Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Take Five

Middle son has been taking piano lessons for two years now. He's lately taken up playing jazz, where it's all about improv. It's done wonders for his eleven year old hands and brain.

This is the song that got him loaded on jazz:

The Turn

I'm taking a leaf out of Mr Sunny Dunny's book and facing Janus' stone visage forward: I have lots of things I think I'll be doing:

Looking forward to the set up in early January of a new writing group: members drawn from here and there in Ireland.

Also looking forward to using a bursary that Dundalk Town Council awarded me: two whole weeks at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annamakerrig, Newbliss, Co. Monaghan. New bliss all right!

What else: getting my finger out and making substantial submissions to the usual suspects: The Stinging Fly, Crannog, The SHOp... & also some UK journals. I need to build up publication credits for 2010 publication...

Writing up and organising the new series of classes for Dundalk and Newry: quite a few of them are getting publishing credits, so I must be doing something right, but I still need to keep their fires stoked and imaginations running.

Applying for more teaching positions - there's always the OU - might get the old foot in the door there.

And I have a hankering to go to StAnza, been wanting to go this few years, and I see Ben Wilkinson is reading at it - there's an opportunity to see an up and coming talent before he becomes famous. ;)

When I cast my eye back over this preliminary list, I don't feel quite so disorganised, or as disgruntled as I have been lately. I tend to feel over the holiday period that I've lost momentum and that there are things I should be doing, other than feeding, cleaning and washing clothes. But that's what happens when holidays are here. There's simply no time to luxuriate in what I could be doing. Contentment lies in what is to come.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Cyclone Cometh...

Readers, we have the honour of having the first stop of Elizabeth Baines whirling tour, Around the Edges of the World, with her book of short stories, Balancing on the Edge of the World.

The tour begins on January 14th, 2009: right here!

Virtual tours have been a feature of Salt Publishing since early September, and this new resource of promoting books and bringing authors to prominence is an imaginative way of using t'internet to get the message out there: books are still very much alive and kicking! It's also a fantastic way of linking up bloggers: whether literary or not.

If you haven't already checked out Elizabeth's great blog, you can do so here. Balancing on the Edge of the World is available from Salt Books. More about the tour very soon!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Irish Wake

My best friend's dad died on the shortest day of the year, unexpectedly after a short illness. He was aged 73, and it came as a shock to his wife, three daughters and son.

I visited yesterday to offer my condolences and to give a hand, as he is being waked at home. It's amazing to see the kindness of neighbours, friends and relations as they arrive with sandwiches, tins of biscuits, tea bags, crockery or even entire meals. All the visiting women take turns and muck in at the kitchen sink: filling up the urn with water; wetting and drawing tea; washing tea-cups and keeping the smooth wheels of domesticity running as the family come to terms with their loss.

I think there's something very special about a home wake for the recently departed: they are still very much part of the family, being remembered and celebrated and its an important part of the grieving process. It is a hard time of year to lose a family member as it will always be part of future Christmasses to mark their passing. I am thinking now, especially of anyone out there who is in the same boat, or who has an anniversary this time of year.

May the road rise up to meet you,
may the wind be at your back,
may the sunshine be warm on your face
and the rain fall soft on your land.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

Traditional Irish blessing

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Shortest Day

No prizes for guessing what this day is, solstice, turnaround day. Now we look forward to the stretch in the evenings; glimmering slowly as they do, until around the end of January those stretches become more noticable.

Not that it's sunny today here in grey old Ireland: there's a woolly blanket of soft cloud pulled over us to keep us warm. A few glimmers of sunlight there at 2pm, but the cloud took over again. Still. I wouldn't say there was any bright light bouncing off the back wall at Newgrange, for the few lucky enough to fit in there and watch dawnrise.

I prefer to think of today as the day to look back at June 21st and try to remember what the weather was like, as well as the temperatures. And maybe even picture the flowers out in the garden in my minds eye. Won't be long, now...

And for some cheery moments, pop over to Minx and see her pics

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oh, Hallelujah

There's a whole of talking going on about Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen's much covered song. Books Inq mentions Dorian Lynskey's article in the Guardian, online today, where a lot of different artist's versions are given the once over and yet, for me there is only one version: the master's voice. Even the Times has covered the phenonmenon in a leading article.

I caught five mins of the BBC's Breakfast show this morning (yes, I am having a strange day) where the topic of discussion was the 'battle' for a Christmas #1 between Jeff Buckley's stripped down guitar and vocals version and the X Factor winner Alexandra's power ballad version. The BBC website has also produced this, er, helpful guide to the lyrics: Smashed Hits by Alan Connor. You can even take a quiz to see how well you think you know the song.

I've often wondered about the power of Cohen's song to resonate so strongly. I think it's down to the fact that Cohen uses an ancient story to stand, perhaps as allegory (but so much more than that) for feelings that cannot be wholly expressed, or satisfactorily expressed by our modern lexicon of mythology as well as language. It reminds me of how well Michael Longley's poem Ceasefire worked too: taking the story of the retrieval of Hector's body, Priam's grief and the appeasement of Achilles, and telling the story in a new quiet way; but the modern context in which it is written (N. Ireland, 1998) gives it a whole new slant.

Longley spoke about how he snatched 'from the narrative flow [of Homeric Greek myth], moments of lyric intensity in which to echo my own concerns, both personal and political.' The particular moment in 'Ceasefire' worked because it spoke both to the moment, behind the moment and beyond the moment. And that's what I think happens with Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah,' and why it is that so many artists cover it. Dress it up, dress it down, take it all round town, the words and the music line are still the same: it's a spun thrill that speaks to the emotional moment that we all carry inside us - humanity and, dare I say it, love.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wot I did - Part Two

It's getting increasingly more diffcult to steal time away from my kitchen lately to report on doings outside of the familial home: I've gone a bit mad making chutneys, jellies and cakes... and I've not even started on the suet-free mince pies. I'm telling you, feeding six kids and eight adults takes the best out of you, never mind adding in the festive glut-fest on top of things. That Nigella one has a lot to answer for...

Anyway, another photo. This time I'm gowned up for the graduation from Queen's University, last Friday. I've got on the hood for the MA, which is a fetching little maroon and blue number over the black gown. At some point during the ceremony (probably when the procession arrived in) I thought how weird it is at this point in our lives that we all dress up like extras applying for the role of court jester at some olde worlde castle. I should probably write a poem about that...

Back to the stove-face. And will someone please save me from the over-excited hobgoblins who seem to have invaded my children's bodies...?

More later in the week about the Seven Tower's Anthology launch on Sunday gone... It's called Census.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wot I did -Part One

A very busy week indeed, beginning with the launch/talk of the Picture Text module artist's books on Tuesday evening.

The photo of yours truly, in an 'oul paisley number holding aforementioned handmade copy of her artist's book. This comes via SGB, our intrepid tutor/photographer/inspiree. I think I am talking about how William Blake was one of the most notorious combiners of art and text, in his illustrated texts.

More about the rest of my doings over the next few days... and here also a wee teaser about Elizabeth Baines/Fiction Bitch's visit to this blog in the early January!!! I can't wait - I have lots of questions that I want to pitch Elizabeth's way: not least, how she makes her short stories look so effortless... tum te tum te tum.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Pork Recall... No Hams for Christmas?

This just in: Ireland recalls pork over dioxin contamination

Just weeks before the big ham-fest that is an Irish Christmas. According to Reuters: "Laboratory results of animal feed and pork fat samples obtained on Saturday confirmed the presence of dioxins, it said, with toxins at 80-200 times the safe limits."

Apparently the culprit is a batch of feedstuff that has used by many pig farmers. We've heard a lot about milk contamination lately in other parts of the world, but we're unused to hearing about this sort of contamination closer to home. The thought of sub-standard sausages, bacon and black and white puddings tears quite a hole in the Irish psyche, when you consider the universally loved traditional Irish cooked breakfast (complete with brown bread).

