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!