My sincere thanks to all who came to the launch of my book ‘It’s Time’ at Books Upstairsin 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!
Anyone assembling a poetry collection usually has difficulty organising around a ‘central theme’. One discovers that, rather like a musical composition, a theme there is, but it surfaces in different ways in different poems, sometimes quite obliquely and sometimes – it seems to the writer – hardly at all. This of course is because the poems probably, and in the case of this collection certainly, have been composed over a somewhat lengthy period of time, during which the writer herself has been changing all the while even though remaining essentially the same. Which goes to prove that poets really are just like other human beings, after all.
So it is that ‘So Long, Calypso’, as a collection has a number of different, we will call them, strands. However, if one were to risk pointing out a central concern it would probably range around those pieces that deal with a sense of place, of home, of self. ‘Treading Out Home’ (p.36) is such a poem:
‘Pick a village or a city. At a pinch / a street will do…’
– Yes, even one’s ‘home’ is a somewhat random circumstance. Very few people have had the complete freedom to choose where they live. Mortgage rates, personal income and so many other constraints intervene, but once one is settled there it’s probably going to be ‘home’ for some time and so will become part of you. And you will become part of it:
‘… day by day, / quite soon you find you’ve walked yourself a past / where time and place entwine and pave your way / to history you’ve chosen to outlast…’.
And we never forget our former places, our former ‘homes’, ‘abodes’. They will have formed us in many ways, even though we may not have noticed this at the time. Maybe not until we read poem like this. And when the time comes to leave forever a place one has for a long time called ‘home’
‘…it’s not possible / to leave without taking a moment first / to look around…’
as Liz observes in ‘Lot’s Wife’ (p.37), a poem placed, significantly, opposite the previously mentioned ‘Treading Out Home’.
This concern can also be sensed in poems such as ‘Tenement’ (p.18), ‘Moscow’ (p.34) and, in an indirect way, in ‘Glasgow Central’ (p. 29), a poem that is superficially merely a re-run of the announcements one would hear in that railway station while waiting for that train and the ensuing announcements while travelling on it. But the poem is more than this: one gets to travel through exotic Glasgow, in the space of a page and a half, while sitting in the train, or well … in one’s armchair at home. And of course, this is a poem that gains immeasurably from being read out in a Scots accent (which Liz does surprisingly well). And when you reach the terminus please ensure that you take your luggage and belongings with you.
This preoccupation with one’s place in scheme of things, and the temporary nature of that place also surfaces in poems like ‘On the Old Road to Cork’ (p.7) and in ‘Orbital Mechanics’ (p.16), the last-named a mine of information how to secure a safe rendezvous with another spacecraft while orbiting the earth. An unusual setting, but the concern for secure location is really much the same as in poems already mentioned.
And now, following my tentative essay to point out a dominant theme I will contradict myself immediately by mentioning several other ‘strands of thought’ equally important in this book. That’s the way it is with a poetry collection. Even so, a close reading will often reveal definite links between ostensibly different strands, links sometime unperceived by the writer, who is often too close to his or her material to see them..
A particularly strong element in the collection concerns aging. I’m speaking now of the ‘Angela’ poems, in which we see up-close and personal that stage we all must reach, assuming we are lucky enough to survive into old age. Angela is an old lady now and quite heavily dependent on others, although one gets the strong impression that in her past she had been an independent type. Her discomfort, both physical and mental, at her surroundings and how things have changed for her, now that she is old, is forensically presented. These are poems of ‘last things’ and bring to mind that passage at the end of John’s gospel:
‘…when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted: but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ (John 21:18)
And this is the way of things with Angela. We meet her first in ‘Angela Gazing at the Stars’ (p.10):
‘It’s after midnight. Angela can see / the Milky Way. It wasn’t a bad fall. / She toppled over, how? She can’t recall / exactly what she’s doing, lying here / at this hour …’
She is reluctant to use the alarm that hangs around her neck because she feels she has bothered the neighbours too much already and so she will lie here a while and see if she can’t sort herself out, herself. Old people can be like that.
This kind of starkly realistic portrayal is one of Liz’s great strengths and can be seen throughout the collection, and especially in these five poems. Anyone approaching ‘elderly’ status will recognise the reluctance to give in to the solicitudes of others. One does not know where such neighbourly concern will end. All classes of people fear the loss of independence but it is particularly a sharp feeling in the aged. And problems that might seem quite small can loom quite large for someone not too good on the pins:
‘The biggest problem is that step between / the kitchen and the hall. It’s not so high / but if you have to steer a walker, lean / and lift it at the same time as you try / to make a cup of tea, it might as well / be Carrauntoohil … ‘ – from ‘Angela Becomes Accustomed to Her New Walker’ (p.15).
