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) ...

The Narrow Land

The Narrow Land is really a fine novel. Christine Dwyer-Hickory treats of the relationship between the american artist Edward Hopper and his wife Jo. It is a tense relationship, withe a lot of resentment on her part over the way her own art has been overshadowed by her famous husband. There is also the story interwoven of a refugee boy from Germany taken in after the war on an American scheme for relocating children left orphans after the war. This is a book which would reward a second reading. Sharp detail, psychological insights and very moving descriptions. 9/10

‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney did not appeal to me, probably because, aged 71, the sexual relationships of teenagers do not hold my interest. However, the problem it is not just that: the book is a rather tedious read and centres around two young people, leaving all the rest of the characters making only incidental presences. I suppose one could say the same about Leopold Bloom in Ulysses but … I don’t think so. Sally’s book is boring. 2/10

Richard Russo’s novel, ‘Straight Man’ has its faults (it goes on a little too long and it has jokey situations that do not quite come off) but it’s a great read. And very amusing. Set in the English Department of a University, it has all the evils to be found in an English Department in a University (or in an English Department anywhere): pride, covetousness. lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. The main character is refreshingly cynical. Well-written. 7/10

This month’s Senior Times (Sept./Oc.t 2019) includes an essay from me on the subject of John Henry Cardinal Newman, which senior readers will remember from their Leaving Certificate days (back in the mists of time) as the author of essays such as ‘The Idea of a University’ which they studied diligently for their exam. Stirring stuff indeed, but an interesting man whose views on education I have increasingly identified with over the years. Next month (October) he will be canonised by the Roman Catholic Church.

Available from Easons and other newsagents

The Irish Times https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/poetry

A new work by Eamonn Lynskey to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, publ. 20 July 2019

Buzz Aldrin (L) on the moon – Reuters/Neil Armstrong/NASA/

20 July 1969 AD

“May the spirit in which we came
be reflected in the lives of all mankind

When we pressed our footprints on your crust
we trod on centuries of endless yearning,
long fragmented into silvery dust,

O Queen of Tides

remembered snatches of old songs and rhymes
addressed to you by poets who disturbed
your tranquil seas with sad, despairing lines

Nightfarers’ Guide

and when we walked the pock-marked desert plains
our mediaeval ancestors believed
were gouged to show the murderous shape of Cain

Translucent Lantern

and sank our probes into your soil to gauge
was Beatrice right to hold the dark spots equal
to the bright and not more dense or rare,

Latona’s Child

and sent back images of figures lumbering
towards a distant hill where high beyond
the outline of a dry horizon’s rim

Apollo’s Kin

we saw our troubled homeland poised above us,
viridescent oceans veiled in cloud,
and felt this day must herald Pax Lunaris.

Eamonn Lynskey’s most recent collection ’It’s Time’ was published by Salmon in 2017.

My thanks to the Irish Times for publishing this poem

My thanks to Mark Ulysses for publishing three of my poems on the websiteLE-Poetry-Writing-May-2019-1-300x248.jpg ‘Live Encounters’. The poems are ‘My father Saved Lives’, ‘Black Saturday 1941 Revisited’ and ‘Duende’. The first is a personal poem, relating to my father who spent some time on the construction of the hospital in Blanchardstown (now Connolly Hospital) where TB patients could be treated. ‘Black Saturday’ deals with the difficulty of forgiving while not forgetting, and Duende came out of an essay by Garcia Lorca in which he eloquently discusses that crucial moment of clarity in the mind that sets off creativity.

There are many other works to be enjoyed, including one from the redoubtable Kevin Higgins who gives a new (sardonic) interpretation to old catch-cries (‘The Man Who Spoke in Slogans’) ‘; and a wry look at the ever-crowded poetry scene (‘Regretfully’)  from Anne Fitzgerald, to mention only a few. Artwork is by Pawel IIgin. You can read ‘Live Encounters’  by clicking  HERE

I must also thank Eamon Mag Uidhir and his merry Sunlight crew for including my poemflare-11-2 ‘A New England Schoolroom c. 1800’ in ‘Flare’, the quarterly ‘narrowsheet’ produced by the long-running Sunflower Sessions. This open-mic event occurs every last Wednesday of the month (except December) and is now located in ‘The Lord Edward’ pub opposite Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin. Copies of Flare (€5) are available at the sessions. NB: The Sessions are always friendly, lively and full of fun. Come along, and not just because of FOMO!

