Eamonn Lynskey's Poetry and Reading Blog

May 12, 2018

Cyphers magazine, no.85 ISSN 1303-2985

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

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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.

 

March 31, 2018

The Association of Writers’ Programs Conference, Tampa, Fl USA, March 2018

Filed under: Salmon Poetry Books, Workshops — Tags: , , — tvivf @ 2:25

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

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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 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.

July 16, 2015

‘Neanderthals’ published in Boyne Berries magazine, Spring 2015

Filed under: Poems Published, Poetry — Tags: , , — tvivf @ 2:25
Boyne Berries no. 17

Boyne Berries no. 17

Boyne Berries no 17 (Spring 2015) brought lots of good things. A really nice springtime poem from Gearoid O’Duill entitled ‘Snowdrop’:

“Spring flowers make no show yet, except the snowdrop, 

its white head cautiously spread, pendulous,

each inner petal veined with gentle skein of green…”

I always like the considered line and the well-chosen word, which I also find in ‘Ritual’ by Lorcan Black, a poem touching on the fleeting nature of love:

“One blink and the thread dissolves,

the doors slice open…”

‘The doors’ image is part of an extended metaphor of a train journey which continues right through the poem. Other poems which appealed to me were ‘Spring Invasion’ by Kate Ennals, Adrienne Leavy’s ‘Bright Shadow’, and a rather ‘zero’ poem from Ciaran Parkes entitled ‘Bog Body’. Nice poem too from Orla Fay (‘Fawn’) reminding us of the ‘fierce beauty’ of other species that inhabit this planet, which we often presumptuously describe as ‘ours’.

Of the stories, I was very struck by Mari Maxwell’s ‘McTagish Law’ with its ambiguous ending, and by Rozz Lewis’s ‘The Statues of St Jude and Buddha’ with its exact depiction of a very familiar family situation where the ‘faith of our fathers (and mothers!)’ has not lasted into the next generation.

My poem ‘Neanderthals’ is a bit on the gloomy side, being concerned somewhat with human arrogance. How is it that this long extinct species of mankind has come to represent all that is backward and vicious? Recent studies seem to show that Neanderthal Man (and Woman) had a high level of intelligence and a developed social sense. Perhaps it’s inbuilt in our white caucasian  natures to regard all other types and species of the human as inferior, be they the ‘savage injuns’  of the recent past or the black/coloured peoples of the present? I remember when I was a young boy that a group of Irish UN soldiers was ambushed in the Congo and many of them killed by Baluba tribesmen. For years afterwards in Ireland the word ‘Baluba’ was used to describe any unruly and uncouth group who interfered with the comfort of their neighbours. And were these tribesmen uncouth and unruly? Perhaps, but we should remember that the UN soldiers were operating in territory the Baluba tribesmen regarded as their own and were acting under the not unreasonable assumption that these armed men were invaders and meant them harm. Had the Inca reacted in the same way, the history of South America would be very different. We were all very sorry for our Irish soldiers at the time (and quite rightly so), but I can’t remember that any good word was said about the Balubas.

A BBC programme broadcast at the time this poem was written (September 2012) made an

Stiil from the BBC programme 'Andrew Marr's History of the World' (Broadcast 2012)

Still from the BBC programme ‘Andrew Marr’s History of the World’ (Broadcast 2012)

honest effort to overcome prejudice in order to show that these nomadic ancestors of ours were something more than wild beasts, but this was only partly successful. Certainly some of the publicity material for the programme didn’t help break down barriers. One photo (pictured right) presented Neanderthals as a cross between noble savages and black rappers. I think we don’t know enough about them to be definitive about their overall lifestyle but I can guess that they were not operating the laws of the jungle, as maintained by our right honorable friend on the bench. They seem to have had at least a modicum of social cohesion.

Another unfortunate aspect of this judge’s comments was that he was criticising  the actions of a group of Irish Travellers. This court scene was, therefore, a rather sorry vignette of our prejudices towards groups other than ‘our own’.

Footnote: The judge in question, in a previous case, had sentenced a man to climb Croagh Patrick for verbally abusing a garda.

Neanderthals

 … The Judge said that the defendants

were like Neanderthal men abiding

by the laws of the jungle… (news report)

 

Whereas there is this widespread idea

that Neanderthals had haggard haircuts,

went half-naked, had a wild-eyed stare,

and killed and chopped each other up for food; 

and whereas it is said their skulls were small

and, like the Heidelbergensis before them,

that they probably worshipped stones and trees

and yes were homo but not sapiens – 

I have no doubts at all but they were kind

among themselves and did not soil the ground

where they lay down to sleep, and loved their kids,

and hoped for happiness. And then we came along.

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