Other poems in this series are well described by their titles: ‘Angela’s Mishap whilst Unplugging the TV’ (p. 25); ‘Angela Wonders about Emptying the Commode’ (p. 31); ‘Angela Has Doubts about the Kindness of Relative Strangers’ (p. 58), this last an indication of the ulterior motives that might lurk behind kindly concern, and the suggestion that this concern might lead to her removal to somewhere else…
‘ … she can’t /, be left alone here now. She’ll never face / the winter…’
In an indirect way, these poems are also concerned with home, or perhaps with the impending loss of home. And what very human and humane writing is here, with something of the detail of Austin Clarke’s great ‘Martha’ poems. These are my favourite pieces in the book. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? – nearing the seventieth year of my allotted biblical three score and ten?
And then there are what could be termed Liz’s ‘seascape’ poems. The ‘Angela’ poems were concerned with the situation of another individual, though of course they were also concerned with the writer herself in the sense that they prefigured a situation which she could – which we all could – find waiting at the end of things. All poems are personal, but some are more personal than others and these ‘seascape’ poems with their ‘Turneresque’ backdrops of sea-fronts, mists, waves, tides, rain-in-the-face – these poems are quite unlike the ‘Angela’ poems and are, I think, Liz’s most personal in the collection in that they are intimately concerned with the self of the writer: her fears, hopes, ambitions, sometimes all three together.
It is significant that she has chosen to place ‘Assumption Day, Inch Strand’ (p.11) as the first of this series. This poem touches on one her deep concerns: the search for permanence, followed quickly by the realization that this will always prove be out reach:
‘you could wish for a constant / time and place / with less flux / more of a state to settle into / free from this change…’
but shortly afterwards comes the thought that
‘…this is here after all / things just move / then move again’.
There is a dreamlike quality about these ‘seascape’ poems, something that is seen strongly in a poem like ‘Into the Blue’ (p.32). Again, we have the turbulent seafront,
‘the blue mist, a steel rain that pierces / the skin …’.
a scenario already painted in ‘Storm’ (p. 21) and later on in ‘Finding the Waves at Dun Chaoin’ (p. 35). There is the feeling of being overwhelmed by things. Of being ‘knocked off your feet’. Of not being able to cope. Be comforted, Liz, you are not alone.
These ‘seascape/waterscape’ poems are ‘pure’ poems, in the sense that there is no story other than a few moments of focused personal experience, no characters, no implied criticisms of a system or circumstance (as in the ‘Angela’ series) and probably therefore they are nearer to what poetry is about. This series really is, in Eliot’s words, ‘a raid on the inarticulate’. As Liz herself says in ‘On Burning Bridges’ (p. 26):
‘… There’s no guide-book / for this, no boss to blame, no one you took / the order from. The only way to do / it is to do it …’
It is difficult to write such poems, with no support from a narrative or objective context. The writer really is on her own here, facing into the void. And, as writing, in a book of so many fine pieces, they stand out as something of an achievement.
So many other poems to talk about, but this is Liz’s night and so I must allow her at least a little time to strut her stuff. I will just mention ‘Thermopylae’ (p.51) and the title poem, both of which are products of Liz’s extensive reading of the good old classics. She has chosen to depict ‘Thermopylae’, that military stand-off undermined by betrayal, at the point where the defenders’ morale is still high, despite the odds. And the writing is as confident as the speaker in the poem.
Finally, and on a more cheerful note, we must smile at the self-justifications employed by Odysseus as he ditches Calypso. Men are very good at this sort of thing. It’s always the lady’s fault. Though to be fair, he really does have to get home as soon as possible. He is dead right to say
‘… they’ll need me to sort out all the intrigue at the palace …’
Yes, there has been rather a lot going on in his absence and, as I am sure you will remember, Penelope has been very faithful, but there is just so long a gal can stay weaving at her loom.
This is the breezy, insouciant style that Liz does so very well and can be enjoyed in many other poems [‘Root’ (p.22); ‘Flight Taken’ (p.30)]. It is a complete change in tone from some of the more serious poems discussed already and lends variety of colour and register to her collection. Placed at the end of the book, ‘So long, Calypso’ lifts the collection onto another plane where we can feel a little superior (and what’s wrong with that?) to the man who tries to convince us that he is moving on for all the best reasons: you are way out of my league; I don’t deserve you; it will be best for both of us. It was great fun, but it was … just one of those things And so – So long, Calypso!
Save the date! Thanks to Jessie Lendennie & Siobhan Hutson at Salmon Poetry, my third poetry collection ‘It’s Time’ is launching at Books Upstairs, (introduced by Ross Hattaway), alongside the wonder-full Anne Tannam with her collection ‘Tides Shifting across My Sitting Room Floor’, (introduced by Alvy Carragher).
