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Another issue of Skylight47 and another selection of poems and essays, provocative, relaxing and informative as always. This issue 10 is something of a milestone, one of the editors, Bernie Crawford, told us at the launch during the ‘Over the Edge’ event in Galway City Library, because they did not expect it would last that long. But it has and is full of good things for the serious reader … and maybe for the not so serious as well! The evening included featured readings from accomplished poets Jessamine O’Connor, Anne Walsh Donnelly and Jacqueline Saphra. Jacqueline had the honour of launching the magazine and several contributors were on hand to read their work.

I liked Mary Lee’s Sunny Day, a deceptively simple poem which opens with the lines

You saunter aimlessly

at the sea’s rimmed mystery:

flow, ebb, alteration,

tranquillity

and reminded me a little of one of my all-time favourites, Henry Vaughan:

Fancy, and I, last evening walkt,

And, Amoret, of thee we talkt;

The West just then had stolne the Sun,

And his last blushes were begun.

It really is hard to write (good) simple poems. Short ones too are no easy matter. I thought Conor McBrierty summed up a lot about present day Ireland in his short poem Crucifixion’. I hope he won’t mind me quoting it in full because it really is a most telling piece:

Jesus hangs on the wall

between the fridge and the phone.

His holy cross lamp is dark,

cable dangling,

swapped for an answering machine.

He died for sins such as this.

Anne Tannam continues her poetic researches into family and generational inheritance in her poem The Image Of, a phrase we hear often when our elders compare us with near relatives. The comparisons are sometimes uncomfortable reminders of how quickly time is passing but we must put up with the fact that this is the way of things. The speaker in the poem sees herself looking out at her from an old passport photo of her mother

come back to tell me what I struggle to accept:

that time, given time, eventually blurs the lines

between each generation, brings us face to face

with a truth we wrestle with for an age …

A very fine poem, focusing in on the reality of things, and there are  many more fine poems and articles. And Orla Fay proves that, no matter how many swallow poems are written, there is always room for another good one, Caught in a Dance:

They fly so close that I could almost touch a wing-tip

but I would be cut in the act so razor-like

are their dives and turns, so close-shaved.

Brian Kirk, besides contributing a poem, provides a review of Liz McSkeane’s latest collection So Long Calypso and there are reviews too of Emma McKervey and Maeve O’Sullivan’s latest productions. However, do not let me give the impression that all the content is as serious as the examples quoted above. There is a lot of fun in this magazine too. What?! (I hear you cry) Fun?!  What sort of poetry magazine is this? — Well, it is a fine magazine, ranging from the serious to the humorous — see for example Kevin Higgins’s My View of Things, though Kevin’s brand of humour is decidedly acerbic:

What I love about lateness is the hope

I might get to slip off home before you turn up …

 Terry McDonagh also has a poem (‘New Ways of Talking’,) describing an unattractive character who happens to be … a writer:

Maestro was a man of few words. He died

before his wife could comfort herself…

My own contribution, Prayer,  falls into the ‘less serious’ category, though I do think there is a serious aspect to the ordeal suffered in waiting rooms and on tortuous bus journeys, when one feels the time could be spent in some more fruitful way …

Prayer

Is there any way to claim back times

when I was only technically living?

Hours accumulated in waiting rooms

with nothing but golf magazines for company?

A celestial credit-note perhaps, for life

spent on those endless odysseys around

the hinterlands of housing estates before

the bus-route finally reached my stop?

 And all the wasted ages hunting car keys,

overdue library books, TV remote,

that other sock, the passport left in a place

where I would definitely find it next time.

Couldn’t. Surely I am due a discount

for those phone calls kept me holding, trapped

inside interminable manglings of Mozart?

I beseech you, Lord, please hear my prayer.

 

Finally I will say it is fitting that the entire back page is given over to a poem by Marie Cadden, who passed away recently and was long associated with Skylight47. She is greatly missed by colleagues and friends.

Skylight47 costs (a mere) €5 plus postage and is available online at skylight47poetry.wordpress.com     The next issue is Autumn 2018 and submissions will be accepted between 1 July & 1 September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My thanks to the editors of Cyphers magazine for including my poem This turning hour and everything intent in issue no. 85.

There is the usual multi-varied selection of styles and subjects in this issue, with a strong representation of poems as Gaeilge where Doireann Ní Ghríofa provides Birín Beo (The Glowing Splinter), with its subtitled reference to the lengthy history behind bonfire festivities on St John’s Eve (ar Oíche Fhéile Eoin), a history that reaches out to her in the last couplet, when a spark flies out from the fire towards her and  leaves a tiny mark:

… póigín dhearg dóite

ar mo leiceann, tatú buan.

(a small kiss burnt 

on my cheek, a lasting tattoo.)