However, the IFA have tried to reassure consumers that "the recall was a precautionary measure" and that most pork products are still safe. In fact, IFA President Padraig Walshe added, "There will be perfectly safe pig meat on sale to consumers I expect from the middle of the week." Tell that to the people who put pork off the menus for Christmas, and probably for a good while longer after that.

Which probably means that the consumer will have to pay much more for their Christmas ham than usual. Makes you re-consider those vegetarian options a lot more closely, I think...

Source: Reuters

Friday, December 05, 2008

Caomhnú Literary Festival & Competition

Caomhnú Literary Festival Poetry/Short Story Competition

Competition Rules:
Entry Form must accompany each entry.
Each poem/short story submitted costs €3.
Cheques payable to Cavan County Council.
Entries to be forwarded to: Cavan County Council Arts Office, Farnham Centre, Farnham St, Cavan, Co Cavan. The closing date for entries is January 16th, 2009.
1st Prize €200
2nd Prize €100
3rd Prize €70
For any further details please contact Cavan County Council’s Arts Office on 00353 (0)49 437 8548
Poetry Adjudicator: Noel Monahan
Short Story Adjudicator: Shane Connaughton

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Picture Text Update

Some pics from my 'real' and virtual desktop: what I can do when I have three clear hours and more materials you can shake a stick at. It's a handmade artist's book (well, it will be when it's finished), designed and made by me, for a launch in Belfast Exposed next Tuesday 9th @6pm. Not anyway near as sophisticated as some of the others' work, but I know how to work within my limits!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Another day, Another Rachel

I've been watching Rachel Allen's 'Bake!' and I've received her glorious cookbook as a birthday present (I'm easy to please these days!). Since when I've been busy baking her delicious oatmeal and vanilla cookies for the kids. Pure simplicity they are too. Now I'm thinking about lemon curd, and how to get my hands on a good recipe...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rising to Rachel's Challenge

It's been a terribly long time since I had a poem up here and as Rachel rightly points out I rarely talk that much about what I'm doing writing-wise, which probably leads a lot of people to think that I don't write much.

Au contraire! But I am horribly self-critical of my own work, so I like to try and get things into the best shape possible... which ain't easy in present mega-biz conditions: finishing off CW classes for this term; assembling Santy lists; booking me graduation at QUB for me masters; trying desperately to finish B&W photography work for artist's book of image/text to be launched on 9th December at Belfast Exposed... and there are other things I have to do too, like get a job (He's told me - no more slacking!?!)

Anyhoo, here's a poem. It's not great, but there ya are :)

removed for editing

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What to Do?

Nothing as wearing as nothing concrete to focus on. Yes, there's Christmas... but all I feel for that is a world-weary 'neugh.' If I didn't have six young 'uns to satisfy, I'd quite happily head off to an island somewhere, preferably uninhabited.* Possibly it's because I'm almost 'another year closer to death.'**

Some new plans are needed... but what?

* And definitely not with Tom Hanks!
** Pink Floyd have an awful lot to answer for sometimes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Marvellous Bill Bailey

Times article on 11th November, on why Bill Bailey doesn't Mock the Weak... and what he's doing next year to raise the profile of dear old Alfred Russel Wallace, who will be ignored whilst Darwin is celebrated... even though Wallace reached the same conclusions as Darwin at more or less the same time!

Comedy is a funny art.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dundalk Writers Enjoy Workshop

Today was a fantastic day with the writing workshop that I organised for my Wednesday and Saturday classes with the short story writer and poet Nuala Ni Chonchuir.

Some pics:

As you can see from all the smiling faces, everyone seems to have enjoyed Nuala's input. We covered the 'theory' aspect of short stories in the morning, and then in the afternoon, Nuala gave everyone useful feedback on the work that had been submitted. The standard of work in short stories and poetry was very high indeed, which is very encouraging and affirming for everyone involved.

As ever, huge thanks to Dundalk Arts Office for their fantastic support, without which these workshops simply wouldn't have been possible.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Guess Who's Coming to Town

It's been a hectic few weeks. We've got Nuala Ni Chonchuir coming to Dundalk tomorrow to work with the two writing groups that I teach CW to.

We're very much looking forward to her visit and words of encouragement and advice. It's going to be a full on day, with lots to mull over afterwards.

On other fronts, I'm knee deep in a project at QUB, an artist's book that each of us has to make, incorporating text and image. I've spent the last three Thursdays in the dark room at Belfast Exposed, making photograms, and developing B&W pictures from negatives. I'm using a poem about taking photographs with an old fold-out camera.

Our tutor managed to source a camera shop in Scotland which was selling off old camera stock. She brought me home a rather marvelous 'Soho Cadet,' made from bakelite, about mid 1930s or so. I've taken pictures with it, developed the film and am dying to see the photographs - alas no time yesterday.

Still waiting for the result from the MA... at this stage I'm pretty nervous. They should be out soon...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Judging Stories

On what elements this particular judge was looking for in a short story.

It includes the silly formatting mistakes that people make that eliminate them before the story's even read; and how important the authorial voice is in a story.

Brian Hodge describes 'voice' as "the fusion of 1001 little aesthetic and stylistic choices." Yes, voice is that hard to quantify: it's similar in poetry too.

Storytellers Unplugged is one worth keeping an eye on, if you're into short stories, and the competition end of things especially.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Times they are a changing...

So, what's next?

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

Obama's Acceptance Speech at Chicago's Grant Park.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Musing on the Muse

I've been having a thought (see comment in box below previous post) about the muse. Mine's definitely a male figure, but poets in the past of the male variety have had a predilection towards the female Muse. I'm thinking Robert Graves writer of The White Goddess (and much else besides) and his muse was, for a while, Laura Riding.

The concept of the muse for the poet (or writer) is certainly nothing novel. Coming from Greek myths and legends, the muses number nine and you'll find plenty of references to them in names being used for all sorts of things.

My dictionary of etymology relates muse to muzzle: the image of a dog scenting the air when in doubt as to the scent. And there's the thing. Sometimes you're thinking about something (or nothing at all) and an idea pops into your head. You decide it will make a good poem, but you don't know the outcome. Finding the outcome is why you write the poem/short story/novel. It's how we all work.

That dictionary also relates muse to mosiac work; originally from the Latin and Gk, mosaic work literally belonged to the muses... so does museum; lit, a temple to the muses. How we piece our work together slowly and painstakingly.

So, if my muse is male and unkempt, a bit hairy and um... very male... what's your's like? Or could you be arsed to have one. They're terribly hard to keep going...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Form

Just bought a copy of On Form today. It's by Angela Leighton and I am wholly absorbed by it.

How I wish I'd had this book when I was studying the 20th C Texts and Debates course! It really brings together the development of thought about how form is one of those words/concepts/vitally important things that has continued to develop and morph from Kant's time, through Pater and the 'art for art's sake' debates, through aestheticism, utilitarianism through the bankruptcy of aesthetics into the thirties, equally through modernism, postmodernism... ack - I sound like I'm ranting now and that's only Chapter One! So lucid and easy to read... why had I not this book last year when I turned to form, seriously?

More later, when I've read and digested the book and written all the poems which are crowding around me like little vampirelets begging for life force.

Ah, my muse is back! Thank the muse.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Taking up the Review Cudgels

Emerging Writer has picked up on a New York Times article that highlights the seven most overused words that reviewers employ when writing reviews. I've seen a similar vein taken up on Poets On Fire forums recently too.

The problem, I guess, might lie with the time that you have between reading the book/journal/zine etc. and having to write and then deliver the finished article to whichever editor is taking it.

