Very honoured to be included in #15 of The Stony Thursday Book, Limerick’s long-running yearly collection of contemporary poetry, this year edited by John Davies. About 1800 poems were submitted, we were informed at the launch, and so John had what must have been the herculean task of selecting the 98 poems eventually included in the book.
And so it is hard to pick out my preferences, but here goes –
Evan Costigan’s ‘Memo’ (p.13) is very short (all of 8 lines) and has the concision and attractiveness of a William Carlos Williams piece. Usually I don’t like cat poems, but exceptions prove the rule. I loved the final lines which indicate what this particular moggie has been up to:
… to the pond
where two goldfish
no longer flash.
And what a poem is David Lohrey’s ‘Muddy Water’ (p.39). I read in the bios that he ‘grew up on the Mississippi in Memphis’ and all I can say is that he has written a poem worthy of that historic region of the USA. One can get a feel of the people and their way of living and the constraints they had to deal with. Going up to northern Mississippi for a ballgame wasn’t a journey undertaken lightly:
They were greeted upon arrival by the local sheriff
And his cow-shit-stained deputies who aimed their shotguns
At their heads and shouted “Niggers don’t play ball down here,
So y’all better git back yonder.”
Edward O’Dwyer’s ‘Going’ (p.60) is a sad poem about someone taken ill in a car at a traffic lights, all the more effective for me because I witnessed something similar one time. I thought the restraint of the last few lines was admirable:
Some people too are moving towards
the man’s car in a tentative fashion,
the way people do when they are expecting
to find something disturbing.
I also liked another rather sad poem dealing with an older person’s forgetfulness: ‘Testing’ (p.114) by Martine Large.
She knows the name of the prime minister,
it’s right there, give her time …
Ron Houchin’s ‘The Crows of Ennistymon’ (p.14) captures that sinister aspect that clings to crows and which was exploited so well by Ted Hughes and Hitchcock:
… the crows who keep a little to themselves,
who feed on death so often, know this and their wailing gyre
tells of each new vapor rising, a spirit they must rail about
from each night’s vantage above the Falls Hotel …
And there were so many others I liked very much. Anamaria Crowe Serrano’s ‘Cauthleen‘,Paul McNamara’s ‘Little Bits of Processed Nature in Small Locked Boxes’, which was very enthusiastically received on the launch night, and ‘Elephant’, enacted by the redoubtable Norman King.
One of my poems ‘Kilmainham Elegy’ deals with the 1916 rising, or rather the aftermath thereof. During a walk some years ago in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham cemetery, I came across the graves of some very young British Soldiers who were killed during that Easter Week. My sadness at the loss of their young lives is no reflection on the lives lost by the insurgents, nor on their cause. I hope this comes across in the poem because I would be seriously upset if there seemed to be any criticism of the Irish rebels. I am no revisionist in matters of the fight for Irish freedom. Still, the death of a 19-year-old, whosoever they are, and in whatever circumstances must always be a sad event. You can be sure that someone somewhere grieved the loss of his young life.
for two soldiers, aged 19,
of the Notts & Derby Regiment
As in life, now at the last
we are together, side by side,
two English boys who disembarked
to angry streets at Eastertime.
We who thought to ship for France
to fight for freedom of small nations
lie with dust of older wars
in this Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
A century has driven past
along the St. John’s Road. Nearby,
Kilmainham Jail remembers those
were conscripts of a dream and died.
Two English boys fresh from the Shires,
we fought and fell, our long decay
now equal part of Ireland’s soil
with those who raised her flag that Sunday.
My other poem ‘An Emigrant’s Return’ is rather long and deals with some personal family memories. I am particularly grateful to John Davies for including it in the anthology because it can be quite hard to get a long poem published. And I was particularly grateful to be afforded the time to read out, complete, on the night.
Contributors receive two copies of the book and it is available from the Limerick Arts Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) for €10, p&p free (+353 407363). The cover art is ‘Heterogeneous’ by Beth Nagle and the overall design is by Richard Mead. Submissions for #16 are now being considered and should be sent to Limerick Arts Office, Limerick City and County Council, Merchants Quay, Limerick.
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.