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!


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.


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.

She walks.

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

by butterflies;

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,

regrettably –

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.





20160921_120501_NEW.jpgA 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.

‘This Intimate War: Gallipoli/Canakkale 1915’,  5 Islands Press 2015

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!

Robyn Rowland and self at the Skylight47 launch

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.

 I a Exiles.jpg

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.

Haven’t we? 

 ‘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.



When reading a poet completely unknown to me, I always try to avoid getting too much information about him/her beforehand. This is not always easy to do, given the prevalence of publishers’ advance notices, press releases, ‘puffs’ and ‘prelims’. So when an opportunity presents itself to read an author whose work one has never encountered before, it is an opportunity to be grasped as a way of getting straight into the heart of his mystery, unfettered by other peoples’ opinions.

When I enquired in Powell’s bookshop in Chicago about contemporary poets from that city writing at the moment, the helpful shop assistant picked out a few books, among which was Stuart Dybek’s ‘Streets in Their Own Ink’, a collection of 35 poems, published in 2004 in New York by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. My copy was a hardback edition, thereby allowing me to remove the informative dust-jacket, with its bios, critical comments and endorsements prior to making Stuart’s acquaintance. This option is one of the advantages of a hard-back edition, thereby allowing one to read the book without being encumbered by hyperbolic statements (” … only once in a generation do we find a writer who … etc., etc.”).

So it was I set off into Stuart’s book, powered by the full sails of my ignorance, with only the title to hint that it was to be a poetic overview of the poet’s city, and a quotation from Apollinaire. This nod to that most idiosyncratic of poets, whom we lost so tragically and at such an early age, was also a hint of things poignant (and surreal?) to come and was for me a good omen because he is one of my old-time favorites. So it is that, even without blurbs and bios, it is hard to escape being ‘pre-dispositioned’, but at least these prelims are chosen by the poet himself are therefore an integral part of the work itself.

The first poem usually (though not always) sets a tone for a collection and offers a hint of things to come. ‘Windy City’ is such a hint. As a poem of place it unfurls itself in cascades of comparisons, which ripple down through the poem to end with an image that reflects its flowing structure:

I remember closing my eyes as I stepped

Into a swirl of scuttling leaves.

‘Scuttling leaves’ is something of a cliché’ but its position here at the end of the poem gives it new life (and is it one of a poet’s functions to rescue words and phrases and recuperate them?). This is a poem of startlingly original comparisons (‘at night, wind rippled saxophones/that hung like wind chimes/in pawnshop windows’) and a poem well-suited to begin the collection, providing a vivid glimpse of the Chicago known intimately to him. Its fast pace is emblematic of the Chicago I glimpsed during my short stay: a city confident of itself and busy without ever being too preoccupied to stand and chat.

Many poems I find particularly appealing because of the way in which they reach down into my own childhood memories, such as ‘Bath’, which is so evocative of my own childhood and the women who cared for me:

She mops a washcloth down his spine and scrubs

until his bones glow with the inner light of porcelain …

This remembering of childhood events similar to my own and the religious backdrop to many of the poems is deeply affecting to me. ‘Benediction’ I find particularly appealing, with its epiphany-like moment:

For me, the complexity of a grasshopper


from the Congo behind a billboard

was irrefutable proof

of God and his baffling order.

The more tangible experience of everyday life ‘as it is lived’ is evident in poems like ‘Election Day’ with its hints of irregular voting practices (a phenomenon not unknown in my own country):

… wind

muscled the shadows as if the dead

were lurking—lost souls, spirits wandering

like drunks wondering where they’d parked

their cars, ghosts—most of them still voting …

The last poem in this first of three sections, ‘Angelus’, shifts the focus to a higher spiritual level and prepares the reader for the rather mystic tone of section II, which offers a glimpse behind (or beyond) the outlines of the city. The first poem, ‘Sirens’, is preoccupied by what the surface sights and sounds might suggest of another reality somehow running along under the material world, a reality glimpsed sometimes in those dreams during which one awakes suddenly, feeling that surfaces were stripped away and a truer true account of one’s was life laid bare, though in a format hard to decipher:

As dreamers know, it’s possible

to rush in silence toward disaster

the way one rushes toward desire.

In general, the poems in this section have a more spatial structure. There are less of the left-justified and blocky certainties of section I and more of that suggestiveness that couplets and triplets and blank spaces can bring to a piece. ‘Sleeper’, for example, glides down the page, slowly releasing the suggestion that a lot is happening when, seemingly, very little is (‘A sleeper/purifies a room…’) and ‘Seven Sentences’ has an enigmatic feel of ancient maxims being handed down:

It will take more than a new day to erase tonight’s moon.