It's a topic fraught with its own rules and regulations and areas of writing negotiation that the reviewer must come through. Last year (at QUB), we had Ian Sansom (he of the Guardian reviews) come talk to us. Not so much about how to write a review, more how not to write a review. Some of it makes perfect sense.

There's no substitute for knowing what you're talking about. If it's the poet's third collection, you should, in all honesty, be familiar with their work. If not, go get familiar with the work. Perhaps this is what leads to reviews that employ such overused words as the ones listed in the NYT review of reviewing; the time constraint of having to make your deadlines as you whizz through the tenth book in that bursting jiffy bagful that you've agreed to review.

If you're going to diss a writer's work, at least make it humorous. Ian used Randall Jarrell's prolific output as a good example. But the thing about Jarrell's reviews is that they were good; in fact some would argue that they were far better than his poetry output. Which makes me wonder whether reviewing is such an art, in and of itself, that it impinges on the other work of the writer - whether they are involved in poetry or prose.

I am reminded of Rob MacKenzie's recent post, where he asked what people are looking for in reviews. I know that this pertains to poetry reviews in particular; prose reviews are more telling what the book is about and whether it is well written or not; poetry reviews have to look at the techniques involved and whether they contribute to the sense of the collection. Form informing content, and all that, which makes poetry reviewing far more specialised than the general all purpose reviews.

Reviewing is an art: I think that a reviewer should be aiming to convey their passion and knowledge about the book they have read to the reader. It's an act of persuasion as well as conveyance; a gentle balancing act of accessibility and refined language. It is, after all, only an opinion. But it should be the very best opinion for the reader to trust your words.

Having said all that, there's one book that I would really recommend for the would be reviewer: How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, by Pierre Bayard. Read it and smile with amusement at how much we know about books that we've never opened... I am thinking of Joyce now, for some reason...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Review of Downside Up

Downside Up
Anne Connolly
Calder Wood Press

A curious thing happens when you read the poetry of someone who has lived in exile from their birth country for a while. You are forced to face the issues that you might have dodged in your own work; issues of religion or politics, as well as people and places that evoke strong connections to your own way of thinking.

Anne Connolly’s accomplished chapbook, Downside Up, faces these issues implacably; affording us a good hard stare at life as it has been lived in Ulster as well as in Ireland too. Poems such as ‘The Price of Petrol,’ take us back to the 70s, to a time of petrol shortages and sectarian preferential treatment. But this poem cannily reflects the present as well: ‘ “How’re ye Wullie?” / “Disappointed.” ’ It’s how little words like ‘Disappointed’ can wholly capture the resigned feeling of that time. All one could do was to quietly endure, when you were refused petrol at the station in favour of someone like ‘John Citizen,’ who

holds a banner in his hand
and on bonfire night
his boys laugh
as they burn
a well-stuffed pope.

Connolly leaves it as it is: the actions of the small (minded) community speak for themselves.

But her poems go far outside the hold of the near-polemic as well. There’s a strong lyrical touch about her work that reminds me of John Hewitt, in the use of townland names in a poem like ‘Sky Road;’ ‘Derrygimlagh bog,’ ‘the tail of Clifden bay. Connolly easily straddles the border in Ireland, drawing out the essentials of all myths and legends, whether it is a recent tale, such as the landing of a Vickers Bomber in a western Irish bog, in ‘Sky Road,’ or ‘the ancient tumulus of Newgrange…her belly pregnant with the dead,’ in ‘Solstice.’ In this latter poem, Connolly imagines ‘Kings lie at Newgrange waiting… long[ing] for luminescence, / the solar triumph.’ She catches completely the significant essence of Newgrange, without resorting to over worn clichés, bringing it shining into the modern era.

I admit that poems like ‘Aran’ lie close to my own interests and interpretations. In this poem Connolly uses the interwoven lines to underscore the intricacy of the stitches described, as well as their ascribed meanings. I remember my mother explaining the meaning of the stitches that go into making up an Aran pattern; each islander family had its own specific set of stitches used, and these explanations are deftly ‘knitted’ together in this poem.

I think one of the reasons why I’ve responded to Anne Connolly’s work so deeply, is because I find strong echoes of my own themes and meanings. In Anne’s ‘Reflections,’ I see Heaney’s ‘Peeling Potatoes,’ one of the Glanmore Sonnets he wrote in memory of his mother; which in turn sparked off my own ‘Roosters.’ In Anne’s ‘Reflection,’ her mother ‘peel[s] potatoes / elbows leaning on the sink edge.’ In that sparse economy we have a woman getting on with the everyday chores that must be done; her ‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph’ the refrain of many a woman in pain. The life before is succinctly captured as, ‘Her dancing days lay / at the bottom of the drawer,’ inverting the old-fashioned trousseau drawer as something that holds memories of a former life, rather than a future.

Connolly’s work is deservedly garnering attention in Scotland, where she resides now, but I would hope for a wider audience for her pamphlet, Downside Up, in Northern Ireland, and indeed across the hazy border into the Republic. I hope to see more of her work soon. Visit Calder Wood Press for this and many more reasonably priced poetry pamphlets

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sharing the 'isms'

Yesterday's Irish Times carried this article: a very useful and humorous guide to the various 'isms' and other trivia that we take for granted.

A quick example: Socialism: You have two cows. You give one to your neighbour. Communisim: You have two cows. The state takes both and gives you some milk.

One of my favourites is this one: Surrealism: You have two giraffes. The state requires you to take harmonica lessons.

But my total favourite is this: A French Corporation: You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three.

Go check out Magpie's whole article.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cambridge Play Readings

In November, there is a drama reading festival in Cambridge, UK: the project is called Naked Stage, and various plays will be given readings in front of an audience, with an opportunity to give feedback afterwards. If you live in or near the area, you might want to go along.

I mention this because Jaki McCarrick, a Dundalk based writer is having a reading of her play The American Hotel, on Sunday 16th November.

Jaki's work is popping up all over the place lately: her play Leopoldville, (more details at the link) an edgy drama set in an Irish border town, recently received two readings; one in Virginia, Cavan, and the other in London. That play was received very well by intrigued audiences in both countries, so it will be interesting to hear how The American Hotel is received.

Tickets are £3, at the door: B Bar, Market Passage, Cambridge, UK. More here on the Write On website.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Radio Interview Recidivus

Here's the recording of the interview I promised a week or two back. It is a bit long, so it may take a while to load; I hope you think it's worth it!

The interview is conducted by Harry Lee, of Dundalk FM, at Dundalk Arts Office as an outside broadcast on October 2nd, as part of the Poetry Ireland 30th Anniversay All-Ireland Poetry Day celebrations.

The first interviewee is Patrick Chapman, who came down to Dundalk on the day from Dublin. The collections that he mentions are Breaking Hearts and Traffic Lights, from Salmon Press, and A Shopping Mall on Mars. The link I've given are for two of the poems that he reads in the interview.

The second interviewee is Paddy Dillon from Drogheda. An irregular regular in poetry events in and around Drogheda and Dublin as well as further afield, I am rather hoping that Paddy will have a collection published sometime soon. His poems are always unexpected in their trajectory.

And then there's me; I was blabbing so much that Harry hadn't time to ask me for a third poem. Who'd think that I could talk that much about poetry!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hectic Happenings 2

Lots to report back on from the trip to Cork. I went down on Sunday so that I didn't have to drive up and back in one day. Boy did I get a treat! I met up with Paul Casey of O Bheal and Eilish, a writer friend of his and we went to The Long Valley to hear the poems and life story of Mahmoud Darwish

October 5th was a designated day for everyone world-wide to celebrate his life and poetry, so that was what we were doing, sitting there listening to translations of his work, in Irish, in French and in Arabic. Darwish's work came from his own feeling of exile from his country of birth. He explored this feeling of alienation and exile many times in his poetry. You can explore his work and life all over the internet, but here's a small sample. from U tube.

