the language approaches the ‘poetic’ at times.
My own contribution is a poem ‘Next of Kin’ written when the George W Bush American invasion of Iraq was in full swing but I hope, as in the Bernie Crawford poem I mentioned above, it is relevant to the wars presently raging and the ones that, unfortunately, will rage in the future. The poem is constructed out of the actual words said by people trying to express their feelings and which I read or heard on TV over the while. They are necessarily reconfigured to fit into a stanza/rhythm/rhyme format but I think they still convey their original sense of bewilderment and heartbreak. We have to remember that the death of any one soldier will be devastating for the many relatives and friends who loved him, or her.
Next of Kin
… see, David was the kind when things got rough
he’d always help… … He leaves a wife and son.
She took it bad … For all of us it’s tough.
We miss him awful … … Can’t believe he’s gone.
Matthew was … … the best you’d ever find.
The army man spoke of the legacy
courageous men and women leave behind…
But losing Matthew … It’s a tragedy.
Our Carl was killed while clearing IEDs.
His tour was nearly up … He was that close
to coming home … … and then the news he’d died.
It’s hard on them out there … and hard on us.
… our Kay. Our girl … So good at everything.
There wasn’t any challenge she wouldn’t meet,
no matter what … … So when they came recruiting
she enlisted. Only there a week …
Crannog is published three times a year in Spring, Summer and Autumn. Submission times: November, March andJuly. To learn more or purchase copies log on to the website http://www.crannogmagazine.
Lots of good things in this issue of Orbis and congratulations to editor Carole Baldock and her team. Not often one sees Alexander Pope appear in the pages of a modern magazine, but here he is (by courtesy of Stuart Nunn in the Past Master section), the Great Curmudgeon himself laying waste around him at the low standards he sees everywhere he looks:
‘See skulking Truth to her old Cavern fled,
Mountains of Casuistry heaped o’er her head!
Philosophy, that lean’d on Heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause and is no more…’
Ah, would he were alive today!
Unlike other magazines, Orbis comes down from the heights of Parnassus and invites readers to participate by nominating their favourite pieces. This provides the entertaining and informative section ‘Readers’ Award’. My own four choices were:
Remembering Capel Celyn: Liverpool 1965, by Kathy Miles, about her Welsh village flooded to create a reservoir. I know no Welsh and yet I can hear the lilt of that beautiful language echoing in the back of my mind as I read this sad poem with its wonderfully-placed Welsh words:
‘For we were Welsh too, our names cwtched
away by marriage, loved the hidden lyric
of our streets: Rhiwlas and Pows, Dovey …’
Forms of Embrace by Christopher Allen, attempts the capture the essential construction basis of visual artworks: the circle, the block and the curve. The third stanza brings to mind (one might almost say inevitably) Hokusai’s great wave:
‘A smooth black curve
proclaims a solid solitude
shaped like a Japanese wave
cresting a great silence …’
– She Died Today, by Cristina Harba is an excellent treatment of how long it takes for loss to manifest.
‘ … It is a week later that I lie face down on the bed,
willing it to swallow me whole.’
Picture, by Anne Banks is an attractive, quirky poem, reminiscent of Magritte’s great surrealistic painting ‘ Not to be Repoduced’ (1937) of a man looking into a mirror and seeing himself, but not as he expects to see himself.
‘I intrude on the space, my reflection
Bright and photographic in its clarity…’
I also liked very much Contained by Alison Chisholm and Guidewire insertion, pre-surgery by Jan Whittaker and indeed many more.
My own contribution is A Professional in Charge, a poem referencing the fate of one of Henry VII’s unfortunate queens. The story behind the poem is a wonderful portrait of a woman who stoical in the face of injustice but determined not to have her final moments laid open to cruelties inflicted her enemies. When I read of her fate many years ago I was impressed by her courage and presence of mind in the face of such injustice and my admiration has not lessened in the years since. For true horror stories, the Tudors were well ahead of the genre.
A Professional in Charge
I know the way of things:
the talk of justice, law –
But there is also vengeance, spite
and marital inconvenience.
Other heads were left
to dangle by their sinews,
took three cuts or more
before the deed was done.
As token of his mercy
or, some would say, his guilt,
my Royal Lord allowed
an executioner from France
because I was too much afraid
the heavy-handled axe
might fail at separating head
from neck in one swift slice.