In ‘Three Nocturnes’ we return to the region of dreams and their revelations (‘…  loneliness/seems just another/way of loving/only yourself.’)

As I mentioned above, those aspects of a poet’s life which are closely aligned with one’s own are bound to draw a reader closer to a writer and the resulting empathy is bound to contribute to the reasons why a reader ‘likes’ a particular poet more than others. In this section (II) it is Dybeck’s and my own shared experience of a religious upbringing which is aligned. There is too the feeling that this religious faith has never quite left him, no more than it has left me, despite my many rebellions. The way a person is taught to see the world in the formative years stays as the basis of one’s world-view, no matter how many times it seems one has left it behind. I am surprised (and pleased) at the astonishingly naive (and somewhat ‘unfashionable’) reference to the Creator in poems like ‘Benediction’. But then, I have always thought that naiveté (and ‘unfashionabless’!) is one of a poet’s strengths, probably because I am that way myself,

Section III includes some longer poems and therefore gives a wider reading of the concerns broached earlier. The gritty realism of the earlier poems (e.g., ‘Ginny’s Basement’) seems to have blended with the spiritual dimensions of the middle section which is mainly concerned with memory and the trick it can play. The imagery moves more definitely towards the surreal and brings back to mind the quotation from Apollinaire given in the opening of the book.

(Who are the great forgetters

Who will know just how to make us forget such and such a part of the world

Where is Christopher Columbus to whom we owed the forgetting of a continent)

‘Vespers’ is a series of poems, commencing with a short piece in which ‘… an altar boy kneels ringing a bell / at the shoreline of an undertow…’. I have to think a little about the ‘undertow’ bit, but the image of the altar boy sends me back immediately to St James’s Church in Dublin in the 1950s where I shivered through many an early Mass on many a cold morning. This combination of the strikingly clear and evocative alongside the more unexpected images continues through this section, which presents another look, from another angle, at his city and its sometimes eccentric inhabitants:

Beneath a daylight moon, the bag lady

kids called the Hag

foraged doubled beneath the hump

she lugged everywhere.

Other pieces catch the reader’s attention. In a poem beginning ‘What was the record wingspan for a crucified Christ?’, an arresting line in itself, the poet ends with a somewhat surreal memory:

Once, when I thought I was in Love,

I was sure I recognized the imprint of her lips

on the wounds of his feet.

The poem that follows the ‘Vespers’ series stand alone. ‘Revelation’ and also is concerned with memory and the way memory works. Or rather … just suppose it didn’t work?

Suppose the past could not be recalled

any more than we can foretell the future

the future…

This is a fascinating, thought-provoking poem which, in my view, would work even better if the last stanza were omitted.

‘Anti-Memoir’, the series of poems that concludes the book, takes up where ‘Revelation’ left off and continues with a close examination of the workings of memory, visiting various streets of the city, some ‘… whose name and numbers / have been erased, although at dusk / smoke from its chimneys still hovers / as filmy as black lingerie’ and other streets ‘without trees, without seasons’. These are ethereal and surreal landscapes where ‘grated pawnshops appear / to jail all the lovely instruments / condemned to exile by electric guitars’ – this last image a neat reference back to the opening poem of the collection ‘Windy City’ where

At night, wind rippled saxophone

that hung like wind chimes.

in pawnshop windows …

There is a poem too that echoes the title of the book (‘This is a street whose tentacles / ravel about you, drawing you in, / la calle en su tinta, / a street stewed in its own ink). But, ethereal or surreal, these are the poet’s familiar places where

Alone, along a street that’s suddenly

like any other, you’re blessed

simply to continue

another night’s walk home.

This is an accomplished collection, carefully presented. Sometimes perhaps alliteration is employed too much (‘… the complexity of a grasshopper catapulting from the Congo…’) and sometimes too many images employed too close together can result in a loss of vividness overall (‘The walls are a journal kept by crowds / passing into a phantasmagoric mural, / graphite coats and tablets of tenements / with the scorched patina of angels…’). However, these are minor quibbles. This is a poetry that appeals to me, with its weighed words (the word ‘Nacre’, for instance, in ‘Sleepers’. I had to look it before I could appreciate how apt a word it is for the work it has to do) and its weighed lines. There is no flab here. In my view, less is always more, and this is one of the reasons I have always found poets like Whitman tedious.

