The first poem in this collection from Dónall Dempsey sets the tone of book and bears 9781907435478_orig.jpgout its dedication  to the loving memory of the poet’s parents. His mother speaks directly to the reader here, with her words wrapped in the colloquial language used throughout the book: ‘Ya’d wear the heart out of a stone!’. One of the most frequent definitions of poetry is that it is the most personal of writing and this was never more true of any collection than it is here. Early on we are introduced to other family influences on the writer: an aunt and a grandmother. In ‘Talking with Granny’, the stabilising presence of elders in the life of the young is well said: ‘She gave you back / your self / but a much better self / than ever you could be.’ This poem, and many others, shows how the support and love so necessary in the formation of the growing child was readily available to the writer throughout his formative years. Many of the poems are written in a sense of gratitude for this early support.

In a book of so many well-executed poems there are many contenders that one might choose as an outstanding piece, particularly because such care has been taken to present them in such a fashion as to involve the reader in the development of the family, and the writer, through the years and to ensure that each event or donall-reading-for-website.jpgemotion does not eclipse other, perhaps less dramatic, moments. And so it is that while a poem on the experience of revisiting the old, and now ruined, house of his Aunt Nelly is a memorable one, and therefore produces a memorable poem (‘Sweetnesse Readie Penn’d’, with its reference to George Herbert), the collection is replete with lighter, equally memorable, pieces. There is great fun in ‘A Thin Slice of Ham in the Hand Is Better Than a Fat Pig in a Dream’ (apart from the title itself!): ‘Never bolt your door / with a boiled carrot!’ / as Uncle would say / with a wink – tongue in cheek. / It didn’t always make sense / as our door was always / open’. Poems like this ensure that the collection never assumes that rather maudlin, treacly tone which is the fate of many works that strive to recreate family history. A piece like ‘In the Mythology of Foxes’ ensures that the earthiness of rural life is always present to pull the collection back on track if there is any danger of its contents heading in that direction. Incidentally, that particular poem with its evocation of the killing of a fox and how it affected the poet (‘the boy / carries her / death cradling it / in his mind / trying to comfort her / with human tears’) is strongly reminiscent of Seamus Heaney’s poem, ‘The Early Purges’ where a similar shock of farmyard reality proves a distressing experience for a youngster.

Finally, the very accessibility of Dónall Dempsey’s writing must be mentioned. Not alone are the poems themselves full of a welcome for the reader but the way they are presented is also very reader-friendly (or, as we say these days, ‘user-friendly’). Throughout the book the poet steps back from the poetry to sketch out a little of the history behind the poems. These prose insertions are never turgid or long-winded – they give just enough to add to the understanding and enjoyment of the poems. Perhaps this is a method that other poets might use more often? Especially in these day when so many readers can find poetry an obscure and forbidding medium? Certainly, they would find Dónall Dempsey’s collection a welcome change.

‘Gerry Sweeney’s Mammy’ is available from the D&W website at http://www.dempseyand windle.co.uk

[Donall is an old acquaintance of mine, though I hadn’t seen him again until recently (Feb, 2018) since the good old times we read together in the International Bar in Dublin … over thirty years ago! Tempus fugit.]

DONALL DEMPSEY, originally from the Curragh, Ireland, is now living in Guildford, England, and was Ireland’s first Poet in Residence in a secondary school, and appeared on RTE with John Cooper Clarke and Paul Durcan. His poems have been published widely in anthologies and online magazines in Europe, England, the USA, Canada and India. He is host of ‘The 1000 Monkeys’, a regular monthly poetry event in Guildford. Four poetry collections published by Dempsey & Windle: ‘Sifting Sound into Shape’ (2012);’ ‘The Smell of Purple’ (2013);’Being Dragged Across the Carpet by the Cat'(2013) and ‘Gerry Sweeney’s Mammy’ (2017)

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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.

