Eamonn Lynskey's Poetry and Reading Blog

May 6, 2017

‘So Long, Calypso’ – A new poetry collection from Liz McSkeane. (Turas Press 2017. ISBN 978-0-9957916-0-2)

Filed under: Book Launches, Poetics, Publications — Tags: , — tvivf @ 2:25

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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…’.

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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 mentionedTreading 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!

An effective, and affecting, collection.

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 Liz, Eamonn Lynskey and Ross Hattaway

at the launch in the Irish Writers Centre, Dublin

March 15, 2017

Publication on-line in ‘Southword’, #31

Filed under: On-Line, Poems Published, Publications — Tags: , — tvivf @ 2:25

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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’.

All 32 the poems can be read on the website http://www.munsterlit.ie   Enjoy!

February 8, 2017

Publication in Flare 02, Jan. 2017

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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!

December 29, 2016

Publication in ‘Crannog’ #43. Autumn 2016

Filed under: Poems Published, Poetry — Tags: , — tvivf @ 2:25

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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 …

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

December 19, 2016

Publication in Orbis #177 (Autumn 2016)

Filed under: Poems Published, Publications — Tags: — tvivf @ 2:25

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Lots of good things in this issue of Orbis and congratulations to editor Carole Baldock and her team. Not often one sees Alexander Pope appear in the pages of a modern magazine, but here he is (by courtesy of Stuart Nunn in the Past Master section), the Great Curmudgeon himself laying waste around him at the low standards he sees everywhere he looks:

‘See skulking Truth to her old Cavern fled,

Mountains of Casuistry heaped o’er her head!

Philosophy, that lean’d on Heaven before,

Shrinks to her second cause and is no more…’

Ah, would he were alive today!

Unlike other magazines, Orbis comes down from the heights of Parnassus and invites readers to participate by nominating their favourite pieces. This provides the entertaining and informative section ‘Readers’ Award’. My own four choices were:

  • Remembering Capel Celyn: Liverpool 1965, by Kathy Miles, about her Welsh village flooded to create a reservoir. I know no Welsh and yet I can hear the lilt of that beautiful language echoing in the back of my mind as I read this sad poem with its wonderfully-placed Welsh words:

‘For we were Welsh too, our names cwtched

away by marriage, loved the hidden lyric

of our streets: Rhiwlas and Pows, Dovey …’

  • Forms of Embrace by Christopher Allen, attempts the capture the essential construction basis of visual artworks: the circle, the block and the curve. The third stanza brings to mind (one might almost say inevitably) Hokusai’s great wave:

‘A smooth black curve

proclaims a solid solitude

shaped like a Japanese wave

cresting a great silence …’

–  She Died Today, by Cristina Harba is an excellent treatment of how long it takes for loss to manifest.

‘ … It is a week later that I lie face down on the bed,

willing it to swallow me whole.’

  • Picture, by Anne Banks is an attractive, quirky poem, reminiscent of Magritte’s great surrealistic painting ‘ Not to be Repoduced’ (1937)  of  a  man looking into a mirror and seeing himself, but not as he expects to see himself.

‘I intrude on the space, my reflection

Bright and photographic in its clarity…’

I also liked very much Contained by Alison Chisholm and Guidewire insertion, pre-surgery by Jan Whittaker and indeed many more.

 My own contribution is A Professional in Charge, a poem referencing the fate of one of Henry VII’s unfortunate queens. The story behind the poem is a wonderful portrait of a woman who stoical in the face of injustice but determined not to have her final moments laid open to cruelties inflicted her enemies. When I read of her fate many years ago I was impressed by her courage and presence of mind in the face of such injustice and my admiration has not lessened in the years since. For true horror stories, the Tudors were well ahead of the genre.

 

A Professional in Charge

 

I know the way of things:

the talk of justice, law –

But there is also vengeance, spite

and marital inconvenience.

 

Other heads were left

to dangle by their sinews,

took three cuts or more

before the deed was done.

As token of his mercy

or, some would say, his guilt,

my Royal Lord allowed

an executioner from France

 

because I was too much afraid

the heavy-handled axe

might fail at separating head

from neck in one swift slice.

 –

The man who waits to sunder

Henry’s second Queen

discreetly hides his sword blade

as my Ladies help me kneel.

 

A sorry end, but not prolonged

through cruelty, or botched.

There will be dignity. I have

a professional in charge.

 

Orbis #177 contents:

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Orbis is a quarterly journal. Full details re submission and subscription at http://www.orbisjournal.com

 

 

 

 

September 22, 2016

Pre-Launch of Skylight47, issue 7, by Robyn Rowland at Clifden Arts Festival 15 Sept. 2016.

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.

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‘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!

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 25, 2016

‘Cyphers’ at Strokestown, 2016.

Filed under: Book Launches, Poems Published, Poetry, Publications — Tags: , — tvivf @ 2:25

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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.

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A Connaught Man’s Rambles          

(in memory of Eddie (‘Sonny’) Lynskey, 1914-1972)

1921:

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…

 

1928:

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…

 

1947:

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…

 

1953:

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…

 

1972:

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…

 

2013: 

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.

 

 

May 6, 2016

Publication in’Boyne Berries 1916′. Spring 2016. ISSN: 1649-9271

Filed under: Poems Published, Poetry — Tags: , — tvivf @ 2:25

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                                                                                                                          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

world?

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.

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November 9, 2015

‘Boyne Berries’ Poetry Magazine No.18 (ISSN: 1649-9271)

Filed under: Poems Published, Poetry, Publications — Tags: , — tvivf @ 2:25
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

lines

“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.

August 30, 2015

The Sunflower Sessions 26 August @ Jack Nealons in Capel Street

Filed under: Readings, The Sunflower Sessions — Tags: , , — tvivf @ 2:25

The featured writer at the Sunflower Sessions this month was Liz McSkeane,

Liz McSkeane
Liz McSkeane

a published and award-winning poet (The Hennessy) who read some new work and some ‘older’ work from her collection ‘Snow at the Opera House’ (published by New Island). Her poem ‘Plea Bargain’ (from that aforementioned collection) is a very impressive piece on the vulnerability of civilians in time of war. It is a poem that, once heard or read, tends to stay in the mind and somehow recalls to me the graphic reporting of great women war correspondents like Adie Roche and Lyse Doucet. This poem, and many more, provided us with a great listening experience for our August session.

Also adding to the experience were a number of NEW FACES, like Eamon Maguire with his acerbic writings on suburbia, and a poem entitled ‘Swaps’ which proved that one can write poetry about stamp-collecting (a poem that brought me back to my early youth … about 200 years ago …).  Mandy (no second name given) and Pat (whose second name I can’t remember) provided some entertaining poems on sport and Kenneth Nolan gave a hilarious prose-poem account of his trying to walk down Dame Street against the tide of Spanish tourists, beggars and chuggers. Strictly non-PC stuff from Kenneth which was surprisingly refreshing. More good stuff from Pauline Mullally, Jim Hynes and several more newcomers, whose names I did not get, so slow am I. It is really great to see the Sunflower Sessions expanding into new territories and attracting new voices.

Of course the ‘old comers’  (like myself) were much in evidence too… and where would we be without them? [please note that this is a rhetorical question only].

Again, everyone was indebted to the usual suave handling of the event by MC Declan McLoughlin.

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