Deceptive effortlessness is also a hallmark of good writing and the more especially, perhaps, of good poetry. To disguise the midnight oil and elbow grease, to have the graceful line be just that and unremarkable until the reader pauses for a closer look and is astonished at the ligaments and tensed tendon imperceptible beneath – this is the real business.

As regards the dust-jacket and the endorsements I eschewed in the name of direct access, it is no surprise to find now that a Sandra M. Gilbert compares his work to Eliot’s early poetry such as ‘Preludes’. Also no disagreement from me when a Geoffrey Wolf says the poems ‘consecrate a shadowed, alternate city of dreams and retrospection’ (but why ‘consecrate’?) and I agree with Lawrence Joseph that these poems are ‘ultimately poems of praise’. In the world of inflated extolling so often a feature of back-cover blurbs it is always satisfying to find, after you have read the book, that they confirm your opinions rather than contribute to them.

I realize that this review is somewhat self-defeating in the sense that, should you read it before you have read Stuart’s book you cannot follow its advice. But maybe next time you come across a complete stranger’s work you will venture into its jungles … alone?


About the author: Steve Dybeck’s books include I sailed with Magellan (FSG, 2003), The coast of Chicago (Picador, 2003), and a previous volume of poetry, Brass Knuckles. His writing has been frequently anthologized and has appeared in numerous periodicals, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, Poetry, The Paris Review and Triquarterly. He has received several major awards, including a PEN/Malamud Prize and a Pushcart prize.




























Crannog 40 Cover by Robert Ballagh: 'Bloom on the Diamond Stone'
Crannog 40
Cover by Robert Ballagh:
‘Bloom on the Diamond Stone’

Another Crannog Magazine full of good things and with the added bonus of a cover designed by our own internationally acclaimed artist Robert Ballagh (‘Bloom on the Diamond Stone’).

My best pick of the poems is entitled ‘Amuse Bouch, the Ortolan’ by Anne Harding Woodworth (p.7) which describes how a type of small song bird  – an ortolan –  is trapped, cooked and then eaten whole and entire in a particularly gruesome way (an ‘amuse bouch’ is a single, bite-sized hors d’oeuvre). I saw this meal enacted on TV some time ago, and the images have stayed seared  on my consciousness ever since.

‘The plucked and footless morsel roasts for eight minutes // in a ramekin*, goes whole into the mouth / but not without the amusing ritual of the napkin held / so that delicious vapours steam into the gourmand’s nostrils …’

(*a ramekin is a small dish)

The event is summed up by the poet in the last line as being equivalent to ‘eating song’ which I found exactly right. Like the poet, I think it an horrific way of eating the unfortunate bird. This is, of course, a kind of squeamishness on my part, but I’m heartened to see that someone else shares my feelings. The language of the poem – coldly and descriptively relentless – is well-suited to its subject. I thought it a top-class poem. I must mention also that there is another classy poem by Ann Howells – ‘Sage of St George’ – on the page opposite (p.6).

Many times when I read a poem by Geraldine Mills I feel like throwing in the thesaurus as a poet myself because she is so good. ‘Poem as Haw Chutney’ (p.26)  is a marvellous creation:

‘Dump all you’ve plucked into the pot of possibility / with tart of vinegar, the wages of salt / raisins dried down to size.’

I’m not saying one could produce a poem using her recipe but the comparison of the skills of preservative-making and poetry making is strangely apposite. The last stanza is particularly applicable to both ‘disciplines’:

‘… and pour into a clean jar of page / before hiding it in the dark larder of promise, / to mellow, settle, become its own name.’

Quite so.

Michael Farry’s ‘Passage Grave and Shopping Centre’ (p.61) I liked very much because it’s like a poem I’d write myself (only not nearly as well as Michael’s poem, of course), so near is it to my own concerns about unfettered commercial development and its effect on ancient sites (and small towns). ‘Fatal Distraction’ by Pete Mullineaux (p.75) is a poem that gets to the heart of the way we are all wrapped in our mundane distractions to the point of being blind to what’s going on around us. I loved the snappy language. I liked ‘Bog Cotton Rhythm’ too, by Vincent Steed (p. 44). With its strong visual impact is one of those poems that brings to mind one of those beloved old master painting such as Jean Francois Millet’s ‘The Gleaners’ because it is so earthy and grounded in the real.

