Thanks to the generosity of the Irish Writers Centre I was able to partake of a week-long residency in Florence as the guest of St Mark’s English Church in early October 2019. During the week, I gave an evening reading of my work and held a workshop some days later in which I showed how one of my poems progressed from the status of being a vague idea to being a published piece in The Irish Times. I was very taken by the enthusiastic reaction of the participants on both occasions.

Narrow thoroughfares

Apart from these duties, my days were filled with wandering around this beautiful city and exploring its famous piazze and intriguing narrow streets. The church of Santa Maria Novella was as beautiful as I remembered from twenty-five years ago when I first spent a few days here (and when I could tramp around tirelessly from dawn to dusk. Not so now!). And to make the visit to the church even more exciting, this time it included an exhibition of Leonardo’s groundbreaking experiments — in art and in science – which was so stunningly presented that I am sure the Great Man himself would have been pleased.

Leonardo: The Adoration of the Magi

The majestic Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery were of course de rigueur. The gallery is a work of art in itself, quite apart from its magnificent contents. Again Leonardo: how marvellous his Adoration of the Magi, which he left unfinished. And here I have to say how much I have always found intriguing an artist’s unfinished works and the glimpse they give into his (or her) ideas and methods of approaching a subject. Think of those unfinished statues that Michelangelo left with the half-formed figures seeming to struggle out of the marble. Marvellous.

Michelangelo: The Battle of the Centaurs (1492)

Speaking of whom, I made a visit to the Casa Buonarotti in the Via Ghibellina and, yes, I was aware that it was not actually his house (no more than the Dante House in Via Santa Margherita was ever Dante’s house) but was bought by Michelangelo the Younger, himself a man of letters and the arts, who employed many of Florence’s leading artists of the time (including Artemisia Gentileschi) to decorate the building. As such, it is a tribute not only to Michelangelo but to the entire Italian Renaissance as well. Not to be missed by any visitor interested in that great flowering period of the arts in Italy.

When I had mastered the bus routes, I took time to ramble a little around the suburbs in search of second-hand bookshops and to sample something of city life away from the city centre and the Great Sights. I was pleased at the sight of groups of people chatting on their piazzas or sitting out dining in front of their ristoranti. Their casual groupings reminded me of those figures Canaletto put into his painting to make his depiction of great buildings and edifices a little less overpowering. The general air of relaxation and unstressed living was infectious and in great contrast to the trafficy, tourist-crowded inner thoroughfares. I enjoyed the Great Sights as much as anyone else of course, but it has to be admitted that one can tire of Great sights and something in me relished the moments spent reading outside a coffee shop a book picked up from one of the many independent bookshops specialising in used books.

Orto Botanico, Via Micheli 3

Also somewhat out from the centre of the city is the Orto Botanico (Botanic Gardens) which provided me with a measure of much-needed tranquillity. There are many gardens in Florence but this one happened to be on the itinerary I had set myself for the day. An hour or two of sitting close to Mother Nature is always very restoring. This Orto Botanico (in Via Micheli) does not compare with our own in Glasnevin either in scale or attraction, but is wonderful nevertheless. In fact it is a ‘working’ garden, part of the University of Florence and it was interesting to see students engaged in the sketching and photographing plants, presumably for further study and analysis. It is located in a quiet area and was therefore doubly tranquil. Greenery is always welcome. It’s the Andrew Marvel in me (and I believe in everyone) that loves to retreat ‘To a green Thought in a green Shade‘.

St Mark’s English Church is the focal point for English people (and English-speaking people) in Florence and here I must thank its Chaplain and management personnel for making my stay such a pleasant one. The church is itself is an historical part of Florence, stemming I believe from the era of ‘The Grand Tour’ and is the venue for various cultural events throughout the year. During my stay, no evening passed but the strains of the choir rehearsing for their next event or the soaring notes of opera made their way up to my apartment. During my week a well-attended production of La Boheme was mounted.