For more information, join meetup.com, like The Sunflowers Sessions on Facebook, or email at: sunflower_sessions@yahoo.com 

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Following my exchange visit to Rome last September 2018, I have written a number of poems inspired by the experience. FUIS (Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori), the Italian Federation of Writers, has kindly published some of this work on its website  http://www.Fuis.it/residenza-letteraria-penne-in-irlanda/articoli4561 You may view these poems and their translations below.

More poems are forthcoming. My thanks FUIS and the Irish Writers’ Union in Dublin for enabling this exchange to take place and to Sig. Simone di Conza for his work as facilitator.

The first poem here published concerns a visit to the Church of San Stefano Rotondo, where its ‘martyr murals’ had much the same effect on me as they had on Charles Dickens when he saw them and wrote about them in his travel essays in  ‘Pictures from Italy’ in 1846. I have allowed the torturers to speak for themselves.

The second poem was inspired by a visit to the famous ‘English Cemetery’ on the outskirts of Rome, properly known as the ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery’, which is the charming final destination of many a famous literary name who happened to be not of the Roman Catholic persuasion. The voice in the poem is that of one of the foremost English ‘Romantic’ poets.

This series of poems will be titled ‘Voices from Rome’ (‘Voci da Roma’) and, with the help of my exchange colleague Anna Maria Robustelli, I provide Italian translations.

 

The murals in the Church of Saint Stefano Rotondo, Rome

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This poor wretch we break with stones,
this woman we dismember live,
this one we stretch until his bones
crack open. Crowds have gathered, gape
at trees we’ve hung with chopped-up torsos,
lopped-off limbs.  No pleas, no groans

deter us, no imploring cries –
we’re limited as to instruments,
employ the means we have, devise
whatever tools we can. We’re skilled
in fire and water but the future
lies in methods more refined.

Despite our arrows, here’s a one
still prays and gazes skyward. But
it’s Jupiter and only Him
we’re told to worship now. For now.
We have our orders: ours a trade
must heed today’s doctrinal whim,

but future days may dawn the hour
these followers of the holy fish
are fated to come into power.
It’s then the rack will creak afresh
and bodies bleed. It’s then the cries
that rise to heaven will be ours.

 

I dipinti murali nella Chiesa 
di Santo Stefano Rotondo, a  Roma

Questo poveretto lo frantumiamo
con le pietre, questa donna la smembriamo
viva, questo lo allunghiamo
finché le ossa non si spezzano.
Folle con occhi spalancati guardono
i torsi e gli arti appesi agli alberi.

Nessun grido o lamento ci scoraggia –
i nostri strumenti sono limitati,
usiamo tutto ciò che abbiamo,
proviamo a concepire nuovi mezzi.
Siamo abili con il fuoco e con l’acqua –
più raffinati i metodi del futuro.

Nonostante le nostre frecce, ecco
uno che prega ancora e guarda al cielo.
Ma è Giove, solo Lui, si adora –
per ora. Abbiamo i nostri ordini:
il nostro mestiere si deve prestare
al capriccio dottrinale del momento,

ma un giorno nel futuro potrebbe vedere
i seguaci del pesce santo destinati
a venire al potere. È allora che
scricchiolerà di nuovo il cavalletto
e i corpi sanguineranno. È allora che
le grida verso il cielo saranno nostre.

Tradotto dell’autore assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli

 

In the Company of Poets at the Non-Catholic Cemetery, 
Rome

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On a beach near Viareggio,
wife and friends surround the pyre,
my boyish face defies the flames –
so tells the legend. Not my body
sea-wracked, friends departed long
before I crackled into ash.

This grave a narrow place, the spirits
spurred me into verse dispersed.
A plaque nearby commemorates
the cinders of a New World scribe,
and everywhere eroded stones
show broken lyres. Stone angels weep.

No angel weeps for me, no urns
stand draped in funeréal folds,
no elegant encomium
ignores my faults. Along the path
that skirts these vaults and monuments –
my modest tablet. Unadorned.

Beyond our strict confinements rears
a giant pyramid born of pride –
but turn, remark the simple headstone
of the one – our frail colossus –
who demanded it be chiselled
that his name was writ in water.