This Galway magazine has done me the signal honour of publishing another poem of mine, ‘Survivor’. I am very pleased to find myself in the company of some fine and well-known writers such as Kate Dempsey, Michael Farry, Brian Kirk and John W. Sexton, as well as some others I have not seen before.
I liked very much the precise demestic details of Kate’s ‘No.1 Mum’ and John’s series of terse tercets. Not sure if the latter could be classed as a sort of haiku selection but they work very well:
how easily the snail
on its skin
and Brian Kirk’s ‘Immanent’ has an immediate appeal to me because it captures that moment (when night is about to ‘fall’) about which I have often written myself.
… The night is ready
like a cat to pounce,
and idly, like a cat,
it paws the moment …
Another poem of twilight time (favourite time of poets!) is from the pen of Michael Farry. ‘Waiting for the Train’ is the title and that is what the poem is about (Michael writes that ‘down to earth’ type of stuff that I like a lot). he catches the atmosphere of the old station, now falling somewhat into neglect where the dying sun casts
a brief drench of rusty brilliance,
kindling the few last clinging beech leaves,
their fallen fellows thick on the disused platform.
My own contribution is a poem written after an illness in which I suggest there may be some similarity between myself and its long-legged subject:
Driving down the Belgard Road
I see again the gossamer evidence
of my sitting tenant, snug
behind the glass of my wing mirror.
Rare the glimpse I’ve had of him
the time we’ve been together, I
so sure the wind would put an end
to his arachnoid acrobatics
but this tiny wight is match
and more for zippy morning breezes,
keen as elephant or moose
or mouse (or me) to cling to life.
In dead of night and lit by streetlamp,
undisturbed by prowling cat
or busy milkman he will toil
to realign his damaged lacework
and, come day, will venture out,
negotiate his deadly silk
to reach his breakfast, all the while
remembering to place his feet
along particular threads he spun
dissimilar from the others, ones
he left bereft of gum. But he
and only he, can tell which ones.
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 email@example.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).
A poem of mine appeared in the online poetry magazine ‘Southword’ last month (issue 31) and it is very good news to be published alongside some really fine practitioners of the art. Hard to pick out particular favorites but the ones I found most striking were Geraldine Mitchell’s Remote Capture who wrote out of a photograph depicting a group of actively energetic young people. The energy is caught brilliantly in the poem. Sinead Morrissey’s Platinum Anniversary also took me in, and her use of space to let the poem breath is really good. And Matthew Sweeney’s Owl Song and its restrained sense of loss I found very appealing. My own poem also speaks of loss, especially during ‘Those First Evenings’.
I am very gratified to be included in the on-line Magazine ‘Stepaway’. In its own words, ‘this is an an award-winning online literary magazine which publishes the best urban flash fiction and poetry by writers from across the globe’. Contributors lead their readers ‘through the streets of his or her chosen city. They do so in one thousand words or less.’
This issue #22 includes poems set in places as diverse as Dublin (me), Moscow (Liz McSkeane), Paris (Seamus Hogan) and several more. Some, ‘Dwelling on Decay’ by Michael Schiffman for instance, do not name the actual place and they are not the less effective for that, perhaps even more effective. Anonymity allows a degree of universality. Michael’s poem is my pick from among the very good material on display in this issue. It is a type of list poem that is not merely a list poem, with people’s histories moving in and out of it. And, despite its title, it has some lyrically luminous descriptions (‘ … a pair of small butterflies / flit among these autumn blooms / (what nectar will they find)’). A really evocative piece.
My own contribution He Walks His Several Cities is a nostalgic piece, which tries to
convey my feelings as I walk today through my Dublin realising that it isn’t quite my Dublin, so much has changed. I came across an old photo in The Irish Times in a piece by Arminta Wallace showing the corner of Westmoreland Street in the 1950s with the old Leyland buses taking up people and I then took a photo of the place as it is today. Unfortunately it’s not a good photo because the view is dominated by roadworks for the new Luas (i.e., metro) line but I did mange to capture a modern a bus. Think how amazed the people of the ’50s photo would have been at the sight of it! The two photos show something of the changes I see around me as I walk the street now, but with that old-photo scenario still playing in my sixty-eight-year-old head! And lest you think I am harking back to ‘the good old days’ well, No Sir! Dublin is a much brighter, cleaner place today than it was back then.
and congratulations go to Darren Richard Carlaw (and his team) on producing such a clean, uncluttered website which forefronts its content so well. As you will read on the site, contributions are welcome. Send one story or poem at a time to firstname.lastname@example.org All submissions should be contained within the body of the email. No attachments.
StepAway Magazine is a nonprofit organization, edited and maintained by volunteers.
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 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 email@example.com. Also on Facebook.