In what can only be a very scattershot approach in selecting a few favourites, I will say I like very much Matthew Sweeney’s poem The Hards where, despite the behaviour of the rough boys in his neighbourhood there is a distinct note of regret that he never became part of their world. I use the word ‘rough’ advisedly because I found the poem had strong evocations of Stephen Spender’s My Parents Kept Me from Children Who Were Rough, especially in the last tercet:

it’s the term that stays because I hear it

still every time I stand on the beach, staring

at those houses I wasn’t allowed to enter.

I have a weakness for such poems because of my own rather strictured upbringing, but this does not explain why I like Bogusia Warden’s A Privilege of Hurricanes with its image-laden, enigmatic lines, each one of which might be detached as an aphorism in its own right:

You have nothing to lean on but this gum shield.

The worse you feel the better you look.

The descriptions would seem to lead to a rather depressing view of the person (or persons) in question, yet there is the feeling that something extraordinary might be in the offing. I’m not sure I have understood exactly what is going on, but if I did understand exactly what is going on it would not be the intriguing poem it is.

Not intriguing but right on the money is Stuart Pickford’s Emily, which is as good an astute observation of recalcitrant teenagers as you’ll get anywhere (and I should know, after 30 years of second-level teaching). Caught outside the school gate rolling a cigarette, she tells him: Strictly speaking, / holding a cigarette isn’t smoking it. He’s snookered.

Eiléan Ni Chuilleanain’s essay Stalking the Negatives suggests ways in which writers can employ figures of denial to add mystery to their work.  She holds that ‘the negative is one of the great resources of language, perhaps analogous to shadow in painting’. One might think immediately of that great Caravaggio in the National gallery and how much the surrounding darkness adds to the drama of the Jesus’s betrayal. The essay includes clarifying quotations from Siobhan Campbell, Ger Reidy and John Murphy. And from John Milton. What more could one ask?

There are many other great contributions in this issue, and I must salute my old friend Richard Halperin for his fine offering, The Snow Falls, and say how privileged I am (no, really) to share page 42 with him with my own contribution, the title of which leads into the poem:

This turning hour and everything intent  

 

on furnishing another day, I see

a flake of sunlight slant from branch to leaf,

and raindrops wink among the clothes-pegs.

 

On the cobwebbed lawn still wet with dew

a plastic laundry basket spills its colours,

ivy writes illuminated text

 

that tells how night is trembling on the cusp

of morning, blade and bark awakening

and every moment dying towards the dawn.

 

The magazine was launched in the regal ambience of Strokestown House during this year’s Strokestown Poetry Festival 2018, with several contributors reading their work.

Cyphers is an occasional publication on Literature and the Arts, supported by the Arts Council (An Comhairle Ealaíon) and the Arts Concil Of Northern Ireland. For information on  submission detail, subscription & etc., see www.cyphers.ie.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a poem of great humanity and understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eamonn Lynskey (c) 2018

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

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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]

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

 

 

 

 

Reviewed by Liz McSkeane

The title of Eamonn Lynskey’s third collection poetry, “It’s Time,” evokes a sense of meditation – on life, on the urgency of tackling our life’s work, whatever that may be. The reader expecting such reflections will not be disappointed. But from these fifty-two poems, the understated and ambiguous title unravels to reveal a tapestry of interconnected themes that are not only personal, but social and political as well.

The title poem, which opens the collection, conjures a moment of renewal, a spring day in the suburbs when images of dead leaves and a wheelie bin combine to make the familiar strange:

“There’s something sharp

about the sunlight blinds the eye this morning –

stems have straightened up, the wheelie bin

has taken on a strange new lustre.”

The beautiful elegy, “A Connaught Man’s Rambles” distils the harshness of life for Irish emigrant workers in a personal recollection of the poet’s father. A stroll in the country, “Nunhead Cemetery” takes the poet, and us, down memory lane and face-to-face with

“…the narrow span

          between the spark and its extinguishing.”

A reprieve from a brush with mortality breathes palpable relief in “That Moment When” and “Home an Hour”. And presiding over all, the shade of that “Thief” who comes in the night and is not just after your money…

“It’s Time” is also a call to action, in the sense that ‘It’s time something was done about’ – what? In “Down to Africa” and “Lament,” the latter an elegy to the lost and disappearing life of the Great Barrier Reef, the poet casts his appalled gaze over the legacy of destruction and environmental degradation our human intervention has wreaked on nature.  He also challenges us to remember the anguish wrought by conflict and wars, past and present. Images here are concrete and often shocking: the voice of a “A Professional in Charge” brings a horrifyingly clinical view of the execution of Anne Boleyn.  “Warrior” subjects the skeleton of a slain Neolithic warrior killed in battle to modern forensic analysis. “Civilian Executions, Minsk, 1941” and “Lists” remember the anonymous victims of atrocities and war, bystanders in the drama of history’s disasters.  And the great events of history are skilfully intermingled with the minutiae of small lives: “ Metzu’s Women” in the past, the poet’s own life laid bare in the clutter of objects being cleared out by unknown successors in “Day of Judgement.”