My own poem ‘Gun Control’ (p.16) is a slighter offering than any of the above, but treats of a very serious subject. It’s not really about the ‘gun control’ that is so much in the news these days, i.e., the limiting of gun ownership, particularly in America. But of course it IS about gun control and has something to say about the mishandling of deadly weapons and the unfortunate consequences that can ensue therefrom. I have a problem with those who think that it is the gun that is the cause of the problems.

Gun Control


This showcase of old firearms

recalls the Lee-Enfield 303

I learned to handle years ago


my left hand cupped below the barrel

right hand firm around the neck

both twisting in against each other


cheek aligned along the stock

the butt-plate hard into the shoulder

eye squared to the sight and then


and only then the finger easing

back into the slack and paused

before the gentle (gentle) squeeze


or else she jumps into the recoil

and fires wide and leaves a bruise

and worse: he now knows where I am.

There are lots of other great poems by great poets too numerous to mention. And Crannog is of course a platform for short stories too and one which had great impact

The Crane Bar, Galway
The Crane Bar, Galway

when read by its author at the well-attended launch night in The Crane Bar was ‘The Perception Illusion’. Rebecca Kennedy invested her story with great energy and managed to get the dialogue exactly right for all her characters. It’s a comic narrative with something of a serious undertow and with just the right mix of both. A very amusing, entertaining piece of writing.

Crannog is edited by Sandra Bunting, Ger Burke, Jarlath Fahy and Tony O’Dwyer. They are to be congratulated on reaching the 40th issue of this fine magazine, helped along the way by The Arts Council, Galway City Council, Galway Language Centre and The Galway Study Centre. Crannog accepts poems and stories three times a year. See http://www.crannogmagazine.com



The Stony Thursday Book No.14

It doesn’t seem like a year has passed since the last ‘Stony Thursday Book’ appeared! Nevertheless, it’s that time of year  again and this annual collection of contemporary poetry has arrived in the post. This anthology  has been very kind to me over the years and I am very gratified to be included once again in this 40th anniversary edition, edited by Mary O’Donnell.

There are 138 poems here, and many illustrious names, including Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Macdara Woods, Kevin Higgins and Fred Johnson, to mention just a few. So it is that, with such a welter of talent on display, I must confine myself in this brief review to those poems which appealed strongly to me personally.

I liked Graham Allen’s ‘Divorce’ (p.5), with its searing sense of despair. I would be surprised to find that this poem was not based on actual experience: ‘Somewhere in a trail of grey dust / lie all the stories you thought you had secured.’

‘The Request’  (p.17) by Geraldine Mitchell is a short poem with great impact. A disadvantaged student asks the poet to allow him (her?) a pass in a final exam. But the request is fraught with difficulty because although it is really ‘A small request’ , the poet is caught in a dilemma. ‘I have a home, / a job, firm ground beneath my feet./Surely not too much to ask?’ A decision has to be made. Crucially (for the poem), we are not told of the decision. It is a tribute to the poem that it is impossible to give an adequate idea of it in prose.

Patrick Deeley’s ‘Cleft in Metal’ (p.56) displays his ever-present gift for a keen observation of nature’s  little-r people, Kingfishers, otters and vixens have populated some recent poems. Here we have the wren, worried about her nest being too near a chainsaw’s blade: ‘The wren’s headache is to get her little brood / out alive. Out of a cleft in the band-saw’s metal jaw, / away beyond the saw-teeth’s seething spin.’ I have written elsewhere about ‘bird-poems’ (see my review of the recent Boyne Berries 18) and how they can often be annoyingly ‘cutesy’ but this one does not fall into that category. It puts me in mind of the many ’empiricist’ nature poems of Eamon Grennan.

Several other poems caught my attention. For instance: ‘Ouija’ by Brian Kirk (p.99), a poem which has much to do with the loss of innocence; and Michael Farry’s  ‘Swordswoman’ (p.152),  a poem that keeps the reader on edge (no pun intended!) and at the same time has a dash of humour – a strange combination that works very well.

Opposite a fine poem by Mary Melvin Geoghegan on p.66 (‘Ten Years to

 The River Griffeen, Lucan
The River Griffeen, Lucan

Pluto’) you will find my ‘River after Rains’, a poem written after my many years of trying to pluck out the heart of the mystery of the River Griffeen which flows through a park near me. Sometimes I’ve come close, but most times…

River after Rains

  “…there is nothing with which it compares.