The man who waits to sunder
Henry’s second Queen
discreetly hides his sword blade
as my Ladies help me kneel.
A sorry end, but not prolonged
through cruelty, or botched.
There will be dignity. I have
a professional in charge.
Orbis #177 contents:
Orbis is a quarterly journal. Full details re submission and subscription at http://www.orbisjournal.com
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.
Another fine issue of Boyne Berries, edited by Orla Fay. This is a themed edition, centered around the Easter Rising of 1916 and it reviews that cataclysmic event from a variety of angles with an extensive range of poetry and stories/articles. I can only deal with a few and the fact that I leave some out of my reckoning is absolutely no reflection on their quality.
Michael Farry’s ‘John Gormley’ is based on the death of a 25-year-old RIC constable shot dead at Ashbourne on Friday 27 April 1916. It is a fine combination of the usual humdrum life of a policeman transformed by the chaotic arrival of the Rising:
Back in the barracks that evening news
of the Dublin rumpus unsettled us.
I was sent to Slane to guard the castle.
Robert Tully’s ‘Flags’ with its down-to-earth assessment of patriotism appeals to me. The question in the final triplet demands an honest answer:
We’ve come such a way
In a hundred years.
‘Conversing with Our History’ by Stephen O’Brien is a fine poem, and is also given in an Irish language version by the poet. Both versions work well but I have to say that the Irish reads and sounds better. The poem picks up on Robert Tully’s question quoted above:
How would they react,
Our nation’s heroes,
If they could see our
An outstanding poem in the book is Clare McCotter’s ‘Epsom, 1913’. Based on the death of suffragette Emily Davidson, which resulted from her falling under the hooves of the King’s horse at the Epsom derby. It is a poem that one can read again and again and still be moved, especially at the way Emily was force-fed in hospital afterwards:
I cannot breath
I am not breathing
I am drowning
and will drown forty-nine times
My own contribution, ‘I fought for King and Country in My Boyhood’, is a poem of Ireland’s ‘eastern seaboard’, that territory where I grew up reading about how the bravery of the European pioneers wrested the lands of North America from the savages who deserved no more than to be shot on sight, and how the British had single-handedly defeated Hitler. That is to say, my head was filled with the exploits of comic-book heroes like Kit Carson and General Montgomery rather than with the sacrifices of the 1916 insurgents. I admired them too but, because of my family background (and I do not blame everything on my family!) the more recent World War Two and the epic stories of the Wild West were more in my mind:
I Fought for King and Country in My Boyhood
I fought for king and country in my boyhood,
surveyed the trenches from an R.E.8
in constant danger from marauding tri-planes,
was saved a hundred times by Sopwith Camels.
I flew Spitfires too, downed Messerschmitts
in flames with no regrets, though he was I.
At Alam Halfa and at Alamein
Montgomery owed his victories to me.
At school by day I learned about the men
who shook the Empire. Momentarily
I faced the bullets with them in Kilmainham
and admired their sacrifice and yet
by evening shells exploded all around me
in block lettering, and speech balloons
above me shouted orders to my troops
to make the final push for Anzio.
Many other poems bring alive or commemorate that 1916 triumphal failure: Orla Fay’s ‘First Frost in the Park’ concerns an insurgent raid on the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park on Easter Monday 24 April 1916, and Andy Jones in ‘An Easter Visitor in 2010’ has a a person from 1916 having a look at present-day Ireland. He/she doesn’t feel entirely welcome and sardonically observes that it is
Just as well I’ve become I’ve become invisible.
No one would have bought me a pint!
And now I must risk the ire of my fellow poets when I say that the most striking piece in the magazine is, for me, a prose piece by Noel French, ‘Remembering 1916: A United Ireland’ is a bewildering read for the first page or so until one grasps that Noel is indulging in what is called ‘speculative history’. That is to say, his piece centres around the idea that the Rising had never happened. It is a highly unusual and imaginative piece and very thought-provoking.
Finally, remember the great illustrations that William Blake designed to accompany his poems? No? Let Rory O Sullivan remind you. Every Boyne Berries has one his extraordinary illustrated poems. ‘Ashland’ and its accompanying design has chilling echoes of Edgar Allen Poe. Rory’s regular contributions are an art-form in themselves.