As if that wasn't enough, we went off to sample Soul Driven at the Crane Lane. They're a jazz/soul outfit, with a very tight brass section of sax, trombone and trumpet, with a fantastic vocalist. A nice taster of what I'll miss at the jazz festival in Cork later this month.

On Monday, Paul Casey suggested visiting Kinsale to pay court to Desmond O Grady. If you don't know about this poet, you're in for a real treat. He is now in his eighties, but very sprightly, erudite and also tres, tres charmant! He is famous for his connection to the Fellini film, La Dolce Vita, and has known writers like Beckett, Joyce, Sartre personally. He taught widely on the continent as well as in the University of Cairo and the American University of Alexandria. He told us he has around 36 books published (and me there with me piffling little 1).

Known particularly for his translations, which include a Selected Poems of C. P. Cafavy, he proved very generous with his thoughts on poetry, translation and even seemed to enjoy a quick scan inside the covers of my own humble Kairos. Desmond even quizzed me on the origin of the 'quis custodies' quote titling the first poem inside; thankfully my hungover head was able to pull the quote from Virgil. I will be forever grateful to Paul for his inspired invitation; sheer magic.

As for the reading itself: that went very well indeed. I was sandwiched between the five word challenge and the open mic session. I really enjoyed the opportunity to have a longer length reading than I'm used to; I was able to try out that controversial 'boob' poem as a rousing close, and was also able to read from some of the Mallory sonnets, which indeed went down very well. Something for everyone in the mix and the reaction afterwards was positively heart-warming. I shall go back to Cork!

It almost wipes the memory of the four hour drive back that night, and falling into bed at 4am... & the rise again at 7am to wake the kids... ah, reality!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Hectic Happenings

Right. All Ireland Poetry Day went very well. I have a recording of the radio interview/reading, but just need to sort out hosting issues so I can post it here. The Lunchtime Recital went very well: we had a good crowd turn up and they seemed to enjoy the variety and the poems themselves. I read from 'Kairos' and also from the new manuscript.

Patrick Chapman's work was really interesting and also went down very well with the audience. Myself and himself did a swap and I've been reading from his collection, 'Breaking Hearts and Traffic Lights,' all weekend.

Paddy Dillon also read very well. I hope it's not too long before he gets a collection published; he has so many fine poems to choose from, and his poems are never conventional in expectation or outcome. There's always a surprise.

Today, I'm off to Cork for O Bheal on Monday evening. I've got to travel back Monday evening, as I've a class to teach the next morning in Newry. I'll be meeting up with the organiser Paul Casey for a Palestinian poet's reading this evening in Cork - really looking forward to that!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Poetry Day, Tomorrow!

Live broadcast from Dundalk FM (hai) at 11.30am, from Dundalk Town Hall: Patrick Chapman, Paddy Dillon and my good self will be on air discussing poetry with Harry Lee. Tune in here (you need Real Player/MS Windows Media Player) to listen live at 11.30am... from anywhere in the world (you do the time zones: if this is GMT here...)*

And all three of us will be "Louth and Proud" (say it in a Dundalk accent and substitute 'd' for 'th') at lunchtime in Dundalk Town Hall, for free, for anyone who cares to come in!

There are lots of other poetry events taking place in every county (yes, all 32 of them) in Ireland tomorrow to celebrate 30 years of Poetry Ireland, as well as establishing 2nd October as Ireland's Poetry Day - yay! Over 100 poets have answered the call to bring poetry to a venue near you!

Ask not what poetry can do for you, but what you can do for poetry... to misquote :)

*There is a repeat tonight (October 2nd) at 11.15pm, but I hope to have a recording up here soon!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Castle Chester

Isn't that a grand sounding name? That's where I spent Saturday night, chewing the writerly fat with a friend, and two new roomies that have moved into the Castle with her.

My friend is doing the MA at QUB that I've just finished; except in fiction, and one of her roomies is also doing the MA; except in poetry. My word, but her work is magnificent. She's a relatively young Canadian poet and I got to see a sample of her work. I have a feeling that the world will be seeing a lot more of Maureen Evans before long.

There's a really interesting walk along the beach front in Whitehead that takes you towards a light house. The lighthouse is located at the top of a crumbling cliff, and the walkway is designed in steps and bumps that go up and down and around and back. It would be a real treasure for my kids to investigate, that's for sure. Apparently people come from all around to enjoy this unusual walk that incorporates a good deal of cardio-vascular activity as well as spectacular nature, seascapes and bird watching.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I'm not usually very good at waiting for anything. I like to have my time mapped out, so that as I head towards goal A, I'm quietly working away on goal B. Or C or all the way down to Z.

In the next few months I should be starting work on a third collection. I know that sounds like planning ahead, but I think that ignoring the present in favour of the future is a good way of tricking myself whilst I wait.

I'll be waiting for my results. While that happens I'm getting on with the CW classes, which have kicked off again in Dundalk. They're a lot more organised this time, or so I hope. I'm also hoping to get classes going in Newry as well: there's a feature in this week's Newry Reporter about the classes and a bit about me as well. I have an idea for the future involving cross-border co-operation in creative arts that just might work...

And there's a few things that I'd like to enter the current MS in - who knows?

In the meantime a few quiet weeks wouldn't go amiss. Some new writing? Oh yes. I'm brewing a lot of ideas.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Meme thing

Liz in Gran Canaria tagged me to list six unspectacular things about myself.

1. I have size 6 feet, 0r 39 if you do European sizes.
2. I have one thumb smaller than the other.
3. I used to bite my nails. I gave them up three years ago.
4. I really, really love tea. So much so that I limit it to three cups a day.
5. I have no pets (currently).
6. I'm not mad about 'spurt' as I fondly call my husbands obsession with anything that involves a team and balls of varying sizes.

Terms & conditions!
1. link the person who tagged you: Done see above.
2. mention the rules on your blog: (these are them)
3. list 6 unspectacular things about you: (see above)
4. tag 6 other bloggers by linking them: Debi Minx and Rachel

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Time to Let Go

It is done!

It has 56 pages; 6336 words (a lovely palindrome of numbers), and contains 48 poems, which have been whittled down from about 80. The poems all lean against each other nicely after much arranging and re-arranging. It has a simple one-word name, which pleases me and feels representative of the collection as a whole.

It needs just one more proof and I will print and bind two copies of it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: my dissertation. Four months of hard work: editing, refining, re-editing, refining, re-writing, panicking, re-editing, organising, a bit more panicking (just for good measure) and finally some paper, a cover and some glue.

It's hard to believe that a year ago I was finishing off an End of Course Assessment for the Last module of my OU degree, whilst beginning the coursework for the MA at Queen's in Belfast. A year later, I feel a little wiser about the process of writing poetry and very, very pleased with the results of my labours. I feel I've come a good ways closer to gaining the poetry goals I set myself.

I wish I could say that I'm taking a break, but the demands of setting up Creative Writing classes for the fall term have to be sorted out... as well as a few other new ventures that may (hopefully) come on line.

In the meantime - yee-flippin-ha! :D

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Speaking of Performance

Poetry Ireland have sent out details of the brand new event being organised for October 2nd, 2008.

It's a marathon cornucopia of poetry and poets, a veritable glut of word-gorging, and you can see the full details on the Poetry Ireland website. Each county will be represented by at least two poets (some have more) and it's being billed as... tan tan ta... All-Ireland Poetry Day (I wonder are they being a little infected by the GAA and the All-Ireland hurling and football finals... :) ).

Oh, and I've been asked to represent the Wee County: Louth (so called because it's the smallest county in Ireland, not for any other reason!), alongside Paddy Dillon, amongst others... so I am really chuffed to bits to be involved in this marathon Poetry Fest!