Il Ponte Vecchio

What else is there to say about this magical city of the Medici and its eternally courteous citizens? You will get a lot of information from any decent guide book but there’s nothing like a sampling of the real thing. Like taking a stroll across the Ponte Vecchio and down along the Arno in the evening when the traffic has died down. At the Ponte Santa Trinita, you can pause at the corner of the bridge where Dante met Beatrice and was so hurt when she wouldn’t look at him because she had found out that he had flirted with someone else, a moment forever captured in Henry Holiday’s famous painting and one of the many great moments forever associated with this great city. Book your tickets now.

… and NOW: the Ponte S. Trinita (somewhat less romantic)
THEN (according to Henry Holiday) ...

I am very pleased to have attended the Association of Writers’ Programs (AWP) conference in Tampa, Florida, earlier this month (March 2018) at the invitation  of Salmon Poetry and with financial assistance from Culture Ireland. download.jpg

The response to the Salmon Poetry presence at its own bookstall stTampa1.jpgand at the event was very positive. A number of Salmon publications were on sale from both American and Irish authors (the latter being myself and Anne Fitzgerald) who were on hand to talk to visitors and sign books. There was also the opportunity to provide more general information about Ireland (much in demand).

This conference was a large event and was very well attended by a considerable number of people over four days, organised yearly by the AWP in various US cities. It included presentations/talks each day on various literary topics, formal and informal readings, meetings between writers, and a large book fair. There was a formal Poetry reading organised by Salmon Poetry at ‘The Portico’, a venue in Downtown Tampa for Salmon poets which was well received and open to all. I had the opportunity to meet several American authors, including a favourite of mine, James Tampa2.jpgRagan.

I attended a number of events/presentations spread over the duration of the conference. These varied from those connected with poetry (‘Beyond Frost’s Fences: New England Poetry with Ethnic Roots) and the essay (‘Making Room for Essayist Thinking during Fraught Times’), which are my own particular writing areas, to more general topics (‘Native American and Latino Fiction: Intersections on Narrative as Form and Force’). I was also able to attend several readings which showed me some new methods of presentation and performance of my work. Meeting and exchanging ideas with my American counterparts was also very welcome.

Tampa3.jpgSalmon Poetry plans to continue its yearly visits to the AWP Conference next year (in Portland, Oregan). Meanwhile, I will continue to read at venues in Ireland and UK in order to maintain book sales and hope to build on contacts I made in Tampa in order to further sales in the USA.

I found it all an inspiring, if somewhat overwhelming, experience. I was introduced to many different viewpoints and writing methods and somewhat taken out of my usual ‘comfort zones’. I made numerous connections with other creative writers/MFA organisers which I hope will facilitate the exchange of work/ideas in the future. I will continue work on my fourth collection which is scheduled for publication by Salmon in 2020/21.

My thanks particularly to Jessie Lendennie of Salmon for facilitating this very productive visit.

[Note: The AWP conference is open to all (see the AWP site) although to apply for government funding for a travel grant the attendee must have an invitation from a publishing company participating in the conference]

Cover Its Time.jpg         t_vacantpossession.jpg                salmon logo.jpg

  ‘It’s Time’ by Eamonn Lynskey   and  ‘Vacant Possession’ by Anne Fitzgerald

 

 

 

 

Sue Norton (back row,extreme right) and her DIT Creative Writing class

Sorry I didn’t get time to blog this before now! I mean the terrific two hours I spent with the creative writing class at DIT Kevin Street last month  doing a workshop. What a very appreciative group they are and how lucky is Sue Norton, their tutor, to have them on her timetable. We looked through a few of my poems, including ‘Returning Swallows‘ (from my first collection ‘Dispatches and Recollections’, see below) which I find always works very well to give a sense of form and personal content. The groups’ comments and analyses were very perceptive, and so much so that I was able to use the themes and preoccupations of the poem to develop towards genuine on-the-spot creative writing  within the workshop. What a great moment it is when you get to engage actively in creative writing with a group rather than be just handing out hints, tips and prescriptions  and talking about it. Not all groups are so fired up! We finished off with a bit of slam writing and, again, the material produced from the random 5-word shout was really good, and varied between the thought-provoking and the hilarious, with many combinations thereof.