Tell me, how can I explain?” (Hanshan, trans. Robert Henricks)


So many water-words diluted

in the daily flow: how we are

inundated by our work,

how guarantees are water-tight,


election pledges watered-down,

how one exception can throw open

floodgates, how in retrospect

our quarrels become storms in tea cups


and our grand designs, when tested,

often don’t hold water. Like

my early certainty this morning

I could turn your torrents into words.



Boyne Berries 18
Boyne Berries 18

Another fine issue of Boyne Berries from the Boyne Writers’ Group, which was founded in 2006 and meets twice monthly in the Castle Arch Hotel in Trim, Co. Meath. In this poetry business, where magazines come and go, to be heading for your 10th anniversary is no mean achievement!

Issue 18 was edited by Orla Fay who again has done a fine job of work. Well, I would say that wouldn’t I, since she has included one of my poems?— But there are many other poems which justify this praise. The book’s cover features a blackbird, and the first poem is entitled ‘Too Many Bird Poems’ by Paddy Halligan and he never spoke a truer word or wrote a truer poem. I am so tired of swallow poems and swan poems and other sorts of cutesy bird poems that  I’m afraid to go out into the garden in case I end up writing one.  There is course a long tradition of great ‘bird’ poems – Think of Shelley’s wonderful ‘To a Skylark’  with the great

4 Aug.1792-8 July 1822
4 Aug.1792 – 8 July 1822


“We look before and after

And pine for what is not:

Our sincerest laughter

With some pain is fraught;

Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

However, I understand Paddy’s irritation at some of the ‘bird’ poems that find their way into print. It just seems too easy sometimes. I love his last two lines:

“I may even make an allusion to Peresphone

To keep the others happy, and not a lonndubh in sight.”

A very enjoyable, humorous poem. A poem that says something that needed to be said!

Another poem I really liked was Adrienne Leavy’s ‘Death of a Cowboy’. This is a lament for a family member, lightened somewhat by references to the iconography of the Cinema Western. Probably this was the favourite genre of the lamented one. Anyway, a lament is always the more poignant when it is not overwhelmingly full of grief. The balance is hard to strike but Adrienne  manages it well in this fine poem:

“Now we find ourselves thinking, how did Death come to you—

did it happen quickly, like a hero in a John Ford western,

or were you riding towards oblivion for a long time.”

I have heard Anne Tannam reading her work many’s the time, so I can actually hear her soft voice when I read ‘Thanksgiving’. It’s another of her joyful, optimistic poems that pick you up, dust you down, and make you feel that maybe, just maybe, you can start all over again.

“Speaking of miracles, what about duvets, pillows,

clean warm sheets, the quiet healing of a deep sleep …”

Patrick Chapman’s poem ‘July’ is one that affects me personally because I believe it refers to a mutual friend who passed away last July. It’s about other people too and in this way it is broadened out onto that ‘universal’ plane so necessary in a poem. Sad reading, but good, well-crafted reading. A very moving poem.

So many good poems – too many to mention. For instance, If I were to talk of Clare McCotter’s stunning ‘Ghost Children’ this short review would turn into a very long review.

“Do not waste your time hanging spirit traps

bright clothes hold no charm … “

Of the stories, I really enjoyed ‘My cat, my bad my lot’ from my old friend Donal Moloney (who also had a story in  ‘The Moth’  magazine recently … quite an achievement!). Unlike with poetry, one can’t say much about stories in case one gives the game away but I will say that I do not think I have read a story with a culinary flavour before! Really good. Also I liked Caroline Carey Finn’s ‘Cats’. Mary Gunn’s story ‘Never too Late’ was also enjoyable – I think Jimmy and Laurie would make a good match … if he keeps up his courage! And, as with the poetry, the items I mention here are just a very few of the great material in the magazine.

My own poem is simply a celebration of the birth of a child:

Making Room

 for Gil

Far out on the edge of things

the stars have had to shift this morning

to make room for you, obeying

that which Archimedes noisily

proclaimed, or that which is maintained

about a butterfly’s wing beat

having the power to set off hurricanes.


It is the rule that anything that enters

must shove over something else

and so it is this day that molecules,

discommoded by your advent,

must now seriously recalculate,

adjust themselves, create a space

for this new member of the cosmos.


Flex a toe or twitch an eyelash

and past Saturn’s coloured rings

and Jupiter’s red spot there will be slight

but quite significant displacements,

tidings of your safe arrival rippling

back across the vast aethereal ocean

towards the Primum Mobile.

 Boyne Berries 18 is available through the Boyne Berries website http//boyneberries.blogspot.ie  at €10 incl. P&P.