 

Brian Kirk writes a poetry of the crafted line and the weighted word and theseAfter-the-Fall-by-Brian-Kirk.jpg qualities are very evident in the title poem of the collection After the Fall, a passionate poem elegantly contained within a careful construct of short lines: 

The residue of that first kiss
upon our lips
like a bruise …

This choosing of the right form in which to enclose the thought continues throughout the book, laying before the reader the realities of living daily life where the ordinary is often displaced unexpectedly by the sudden appearance of the unusual. Two Foxes is such a poem, where the excitement of the unusual is captured, together with the realization of a wilder, hidden strata running beneath the monotony of daily events:

… and I knew I would never forget
the night we saw foxes on Barnsbury Road,
and remembered our love in the body,
the skin and the blood
on a wet London street.

It is a truism that all writers (especially, perhaps, poets?) are given to seeing around the corners of reality. The Barnsbury foxes, an indication of a hidden world, bring a poem like Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings to mind, with its probing beneath the surface of an event the poet happens into by accident. There are many poems in this collection in which we are given not only the surface of things but the underlying hidden pulses as well. Poems like New Year and Leave Taking are what they say they are but are so much more. In the latter poem, for instance, we read about an elderly man visiting his neighbours’ houses for what he knows will be his last time. The poignancy that rises up through the matter-of-fact descriptions gives the poem its impact:

… he was feted by farmers and their wives
like one who’d been away at war for years,
wondering what his business could be now
beyond the final saying of goodbyes …

This is a poem of great humanity and understanding.

Careful lines and carefully chosen words are nowhere more apparent than in poems like Rotten ApplesSimple Vows and A Map. There is always something restful and magical for the eye in poems that make good use of space and a minimum of words. It is always a mystery how a little poem like Rotten Apples, so reminiscent of William Carlos Williams, can have such a big effect and is proof that, in poetry as elsewhere, very often ‘less is more’. Simple Vows is also well served by this economy of treatment:

Beyond the Hermitage I dreamed you close,
Among new leaves your smile was apple bright.

The long line is also used to very good effect. It is always difficult to pack lots of information into a poetic line without lapsing into prose and many pieces in the collection achieve this balance. ‘Balancing Act’ is a poem featuring the Irish urban/rural divide and is an example of the several poems that explore topics to the fore in our newspapers and in, as the phrase goes, the ‘political discourse’, of today’s Ireland:

My children are happy but urban and thin,
they speak with inquisitive irony
when describing the world as it is, real or virtual;
their futures mapped out before them …

There are many other fine poems which could be discussed but Orienteering must be mentioned. This is a wise poem that speaks to those of us who have lived long enough to have ‘a past’ (in the sense of a lengthy series of regrets) and is a warning to those who have not yet accumulated too many years that there is a shape to the things that are to come, a shape which may not be very attractive:

… If you sketched
a map from memory
you’d maybe see
the broad outline
of staggering events,
or feel the smart
of tiny hurts
absurdly magnified
as you move away …

Again, craft is evident in the decision to eschew stanzas and deliver the poem in one continuous flow, rather like a thought that comes, makes its presence felt and then goes away. Again, the choice of form is just right and, as becomes apparent as one reads through the book, this poet is comfortable with many different forms: sonnet, single couplet, formal stanza, the cascading line.

For anyone who likes a poetry of the well-chosen word and the economic line, Brian Kirk’s collection ‘After the Fall’ will fit the bill. Nor does he come up short on the unexpected and the lyrical (‘The bright talk of past days / unspools to slurs’). This short review cannot do justice to this fine collection. It is a book that will lure a reader back again to have another look. And this surely is the ultimate accolade?

Eamonn Lynskey (c) 2018

‘After the Fall’ is available from ‘Books Upstairs’ and other bookshops in Dublin, and from the Salmon website http://www.salmonpoetry.com

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My sincere thanks to all who came to the launch of my book ‘It’s Time’ at Books Upstairs in Dublin last Wednesday 10th May. I shared the evening with my good friend and excellent poet Anne Tannem (‘Tides Shifting across My Living Room Floor’) and I know I speak for her too when I say it was a fabulous event. Thanks also to Ross Hattaway and Alvy Carragher for their kindly introductions. And a huge thank you to Jessie Lendennie and Siobhan Hutson for taking us on board the good ship ‘Salmon Poetry’. Long may she sail!