My thanks to Sue for the invite to give the workshop and to her merry band of young men and women for making it work so well.

RETURNING SWALLOWS

(for Mary O’Keeffe, Carrowkeal, Crusheen, Co.Clare)

What should I tell the swallows come from Egypt

to my eaves? That they can now no longer

count on reckless hospitality? My

younger neighbours, all grown modern-wise

about house-maintenance and the new emulsion paints

Remark how nests besmirch the white facade

of this my house, new renovated. How

so easily one can rid the roof of all these

singing loafers never did a hand’s turn

all these years around the place but foul

the sills…  Still, all these years to travel

from the Valley of the Kings to Country Clare–

to wheel, dive yearly find the selfsame spot

atop the brick, behind the gutter’s kind

projecting rim. And I, grown all these years

much better at defining miracles, can

merely stand out on the lawn at evening

marvelling at their punctuality, their

single-minded industry, their

self-assurance in the scheme of things.

(from ‘Dispatches & Recollections’ Lapwing Publications 1998, ISBN 1-898472-35-1)

Gave a reading to a Creative Writing class at the DIT Kevin Street, on Wednesday last (21.04.’10). And what a great bunch they are! Very interested and appreciative as to how I came to write some specific poems and in what I had to say en route about the writing process and the importance of the spoken word. I took ‘Returning Swallows’ as an example to show how a poem grew from something my Co. Clare mother-in-law said when people told her she should try to stop the swallows coming back to nest again in the eaves of her newly-painted house. Quite an ‘eco-poem’, although I didn’t myself appreciate that slant at the time (It was published 1991 and written about 2 years previously. I include it at the end of this post). I also went through ‘The Orange Bus’, a poem based on a series of drawings my son did after a school outing when he was very young. I still find the innocence of the drawings very moving. Such complicated things set down in such simple ways!

I used my ‘Gloria Mundi’  poem (‘The Glory of the World’) to draw some poetic attempts out of the class– and I succeeded!– I told you they were great!  All three of these poems come from my first collection of 1998, ‘Dispatches and Recollections’ , which contains some of my earliest poems and, I think, some of my most direct and lyrical and I have always found they go down well in class.

Finally, we ended up with an ‘open mic’ based on five words called out at random. And such good stuff! So, thanks to Huda (Open Mic winner!) Martin, Matts, Leanne, Morgan and the several other wonderful people whose names I can’t remember. And of course a big THANK YOU to Dr Susan Norton, the class tutor, for having me in. A great two hours was had by all. So, well done, class, and I hope I’ve been some small help to you all. And GOOF LUCK in all your future exams!

RETURNING SWALLOWS

(for Mary O’Keeffe, Carrowkeal, Crusheen, Co.Clare)

 

What should I tell the swallows come from Egypt

to my eaves? That they can now no longer

count on reckless hospitality? My

younger neighbours, all grown modern-wise

about house-maintenance and the new emulsion paints

remark how nests besmirch the white facade

of this my house, new renovated. How

so easily one can rid the roof of all these

singing loafers never did a hand’s turn

all these years around the place but foul

the sills… Still, all these years to travel

from the Valley of the Kings to County Clare —

to wheel, dive, yearly find the selfsame spot

atop the brick, behind the gutter’s kind

projecting rim. And I, grown all these years

much better at divining miracles, can

merely stand out on the lawn at evening

marvelling at their punctuality, their

single-minded industry, their

self-assurance in the scheme of things.

(from ‘Dispatches and Recollections’, 1998, Lapwing (Belfast)

ISBN189847235 1