And in other news, eldest food-muncher has just received his Junior Cert results today. He is very, very pleased with himself, as am I and all of us at home. The boy done good! Now, the teeny, tiny matter of getting him through the two year senior cycle and into college... hmm.

*Late Addendum: Patrick Chapman has also been confirmed for the Louth Lineup - I'm looking forward to meeting him - he has a collection out recently: 'Breaking Hearts and Traffic Lights.' I hope he brings spare copies!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Poetry for Performance

Well, there's something interesting (?!?) going on in the poetry world, when the Daily Telegraph gets together with Andrew Motion to see what sort of poems it can garner for a Poetry for Performance competition.

Enough has been said about what performance poetry is, and what it isn't, what it can be and when it succeeds, so I'm not about to weigh in with some lengthy considered response on what I think it is, or isn't. Sorry!

I will be interested to see what the competition throws up, though... entries are limited to 180 words on relationships: the loss or lack of, whichever suits your method. And the closing date is the 5th of October. Entries by snail mail or email, see link above.

Plenty of time to hone that gem.

Friday, September 05, 2008

No Rest for the Wicked Mummy

A very busy week this week, talk about hitting the ground running! I went up to Belfast on Tuesday employing my usual method of two-birds-one-stone.

I saw American Music Club in the Empire and got to talk poetry the next morning for almost two hours. AMC were astonishing. I've heard Mark Eitzel sing on his abums; especially Love Songs for Patriots, which I brought home from San Francisco in 2005, but nothing had prepared me for the delivery he gives live. Woah - I was near blown off me seat by the emotion he packs into his gorgeous Guinness velvet voice (I may be a little smitten).

I started reading about AMC's stormy history when I got back to my friend's house; it is she who is obsessed with them, having god knows how many of the albums, books and there's more coming, she told me yesterday. Safe to say, I think she is a fan. And now I am one too!

Wednesday, after said poetry chat, off to Dublin for the second leg of the all-singing all-dancing Babsie tour of Ireland. I was going to Poetry Ireland's launch for three Salmon books just out this year: Kevin Higgin's 'Time Gentlemen, Please,' Lorna Shaughnessy's 'Torching the Brown River,' and Susan Millar DuMars's 'Big Pink Umbrella.'

A very enjoyable evening and came home with all three books, which I've loved reading for their difference to each other. I hear Salmon have brought out Todd Swift's new 'Seaways,' and Kevin and Susan will be reading with Todd, amongst many others at a gala evening in November, in London. But I jump ahead too far there!

Last night, Thursday, I visited Virginia. That's Virginia, Co. Cavan. This seemingly sleepy town has a festival of new theatre writing happening all this week. New plays have been selected for 'reading,' on stage before an audience. I believe the plays were solicited by open competition, by the Livin Dred Theatre Company, which is based in the Ramor Theatre in Virginia. This new theatre company are already beginning to get a good name for themselves and judging by the cast reading the play, 'Leopoldville,' last night, are attracting the talent too.

The play was written by Jaki McCarrick, one of the Summer School tutors. It was interesting to hear the play read, having to insert the action in our own minds. I think this play will be one to watch in the future: it's set in a border town and is a fictionlised dramatization of an appalling murder that took place about fifteen or more years ago. Five youths attacked a run-down publican in his own pub... but that's about as much info as you really need to know. The play investigates the calibre of mind of people who would do something so evil and there are lots of connections between the play and 'Heart of Darkness.' Good old Joseph Conrad.

Anyhow, enough gallivanting about in the arts world - I have a house to clean and brats to feed.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Sound of Silence!

Today is the first day of the new school year! I am practically dancing on my keyboard here, because the peace is simply heavenly after all the running around this weekend. There was a lot of last minute stuff to be bought: pencil cases, things to stuff in pencil cases, things to stuff into the things in pencil cases and another pair of trousers for one of the little ones, because I'd optimistically bought him a pair for his right age, forgetting that he's on the small side, because he's a twin.

Anyway, I come back after my morning walk to post. Two fine books from Salt: Me and the Dead by Katy Evans Bush, and Balancing on the Edge of the World by Elizabeth Baines. Both look extremely yummy from the quick dip I've had. But I'm restraining myself, as I've got more writing to do than can be good for you.

The dissertation is almost due: a little over three weeks, or less... :/ and I really must get my finger out and get the bleeder done. It looks like fifty poems at the moment, the order is wrecking my head and I'm veering from thinking it's a total load of rubbish, to thinking it's okay. Pffft! Revisions, revisions, revisions... if you say it enough times it begins to take on a completely new meaning.

And did I mention how happy I was to be rid of my lil' darlings..?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Caption Competition

Come on, nobody can resist these! Give us a caption for this picture, please! Do have a closer look, if you need to.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Finishing Kubla Khan in 5 days

Well, that's what the latest Guardian Poetry Workshop is advocating as an exercise. I always like to read these challenges put forward each month by a different poet.

This month's poet is Fred D'Aguiar who proposes finishing off Coleridge's unfinished exercise in writing under the influence. Most of us do know the first line: 'In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / a stately pleasure dome decree.'

Two things: does that mean that for a real authentic piece one should resort to Laudanum, as Coleridge is alleged to have used; and should one arrange for a parson to call at some unknown time across the day of composure to add that extra authenticity?

So, that's my weekend's activities all sorted out now, how about yours? Closing date for this one is next Weds, 27th August. Wouldn't want to be an all-weekender party then ;(

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Sound of the End of the Summer

Up and down this fair green land of ours, you can hear the faint sound of glee, tinged with grumpiness, as mothers hand over their last few cents to shopkeepers in exchange for goods that will help the children of this land on their annual 'Back-to-schooling.'

Every year in all sorts of newspapers, big and small, there are researched articles, bemoaning the price of books, uniforms, bags, stationary, shoes (I'm sure I've missed something), totting up the average spend of the 2.2 kid family and making us all have mini-strokes into our Saturday cereals and posh coffees. Other support articles appear on what sort of packed lunches we mothers should try out for our offspring's bored tastebuds (God help the poor wee chap who survived seven years of 'hang sangwiches.')

I laugh in the face of these articles. No-one has the art of Back-to-School as well researched or executed as me. I could wipe the floor with most of the statistics that you'll see in print. Getting six feicers ready for the new school year is one challenge that I relish. My only complaint is that Back-to-School happens during the holidays, making it the most expensive part of the year, matched only by the ferocious spendfest that is Christmas.

You see, I take a certain satisfaction every time I spend money on this ugly-but-necessary-school-badged-fleece, that rare-and-hard-to-buy-school-book: I am buying my way back to a certain (albeit limited) freedom. One that I know the weather will probably support me in too - I call the radiant sunny days that we get in Ireland during September 'Mother's Treats.' Just don't mention the phrase 'Free Education.' That really sets me off!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Lovely Books

Back to reality from Dublin on Thursday, an excellent reading, listening to all gathered in Chapters of Parnell Street. I love the themed readings, this one being Sun, Sand and Ice Cream, because it pushes you out of your normal reading choices and can sometimes urge you into writing about things you'd not considered before.

Most poets managed to link in the sun and the sand, in their readings, without too much stretching the framework. Good to hear the Galway contingent, Aoife & Celeste, who unfortunately had to turn around and head back to Galway. I bought their chapbook, Smoke & Skin, available from Lapwing, Belfast. I snuck in the ice-cream, reading the one posted below about Our Family. I cheated a wee bit on the sun, getting in a long poem that I wrote in June about boobs. It was its first outing ever at a reading and went down surprisingly well. Inspired, in part, as a riposte to Alan Gillis's 'The Lad,' I would post it, but it's under consideration at present. Fingers crossed, eh?