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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

holds starlight

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:

Survivor

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.

 

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The next issue of Skylight 47 will be launched in Autumn 2017 and submissions will be accepted between 1 June 2017 and 1 August 2017. Send three (unpublished) poems plus bio (60 words max.) to skylightpoets47@gmail.com

Poems up to 40 lines and sent as both an attachment and in the body of the email. Submission detail can be found on skylight47poetry.wordpress.com

Full marks again to Bernie Crawford and her intrepid editorial team on a great issue! And congratulations to Patricia Byrne on her wonderful illustrations (example above).

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Very much indebted to the Sunflower Sessions (which are held in Jack Nealon’s Public House, Capel Street, Dublin, every last Wednesday) for including me again in their FLARE publication. The editor, Eamon Mag Uidhir, has declared it will be issued four times a year and we have all learned that Eamon is a man of his word. A bright, spacious, sparkling offering, this: 33 p0ems from 33 participants in the monthly sessions, some well known, others new on the scene, all worth a look.

I particularly liked Anamaria Crowe Serrano’s ‘Apple – 7’, with its unusual and very original lay-out. Anamaria’s innovations are impossible for me to quote on the page so you will have lay hands on a FLARE02 to appreciate how near the cutting edge of experimental poetry she is. Alice Kinsella’s short and economic piece ‘Starlight’ concerns the necessary slaughter that lies behind our veal dishes:

In late summer almost winter  

they’d lock the cows up for the day                                                                                

to take away their young …

and Anne Tannam’s ‘When We Go Shopping’ is also one of my favourites. It’s that kind of ‘domestic’ poem she always does very well, this one concerning the relationship between an elderly mother and her daughter.

When we go shopping, just the two of us

I get to be the child again, out with my mam for the day…

Writing a poem is never easy (well, Shakespeare maybe …) and writing a an optimistic, upbeat one I have always found particularly difficult, and so I admire Liz McSkeane’s ‘Remembering the Child’ . Liz is a long-time friend but that won’t prevent me declaring her poem a very fine piece of work. One feels BETTER about the world after reading it. And those awful things that you fear might be coming your way? —

… and just between

us — that won’t happen. Now, the sun is bright,

please step aside. You’re standing in my light.

So many good poems. A flash-back to times of church oppression in Ireland from Ross Hattaway and a curious, disturbing poem ‘Eve’ from Natasha Helen Crudden which weighs out its words and lines carefully.

My own offering is a rather nostalgic piece which harkens back to the time one could see the Guinness barges on the Liffey. The poem tries to merge those long-forgotten scenes of the past with the present haulage system of container transport by imagining a meeting between the present day drivers and the ‘bargeymen’ of old.

The Liffey at Low Tide

The Liffey at low tide

this evening at Kingsbridge

reveals the ghosts of jetties

built for barges bringing

Guinness down to port.

 –

Jib cranes swing and strain,

men work with ropes and winches,

loading wooden barrels

into swaying holds

and friendly banter drifts

along Victoria Quay

where juggernauts line up

and drivers sleep alone

and wander in their dreams

down to the bargemen, talk

till morning when they yawn,

climb from their cabins, peer

across the parapet

at faint remains of timbers

drowned in rising waters.

If you wish to enter some work for the next Flare the only requirement (apart from 20170208_095250_NEW.jpg quality, of course!) is that you must have read out something (prose or poetry) at the sessions. So come along some evening at 7.30 pm and join our merry throng, at the Sunflower Sessions, every last Wednesday of the month, except December, at Jack Nealon’s Public House, Capel Street, Dublin (7.30 pm), and get your name on the evening’s reading list.

FLARE02 is available for €5 at the sessions and also at Books Upstairs and the Winding Stair bookshops.  The cover shows a detail of Eddie Colla street art, Capel Street, photographed by Declan McLoughlin (our genial open-mike MC). For more information, join online at meetup.com or email sunflower_sessions@yahoo.com. Also on Facebook.

Nealon's Pub, Capel Street
Nealon’s Pub, Capel Street

See You soon!

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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.

Kilmainham Elegy

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 (artsoffice@limerick.ie) 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.