Water ferried me ashore,
and fire reduced my frame to dust.
I share this crowded charnel yard
with jugglers of words, with those
who found their poetry in music,
those discovered it in prose.

So far from all the hurried clamour
of our lives, this field affords
a brooding quietude is bred
of whispering trees and falling leaves.
And silence – like the silence follows
when a final line is read.

Nella compagnia dei poeti
nel cimitero acattolico di Roma

Su una spiaggia vicina a Viareggio,
moglie e amici circondano la pira,
la mia faccia da ragazzo sfida le fiamme –
ecco la leggenda. Non il corpo
sconvolto dal mare, gli amici andati via
prima che diventassi cenere.

Questa tomba è un posto stretto,
gli spiriti che mi hanno spronato a scrivere
dispersi. Una lapide vicina commemora
un poeta del Nuovo Mondo, e ovunque
steli mostrano le lire rotte.
Gli angeli di pietra piangono.

Nessun angelo piange per me
non ci sono urne in pieghe funeree,
nessun encomio elegante
ignora i miei difetti. Lungo il sentiero
che corre accanto a questi monumenti—
la mia modesta targa. Disadorna.

Oltre i nostri confini rigorosi
una piramide nata dall’orgoglio –
voltati e osserva la lapide modesta
dell’uno – il nostro fragile colosso –
che voleva fosse inciso nella pietra
ch’l suo nome era scritto nell’acqua.

L’acqua mi ha traghettato qui,
il fuoco ha ridotto il mio corpo
in polvere. Condivido quest’ossario
con giocolieri di parole, e altri
che hanno trovato la loro poesia
nella musica, o in prosa.

Lontano dal clamore frettoloso
delle nostre vite, troviamo qui
una calma pensierosa, nutrita
di alberi sussurranti e foglie cadenti.
E un silenzio – il silenzio che segue
la lettura di un verso finale

Tradotto dell’autore, assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli

 

My friends at the Lucan book club make the last Wednesday of the month a pleasant experience. It’s always good to talk to people who like reading. ‘A Keeper’ (by Graham Norton) turned out to be rather a flat read. Most people thought it a competent work, which  engaged the reader’s curiosity to the end, but did not consider it a very good book. For my part, I found the plot improbable and the characters poorly drawn. The book’s chapters alternate between ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ and so one has two stories popping up and down as one goes along. I find this construction  confusing, since I prefer a story told straightforwardly without this kind of to-ing and fro-ing. All in all, I would give it 4/10 and would  recommend it to anyone only if they had absolutely nothing else to read. To be fair, it would pass the time. Lukewarmly recommended.

When one reads Christine Mangan’s ‘Tangerine’ , one’s  immedTangerineiate thought is: come back Graham Norton, all is forgiven. This is a hopelessly tangled story that goes nowhere, with two main characters that are almost indistinguishable:  ‘Alice’ and ‘Lucy’.  Separate  alternate chapters are given to each. and again this kind of structure does not appeal to me. Maybe it would work if the  two women were drawn in a way that they appeared different as people. The only difference I could see is that one is silly and the other sillier. A silly book too, and most other people  at the Book Club thought so, though a few were inclined to be less harsh than I. I give it 2/10, 1 because it’s always a success to have a book published and. 2, because I do not doubt that a lot of work went into it. There a ‘puff’ on the cover from Joyce Carol Oates extolling the book’s virtues. Oates is such a great writer herself that I will find it hard to forgive her.  Not recommended.

Eva Dolan’s ‘This Is How It Ends’ is streets ahead of the above two. Again, there’s a lot41buTwNUviL._AC_US218_.jpg of jumping around with chapters dated before and after and before again, which I found confusing. Fortunately, being confused as to when things were happening in relation to other things didn’t impair my reading too much because there is a definite plot-line and  very good characterisation of the  book’s people. There’s a very good description of a woman who has spent a lot of her life ‘protesting’ (on the Greenham Common demonstrations, for instance) and now finds herself aged and alone. And the other characters are also very well drawn. I thought it a good read and would give it 7/10. I took off 3 for it being a bit long-drawn out towards the end. 3? Oh hell, I’ll give it 8/10 and recommend it.

The Lucan Book Club meets in Lucan Library every last Wednesday of the month. Free admission

March 2019