I went on a mini book-buying spree in Hidges Foggis, buying Mick Imlah's 'The Lost Leader,' one I couldn't get back in June, for love or money; a selected of John Hewitt, a selected of Michael Longley and the recent short story collection by Claire Keegan, 'Walk the Blue Fields.' I read the first story set in Achill in the Heinrich Boll cottage (and laughed), whilst sitting on the grass in Stephen's Green - a little hard to imagine the sunshine of Thursday against the storm-lashed day that's outside now! I've since read the opening poems of Imlah's - bloomin 'eck. Great stuff.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chapters Reading, Thursday 14th August

Chapters and Verse Themed Reading


6.30pm Thursday 14th August 2008

Chapters of Parnell St, Dublin 1

Celeste Augé is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: Tornadoes for the Weathergirl (with the support of Galway County Council) in 2006, and Smoke and Skin (joint collection with Aoife Casby), which was published by Lapwing in Belfast, 2008. Her first full-length collection of poetry will be published by Salmon Poetry in early 2009.

Aoife Casby is originally from Mayo and now lives in Carraroe, Co. Galway where she works as a writer and visual artist. She has published in Poetry Ireland, Cyphers, Orbis, West47, Ropes, The Cork Literary Review, The Cúirt Annual, DIVAS 2 Anthology and others. A selection of her poetry was published (with writer Celeste Augé) by Lapwing in a chapbook Smoke & Skin in 2008.

Catherine Ann Cullen was born in Drogheda, Co Louth. She is a regular contributor to RTE Radio 1’s Sunday Miscellany and A Living Word as well as producing current affairs, arts and features. She lives with her partner Harry and daughter Stella in Kimmage, Dublin. Her first collection, A Bone in My Throat, is published by Doghouse.

Ross Hattaway was born in Wellington New Zealand, but has lived in Ireland since 1990. He has had many varied jobs and currently works as a civil servant. His first collection of poetry, The Gentle Art of Rotting was published by Seven Towers in 2006.

Noel Ó Briain was born in Tralee in Kerry, grew up in Dublin and now resides in Camolin, Co Wexford. He has worked as an actor, director, producer and designer and was head of drama in RTE for a period up to 1988. His first collection of poetry Scattering Day, 21 Sonnets and Other Poems was published by Seven Towers in 2007.

Barbara Smith holds a BA Hons. Literature just completed, 2007; and will continue with Queen's University Belfast, with a MA in Creative Writing. Her debut collection of poetry, Kairos, is just published by Doghouse Books. She has poetry and essays published widely and lives in Dundalk, with her partner and six children. Other publications include Poetic Stage (1998).Barbara blogs at Barbara's Bleeugh.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Scottish Poetry Library

Rob and Colin have put me on to this excellent resource site, The Scottish Poetry Library. In its own words it is "the place for poetry in Scotland, for the regular reader, the serious student or the casual browser.Since its foundation in 1984 it has amassed a remarkable collection of written works, as well as tapes and videos. The emphasis is on contemporary poetry written in Scotland, in Scots, Gaelic and English, but historic Scottish poetry and contemporary works from almost every part of the world feature too."

In amongst the exciting goodies that it offers, there's a Reading Room, where they ask different poets to name their 'classic' poems along with reasons why.
Rob talks about Milton's "Paradise Lost", where "Satan gets the best lines;" Claire Askew recalls her childhood amazement at Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," with its "weird, wonderful, onomatopoeic words;" and Colin Will reveals the "underlying subtleties" of Robbie Burn's "A Red, Red Rose. These are just three of many poets that have taken up the challenge of the 'classic' poem: Vicki Feaver, Billy Liar and many other well-known poets are there.

There's also a feature called the Favourite Poems, where you will find poets like Simon Armitage, Jackie Kay, Michael Hofmann and Michael Longley talking about selections of poetry that they admire. Happy days for anyone wanting to while away a few hours reading and learning about poetry.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Impression of Our Family on Holidays...

Mam, I’ve got a sore toe.
Mam, I’ve got sunburn.
Mam, there's no milk.
Mam, I can’t find my swimsuit.
Mam, there’s jellyfish in the sea.
Mam, where’s Dad?
Mam, there's no bread.
Mam, what’s for dinner?
Mam, why is it still raining?
Mam, I’m hungry.
Mam, can we have ice-cream?
Mam, can I have a biscuit.
Mam, he broke the 'nocliers.
Mam, she broke my DS.
Mam, he won’t leave me alone.
Mam, she won’t leave me alone.
Mam, they won’t leave me alone and my foot is sore again.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Taking Stock and Leaving a Barrel

I am making the annual pilgrimage to Kerry, with seven kids, two cars, lots of clothes, assorted amusements and another adult for a week.

What chance do you think of me getting some writing done there, with all the distractions?

Sun, sand, barbeques and some sea air. Then there's the view from our sitting room window. Ever changing, it's better than TV! There's a lot to be said about being half way up a mountain looking down over Dingle bay.

I get to read in Tralee on Monday 4th August, with many poets, new, old and young... and chat about the future of books...

See you all when I get back, and feel free to party in the comments box, a wee tradition that started over at Minx/Debi/Pundy's house. I think.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Secret? Not any more!

Julie Carter is right. The quickest way to out a secret is to call it a secret. And then tell everyone!

The Vatican has this lovely shiny internet presence, The Vatican Secret Archive. Oh boy, lemme at 'em!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Billy Collins & Seamus Heaney

Can you believe this: both poets on the same bill, in the same place only 45 min from my front door. Last night I went to see them; one a former US Poet Laureate, the other a Nobel Literature Prize winner, and both at the Marketplace Theatre in Armagh city. They're appearing there as part of the John Hewitt Summer School, which is now in its twenty-first year.

This year's theme is 'Let There be no Wall,' and this theme was amply demonstrated in bringing together two poets, from such variant backgrounds and placing them on a stage in a beautiful new theatre, on a hot muggy night in Northern Ireland.

Billy Collins was given a rousing introduction first and read from all through his work. His poems sparkle with wit and warmth, always getting a wry laugh from the audience. I couldn't believe that I was sitting there in such a comfortable seat, laughing and following the poems, in just the way that poet Stephen Dunne describes: "We seem to always know where we are in a Billy Collins poem, but not necessarily where he is going. I love to arrive with him at his arrivals. He doesn't hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. He allows us to overhear, clearly, what he himself has discovered."

My favourite poem read by him last night is hard to pick, for there are oh so many to choose from. I loved his pairing of 'Dharma', about his dog Janine who can head out the front door without any possessions, and 'The Revenant,' written to counter anyone who thought he was being overly sentimental; using a dog's ghost to reprimand us human 'owners.'

Collins spoke about 'poems that don't have much purpose... that have escaped the burden of subject matter,' just before reading 'Hippos on Holiday.' And his explanation of how 'The Lanyard' came to be, with its juxtaposition of what the child makes, in some weird recompense for its mother's care and devotion was darkly comical. Especially the last phrase: 'wove out of boredom.' It made me think of all the things that have been made for me by my brood at summer camps and school art sessions.

Collins is also noted for his short, sharp shockers and to show this he read 'Divorce:' how couples start off as spoons in bed, and later when things go sour, turn into tines of forks, with 'the knives hired.' Ooh. He finished with his title poem from 'Questions about Angels,' about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Collins is able to mix up all the valuable elements of poetry and keep it very accessible. Be careful, you may be wooed as I was, if you ever hear him read live.

Seamus Heaney's introduction was just as rousing, and in Heaney's customary humble manner, he began by reading one of John Hewitt's poems, 'The King's Horses' as a tribute to the poet for whom the summer school is named. He continued with 'Making Strange,' the poem that juxtaposed a visiting poet, Louis Simpson with his father in Heaney's own country around Mossbawn and Anahorish and used language as the means of marrying two strands of existence.