Much of the power of this vision is conveyed through the evocation of everyday objects:  a stone-age knife, random objects displayed in a museum, a photograph. The poet’s scrutiny has an ethnographic quality that imbues simple artefacts of the past, and the present, with the lustre of talismans. Lynskey is at his best when his insights are mined from these vignettes of shared humanity, evoked through the everyday and sometimes sinister uses of daily objects. These images permit readers space and freedom to make connections, draw our own conclusions. Only occasionally does the poet succumb to the temptation to interpret on our behalf, such as “This Photograph” and “My Song is Simple” which tip over into didacticism. But these lapses are few. This is a book that disconcerts, not least in tenderness not only for our neighbour, but for the Other, such as

“two English boys who disembark

To angry streets at Eastertime”

“It’s Time” is engaged poetry, imbued with great passion and compassion that smoulders, slow-burning, in the mind of the reader long after the “Final Notice” has been given.

“It’s Time,” (ISBN 978-1-910669-86-0) Price: €12, is available from good bookshops and from Salmon Poetry at  http://www.salmonpoetry.com

Note: Liz McSkeane is a published poet, novelist and short story writer. A former winner of The Hennessy Award, she is the director of Turas Press. 

My local Book Club in Lucan Library regularly blasts me out of my comfort zones and download.jpginto the world of the Modern Novel. So it is I read ‘We Were the Mulvaneys’ (1996) by Joyce Carol Oates and found it a really good book.

It is written in that ‘tumultuous’ style of many American novelists (Saul Bellow comes to mind) where there is so much information constantly thrown at the reader that it is a dizzying experience at times. It is tempting to say that there is often just too much to take in and that such an amount of tiny (and great) detail interrupts the flow of the narrative. However, it is  this ‘overflow’ that is very much the style of the novel and gives it its momentum and its charm. And these details do indeed contribute to a very rounded description of the characters and provide information for the reader on the kind of people they are reading about, and also without that annoying method of halting everything so that a (sometimes rather lengthy) ‘descriptive paragraph’ can be inserted.  Corinne, for example, the mother who is at the heart of  the book and its concerns, is conveyed as the kind of person who could be described as ‘scatty’, but who also has a business sense which stays with her despite the demands of raising a family of five. One does not find out about these facets of her personality in a couple of descriptive paragraphs but from her words and actions  throughout the book. This is rather like the way one finds out about people in real life. 

I do have one difficulty with the book and it concerns its central event. This event occurs when one of the family undergoes a traumatic experience. I do not want to say any more and ‘spoil’ the book for a future reader, but I will say that I am not sure that the ensuing effects of this event on the family would necessarily be as great and widespread as Oates depicts, even though they are so serious and, indeed, devastating.

But of course I could be wrong. Trauma affects different families in different ways. On a personal level I know that a tragic deed can have far reaching consequences because when I was very young, there was a terrible event involving a young woman who was a namesake of mine. Subsequently and all through my youth I was constantly asked if I was related to her (because of our slightly unusual surnames. I am not directly related, as far as I know). The resonance of the event has died down as the years have passed and as I have grown older and yet just recently a stranger, somewhat older than I, surprised me with the old question: ‘Are you at all related to that unfortunate girl in that dreadful case some years ago?’ I was really taken aback at the way that event is still rippling outwards and so it is that I am very aware that the depiction of the long-term effects of the event  at the heart of the Joyce Carol Oates book could be entirely true.

There are the usual conjectures on the cover as to whether this is finally ‘The Great American Novel’ we have all been waiting for. Maybe, maybe not. But it’s certainly a great novel. And it’s not just another ‘entertaining’ work. It really strikes into one, and makes one think about things.

The same is true of ‘A Book of American Martyrs’ (2017), which I have just today (31.01.2017) finished. Over 700 pages long, it is a gripping novel, and a riveting read throughout. However, the last 100 pages might have been cut, I think, because they seem like something of an ‘add-on’ and the final pages seem a bit like a search for that ‘closure’ that we all seek after some horrendous event in our lives. However, it is my experience that, frequently, there is no closure possible and so this part of the novel does not ring entirely true to me.

Nevertheless ‘A Book of American Martyrs is a really fine novel, carefully structured and meticulously written about a subject always controversial: the right to life. It did not change my views on that subject (nor does Oates set out to do so) but it did soften my view of the ‘the other side’.

Thoroughly recommended.