Publication in ‘Crannog’ #43. Autumn 2016
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.
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
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,
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 …
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.
Pre-Launch of Skylight47, issue 7, by Robyn Rowland at Clifden Arts Festival 15 Sept. 2016.
A 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.
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!
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.
Publication in’Boyne Berries 1916′. Spring 2016. ISSN: 1649-9271
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.
‘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
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.
‘Boyne Berries’ Poetry Magazine No.18 (ISSN: 1649-9271)
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
“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:
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.
‘Neanderthals’ published in Boyne Berries magazine, Spring 2015
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
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.
… 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.
The Francis Ledwidge Poetry Awards, 2014.
A great night was had by all at The Glen of Aherlow pub where the awards for the
2014 Francis Ledwidge International Poetry Competition were presented on Last Thursday (Oct. 27th). The competition is now in its 16th year and great credit must go to its organisers Liam O’Meara and Michael Flanagan for staying the course in what must be one of Ireland’s longest-running events.
The competition winners were:
Ann and Orla were on hand to read their work, as were many
others who featured in the ‘Commendeds’ . The competition is very inclusive and that’s one of the great things about it. I featured in the ‘Commendeds’, along with The Bard of Longford (and my good friend) Mary Melvin Geoghegan, and other noteworthy scribes like Catherine Ann Cullen, Christine Broe, Michael Farry and James Conway (to mention but a few).
Publication of ‘Warrior’ in ‘Crannog 37’, October 2014
Very gratified to have made it into Crannog again, Galway’s long-enduring, top-notch poetry and short stories magazine, edited by Tony O’Dwyer, Ger Burke, Jarlath Fahy and Sandra Bunting. Delighted too to read on the launch night (Oct 31st) in The Crane Bar with the rest of the gala company. The magazine is, as always, well turned out and immaculately proofed, with an arresting cover by Sandra.
This edition (no. 37, autumn 2014) lines up plenty of good stuff. My own favourtite poems (apart from my own one, of course!) are Frank Farrelly’s ‘Everest’, an unrhymed hexameter sonnet which springs a surprise in the sestet; also I liked very much Patrick Chapman’s ‘The Infinite Questionnaire’ with its humanistic take on philosophical questions. Great last line: “A god is not required. In fact it rather spoils the view.” Edward O’Dwyer’s list poem ‘Wall’ is good too: “That day the God of Other Plans/tore up the list of things you were meant to be…”
My own poem is a two-voice, ‘counterpoint’ piece entitled ‘Warrior’:
Who did he leave behind
that morning he set out?
“… and as to age, the carbon dating
indicates a lengthy time span
of some nineteen hundred years …”
Who prayed for him each night?
Who watched for him by day?
“… Our X-rays of the skull, indeed
the actual skull itself, reveal
the arrow struck him from behind …”
Who stopped each passing stranger
to ask for word of him?
“… The angle of trajectory tells us
much about the victim’s stance
the moment just before he fell …”
Who listened every night
to hear his step outside?
“… We have here that unfortunate
and not infrequent military
occurrence: death from friendly fire …”
Who hoped when hope was dead?
Who mourned for him a lifetime?
“… Well, I think we have resolved
the most important questions. Any
from the floor? No? Thank you all.”
How many generations
before his name was lost?
Publication in ‘The Irish Times’
Last April my poem ‘It’s Time’ was published in the Arts and Books section of the Saturday Irish Times. This was very gratifying because the Times has a big circulation and not since I was published all those years ago in The Irish Press by David Marcus, and some years ago in The Sunday Tribune by Ciaran Carty have I had such publicity. Both of these newspapers have since disappeared, and I strongly contest any suggestion that my poetry was in any way responsible.
A big thank you to the Irish Times Literary Editor Gerard Smyth and all the poets who sent congratulations. Who ever said that poets were not nice people?
The poem is a seasonal one and tries to pin down that moment when you go outdoors one morning early and think: Yes! It’s here at last. Spring!
You’ll say: What nonsense. Spring comes gradually. Well, it does. And it doesn’t.
The jasmine bush absorbs a crystal sky
not seen for months. The sodden mess of leaves
that clogged the path all winter now is dry
and ready to be swept. 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.
This the first day he has shone in earnest,
edging over boundary walls and hedges
to inspect our winter graveyards. Days
of early dark and icy outside taps
are numbered. When I creak the shed door open,
shears and spade blink in the corner: come,
the world must be newmade. It’s time.