Refering to Robert Frost's poem, 'Mending Walls,' Heaney tracked the theme of the Hewitt summer school, and read 'The Other Side,' which segued nicely into 'A Sofa in the 40s,' a poem about the Heaney children using the family sofa as a train. There is slight darkness to this image as the poem nods towards Europe's ignorance of the atrocities at Auschwitz.

My favourite part of Heaney's reading came when he read two of the Glanmore Sonnets, a sequence dedicated to his mother's memory, from 1984. He told us that he has read them so many times that he knows them by heart, which he amply demonstrated with 'Peeling Potatoes,' a poem with particular resonance for me, in my own poem, 'Roosters.' He recited the first sonnet, whilst looking for 'Folding Sheets.'

Heaney went neatly to his own history in 'Tates Avenue,' with its collection of rugs and blankets, and then read a tanka, 'Midnight Anvil,' in which a blacksmith, Barney Devlin, rings in the new millenium with twelve strikes of the anvil, heard by the blacksmith's nephew in Edmonton, Alberta on a cellphone!

And of course the ending of his session. Here he read Hewitt's 'Gloss on the Difficulties of Translation,' which led into Heaney's own sequence of blackbird poems based on the old Irish, 'Scribe in the Woods' and finished off with 'The Blackbird of Glanmore.'

Both poets were called on to encore for us: Collins did so with 'Building with it's Face Blown Off,' a risky poem, given the setting, but one which we enjoyed; and Heaney read 'St. Kevin and the Blackbird.' So spellbound were we that I heard a lot of people comment on how swift the evening moved past us all. It really was a magical evening, one I shall treasure for years, and I am privileged to say that I have sat in the same room as Seamus Heaney and Billy Collins and heard them read their poetry.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Before July leaves us

Whipped for editing...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Playing with Words

This is the taste that my next collection should leave in your mouth. I've been putting my dissertation together, and took the lot to Wordle for a bit of a play. 'Back' is the most prominent word. Interesting.

Feel free to 'embiggen' the picture, as Maht would say :)

Friday, July 18, 2008

I went to Rome

...and brought back a poem.

Only thing is, the poem didn't come for about four months.

I was sitting on the beach about two weeks ago (on one of the few sunny days we've had), cloud-watching and got On Not Seeing Inside the Sistine Chapel from the combination of the clouds and remembering our visit to Roma in late February, and how we hadn't come at the right time of day on the Saturday to gain access to see the famous chapel.

You can hear me read the poem at the Qarrtsiluni site, apparently their first Irish accent (cringe). It's my second poem there - anyone interested in the other one, The Angel's Missing Wings, can check this link.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Resounding Success

The Dundalk Summer School finished today. After two days of hectic workshops, the participants and contributors all thought that the workshops were very stimulating.

All participants filled in an anonymous questionnaire afterwards, and I was almost moved to tears by the positivity shown by them. They all loved the variety: the radio writing workshop, the drama workshop, the writing for children workshop - heck they even loved the poetry workshop!

It's agreed that it should become an annual fixture (so fingers crossed on that one), and the writers involved: Catherine Ann Cullen, Enda Coyle-Greene, Jaki McCarrick and me, all got huge pleasure out of being able to offer this variety to them - all credit to us.

One of the things that came up was that the participants would have liked longer workshops, and someone to come talk to them about prose - so that's an addition I would gladly like to make in the future!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dundalk Summer Writing School

Tomorrow marks the first day ever of the Dundalk Summer Writing School. I mooted the idea with the Dundalk Arts Office back in late March, and they thought it would be a good idea, building on the support that the Creative Writing classes have built up since September last.

Featured writers include:

Catherine Ann Cullen’s award-winning children’s books, The Magical, Mystical, Marvellous Coat, and Thirsty Baby were published in the US by Little, Brown. Her debut poetry collection, A Bone in my Throat was published last year. Her workshop, ‘Writing for Children,’ will cover the elements of successful children’s fiction and young adult fiction.

Jaki McCarrick is a published writer whose plays include, The Mushroom Pickers, The Moth-Hour and The Stag of Doohamlet. Jaki’s ‘Drama Workshop’ will guide participants through setting, dialogue and narrative arc, and will encourage them to think dramatically about how a story can be developed as a piece for theatre.

Enda-Coyle Greene’s first collection, Snow Negatives, was the winner of the prestigious Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Prize for an unpublished manuscript in 2006. Enda’s prose and poetry can often be heard on RTE Radio 1’s, Sunday Miscellany, and Lyric FM’s, Quiet Quarter. Her workshop, ‘Writing for Radio,’ will consider subjects, guidelines and lengths of pieces for radio.

Barbara Smith’s debut poetry collection, Kairos, was published in 2007. She won an award at Feile Filíochta / Poetry Now 2008, and has completed an MA in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast. Barbara’s ‘Lyrical Workshop’ will cover the lyric poem, from Kavanagh to Heaney inspiring participants to create their lyric vision of Dundalk.

There will also be two lunchtime readings on both days in Dundalk Library, Enda and Jaki on Wednesday, and Catherine Ann and I will read on the Thursday. The readings are free, the workshops are very reasonable at €60 all in. Next year, we'd love to add a third day of workshops, looking at prose.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Days of Rain, Peace & Reviews

The weather so far this summer has been even more crap than last year. So, how come I'm still standing with a smile on my face? Because I've been reduced to three kids this week, not the usual six. The elder ones are away on holidays with their respective dads and it's given me a real breather, not to mention reduced the food bills by a huge factor. As good as a holiday in fact.

In turn, this has allowed me to read and write up a couple of book reviews. I've taken on with writing for Verbal Arts Magazine in NI, a monthly mag that gets distributed free with the Belfast Telegraph, the Newsletter and the Derry Journal. The books they've sent me have been really entertaining, in differing ways,unexpected choices, but I can't say more until the reviews come out. One has led to an interview!

I've leaned into reviewing as it was the only module that I got a first in, up at QUB and is one of the few things I can do from home. I really enjoy putting into words exactly why I've enjoyed reading a book, as it encourages close reading of the text and forces me to really consider all angles: why the language is the way it is; why, if it's a poet, are they using that kind of form; why did the author choose this subject. Engaging stuff. I get far more inside a book when I do that, because it's an active form of reading, as opposed to a passive one, where you read, but don't engage as deeply. I'm not denigrating that sort of a read - it's actually one of my favorite things to retire to bed with something that I can skate through before sleep. But it's always enjoyable to come across really good writing.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Time for a Poem: Painting History

whipped for editing

reCOLLECTing 5

This is Sarah Gale, whose piece was titled, 'Thin Skin.' Her response was to the Histology She took photographs of body parts and got them printed onto canvas.

Sarah then made slits in the canvas and inserted images of cells underneath, mimicking 'the way a doctor might examine a gash on the body' (Sarah, 2008).

The next picture shows our tutor Sylvia commenting on Sarah's piece. On either side of Sarah's art, there are anatomical teaching objects gathered to juxtapose with and complement the art. Sorry about my big head being in the way again!

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Behind my great big head you can see two pictures on the wall. These were Paul Maddern's responses to the Queen's Special Collections, specifically the sound archive that Paul is creating for QUB, of poets reading their own work.

The piece is titled 'Squaring the Octet,' and brings together rhyme schemes and oscillograms into one space. Paul used software to record the sound of letters, created an oscillogram, or picture of that sound, and then digitally manipulated the images into one composite image: versions rendered in primary colours, on the right, as well as pastels, on the left. Who says you can't make art from sound?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

reCOLLECTing 3

Today it's a wee video - this is still being worked on!

Monday, June 30, 2008

reCOLLECTing 2

Here is Emily DeDakis offering her words on her words. Let me explain; Emily's piece responded to the visual appeal of text, literally, as she decided to use her own prescription, minus thirteen, minus eight as the point to which she turned text into a visual comment.

On spare used glasses, Emily placed text that came from varying sources: such as engineer Charles MacDougall, composer Hamilton Harty, and poet Helen Waddell; all from various archives and sources from around QUB.

Emily also placed text on the shade of the accompanying lamp - a lovely nod to the bedside reading habits that most of us have.

Again - photo courtesy of David Timlin.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

reCOLLECTing - the Picture-Text exhibition

Here are a few snaps taken by David Timlin of the exhibition of pieces that we worked on this semester. It was a very exciting project, led by Sylvia Grace Borda, Sinead Morrissey and guest artist, J. Keith Duffy.

We had the opening on Thursday night and according to sources, the gallery reckon that there were between 350 and 450 people visiting the exhibition. Wow. That means a lot of drinks consumed; a lot of discussion with the artists in question; a lot of attention on an idea that was simple in premise but had so many different and interesting interpretations.

Yesterday we had a gallery/artist led talk, where artists were able to guide the public through the exhibits, explaining the rationale for their work and methodology.

This is Twy Miller, discussing her work. She did big prints that combined two images (old library and new library in process of construction) and a smaller set of pictures using a stereoscopic camera that could be used to take stereo pictures which she then mounted onto card that can be viewed with a special viewer (see below).

I'll do pictures in a separate post over the next few days :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

You hate that book - but why?

There's a veritable feast of critic's names featuring in this article in yesterday's Sunday Times. They were asked what their most hated book was and why. The answers are interesting in that they highlight the usual considerations: good or bad writing, style and length, and genuine entertainment; as well as more personal ones.

For example, Bryan Appleyard isn't that keen on Henry James' 'The Awkward Age,' saying that although the behemoth of critics, F.R. Leavis might have loved it, it didn't mean that he had to and besides, 'Leavis was mad.' Good on ya, Brian, I often thought that meself.

I remember reading 'The Portrait of a Lady,' or rather wading through all the accumulated clauses, sub-clauses and gluts of psychological description and wondering if I was ever going to get to the end of it. Mind you, there was a good reason for me having to wade through it: it was part of my 19thc literature course.

Funny thing was, by the end of the course and the book, I had learned to love it - the slowness, the deliberation and the really rounded characters (plus I sped-read past the boring bits). The 19thc is a foreign land to us here in the 21stc - they did things differently then and probably didn't have a remote control to flip between things when they got bored. They even did bored differently. They called it 'ennui.'

So, I'm sure there must be books that you detest - why don't you tell me what they are, and why!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Good Book or Stating the Bleeding Obvious?

I was visiting my friend in Belfast yesterday and she's got a pretty battered copy of Art & Fear. It's one of those books that you pick up and read, quickly immersing yourself, where you find yourself nodding your head vehemently, agreeing with most of the points that it makes.

If you're at the point, either as an artist or writer, where you're wondering what the point of it all is: why you've taken all the right steps to learn your craft; why you've spent years practicing that craft; why some stuff is accepted by others and why some stuff is detested, then this could prove a book beneficial to you as a companion to read on those nights when you feel that your work is worthless, stupid and what is the point anyway.

Or, you could equally read this book on one of those rare days when you've had a good idea, and it has worked its way onto the page/clay/canvas/photographic paper and it's nearly, nearly there, but you feel that something is blocking its completion.

It is a book about ideas, and of ideas. Yet it is explained in such a down to earth manner that you forget that it is a book of abstract concepts, which confirms and argues past all those long-held suspicions about art, the making of art, critical evaluation and reputations, and art academia. Put a copy on your wish-list or treat yourself and get past the fears that hold you back in your art.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wife in the North

Judith's 'Wife in the North' gets its own promo!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Even more Mairead

Sheesh. I'd just got going last week and then life and the furious writing of some poems got in the way. I'm now waiting for results from the MA... and I'd better get on with this hadn't I?

'Life is Too Easy,' is a poem that grabbed me, because of its theme of the repetition of life. It begins: 'Saturday comes round & you clean your house. What could be easier.' Right now, I'd disagree with the easiness of cleaning anything, but that's just me. Grrr.

Anyhow, back to Mairead: 'Everything you put out of place during the week you put back in place.' Yes, but if you have six kids, you not only have to put everything that you moved back, you have to find everything that has not only been moved but probably used to fuel some weird game that they were playing (in their head!). I digress!

Later, the repetitive tasks even get on Byrne's nerves; 'You haul stuff in & you haul stuff out. You go to work. You come home.' But this is where the turn comes,moving outwards from the situation: 'There is no earthquake in your city & your parents or your children don't disappear. You are not 14 & about to be married off to a cousin who will beat you.' How safe our lives are in comparison to others. We shouldn't forget that sometimes :/

I do like the resolution for 'Rose-Colored Spectacles.' It begins with the premise of checking in one's 'rose-colored spectacles to test the rougher selvedges of life.' Sometimes we have to deal with these aspects and we forget about the armour that we use to fend it off. In this case that leaving off of armour can leave us open: 'Reality can be the closest imaginable thing to delirium tremens.' Especially when that reality is a 'mean-faced white pimp' who pulls 'his car across the sidewalk in front' of people. Indeed, 'another name for rose-colored spectacles is car.' How much we forget sometimes how modernity and our beloved consumer goods do shelter us from what we don't want to deal with. Except Mairead says it much better than that!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Mairead: Chiasmus and Circus

I know what you're thinking - this is a slow read. But I'm as usual juggling all the responsibilities that family, young and old, entail!

"Chiasmus," from Talk Poetry, is a unique take on the aftermath of a split. The word itself is very interesting. Wikipedia tells us that it is 'a figure of speech in which two clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a bigger point.'

In this poem's case, the point is partly how intertwined the lives of a couple can become, as 'When you marry & divorce your dreams get mixed up.' Seems a simple premise, taking the mick out of the female dream of cosying up the home, 'You wanted an overstuffed leather living room set,' and then conflating this with the male dream of going out and conquering the world: 'and next thing you know you're heading an expedition to the South Pole and making a pretty good fist of it.'

But the other point of the poem is that things go on after a break-up: life after a break-up pretty much like an expedition anyway? So, I like this poem for the feeling it leaves behind: its hopeful without being maudlin, upbeat rather than whinging; we try, we fail, we fail better, as Beckett once sort of said. Nothing is perfect.

"Circus," looks into the dualism or binary qualities of the body, again with that quirky humour that Byrne just can't suppress. It begins: 'There is so much emphasis on the individual we forget how much a person is actually a double.' We are doubled, though aren't we: we are a product of a process that took one set of genes from a female, and another from a male and combined them in the gene washing machine to make another person. Byrne goes on to show how complex our bodies are: '2 shoulders, 2 arms, 2 lungs, 2 kidneys, 2 testicles, 2 ovaries, 2 bums, each one divided in two... We are actually 2 people in one.'

The poem then extrapolates showing how our single/dual units seek a further pairing in couples: 'And what do we do? We pair up. We get married, shackled, whatever... We are already getting quite enough action being 2 people in one...' Oh the complexity of human beans!

Byrne then throws in a concrete example of procreation: 'Ben Franklin... the 15th child out of a total of 17 born to his mother... Mrs Franklin... a woman or, practically two women, who had 17 children proceed through her, i.e., 34 or 38, (keep up!) in addition to providing accommodation for the regular visits of Mr Franklin.' It's that slipping in there of Ben's father, Mr Franklin, and his 'visits' that make this poem so wryly humorous.

The poem ends by going to the cellular level: 'Is it any wonder we thought of mitosis and meiosis and all that. It's written all over us...' Indeed it is - our genetic code is a mighty wonder sometimes and putting it in such a straightforward (!) way makes it seem much more alive than a dusty textbook.